Our historiography of the 19th century intellectual developments is saturated with either excessive adulation or supercilious debunking of our early modernizers. Of late, however, some scholarly studies have been provided to relate them to a proper historical context and to assess their strengths, weaknesses and limitations, and to know the constraints imposed upon their modernizing efforts by the colonial rule. But these studies cover only Bengal intellectuals while similar and comparable works on the intellectuals of other states are not available. Inevitably, there is a gap in our knowledge of the biographical details of most of our early intellectuals. It is hoped that the present work would supply the desideratum at least in the case of the great reformer and intellectual, Swami Dayanand Saraswati.
My debt to the people who helped in the preparation of this book I have gratefully acknowledged in its first edition (1976). Many of them have continued to help in the preparation of this enlarged version. I would like particularly to thank Dr. Bhawani Lal Bhartiya, Dr. K.N. Panikkar and Dr. Rajbir Singh Lohan for their suggestions and criticisms. I am also grateful to my wife Shashipriya and sons Dr. Neeraj, Nitin and daughters-in-law Rita and Shraddha for assisting in numerous ways.
Autobiographical writing in India is basically a product of modern times. In the olden times a general notion had persisted amongst Indians that self-portraiture was ashistata (bad manners). The popularity of this belief probably accounts for the complacent indifference to the composition of autobiographical writings even during the medieval period when some of the rulers under the influence of Central Asian tradition, encouraged this form of writing. In the nineteenth century, however, the elite influenced by western ideas tried their hand at it, and consequently a fairly good number of autobiographies appeared either in form of fragments or full-scale portraits.
Dayanand’s Autobiography exemplifies the earlier form of autobiographical writing produced in India during the nineteenth century. It consists of three fragments written between 1875 and 1879. The first fragment is an account of his early life, education and activities until 1856, which he wrote in Hindi at the instance of Col. H.S. Olcott for The Theosophist, a monthly journal of the Theosophical Society of India, Adyar (Madras). This fragment was translated into English and published in The Theosophist in its issues of October 1879, December 1879 and November 1880 with editorial comments (in the footnotes) on certain technical points by Madame H.P. Blavatsky. Unfortunately, we do not posses the original Hindi manuscript in its complete form. Dayanand gave a copy of it in three parts, with all his papers, to his successor, the Paropakarini Sabha which managed to preserve only the first two parts. On comparison of the available Hindi manuscript with The Theosophist fragment, I found that The Theosophist version was rather mechanical and at places quite confusing. I have, therefore, revised The Theosophist fragment of these two parts to make it accurate and intelligible. Nothing could be done with the third part which has been reproduced as it was.
The second fragment is a brief narrative of what Dayanand related about himself at the instance of his friends and admires at Poona on 27 August 1875. This account was recorded and published in Marathi soon thereafter. Its English rendering has been done by me. The fragment covers Dayanand’s life story up to 1875.
Unfortunately, there is no account of his last eight years (1876-1883) left by Dayanand. Probably he was too busy with his work of reform all through these years and thus found little time for tidying up the story of the most significant period of his life. I have, however, tried to make good this deficiency, though in a very limited way, by reproducing some details of consequential importance both relating to his life and the national history in Dayanand’s own words taken from his letters. These extracts, appearing in English for the first time, will, I hope, present an admirable index to Dayanand’s life and his attitude towards important problems and events of his time.
The third fragment, ‘My Beliefs and Disbeliefs’, is a brief expose of Dayanand’s philosophy and thought. It was completed in Hindi in 1875 and appended to the second edition of his famous work Satyartha Prakasha. Later on, it was published separately in various languages. Its English rendering has been done by me.
Many people have complained that Dayanand’s Autobiography does not rank high in this class of literature composed in that age. True, his Autobiography does not, like Annie Besant’s self-portrait, autobiography a picture of the inner conflict of its author. The content of Dayanand’s Autobiography falls short of Ddoba Panduranga’s comprehensive treatment of his own life. Yet the Autobiography is a valuable document for the purpose of modern Indian history. It answers, though partially, many of the baffling questions with which the present historians of the 18-19th century are confronted. How did the contemporary intellectuals look at their problems of life in those days? Did these people have a correct understanding of their time and a clear vision of their future? And if they did, what were their impressions like? And lastly, how did they work? What were their ideologies, programmes and methods?
The glimpse of contemporary life which is presented in Dayanand’s Autobiography is indeed painful. It points, though not in so many words, to the intolerable sufferings and plight of the Indian society, partly owing to ‘our own follies’ and partly owing to the political domination of and economic exploitation by a foreign colonial power.
It is ordinarily believed that our people did not have ‘the feel’ of this state of their affairs, far less knew the ways and means to improve upon it, until the British bestowed upon them the blessings of their rule by their dissemination of western knowledge. Without in any way minimizing the positive role of the western impact in modernizing India, this belief is, I think, wide of the historical mark. You do not have to tell the wearer where the shoe pinches! The pain is felt by one and all alike. Every sufferer tries to find out the ways and means to get rid of his suffering and to improve his position according to his mental capacity and material resources. Indian society was by no means an exception to this rule.
Another notion that persists is that the pre-British Indian society was totally static and unchanging. The social reform movements launched by Indian intellectuals of the 18th and early 19th centuries which were not modeled on the West negate this theory. The Kartabhajas, Spashtadayakas, Sahebdanis, Khushivishwasis, Ramavallabhis, Hariboles, Kurapanthis in Bengal; the Satnamis, Paltudasis, Apapanthis and Charandasis in Rajasthan and Delhi; the Garibdasis and Sadhs in Haryana; the Satanamis in Madhya Pradesh; the Virabharams in Andhra Pradesh and the Sanmargasanghis in Tamil Nadu were indigenous efforts for improvement long before the advent of the westernized leaders of reform. These religious movements had denounced polytheism, idolatry and the caste system and led campaigns against infanticide and sati and urged a better treatment of widows. They opposed in the strongest terms the superstitions and empty rituals which were corrupting the Hindu society. They laid great emphasis on personal morality, and stood for social justice and equality.
It is surprising, however, when some scholars, despite all these facts before us, dismiss these movements as a few inconsequential individuals’ revolts against status quo without any social significance. No doubt the westernized, systematic organizational apparatus was absent in the functioning of these movements but they had their own indigenous techniques of organization which were quite effective. And this explains how many of these movements came to have as many as 40,000 to 50,000 followers—a strength which the westernized movements could never muster. As a matter of fact, the role of the western impact, especially in the case of the social reform movements in the ‘remaking ‘of India in the 19th century, has been in a certain sense over-emphasized. A mountain seems to have been made of a mole hill.
**Contents and Sample Pages**
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