Skip to main content

Swami Dayananda Saraswati

Swami Dayananda Saraswati

The Indian religious leader Swami Dayananda Saraswati (1824-1883) founded the Arya Samaj, or Society of Nobles, and epitomized the aggressive Hindu religious reformer.

Dayananda Saraswati was born into a wealthy Brahmin family in Gujarat, a part of western India somewhat isolated from British colonial influence. He was raised in the orthodox Hindu tradition but soon found himself unsatisfied with the archaic teachings and practices, especially idol worship and other primitivisms imposed on him. At the age of 19 he left his family and undertook a long period of rigorous, ascetic study of the ancient Vedas—the oldest core of the Hindu religion.

Dayananda concluded that current religious beliefs and social institutions were hopelessly corrupt. With this conviction he began to preach an aggressive reforming doctrine which urged a return to the pristine Vedic tradition. While his commitments seemed basically "fundamentalist" and somewhat orthodox, in fact, he advocated radical reforms such as the abolition of idol worship, of child marriages, of the inequality of women, and of hereditary caste privileges. He praised the way of the Europeans and named as the causes of their advancement their representative assemblies, education, active lives, and the fact that they "help their countrymen in trade."

In his religious teaching he accepted the old doctrine of karma and transmigration, but he developed a highly sophisticated monistic philosophy which stressed ideals of self-perfection and ethical universalism: "I believe in a religion based on universal and all-embracing principles which have always been accepted as true by mankind—the primeval eternal religion, which means that it is above the hostility of all human creeds whatsoever." In 1875 Dayananda founded the Arya Samaj in Bombay as the institutional medium for the propagation of his teaching. He preached in vernacular Hindi in an effort to break through the elitist Sanskrit culture and to reach the masses. His society was open to all men and women on the basis of personal interest and commitment. His disciples perused the Vedas in minute detail, finding there the essential precursors of Western science and technology, including electricity, microbiology, and other modern inventions.

His outspoken criticism of Hindu tradition and his reforming interests provoked the hatred of many orthodox and conservative circles, and he argued abrasively with Moslem and Christian sectarians in favor of the universal philosophy of his own interpretation of the Vedas. Numerous attempts were made on his life, and he was finally poisoned in 1883.

The Arya Samaj was one of the most influential movements of the early modern period in India. It contributed to the rise of Indian nationalism by instilling a sense of pride in the integrity of the most unique and ancient traditions of Indian heritage while simultaneously undercutting the great bulk of conservative Hindu interpretation and law. Dayananda's personality and purifying reforms earned him the epithet "the Luther of India."

Further Reading

Dayananda's Light of Truth was translated into English in 1906. A biography of Dayananda is Har Bilas Sarda, Life of Dayananda Saraswati, World Teacher (1946).

Additional Sources

Arya, Krishan Singh, Swami Dayananda Sarasvati: a study of his life and work, Delhi: Manohar, 1987.

Bawa, Arjan Singh, Dayananda Saraswati, founder of Arya Samaj, New Delhi: Ess Ess Publications, 1979.

Autobiography of Dayanand Saraswati, New Delhi: Manohar, 1978.

Jordens, J. T. F., Dayåananda Sarasvatåi, his life and ideas, Delhi:Oxford University Press, 1978.

Lajpat Rai, Lala, Swami Dayananda Saraswati: his biography and teachings, New Delhi: Reliance Pub. House; New York, N.Y.: Distributed by Apt Books, 1991.

Pandey, Dhanpati, Swami Dayanand Saraswati, New Delhi: Publications Division, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Govt. of India, 1985.

Prem Lata, Swami Dayåananda Sarasvatåi, New Delhi: Sumit Publications, 1990. □

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Swami Dayananda Saraswati." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . 16 Jul. 2019 <>.

"Swami Dayananda Saraswati." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . (July 16, 2019).

"Swami Dayananda Saraswati." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Retrieved July 16, 2019 from

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

The Chicago Manual of Style

American Psychological Association

  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.