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Friday, October 30, 2009

The spirit of quest - Inner Voice

Lalit Mohan

When Swami Dayanand Saraswati, the founder of Arya Samaj, breathed his last on Oct 30, 1883, with him may also have died the last Arya Samajist.

The seed of the Hindu reform movement of the 19th century was planted when on a Shivratri night a young boy, Mool Shanker, as he was known then, saw a mouse scampering up and down a Shiva idol, helping himself to the food offerings. This made him question the idea of an omnipotent God living within the idol.

Arya Samaj, which spread all over north India, had two principal thrusts: it challenged the veracity of orthodox religious beliefs and practices, and it pushed for social reform.

The latter crusade helped push legislation against the caste system, child marriage, priesthood and a host of other evils, and for women's rights.
The vast network of educational institutions set up by Arya Samaj is a continuation of the campaign started by the saint.

However, the other aspect, which is to question prevailing religious beliefs and practices, has been abandoned. The Swami had the intelligence and courage to do so. But his followers have given up the quest.
And this even though the essence of the Gayatri Mantra, the principal prayer of all Arya Samajists, is: let the cosmic light illumine our intellect. The light can shine through only if the mind is open.

If they are true to the spirit of his teachings, then they should question the Swami's thoughts. The saint believed that the Vedas were the source of all knowledge and found in them all that he needed to condemn the Hindu religious customs of his times.

But are the Vedas and Upanishads infallible? Should members of the Arya Samaj not critically evaluate what is written in them? Even these texts, despite their attempt at systematically analyzing the universe, start with certain assumptions.

To the extent that no follower of his has taken the Swami's spiritual quest forward in terms of questioning the tenets of the faith bequeathed to them, Dayanand Saraswati can be called the last Arya Samajist.
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