1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Arya Samaj
ARYA SAMAJ, a Hindu religious association with reforming tendencies, which was founded by a Guzerati Brahman named Dayanand Saraswati. This man was born of a Saivite family about 1825, but in early manhood grew dissatisfied with idol-worship. He undertook many pilgrimages and studied the Vedic philosophy in the hope of solving the old problem of the Buddha,—how to alleviate human misery and attain final liberation. About 1866, when he had begun to teach and to gather disciples, he first saw the Christian scriptures, which he vehemently assailed, and the Rig Veda, which he correspondingly exalted, though in the conception which he ultimately formed of God the former was much more influential than the latter. Dayanand’s treatment of the Vedas was peculiar, and consisted of reading into them his own beliefs and modern scientific discoveries. Thus he explains the Yajna (sacrificial cult) as “the entertainment of the learned in proportion to their worth, the business of manufacture, the experiment and application of chemistry, physics and the arts of peace; the instruction of the people, the purification of the air, the nourishment of vegetables by the employment of the principles of meteorology, called Agni-Notri in Sanskrit.” He denied that the Vedas warranted the caste system, but wished to retain the four grades as orders of learning to which admission should be won by examination.
These views naturally met with scanty acceptance among the Brahmans to whom he introduced them, and Dayanand turned to the masses and established Samajes in various parts of India, the first being at Bombay in 1875. He chose the epithet Arya as being more dignified than the slightly contemptuous term Hindu. After a successful series of tours, during which he debated publicly with orthodox pundits and with Christian missionaries, he died at Ajmere in 1883.
The Arya Samaj is not an eclectic system like the Brahma Samaj, which strives to find the common basis underlying all the great religions, and its narrower scope and corresponding intensity of conviction have won it a greater strength. It seemed to meet the feeling of many educated natives whose faith in current Hinduism was undermined, but who were predisposed against any foreign religious influence. Their patriotic ardour gladly seized on “a view of the original faith of India that seemed to harmonize with all the discoveries of modern science and the ethics of European civilization,” and they cheerfully supported their leader’s strange polemic with the agnostic and rationalist literature of Europe. By 1890 their numbers had increased to 40,000, by 1900 to over 92,000. Divisions had, however, set in, especially a cleavage into the Ghasi or vegetarian, and the Mansi or flesh-eating sections. To the latter belong those Rajputs who though generally in sympathy with the movement declined to adhere to the tenet of the Samaj which forbade the destruction of animal life and the consumption of animal food. The age of admission to the Samaj is eighteen, and members are expected to contribute to its funds at least 1% of their income.
The ten articles of their creed may be summarized thus:—
- 1. The source of all true knowledge is God.
- 2. God is “all truth, all knowledge, all bliss, boundless, almighty, just, merciful, unbegotten, without a beginning, incomparable, the support and Lord of all, all-pervading, omniscient, imperishable, immortal, eternal, holy, and the cause of the universe; worship is due to him alone.”
- 3. The medium of true knowledge is the Vedas.
- 4. and 5. The truth is to be accepted and to become the guiding principle.
- 6. The object of the Samaj is to benefit the world by improving its physical, social, intellectual and moral conditions.
- 7. Love and justice are the right guides of conduct.
- 8. Knowledge must be spread.
- 9. The good of others must be sought.
- 10. In general interests members must subordinate themselves to the good of others; in personal interests they should retain independence.
The sixth clause comprehends a wide programme of reform, including abstinence from spirituous liquors and animal food, physical cleanliness and exercise, marriage reform, the promotion of female education, the abolition of caste and of idolatry.