Arya Samaj ("society of honourable ones")

Doctrines Aryas believe that the Vedas, especially the hymns of the Rg Veda, are the basis of all religious truth. The Vedas state that one formless supreme Being exists, who is omniscient, omnipotent, eternal, imperishable, benevolent, and blissful, who co-exists with prakriti or primeval energy from which the world is created. God also co-exists with the jivas, individual spiritual selves, who are subject to karma and rebirth. The state of moksa, liberation, is only temporary, for souls fall from heaven back into the cycle of rebirth. Such a view is unique in Hinduism.
It is also held that the Vedas tell of scientific discoveries, the ancient Aryans knowing about aeroplanes, steamships, and the telegraph, but the knowledge being lost after the Mahabharata war. Not all the Aryas believe in this.
The most sacred texts were revealed to rishis, ancient sages, before the Mahabharata war, for after the war came Hindu degeneration.
The doctrines of Swami Dayananda were written in Satyarth Prakas, A Declaration of Truth's Meaning, first published in 1875, the year of the founding of Arya Samaj, and finally revised by 1883, the year of Dayananda's death.

History The founder of Arya Samaj was Swami Dayananda (1824-1883), one of the most powerful figures of modern India, who spread the Vedic religion and through the Arya Samaj played an important part in the Indian Renaissance.
Dayananda was born in the Kathiawar region in Gujerat into a Brahmin family that followed the icon-worship of . As a boy he studied Sanskrit and Vedic texts. Once he went with his father to fast on Shivaratri night in a temple. His father and others fell asleep and he saw mice eating the food offerings on the image and further desecrating it. This made him disillusioned of image-worship and he told his father there was no god in the image and if there was he was impotent and not worth worshipping. His parents tried to marry him but he left home and wandered in a search for true knowledge, studying and debating sacred Sanskrit texts - it is said he even forgot Gujerati, being attracted to an Advaitic interpretation of the Upanishads and practising yoga. His guru from 1860 for two and a half years was the Sanskritist Virjanand Sarasvati.
It is said that Dayananda had a vision of his life's work in 1845 but it was not until 1875 that he actually established the Arya Samaj. Before this the Brahmo Samaj had tried to woo Dayananda to its cause as had the Theosophical Society, which was even to recognise their own Society as a branch of Arya Samaj. The successful Brahmo movement caused him to change his image from ascetic to a conventionally dressed figure. He also learnt Hindi to aid his teaching. The Arya Samaj was founded in Bombay but did not take off until two years later in the Punjab with merchant castes and professional people. The Brahmos were too westernised for them, but the Arya Samaj offered the traditional Vedas and the supposed progressiveness of the Vedas.
The influence of the Arya Samaj was mainly in north-west India. It followed Dayananda in being a militant missionary movement, which attacked image-worship, the multiplicity of gods and goddesses, the idea of avatars, ancestor worship, the doctrine of maya, the caste system, child marriage, the inferior status of women, fatalism, belief in the Puranas and Tantras, and meaningless rituals. It was important also in the nationalist movement.
Today the Arya Samaj is still an important religio-political force in urban and rural areas mainly in northern India. It is active in the educational and social fields. Politically it is associated all over India with militant Hindu fundamentalism.

Symbols Dayananda and his Arya Samaj reject image-worship. Dayananda thought the use of images, rituals, and ceremonies had lost their meaning, continuing only through inertia and because of the vested interests of the priests. However, in Arya meetings some Sanskritic rituals are practised that are claimed to be derived from the Vedas. But these do not have the rationale of the ancient Vedic yajna,sacrificial rites; they are primarily symbolic performances that remind the adherents of the Vedic past as they claim it was.

Adherents An estimated membership of over one million (Hopkins in Eliade 1987, Vol. 1, 433). There are chapters in almost every city and town in northern India.

Main Centre
 Bombay, India.