By Dr. Ragotham Sundararajan
Pujaniya Swami Dayananda Saraswathi lived an unparalleled life as a Hindu Sanyasi, preceptor and protector in service of Hindu Dharma and Hindu Samaj.
Born as Natarajan in Manjakudi, Thanjavur district, Tamil Nadu on 15 August 1930 to Shri. Gopala Iyer and Smt. Valambal, Swami Dayananda grew up and completed his education there and then relocated to Chennai. The responsibility of taking care of the family had come to him due to the death of his father many years earlier. In Chennai, Swami ji started his working life as a journalist for Dharmika Hindu, a weekly magazine. Eventually, he got interested in becoming a fighter pilot and joined the Indian Air Force, but left the same after six months since he felt it was too restricting for him.
These early years give us a glimpse of Swami ji’s unique qualities that we came to know of later in his life, namely, patriotism (perhaps he had to be a deshbhakth, being born on the day Bharat would become free of colonial rule many years later!), a spiritual bent of mind and keen interest in Vedanta and a free spirit that liked openness and enquiry.
Budding Vedantin and Young Sanyasi
Being interested in Vedanta, Swami ji joined the Chinmaya Mission of Swami Chinmayananda and became its first Secretary in 1953. He learned Sanskrit and imbibed the substance of many a Hindu spiritual work, including Bhagwad Gita. Swamiji then became editor of Tyagi, the Chinmaya Mission fortnightly magazine and was asked to move to Bangalore by Swami Chinmayananda, where he studied under Prof. Veeraraghavachariar in the Sanskrit College.
At this turning point in his life, Swami ji sought and got the opportunity to study Vedanta under Swami Pranavananda of Gudivada, during which time he came to understand the inner and direct meaning of Vedanta and self-enquiry, the pinnacle of Hindu spiritual thought and wisdom. As a culmination of these initial years of his spiritual Sadhana, Swami ji who was Natarajan till then, decided to become a Sanyasi with the permission of Swami Chinmayananda in 1962. Thus was born the glorious life of erudite scholar, master and patriot saint, Swami Dayananda Saraswathi.
As a young Sanyasi, Swami Dayananda was given the responsibility of editing the Chinmaya Mission magazine, Tapovan Prasad. In the just started Sandeepany Sadhanalay of the Mission in Bombay, Swami ji taught Gita and Upanishads to students. After the ill-health of Swami Chinmayananda, Swami ji also started giving public talks and lectures in several places across Bharat. Eventually, he designed and conducted a three-year intense study program in the Sandeepany Sadhanalay, focused on the complete delineation of Vedanta.
History of Service and Leadership to Hindu Dharma and Hindu Samaj
To spread the teachings of Vedanta and create shishyas who can teach the subject to a vast audience, Swami ji started the Arsha Vidya (means, Knowledge of the Rishis) Gurukulam in Rishikesh. Here, teachings of Vedanta, Upanishads, Brahmasutras and other classical texts is given to students who live with the Guru’s and learn the subjects, in the traditional sampradaya of a Gurukula. In 1986, Swami ji founded the Gurukulam center in Saylorsborg, Pennsylvania, USA. In 1990, he founded the Gurukulam in Anaikatti, Coimbatore.
In 1999 Swami ji formed the Dharma Rakshana Samiti in Chennai, wherein he took-up religious conversion as an important issue to be combated and forthrightly declared that conversion is violence. Further, Swami ji also brought together all the traditional Hindu Mathadhipatis and Mandaleswars under the umbrella of the Hindu Dharma Acharya Sabha, a first in the history of Hindu religion. From raising its voice against religious conversions, to declaring that there is no spiritual sanction for caste- or birth-based discriminations, the Sabha has played a stellar role in uniting and strengthening the voice of Hindu Samaj and providing a platform for Hindu dharma Guru’s, including that of many unorganized Hindu traditions.
Swami ji also started several Veda Pathasalas to preserve the rendition and propagation of Vedas, which have been dying due to lack of support from state and community in general. He also appointed many Oduvars (Singers) to chant the Panniru Thirumurai, songs of the Shaiva Siddhantha Philosophy.
Swami Dayananda founded the AIM for Seva (All India Movement for Seva) organization in 2000, under the Hindu Dharma Acharya Sabha to promote philanthropy and social service. Its main focus is to make quality education and healthcare accessible to all children, especially those from rural areas.
Swami ji made stellar efforts to promote inter-religious dialogue, for example with the Jewish religion. In these dialogues, he firmly articulated the need for all religions to respect and accept each other as valid paths to attain spiritual experience and God realization or liberation. He also stressed the fundamental differences between Hindu dharma’s harmonious worldview based on ‘Ekam Sat, Viprah Bahuda Vadanti’ and Abrahamic faiths which are based on exclusive and discriminatory worldviews, inimical to world peace and unity.
Contribution to Dharmic Literature
Swami ji has written a number of publications on matters of religion, spirituality and issues of daily life. The topics include the meaning of God, what is meditation, management of anger, Self-Enquiry, among others. A vivacious and engaging speaker, he immediately connected with his audience and communicated the ancient Hindu wisdom in contemporary terms in a way that was at once absorbing in its substance and clear in its communication. In his various trips abroad, Swami ji elucidated on Vedanta and essentials of Hindu Dharma with missionary zeal and clarity to global audience, which perhaps is only comparable to what Swami Vivekananda displayed almost a century earlier.
A multi-faceted and affectionate personality, a spiritual Guru who had attained the peak of understanding of Vedanta through spiritual Sadhana and mentored many disciples, a philosopher deeply concerned about world peace and unity, erudite scholar and consummate speaker and above all a fierce follower and champion of Hindu Dharma, who believed in its potential for elevating and liberating mankind from all its ills, Swami Dayananda Saraswathi breathed his last on September 23, 2015 in Arsha Vidya Gurukulam, Rishikesh. This ended the extraordinary life of an immense spiritual giant of Bharat, whose heart beat every moment for Bharat and Hindu dharma, indeed for the welfare of all humanity. Even as we pay homage his life and mission, we should remember and be inspired by the causes he championed all his life as a Hindu Sanyasi and preceptor and protector of Hindu Dharma.