Mauritius prepares to celebrate the Maha Shivaratree with piety and fervour this week and pilgrims from all over the island will converge towards the sacred lake of Ganga Talao to fetch the gangajal for the abhishekh at their respective shivalas on 7th March. Since quite a few years now pilgrims also come from various parts of the world, including Holland, UK, France, India, South Africa and nearby Reunion Island.
It is good to recall another event associated with Maha Shivaratri. As we celebrate the Cosmic Dance of the universe through this happy calendric festival, in remembrance of Shiva, the Great One, the Auspicious One we should recall also that it is on the night of Maha Shivaratri that another revelation occurred. Known as Rishi Bodh it is the day knowledge came to the young Moolshankar Tiwari, who later would flower as the towering revolutionary Swami Dayanand Saraswati, founder of the Arya Samaj, a worldwide Hindu reformist movement.
Sometimes one wonders at these extraordinary beautiful turning moments in the lives of great men and women. Lord Buddha abandoned a princely life of leisure, pleasure and future kingdom in search of Truth. Mahatma Gandhi abandoned his profession to practise Karma Yoga and Desh Bhakti by putting his knowledge and energies to the cause of liberation of India from the shackles of colonialism and also brought innumerable changes to uplift men and women. There was also a turning point in the life of Goswami Tulsidas who, on being spurned by his beloved wife Ratna Devi, turned his back to a life of passion and concentrated his energies to write the ‘Ramcharitmanas’ in Awadhi; it has since then become a very popular scriptural literature down the centuries, extending to Mauritius and the diaspora countries. The great saint Mirabai, composer of beautiful lyrics and bhajans, renounced palatial comforts for the life of a mendicant.
What turned Moolshankar into Swami Dayanand?
Born on 20 September 1824 in a village called Tankara in Kathiawar, Gujarat, Moolshankar belonged to a pious Saivite Hindu family. He learnt Sanskrit and knew the Vedas by heart. On the night of the Char Prahar Ki Puja of Maha Shivaratri, the young boy judiciously obeyed his father to do the night vigil to obtain the divine merits that such a wake is meant to bestow. However as all the people around him fell asleep, the boy Moolshankar kept tenaciously at his divine watch. Just then he noticed a rat sneaking its way to the Shivaling to eat the prasads offered. This shocked him into real awakening. The young boy was horrified and rebelled against the orthodoxy of his parents.
At the age of fourteen, he lost his sister and one of his most beloved uncles. Like Buddha he realized that nothing is permanent in life. This made up his mind. Disturbed by his son’s rebellion, Moolshankar’s father decided to get him married. So the young man ran away from home, like Buddha, and became an ascetic going around India with his begging bowl. He visited several gurus over the years. In fact Moolshankar was extremely intelligent and had a logical mind. His thirst for Truth could not be quenched.
Finally he came to the ashram of Swami Virjananda in 1860 in Mathura. In Virjananda Swami Dayanand found his true Guru. At the end of two and a half years Swami Dayanand Saraswati promised his Guru that he would spread the message of the Vedas and remove ignorance from people’s delusive minds. He fought relentlessly against illiteracy.
Thus it was that Swami Dayanand promised to fight against superstitious beliefs, idol worship and ignorance. To do this he toured the whole of India starting from Punjab. He set up the Arya Samaj movement. He also wrote ‘Satyarth Prakash’ in Hindi. Though a Gujarati and his mother tongue was Gujarati, yet Swami Dayanand was farsighted and realized that Hindi should be the national language of India. In the words of KM Munshi, a great Indian erudite and philosopher-educator, “Swami Dayanand was the first architect of modern India.”
Arya Samaj was established in Mauritius in 1909 by a band of devoted Arya Samajists and this brought a great awakening among the masses. Arya Samaj had tremendous impact also elsewhere in the diaspora countries. In fact Swami Dayanand’s message helped to give social mobility, dignity and esteem to people as well as access to Vedic teachings and other scriptures. He also moved for equal rights.
It is worth mentioning that as we are celebrating the International Woman’s Day (8th March), it was Swami Dayanand who promoted forcefully the emancipation of women and girls as far back as the nineteenth century. Thus in Mauritius the Kanya Patshala for girls was started as early as 1915.
Swami Dayanand inspired national unity of India. In Mauritius, the Arya Samaj inspired his followers towards the Independence of the country and the fight for human rights. The Arya Samaj is one such dynamic movement which encouraged women to read and know the Vedas and to become panditas (priestesses), much earlier than feminist movements in the West. He was an avant garde and great humanitarian. He fought relentlessly against child marriage and ill-treatment of widows.
As we move towards Ganga Talao, and focus on Mangal Mahadev, let us also remember the great Swami Dayanand Saraswati who made people recoil from ignorance, illiteracy and superstitions. Let us also get the real interpretation of Shiva, as the ultimate manifestation of Light – in our Being. The legends and tales that abound in the Shiva Purana giving countless anecdotes about Shiva have also inspired poets, artists, sculptors and musical composers throughout the ages from the hoary past down to the present era. Today they ignite the creative energies of TV serial producers, and cartoon books, blog, ebooks, etc. They have also inspired folk traditions. Hence the numerous Bhojpuri songs known as Mahadev sung at Geet Gawai at pre-wedding ceremonies give innumerable romantic and languorous interpretations of the marriage of Shiva and Parvati, all inspired from Shiva Purana.
When we meditate upon Shiva to remove ignorance and bring serenity to our mind, let us also remember the Great Swami Dayanand Saraswati who was inspired to bring the Vedas to everybody and enlightened our lives. But let us also ask ourselves as Shri Anup Kumar Mudgal, High Commissioner of India, so rightly asked recently at an Arya Samaj function in his usual logical manner: Who then is a true Aryan? And who is an Anaryan? (non-Aryan)? The day we learn to be compassionate, we do not cause pain or misery to any one through our actions or thoughts, that day then we can consider ourselves to be true Aryans, said Mr Mudgal. So this is the eternal journey and quest of mankind. Times and situations change but the basics remain the same. The Maha Shivaratri and Rishi Bodh are two sides of the same coin. Let us reflect upon this eternal Truth.
* Published in print edition on 4 March 2015