There are several misconceptions about the word Arya. Arya is not restricted to any religion, society, caste, sect, creed or community. It is a meaningful word which transcends geographical boundaries and is universally applicable and hence acceptable. In 'Nirookhta' the meaning of the word 'Arya' 'Eshwaraya putra' the son of God. God is our father and we are His children. A father has many children but he who is virtuous, polite and obedient is entitled to be called his true son and thereby termed 'Arya'. To become an 'Arya' one must try to be godly. It may seem difficult but not impossible. 'Yo vai yatha chintyati tatha bhavati' as man thinketh, so he becometh. A person who believes in God and His Divinity, tries to imbibe His qualities and become Godly.
The Vedas, the religious texts, the Scriptures, the Epics, all extol the qualities of an 'Arya'.
'Arya Jyotiragrah' – the 'Arya'leads with light. Arya not only lights his own path but also shows light to others.
Bhuddhist Scripture 'Dhammapad' states 'Ariyappavedite dhamme sadaa ramati pandito' – the pundits or scholars always dwell in the dharma of Aryas. The word Arya here refers to noble people. The prefix 'Arya' is adjoined to several Bhuddist preachers' name e.g. Arya Asag, Arya Dev.
In Jainism the saadhvi or a lady who renounces wordly pleasures and becomes ascetic is addressed as 'Aryaa'.
In Sikh religious text it is stated, 'Jo tum, Sikh hamaare Arya, devo seesa dharma ke karya' – our Sikh, if you are an Arya, then sacrifice your head for the cause of dharma. Here Arya denotes noble, valorous and virtuous person.
In 'Ramayana' Sita addressed Rama as 'Aryaputra' and Rama addressed her as 'Aryaa'. 'Aryaputra' means son of a noble person and 'Aryaa', a virtuous lady.
In Mahabharata (Adi parva 44/7) the word Aryamati is affixed with the name of a noble prince which means a prince with ennobled intellect.
Swami Dayanand Saraswati, in his 'Ved Bhashya', has described Arya as 'Shreeshtha guna-karma swabhaavyukta manushyah' – the people who are noble in qualities, deeds and nature.
Sri Aurobindo Ghosh, in his famous essay 'What is the significance of the name Arya', has written, "The word Arya expressed a particular ethical and social ideal, an ideal of well governed life, candour, courtesy, nobility, straight dealing, courage, gentleness, purity, humanity, compassion, protection of the weak, liberality, observance of social duty, eagerness for knowledge, social accomplishment, there is no word in human speech that has a nobler History."
The Arya is he who strives and overcomes, all outside him and within him, that stand opposed to human advance.
In everything he seeks truth, in everything right and freedom.
Arya is, therefore, an embodiment of all the noble, virtuous and humane qualities which can embellish human character and raise a person from the stratum of a social animal to the status of a human being. It was in the context of this meaning of the word Arya, that the concept of Arya Samaj was mooted – Arya Samaj – an assembly of virtuous, noble people who can unitedly think and strive to create a better society.
In order to know what Arya Samaj is, it is necessary to know the background which necessitated the establishment of Arya Samaj. The political, economic and social conditions prevailing in the nineteenth century presented to a dismal picture of a society which appeared to be beyond redemption. Centuries of foreign domination had reduced the Honor of Indian society to nothingness. Illiteracy prevailed, ignorance abounded, superstitions were rampant, knowledge was totally eclipsed, the essence of dharma was lost, practice of irrational rituals and blind faith was dominant, social evils were widespread and cultural values were eroded. All these factors had reduced the glory and valor of Aryavrata to shambles. Never before was the need for a survival kit felt more acutely than at this critical period for the revival of a collapsing society which was on the brink of annihilation. Swami Dayanand Saraswati emerged on the scene as the savior of the disintegrated and factional ridden society. The Arya Samaj which he founded became the beacon light to guide the people who had lost their way in total darkness.
The idea of setting up Arya Samaj came to the mind of Swami Dayanand when he visited Mumbai for the first time. His followers enthusiastically welcomed the proposal of setting up an Arya Samaj in Mumbai. The rules and regulations of the Arya Samaj numbering 28 were chalked out by Sri Panna Chand Anand Malik. On 10th April 1875 the first Arya Samaj was established in Mumbai. On 24th June, 1877 an Arya Samaj was set up in Lahore. It was in Lahore that the rules or principles of Arya Samaj were amended and the number reduced to 10. They were accepted as guidelines for members of Arya Samaj. These rules are known as the 10 principles of Arya Samaj.
To understand the significance of these principles, they can be divided into three categories. The first and second principles pertain to the duty of man towards God. Third, fourth, and fifth principles focus upon the duty of man towards himself. And the principles sixth to tenth point out the duty of man towards others. None of these principles incline towards communalism. They are eternal and have universal appeal and acceptability.
The first principle states that God is the source of all true knowledge. All true knowledge and every conceivable matter that can be known through various branches of knowledge has only one divine source. At the beginning of Creation this knowledge or Gyan was revealed to the Rishis namely Agni, Vaayu, Angiraa, and Aditya who passed it on to those disciples of theirs who were deemed worthy of acquiring it. Thus it was known as 'Shruti' or that which is learnt through the process of hearing. It was only later that it was scripted and was available for the benefit of the entire human race in the form of scripture known as Vedas.
The second principle describes God. He is the Creator of this Universe. Nobody can create Him nor can anybody limit His infinity into a finite form. Just as air is present everywhere, yet one cannot see it, similarly God who is Omnipresent cannot be seen in any form. Form limits the existence of any living being. One who is present here cannot be present elsewhere. Man is bound by physical limitations but God is infinite. Physical form can be destroyed and can perish but God is infinite. Physical form can be destroyed and can perish but God is unborn and undying. He was existing, is existing and will always exist. There is nobody equal to God in might, in meting out justice, in beneficence, in purity, in benignity and in mercifulness. He is matchless and hence cannot have any comparison. He is all knowing. He is the Supreme, divine force and Lord of all living beings. It is only He who is to be worshipped. This principle throws light on the divine qualities of God, the worshipful God to whom we must all pay obeisances.
Third to fifth principles point out to man's duty towards his own self. Man is a unique creation of God bestowed with intellect. He can think and reason. His thinking and reasoning can get better direction by the study of Vedas which are the source of all true knowledge. Knowledge leads to enlightenment of the intellect. For enlightening himself as well as others, it is the paramount duty of every Arya to read and teach, to hear and propagate the teachings contained in the Vedas. This message is conveyed through the third principle of Arya Samaj.
All religions stress upon and extol truth. Truth is unsullied, unalloyed and is the essence of existence. It is the undercurrent flowing in everything that is genuine and real. 'Na he Satyaparo dharma' – there is no greater dharma than truth. It is one and the same for all people. One must be ever prepared to accept truth and discard untruth.
'Satyameva Jayate' Truth ultimately prevails. It does not require the support of crutches to establish itself. It is only untruth that has to be proven. In an effort to prove one untruth as truth, the support of several untruths is required and all this leads to nowhere. A life disciplined by truth purifies the soul of a person and desist him from committing sin. The fourth principle of Arya Samaj directs a person to accept truth from whichever source it comes and unhesitatingly give up untruth however appealing and alluring it may appear.
One who has accepted Truth in totality does not accept it just as a principle but imbibes it so as to transform his inner self. This transformation manifests in his mind, speech and action. Truth sharpens his power of discretion – to differentiate between right and wrong, proper and improper, good and bad, virtue and evil. All actions are expressive manifestation of our thoughts.
'Yat manasaa dhyaayati, tadvaachaa vadati, yatvaachaa vadati, tatkarmana karoti, yat Karmanaa karoti tadabhi sampadhyate' – as you think, so you speak, as you speak, so you act, as you act, so you come. Godd begets good and evil begets evil. The options are open, the choice is your. Those who take the wrong path are lost in wilderness. Those who take right decisions achieve what they desire and those who take wrong decisions end up in disaster. The discerning mind takes a decision after weighing the pros and cons of any particular subject and the weighing scale is Truth. Truth is substantive, Untruth is hollow. So the fifth principle of Arya Samaj states that all our acts must be performed after thoughtful deliberation.
Sixth to tenth principles point out man's duty towards Society. Man is a social being. He is born in a family which is an integral unit of society. His very existence and sustenance depends on society. He takes more than what he gives to society. As such it is obligatory on his part to repay the debt he owes to society. The sixth principle of Arya Samaj states that the main object of Arya Samaj is to do good to the world and to benefit the largest number of people. This is possible when he demolishes the barriers that separate man from man, nation from nation. For him the entire world is an extended family – 'vasudhaiva kutumbakam'. He belongs to the world and the world belongs to him. It is for the betterment of the world that he, in his own humble way and with his limited resources, should contribute his might. Arya Samaj aims at unitedly benefiting the world by progressing physically, spiritually and socially. By propagation of 'yogabhyas' and 'yogasanas' physical exercises pertaining to physical fitness – healthy human race is created which can strengthen society and which can work efficiently and ably and contribute for the progress of Society. The Arya Samaj aims at generating an atmosphere for spiritual progress of mankind. Spiritual upliftment ennobles people. This nobility is the outcome of cleansing the inner self of hatred, jealousy and enmity. It inculcates the spirit of fraternity thereby creating a society where people live and let live. Social betterment encompasses progress in all fields of life-social, economic and political. Social progress envisages a society which is free from want, hunger, penury and suffering. It is the endeavour and aim of Arya Samaj to help in creating such a society.
The seventh principle refers to our conduct towards others. We must love all living beings. There must be genuine warmth of feeling in our hearts while interacting with others. We must strive in establishing universal brotherhood. This must be our prime duty. In dispensing our duties we must give due respect to different categories of people – affection to youngers, love to equals, respect to elders, compassion towards the weak, reverence towards the learned and good will towards all living beings. Cultivation of these virtuous qualities can make the world a better place to live in.
The eighth principle makes it obligatory for the members of Arya Samaj to dispel ignorance and spread knowledge. Ignorance is darkness, knowledge is light. Where there is ignorance people live in darkness, not knowing which direction to take. They grope in darkness, trying to find a way out but their efforts end in futility. The best way of clearing the shadows of darkness is not expending one's energy removing darkness, instead just light a lamp and darkness will automatically vanish. The light of knowledge drives away the darkness of ignorance. It generates an awakening among people to know, to learn and to be enlightened. Arya Samaj is committed to spreading knowledge by eradicating illiteracy and encouraging people to gain all the knowledge that is contained in Vedas.
Man is basically selfish. His actions are motivated by self interest. He dos not hesitate to stoop to any level of degradation if there is a clash with his self interest. A self centered person lives for himself only. He seldom thinks of the good of others. The ninth principle of Arya Samaj states that one must not be confined to one's own self, he must not be content with his own progress alone, he must strive for the progress of others also. This can be possible when man sheds the mantle of selfishness, makes space for others, lives and lets others live and moving a step forward, expands the horizon of his outlook and enlarges his heart to such an extent that he begins to consider the progress and prosperity of others as his own progress and prosperity. This conveys the message of co-existence and co-operation.
'Man is born free but is bound in fetters'. The wisdom of these words dawns upon him who realizes that if society has given him certain rights, it has also directed him to fulfil his duties. One's right another man's duty. He is free to exercise his right but is also duty bound. All those rules which are for the benefit of society are made and promulgated so that the interests and rights of all the people may be safeguarded. Hence all must be free in following those rules which are beneficial for all, for this exercise of freedom will not be harmful to anybody. In compliance to these rules one must subjugate himself to them and not violate them even for his self interest. It is only then that law and order can be maintained in society.
These ten principles or commandments of Arya Samaj are for the guidance of those who associate themselves with and become an integral part of the institution called Arya Samaj. They are the tenets which Arya Samaj follows and propagates. Arya Samaj believes in Monotheism – believing in the existence of one God who is the creator, sustainer and destroyer of this universe. God is all pervading and is present in every atom of the universe. 'Na tasya pratima asti' – He does not have any physical form. Therefore, there is no idol worship in Arya Samaj.
Arya Samaj believes in Karma – 'whatever you sow, so ..... you reap'. Man is free to act and he alone is responsible for his actions, both good and bad. God is Omniscient – all knowing. Nothing can escape from Him. Man may live in illusion that the sin he is committing is unobserved but he does not realize that every action of his is vigilantly observed and recorded in God's computer. God dispenses justice. He rewards or punishes man for his good and bad deeds. Nothing can tilt the balance of His justice. Arya Samaj shows the right path of approaching God. Man's approach to God is direct. There can be no third intermediary to connect the Atman with the Paramatman. Every soul has to strive individually to attain God.
Arya Samaj believes that Veda is divine knowledge, which was imparted by God at the beginning of Creation for the benefit of all. Therefore, all have the right to acquire the divine knowledge contained in the Vedas irrespective of gender, caste or creed. The mission of Arya Samaj is to propagate the teachings of the Vedas so that man may know what is Atman and Paramatman and how he could attain 'Moksha' or Salvation which is the ultimate goal of human existence.
Arya Samaj upholds the theory of rebirth. The cycle of birth and death has been continuous since the creation of the universe. The present birth is the resultant of our karmas in our previous life. Our present karmas will be the deciding factor of our next birth. The disparity in human beings apparently visible in the rich and the poor, happiness and sorrow, difference in mental structure of children having same genetic heritage – one acquiring brilliance and the other mental retardness, are all consequences and cumulative result of our previous karmas. This theory of karma goads man to keep away from sin and follow the path of virtue, for it makes him realize that ultimately it will be he alone who will have to face and suffer the consequences of his actions.
Arya Samaj believes in the division of society into four different categories and these categories are based on karmas and not on caste. A person is a Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya or Shudra because of his inclination, aptitude and vocation. There can be a Brahmin and a Shudra in the same family if the former takes to teaching and literary pursuits and the latter to serve others. This theory demolishes caste barriers which divide the society and the community. The ideal projected by the Vedas is 'Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam' – the entire world is one family.
Since its inception Arya Samaj has played a pivotal role in
rejuvenating Indian society by weeding out social evils, by spreading
literacy, by educating people and by creating awareness among them
about the greatness of their cultural heritage, focusing on the need
to realise their self by perusing the Vedas. Arya Samaj has led a
crusade against child marriage, Sati system, caste system, dowry
system, animal sacrifice, debarring of shudras from entering the
portals of temples. It has always championed the cause of down
trodden and endeavoured to pave the path for the progress of the
weaker section of society by making them aware that they are in no
way inferior to any other class of society, that they have equal
right to strive for their upliftment – socially, politically,
economically, and spiritually. Arya Samaj is a force to reckon with
– a force enforcing self-discipline, a force continuously battling
against evils and a force instilling the spirit of patriotism among
the people. Sri Pattbhi Sitarammaiya had written that 80% of the
people who fought for the independence of India were those who were
associated with Arya Samaj.
The aim of Arya Samaj is to establish peace in the world. Peace can be established only when the hearts of the people are not divided by barriers of communalism which distances man from man. Where there is hatred there is enmity and enmity breeds contempt and ill-will and ill-will in turn foments destruction. Communalism envisages well being of a particular community. Arya Samaj prays for the welfare of all human beings, 'Sarve bhavantu Sukhina' let all be happy, 'Sarva asha mama mitram bhavantu' – I wish that all be my friends, 'Mitrasya chakshusha sarvaani bhutaani samikshe' – may I look upon others with an eye of friendship. Where there is a friendship, there is cordial relationship among people, they share their joys and sorrows, there is co-operation among them, there is co-ordination in their actions and there is peace everywhere. Arya Samaj by its concerted efforts spreads the message of peace to humanity. Arya Samaj has benefited the world at large and Hindu society in particular. The evaluation and appreciation of Arya Samaj is best expressed by the noted Indian nationalist Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya, who stated "If Arya Samaj keeps walking the Hindu society will remain standing, if Arya Samaj remains standing the Hindu society will sit down, if Arya Samaj sits down, the Hindu society will sleep and if Arya Samaj sleeps then the Hindu society will die."