|Formation||10 April 1875|
Bombay, Bombay Presidency, British India (present-day Mumbai, Maharashtra, India)
|Purpose||Educational, Religious studies, Spirituality, Social Reforms|
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Arya Samaj (Hindi: आर्य समाज, lit. 'Noble Society', IAST: Ārya Samāja) is considered a monotheistic Indian Hindu reform movement that promotes values and practices based on the belief in the infallible authority of the Vedas. The samaj was founded by the sannyasi (ascetic) Dayanand Saraswati in the 1870s.
Arya Samaj was the first Hindu organization to introduce proselytization in Hinduism. The organization has also worked towards the growth of civil rights movement in India since 1800s.
The formal foundation date of the Arya Samaj is 24 June 1877 because it was then, in Lahore when the Samaj became more than just a regional movement based in Punjab.
Between 1869 and 1873, Dayanand began his efforts to reform orthodox Hinduism in India. He established Gurukul (Vedic schools) which emphasised Vedic values, culture, and Satya (Truth). The schools gave separate educations to boys and girls based on ancient Vedic principles. The Vedic school system was also to relieve Indians from the pattern of a British education.
Due to Schisms in Adi Brahmo Samaj at Calcutta, a new variant of Adi Brahmoism called Arya Samaj began to take root in the Punjab. When he traveled to Calcutta Swami Dayanand had come into close and extended contact with Raj Narayan Bose, Debendranath Tagore etc. Swami Dayanand closely studied Tagore's book Brahmo Dharma, a comprehensive manual of religion and ethics for Adi Dharma, while in Calcutta. The bone of contention between these two Samaj's was over the authority of the Vedas - whose authority the Adi Dharma reject and hold to be inferior works, whereas Arya Samaj hold Vedas to be divine revelation. Despite this difference of opinion, however, it seems that the members of the Brahmo Samaj and Swami Dayanand parted on good terms, the former having publicly praised the latter’s visit to Calcutta in several journals and the latter having taken inspiration from the former’s activity in the social sphere. 
Dayanand was assassinated in 1883. Despite this set back, the Arya Samaj continued to grow, especially in Punjab. The early leaders of the Samaj were Pandit Lekh Ram (1858 – 1897) and Swami Shraddhanand (Mahatma Munshi Ram Vij) (1856 – 1926). Some authors claim that the activities of the Samaj led to increased antagonism between Muslims and Hindus. Shraddhanand led the Shuddhi movement that aimed to bring Hindus who had converted to other religions back to Hinduism.
In 1893, the Arya Samaj members of Punjab were divided on the question of vegetarianism. The group that refrained from eating meat were called the "Mahatma" group and the other group, the "Cultured Party".
In the early 1900s, the Samaj (or organizations inspired by it such as Jat Pat Todak Mandal) campaigned against caste discrimination. They also campaigned for widow remarriage and women's education. The samaj also established chapters in British colonies having Indian population such as South Africa, Fiji, Mauritius, Suriname, Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago.
Prominent Indian Nationalists such as Lala Lajpat Rai belonged to Arya Samaj and were active in its campaigning. Bhagat Singh's grandfather followed Arya Samaj, which had a considerable influence on Bhagat Singh. The British colonial government in the early part of 20th century viewed the Samaj as a political body. Some Samajis in government service were dismissed for belonging to the Samaj.
In the 1930s, when the Hindu Nationalist group, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh grew in prominence in Northern India, they found support from the Arya Samaj of Punjab.
In Punjab, the Arya Samaj was opposed by the Ahmadiyya movement which provided the Samaj one of its most aggressive opponents from among the various Muslim groups and whose founder Mirza Ghulam Ahmad was extensively involved in theological disputations with Samaj leaders, most notably with Pandit Lekh Ram. It was also opposed by the Sikh dominated Singh Sabha, the forerunner of the Akali Dal.
The Samaj was active in Sindh at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century. The activities of the Samaj in the region included using shuddhi in integrating half-Muslim or low-caste communities into the organization. Narayan Dev, a Samaj member active in making many conversions is extolled as a Sindhi martyr. He is sometimes referred to as 'Dayanand ka vir sipahi' (Dayanand's 's heroic soldier). Dev was killed in a street fight in 1948. The history of Sindhi nationalism is also tied with the activities of the Arya Samaj. In the 19th century, the Hindu community of Sindh had been challenged by Christian missionaries and the Samaj served as a deterrent to the "conversion" done by Christian missionaries in the region. A Hindu Sindhi leader, K. R. Malkani, later on became prominent in the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), and the BJP. According to Malkani, the Arya Samaj created a "new pride" among the Hindu Sindhis by opening gymnasia and Sanskrit pathshalas in the 1930s.
The Arya Samaj of Gujarat members were missionaries from Punjab who had been encouraged to move to Gujarat to carry out educational work amongst the untouchable castes by the maharaja, Sayajirao Gaekwad III. The Gujarat Samaj opened orphanages. The samaj starting losing support when Mahatma Gandhi returned to India in 1915 because many activist joined his movement.
In 1921, during a rebellion by the Muslim Moplah community of Malabar Indian newspapers reported that a number of Hindus were forcibly converted to Islam. The Arya Samaj extended its efforts to the region to reconvert these people back to Hinduism through Shuddhi ceremonies.: p.141–152
The then Shankaracharya of Badrinath math in 1939 in a letter to the archbishop of Canterbury, called Arya Samajis Un-Hindu. He also criticized the Samaj efforts at converting Christians and Muslims.
A branch of Arya Samaj was established at Dharur in Beed district of Hyderabad state, the largest princely state during British colonial rule. Keshav Rao Koratkar was the president of the organization until 1932. During his tenure, the Samaj, established schools and libraries throughout the state. Although a social and religious organization, the Samaj activities assumed a great political role in resisting the government of the Nizam during 1930s. In 1938–1939, Arya Samaj teamed up with the Hindu Mahasabha to resist the Nizam government through Satyagraha. The Nizam government responded by raiding and desecrating Arya Samaj mandirs. The Samaj, in turn, criticized Islam and the Islamic rulers of the state. This widely increased the gulf between the Hindu and Muslim population of the state.
Arya Samaj promoted the use of Hindi in Punjab and discouraged the use of Punjabi. This was a serious point of difference between the Sikhs, represented by the Shiromani Akali Dal group and the Arya Samaj. The difference was marked during the period immediately following the independence of India and the time of the Punjabi Suba movement (demand for a Punjabi speaking state).
Arya Samaj is a charitable organisation. For example, donations were made to victims of the 1905 Kangra earthquake. The samaj campaigned for women's right to vote, and for the protection of widows.
Arya Samaj schools and temples are found in almost all major cities and as well as in rural areas (especially in the North region) of India. Some are authorised to conduct weddings. The Samaj is associated with the Dayanand Anglo Vedic (DAV) schools which number over eight hundred. There are eight million followers of the Samaj in India.
A branch of Arya Samaj was established in 2015 in Angul district in the state of Odisha.
Arya Samaj is active in countries including Guyana, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago, Fiji, Australia, South Africa, Kenya, Mauritius and other countries where a significant Hindu diaspora is present. The Arya Samaj in Kenya runs a number of schools in Nairobi and other cities of the country.
Immigrants to Canada and the United States from South Asia, Eastern Africa, South Africa, and the Caribbean countries have set up Arya Samaj temples for their respective communities. Most major metropolitan areas of the United States have chapters of Arya Samaj.
Members of the Arya Samaj believe in one creator God referred to with the syllable 'Aum' as mentioned in the Yajur Veda (40:17). They believe the Vedas are an infallible authority, and they respect the Upanishads and Vedic philosophy. The Arya Samaj members reject other Hindu religious texts because they are not pure works, and because these texts promote things do not support their ideology and are therefore against the Vedas. For instance, they believe epics like the Ramayana and the Mahabharata are legends of historical figures, and reject them as reference to supreme beings and avatars. The members of Arya Samaj also reject other scriptural works such as the Puranas, the Bible, and the Quran. Worship of idols (murti puja) is strictly prohibited.
The core beliefs of Arya Samaj are postulated below:
The Arya Samaj members consider the Gayatri Mantra, as the most holy mantra and chant it periodically, do the meditation known as "Sandhya" and make offering to the holy fire (havan). The havan can be performed with a priest for special occasions or without a priest for personal worship. The havan is performed as per the havan pustika, usually a simplified guide to do havan, having mantras for general or special occasions. The priest is generally a Vedic scholar from the local Arya Samaj Mandir or Gurukul. Sometimes elder members of family or neighbours can also perform the havan acting as a purohit. The host is known as the "Yajmana". The priest can be called an "Acharya", "Swami Ji" or "Pandit Ji" depending upon his scholarly status and local reputation. It is customary to give a nominal "dakshina" to the priest after havan, although in Arya Samaj it is more symbolic and the priest does not state any sum. The sum is decided by the host's capability and status but is still a small amount. After a death, Arya Samajis will often conduct a havan and collect the ashes on the fourth day.
Diwali is a very important day in Arya Samaj as Swami Dayanand died this day. A special havan is done for the same.
The Arya Samaj version of the Hindu festival Diwali is typified by the celebration in Suriname. The festival celebrates the victory of good over evil. A vegetarian fast is kept. The Gayatri Mantra is recited while oil lamps are lit, in front of a fire altar lit with sandalwood. One Diya lamp, which is of larger size has two wicks crossed to produce four lights, one in each direction and is lit first. The smaller lamp has one wick. A lamp is kept in every room except the bathroom and restroom. More lamps can be lit, which can be placed arbitrarily in the yard, living room and so on.
Holi is celebrated as the conclusion of winter and the start of spring to sow the land and hope for a good harvest. This day is marked by colors and songs (Chautal). It does not require specific prayer or fasting, however, some people keep a vegetarian fast on this day. The festivities do not associate Holi with a particular deity such as Vishnu or Shiva. The early Arya Samajist in 19th century Lahore adapted the festival to include prayers and havan but avoid the intoxication, and obscenities associated with traditional celebrations.
See also: Yatra