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Dayanand as Hero

Neeladri Bhattacharya

By J.T.F. Jordens
Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 1978, pp. 318, Rs. 80.00

VOLUME IV NUMBER 3 November/December 1979

Arya Dharma by Kenneth Jones was the first serious historical study of the Arya Samaj movement. Now Jordens complements Jones's work by providing a comprehensive historical account of the life and ideas of Dayanand Saraswati. Many of the earlier biographers of Dayanand themselves belonged to the Arya Samaj and tended to look upon their ‘Swami’ as Guru. They consiste­ntly played down the changes in his con­ceptions: as if the ‘Light of Truth’ can be revealed only once, for, what is true is immutable. As Jordens points out none of these biographers care to notice the changes in the first and second edition of Satyarth Prakash. In the book under review, Jordens attempts to transcend the usual chronological listing of Dayanand's words, acts and deeds, common to the existing biographies, and studies the different stages of his life and ideas in their regional and historical context. After a short account of the child­hood of the ‘brahmin youth from Kathia­war’ Jordens describes Dayanand's search for moksha, the changes in his theological thinking—how he freed himself from the Puranic aspects of religion and based his ideas on the Vedas. Dayanand's visit to Hardwar in 1867 and his campaign at the Kumbh Mela ‘was his first planned and concerted effort to make an impact on the 'Hindu world'.’ After the failure of this effort he attempted to preach at 'an individual level along the rural Doab, again without much success. His subse­quent visit to Calcutta, according to Jordens, was a ‘cardinal turning point in the Swami's career’. Calcutta was ‘a cauldron of new ideas’. It opened up  new perspectives and helped the Swami to think in broader social and national terms: to see education as the most important factor in the uplift of the people, to consider the wide social respo­nsibilities of the State, to be aware of the different aspects of the plight of Hindu womanhood. He met Debendranath Tagore, Akshay Kumar Dutt, Keshav Chandra Sen and Vidyasagar. In Calcutta he discovered the great power of lectures and publications, the strength of orga­nization, and receptivity of the urban middle class to the call for reform. ‘The transformation was remarkable; the roving Sanyasi of rural Doab overnight became the fiery lecturer of the North Indian cities, a public figure of imposing stature’. Dayanand started writing and lecturing extensively. Organizational activities were started in Bombay, where the first ...

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