RE-DISCOVERING CHIVALERY IN ARYA SAMAJ

(Part of our History)

 

The September issue of the Navrang Times, a bilingual monthly publication from Detroit, Michigan, has two readable articles. One is on a very close connection of Shaheed (martyr) Bhagat Singh (1907-31) with the main historic branch of Arya Samaj in Kolkata. The other lists great Arya Samajis who laid their lives either for the tenets of Hinduism, or for Indias freedom.

 

It raises two important questions of historic significance. Number One: How did Bhagat Singh, an ardent Sikh, got involved with Arya Samaj, a 19th century reformist movement of Hinduism? Number Two: What and where lies the magic of Arya Samaj that it transformed far greater number of Hindus into eminent scholars, orators, public servants, and fierce freedom fighters in a short span of its founding since 1875? They are important questions for the new generations of the Hindus to be aware of so that the mission of Arya Samaj is rightly served in the 21st century.

 

These questions first stirred my mind six years ago, while researching in the Gadar Memorial Center, San Francisco. The Gadar Movement was a brainchild of a few Indian revolutionaries in the US including an activist intellectual, Lala Hardayal (1884-1939), who was influenced by Arya Samaj in his youth. The Gadar Movement was headquartered in San Francisco, with a sole mission of armed liberation of India

 

In 1930s, a British CID (Central Investigation Department) report clearly established that nearly 100% of the Hindu freedom fighters were influenced by Arya Samaj. It puzzled them as to how Arya Samaj teachings were instilling courage and unity amongst the Hindus, known for centuries as divided and most timid people.  The British knew the Sikhs as a martial race, so the Sikh militancy never surprised them.  In fact, the Sikhs wanted to regain the Sikh Empire, stretching beyond present Pakistan, that the British had illegally and forcefully annexed ten years after the death of Maharaja Ranjit Singh in 1839.  A lesson of history is that the masses, at large, are radically transformed by voluntary adoption of a new religion, ideology, or inspiring leadership. 

 

For finding answers to these questions, I went back to the basics. While teaching a mathematical topic, I often tell my students, that whenever you  have absolutely no idea about solving a problem, then go to the definitions involved in that problem.  On my part, I studied the Ten Principles of Arya Samaj (Just Google/Yahoo Arya Samaj) carefully and early crusades of its founder, Swami Dayanand Saraswati (1824-1883). At times, I felt like writing a Reflection on each principle both from their historical context and present relevance.

 

The first five principles of Arya Samaj are addressed for the individual development, but the last five are for the community development. That is a fundamental departure in the practice of Hinduism. Arya Samaj temples are designated places for Sunday morning prayers. There are regular dues for the members, like in a club. The funds are used for community welfare. The genius of Swami Dayanand saw that how the Muslims worshipped together every Friday, and Sikhs and Christians on Sundays. Collective prayers alone bring unity at the deepest levels. No research is known to have been undertaken into any organized aspect of Hindu religion before 1000 AD, but certainly, it has been completely absent till the advent of Swami Dayanand.

 

That explains why the Hindus of Arya Samaj leanings became courageous and patriotic. Though, the Hindu community was the poorest and most divided of all other communities, yet even the modest buildings of Arya Samaj temples, schools and colleges played crucial roles in supporting the freedom fighters in all respects besides providing the nationalistic education. With Indias independence as their only purpose in life, the freedom fighters had neither caste nor religion. That is how and why Bhagat Singh was twice secretly sheltered and supported by main Arya Samaj branch in central Kolkata once before and once after the assassination of the British officer, Sanders, in 1928. Incidentally, the most popular picture of clean shaven Bhagat Singh wearing an English felt hat was taken during his stay in Kolkata. 

 

With emphasis on the formlessness of The Supreme, there are no worship idols in Arya Samaj temples. However, the Sunday prayer gatherings in the temples are usually followed by a broad update on community affairs. It keeps the community into the mainstream of life and helps in the development of histrionic and leadership skills of the congregation. Again, Swami Dayanand seems to have borrowed this practice from the Christians, Muslims, and the Sikhs. Historically, Arya Samaj is characterized by public debates in the backdrop of the Vedas (Shastrartha) for settling and sorting out any differences - religious, political, or social.

 

The unity of minds comes only when people assemble at one place on a regular basis. It never takes place by only wishing for it, or working alone. However, willingness to sacrifice a bit of personal interest for the larger welfare of the community, sits at the heart of Hindu unity today. It is enshrined as one of the ten principles of Arya Samaj.

 

Satish Chandra

Sep 24, 2009