Arya Samaj (Sanskrit: ārya samāja आर्य समाज "Noble Society" Hindi: आर्य समाज, Bengali: আর্য সমাজ, Punjabi: ਆਰੀਆ ਸਮਾਜ, Gujarati: આર્ય સમાજ) is an 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 on 7 April 1875. Members of the Arya Samaj believe in one God and reject the worship of idols.
Arya Performing Agnihotra
10 April 1875|
Bombay (Now Mumbai), Bombay presidency, British India
|Purpose||Educational, Religious studies, Spirituality, Social Reforms|
|Headquarters||Ajmer, Rajasthan, India|
|श्रीमती परोपकारिणी सभा – Shreemati Paropkarini Sabha|
Between 1869 and 1873, Saraswati began his efforts to reform orthodox Hinduism in India. He established Gurukul (Vedic schools) which emphasised Vedic values, culture, Satya (virtue) and Sanatana Dharma (the essence of living). 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.
The first Vedic school was established at Farrukhabad in 1869. Fifty students were enrolled in its first year. This success led to the founding of schools at Mirzapur (1870), Kasganj (1870), Chhalesar (Aligarh) (1870) and Varanasi (1873).
At the schools, students received all meals, lodging, clothing and books free of charge. Discipline was strict. Students were not allowed to perform murti puja (worship of sculpted stone idols). Rather, they performed Sandhyavandanam (meditative prayer using Vedic mantras with divine sound) and agnihotra (making a heated milk offering twice daily).
The study of Sanskrit scriptural texts which accepted the authority of the Vedas were taught. They included the Vedas, Upanishads, Aranyaka, Kashika, Nirukta, Mahabhasya, Ashtadhyayi, Darshanas. The teaching was open to girls and to children who were not of the Brahmins class.
Dayanand had difficulty finding qualified teachers who agreed with his views on religious reform. There were few textbooks which he considered suitable. Funding was sporadic, attendance fluctuated and students did not achieve desired standards and so some schools closed soon after opening. The last remaining school at Farrukhabad closed in 1876.
In 1872 and 1873, Dayanand travelled and came to know some pro-Western Indian intellectuals including Navin Chandra Roy, Rajnarayan Basu, Debendranath Tagore and Hemendranath Tagore who were actively involved in the Brahmo Samaj. This reform organization, founded in 1828, held many views similar to those of Dayanand. The organisation promoted monotheism and the eternality of the soul; and the abolishment of the hereditary caste or varna system and uplifting people through education. Dayanand disagreed with the Brahmo Samaj about the proper position of the Vedas. Dayanand strongly held the Vedas to be divine revelation.
After visiting Calcutta, Dayanand's work changed. He began lecturing in Hindi rather than in Sanskrit. Although Sanskrit garnered respect, in Hindi, Dayanand reached a much larger audience. His ideas of reform began to reach the poorest people.
In Varanasi, after hearing Dayanand speak, a local government official called Jaikishen Das encouraged Dayanand to publish a book about his ideas. From June to September 1874, Dayanand dictated a series of lectures to his scribe, Bhimsen Sharma. The lectures recorded Dayanand's views on a wide range of subjects. They were published in 1875 in Varanasi with the title Satyarth Prakash ("the light of truth").
While his manuscript for Satyarth Prakash was being edited in Varanasi, Dayanand received an invitation to travel to Bombay. There, he was to debate representatives of the Vallabhacharya sect. On 20 October, 1874, Dayanand arrived in Bombay. The debate, though well publicized, never took place. Nonetheless, two members of the Prarthana Samaj approached Dayanand and invited him to speak at one of their gatherings. He did so and was well received. They recognized Dayanand's desire to uplift the Hindu community and protect Hindus from the pressures to convert to Christianity or Islam. Dayanand spent over one month in Bombay and attracted sixty people to his cause. They proposed founding a new samaj with Dayanand's ideas as its spiritual and intellectual basis.
On 31 December, 1874, Dayanand arrived in Rajkot, Gujarat, on the invitation of Hargovind Das Dvarkadas, the secretary of the local Prarthana Samaj. He invited topics of discourse from the audience and spoke on eight. Again, Dayanand was well received and the Rajkot group elected to join his cause. The Samaj was renamed Arya Samaj (Society of Nobles). Dayanand published a list of twenty-eight rules and regulations for the followers. After leaving Rajkot, Dayanand went to Ahmedabad but his audience at a meeting on 27 January, 1875, did not elect to form a new Arya Samaj. Meanwhile, the Rajkot group had become in a political row.
On his return to Bombay, Dayanand began a membership drive for a local Arya samaj and received one hundred enrolees. On 7 April 1875, the Bombay Arya Samaj was established. Dayanand himself enrolled as a member rather than the leader of the Bombay group. The samaj began to grow.
Dayanand died in 1883. 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). In Punjab, the Arya Samaj was opposed by the Sikh dominated Singh Sabha, the forerunner of the Akali Dal.
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 with an Indian diaspora 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.The British colonial government in the early part of 20th century viewed the Samaj as a political body.Some samajist in government service were dismissed for belonging to the samaj
Pandit Lekh Ram (1858 – 1897) was an Arya Samaj leader who was a contemporary of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (1835 – 1908), the founder of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. Ram contested Ahmad's text, Barahin-e-Ahmadiyya in a work entitled Takzeeb e Barahin Ahmadiyya ("A falsification of the Barahin e Ahmadiyya"). Ram was assassinated on 6 March 1897. Members of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community claimed that this was in accordance with the prophecies of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad.
Ian Talbot of the University of Southampton wrote, "Relations grew particularly bad between the Aryas and the Muslims. Serious violence broke out in 1897 when Pandit Lekh Ram was assassinated. Lekh Ram's greatest influence was in the north-west of Punjab. He had in fact joined the Peshawar Arya Samaj in 1880 and rose to prominence first as a missionary and then as editor of the Arya Gazette. At first he had limited his attacks to the Ahmadi movement of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, but he increasingly attacked orthodox Muslims as well. His pamphlet, Risala-i-Jihad ya'ri Din-i-Muhammad ki Bunyad (A treatise on waging holy war, or the foundation of the Muhammadan Religion) caused a considerable outcry, when it was published in 1892. Until his murder by a Muslim five years later, Lekh Ram continued to stir up animosity by his vituperative writings."
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. In 1915, the samaj lost its following to Mahatma Gandhi.
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
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 was 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 still found in India. Some are authorised to conduct weddings. The samaj is associated with the Dayanand Anglo Vedic (DAV) schools which number over two hundred.
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.
Immigrants to Canada and the United States from Eastern Africa, South Africa, and the Caribbean countries form Arya Samaj for their communities in many Canadian cities including Toronto. Most major metropolitan areas of United States have chapters of Arya Samaj.
Members of the Arya Samaj believe in one almighty creator known as Aum who is mentioned in the Yajur Veda (40:17). They believe the Vedas is an infallible authority. The Arya Samaj members reject other Hindu religious texts because they are not "revealed" works. For instance, they believe books like the Ramayana and the Mahabharata are legends of historical figures, which secondarily have been used as reference to supreme beings and avatars. The members of Arya Samaj reject other scriptural works such as the Bible, and the Quran. They reject the worship of idols. The Arya Samaj promotes the equality of all human beings and the empowerment of women.
The Arya Samaj members recite the Gayatri Mantra , meditation and make offering to the holy fire '('havan). The havan can be performed without a priest in acts of personal worship. Members celebrate Holi (the start of spring) and Diwali (a harvest festival and the victory of good over evil).
Some members of the Arya Samaj are lacto-vegetarian and in general, the eating of beef is avoided. The cow is viewed with respect for its contribution to Indian civilization.
After a death, Arya samaji will often conduct a havan and collect the ashes on the fourth day.
The Arya Samaj celebration of 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 spoken while oil lamps are lit. One Diya lamp, which is of a larger size has two wicks crossed to produce four lights, one in each direction and is lit first. The smaller lamp has one wick. The recitation of the Gayatri mantra occurs in front of a fire altar lit with sandalwood. 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 song (Chautal). It does not require specific prayer or fasting, however some people keep a vegetarian fast on this day. The Arya Samaj does not associate Holi with a particular deity such as Vishnu or Shiva and in comparison to some interpretations of the festival, the Arya Samaj version in more sober and is as per the 4 Vedas.