Why has Arya Samaj lost its meaning

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On the basis of this, the term Shuddhi no uniform definition can be given, but depending on the phase of its development it has to be viewed anew, i.e. redefined. This begins with its original meaning, an old Brahmin cleansing ritual, over its extension in the early 19th century and leads to the invention of the new tradition of a ritual for conversion for those who have "fallen away" from Hinduism and thus also to the possibility of active conversion of people of different faiths. Starting from this interreligious conversion ceremony, the intention was to enable social advancement for untouchables, who were previously excluded from Indian society, in order to break down the fixed social barriers of the Indian caste system.

This article deals primarily with the origin and first, "hot" phase of this conversion ritual, from the beginning of the 19th century to the mid-20s of the last century, but this topic has not lost any of its topicality. Even today, a heated debate continues, often accompanied by unrest, when the numbers of Muslim missionary successes become known.

On numerous Internet sites the impression arises that the apparent fear of the extinction of one's own 'race' and religion persists and the danger of an impending Islamization of India is felt. Forums such as Crusadewatch.com, Hinduunity.org or Hinduweb.org show losses and gains in the number of devout Hindus and call for donations for Hindu missionary campaigns. The extent to which these pages represent real facts or play with fears and emotions remains the subject of further research.

Foreign domination and identification

British colonial rule in India and the associated cultural exchange, which on the British side expressed itself, among other things, through criticism of the foundations of Hinduism, caused an identity crisis among the educated upper class of India that lasted for many decades. As a result, many Hindus increasingly grappled with their own history and culture, which among other things led to the emergence of the so-called 'Hindu Renaissance'.

The large number of interventions in religious matters by the Hindus, such as the permission of Christian churches to carry out missionary activities in 1813, the prohibition of widow burning in 1829, the permission of their remarriage, as well as the granting of inheritance rights for widows, to name just a few, resulted to further intensify this identity crisis.

Just as the word renaissance means a return to antiquity in the European context, in the case of India it means a return to the 'Golden Age' of Vedic culture and explicitly excludes the period of Muslim rule. From 1206, beginning with the Sultanate of Delhi, there was a first permanent Islamic government in large parts of India, which lasted with restrictions until the beginning of British colonial rule in the second half of the 18th century. For this reason, the various Hindu reform movements that emerged as a result were primarily concerned with the return of Hinduism to its assumed original form and its supposed heyday in ancient India.

The criticism of cultural-religious aspects of Hinduism, intensified by Christianity, Islam and British colonial rule, caused his reform movements to seek purification of later additions that were perceived as negative by parts of Hindu society in the 19th century, such as widow burning, Child marriage or the ban on remarriage of widows. As in the example of the movement of the Arya Samaj and its Shuddhi-Movement becomes clear, this cultural confrontation in turn led to the invention of new traditions, albeit using an old ritual, and thus new additions.

The old Shuddhi-Ritual and changes at the beginning of the 19th century.

The Sanskrit word Shuddhi means purification or state of purity and is one of the oldest and most central components of the Hindu traditions. [1] This Brahmanic cleansing ritual, used after ritual pollution or unclean activities, is fundamental to social interaction with caste peers and the performance of religious ceremonies. [2] The need for its use could arise from a variety of causes. This mainly concerned birth and death as well as contact with ritually 'impure' materials or people. [3]

The meaning of this ritual expanded for the first time through the changed possibilities offered by the early 19th century. It was mainly used to reintegrate high-ranking Hindus, especially Brahmins, into their caste. The crossing of the as black water, kala pani, designated marine, i.e. a trip overseas and a stay in foreign countries, were generally considered to be pollution. To return to India as a full member of his own brotherhood, biradrisTo apply, a purification ceremony had to be performed. [4] Otherwise, social interaction with caste peers was ruled out. They were considered to be outcast and contact with them would have 'polluted' their brotherhood. [5]

The need for a conversion ritual

First of all, it must be noted that, compared to other major religions, Hinduism did not have the ability to accept new members into its denomination who had previously belonged to other religions. He did not have the opportunity to go on a mission and his religious affiliation with Hinduism was defined solely by birth.

The main reason for the development of the new tradition lay in the confrontation with Christians and Muslims in northwest India, mainly in Punjab, where Hindus formed the minority of the population in the 19th century. However, it was precisely in this area of ​​India that strong Christian missionary activity began under British colonial rule. This is how, for example, the Punjab began American Presbyterian Mission ceased operations in 1834, followed by the Church Missionary Society (1854) and the Church of Scottland (1855). [6] They supported their missionary work by founding schools and publishing houses, which were responsible for the rapid and widespread dissemination of Christian ideas.

These activities received their great importance for the Hindus through the census introduced by the British administration in 1871. In this way, not only did the colonial power receive an overview of the composition of the population for the first time, but also the Hindus saw for the first time how membership of the various religious groups behaved and what changes the missionary activity of Christians and Muslims brought about. The census can be understood as the beginning of a consciousness and identity finding of Indian societies and thus also of the Hindus as a social group. [7]

The census, carried out every ten years, showed shifts in religious affiliations in 1891. There were percentage increases in the proportion of Christians in the population, even if these were rather insignificant in absolute terms compared to the vast majority of the Hindu population. The proportion of Christians in Punjab had risen by 410 percent within 10 years [8] or, according to other sources, from 4,000 to 19,000 people. [9]

The census aroused a fear among the Hindus, which did not correspond to the actual population conditions, that one day they themselves would be the minority in an overwhelming majority of Christians and Muslims nationwide and, as a final consequence, even die out.

The demand that appeared in the press at this time and continues to this day, "Save the Dying Race", evoked the desire for "a kind of baptism" [10] to create a strengthened Hinduism, which should thereby be enabled to assert oneself against the supposed attacks of Christianity and Islam.

Dayanand Sarasvati and the idea of Shuddhi as a defense against Christians and Muslims

One of the most important and largest Hindu reform movements was the Arya Samaj founded by Dayanand Sarasvati [11] in 1875, who later played a leading role in the Shuddhi-Movement should take. For its founder played an active Shuddhi-Activity only a subordinate role. Rather, he saw his task in reforming Hinduism in its entirety and bringing it back to its original form, that of idealized Indian antiquity. The focus here was not only on combating the 'evils of Hinduism', such as child marriage and caste laws, but above all on the return to the Vedas as a textual basis and the knowledge they contain. For him they were not only the basis of all religious knowledge and the way of life to be derived from it; Sarasvati is convinced that they also contained all knowledge about the innovations of the future, since everything that happens is already predetermined. [12]

Through his confrontation with Christianity and especially Islam, in whose religion he saw bigotry and two different moral systems, one for Muslims and a subordinate one for all those of different faiths [13], he developed his idea of ​​"Shuddhi as a weapon of defense against the Islamic threat ". [14] His concept of Shuddhi therefore dealt with the recovery of people who had previously fallen away from Hinduism. It is thus to be understood as a concept of reconversion, since it was only applicable to those born as Hindus.

An expansion beyond this, that is to say to those who had fallen away from Hinduism in previous generations, did not begin until the end of the 19th century. Due to the insignificance of the Shuddhi- Activities for Dayanand Sarasvati only a few examples have come down from his life in which he performed such a ceremony, for which there was no fixed rite at that time. One is known of a case from 1877 in Punjab where he reconverted a Hindu who had meanwhile become a Christian, and a case from 1879 in which he was one Shuddhi performed on a Muslim [15].

The development of the Shuddhi-Move

Against the background of the worsening situation between the various Indian religious communities, the development of the Shuddhi-Movement can be viewed in separate phases. After all, it is their development from religious reform to the drive for social change, to the means of political mobilization of broad masses, which above all led to the radicalization of the relationship between Hindus and Muslims. Their effect has also contributed to the religious demarcation of the Sikhs from the Hindus and thus led to the emergence of their own Sikh identity, which can be more clearly differentiated from Hinduism than before.

The development of the Shuddhi-Movement until 1900

In the years up to 1890 the ShuddhiMovement shaped by individual converts to faith. In Punjab, for example, 39 conversions are documented for 1884 and 55 for 1885. [16] Due to the constantly growing fear of the strengthening of Christianity and Islam, many were founded Shuddhi Sabhas, Associations for the implementation of Shuddhi-Ceremonies in which Hindus and Sikhs, who proved to be particularly zealous, worked together. Such associations emerged throughout the northwest of India during this period.

At the same time, the Hindu formers had to deal with the criticism of the Orthodox Brahmins, who rejected all changes to Hinduism and attempts to renew it. In order to also include them in a common front against Christians and Muslims, which, however, only succeeded for a short time, the Arya Samaj and his member Lala Munshi Ram [17], who called himself Svami Shraddhanand since 1917 and the Shuddhi-Movement in the first quarter of the 20th century, a new ceremony was established in 1893, which replaced the occasional immersion in the Ganges.

It consisted of shaving the head in the form of a tonsure, havan called, putting on the holy cord, the brown brahmin cord, the recitation of the Gayatri, an old Vedic mantra, the distribution of sweets to the converts and their consumption together. Likewise, the declaration of the membership obligations of the Arya Samaj was made, since the ceremony was often connected with the admission to the Arya Samaj. [18] There were few problems of social acceptance for reconverts, as they could easily fit back into their caste and brotherhood. Born Christians and Muslims, on the other hand, faced greater difficulties because they lacked such social support. In order to check whether a person had really converted, the Sikhs introduced the pork test in the case of the Muslims. If a convert did not eat the pork he was served, that was a sign that he had remained a Muslim. This triggered a cry of indignation not only among Muslims, but also among the Hindus, who also ate a vegetarian diet for religious reasons. These then founded their own Shuddhi Sabhas.[19]

The joint work of Hindus and Sikhs did not last long, however, because as early as the 1890s militant Samaj followers began to convert Sikhs in order to accept them into the community of the 'pure' Hindus. [20] An example of this is the case of the Rahtias in 1900, a group of casteless Sikhs who were traditionally weavers, but unsuccessfully sought a higher social status within the Sikh community and finally converted to Hinduism. Because of this break, the Sikhs not only founded their own Shuddhi Sabhas, but also began to determine their hitherto unexplained demarcation relation to Hinduism and to underline the cultural independence of the Sikh religion through a strong emphasis on its own script and its symbols. [21]

At this point the change in the Shuddhi from the ritual of conversion to the ritual of conversion and thus to the possibility of actively practiced conversion of people of different faiths, which shaped the following years.

The development of the Shuddhi-Movement until the mid-1920s

As the trend in the 1890s showed, the spread of massShuddhis in which a few hundred people or entire village communities were converted at once. For the years from 1911 to 1921, for example, the number of devout Hindus rose by 205,000 for the administrative area of ​​the United Provinces alone. [22]

The efforts to improve their social status, devoted to the fate of the untouchables, also continued to gain in importance. Their position outside the Hindu caste system and thus outside the Indian society, which is largely shaped by Hinduism, was felt to be unjust and not in accordance with the traditions of Hinduism. But the enormous growth in Christian and Muslim missionary activity among this marginalized social group also contributed significantly to this shift in attention.

The renewed resistance of the Orthodox Brahmins, who vehemently advocated the immutability of the caste system, could not be broken. The creation of a social advancement opportunity for the untouchable through a conversion ritual shows how the religious reform movement turned into a social reform movement due to external and internal influences. However, the idea of ​​social reform of Hinduism was unsuccessful. The social advancement of untouchables was rejected not only by the Orthodox Brahmins, but also by the majority of the Arya Samaj members. Although they officially endorsed their social advancement, they strictly refused to eat together or even to have family relationships. In the country one showed itself to be successful Shuddhi-Ceremony usually the next day, because if the converts were denied access to the well of the higher castes, the ceremony had in fact failed [23].

A second significant component that the ShuddhiMovement in the first quarter of the 20thThe main feature of the 19th century was its increasing politicization due to the conflict between the various religious groups. The conflict between Muslims and Hindus, in particular, came to a head as a result of a large number of events, such as the cow protection movement, the Hindi-Urdu language controversy and the question of the percentage distribution of power in local co-determination. [24] They decisively influenced the increased missionary activity on both sides. There was a confrontation between mission and counter-mission, in which whole village communities changed their faith, but soon afterwards, also through financial incentives, they rejoined the previous religion. Fundraising among the Hindus as well as among the Muslims was carried out for this purpose.

"Malabar and Multan" - the climax of the Shuddhi-Move

The political conflict reached its climax in the 1920s, when the Hindus under the slogan "Malabar and Multan" for the cohesion and unity of all Hindus, Sangathan, called. Fundamental to this was an event that upset all of India, the Mappila Rebellion on the Malabar Coast. Multan refers to the area of ​​distribution of the Rahtias already mentioned and also the place of severe communal riots, riots based on religious affiliation. Furthermore, the conversion campaigns among the Malkanas, an ethnic group in the region around Agra, were of great importance in the following years.

The Mappilas were a poor, mostly uneducated minority of one million Muslims, stigmatized with fanaticism, who lived among a majority of two million Hindus. [25] As a result of Mahatma Gandhi's non-cooperation campaign, which was directed against British colonial rule in India after the First World War, and the Muslim caliphate movement, which campaigned for the preservation of the sultan's power in the Ottoman Empire, which was threatened by the British, it came in 1921 to a devastating uprising. [26] The Mappilas drove the British from the Malabar Coast and in the four months it took the British to restore their rule there were massacres of Hindus, violent conversions, desecration of Hindu temples, rape, looting and arson. [27] The outcry among the Hindus was enormous and, after the restoration of peace, generated a great willingness to donate for the victims and renewed mission or counter-mission campaigns.

The Malkanas were a syncretistic community whose religious practice included both Hindu and Islamic elements. [28] Their conversion began mainly in the period from 1923 to 1926 and reached the number of 30,000 converted Malkanas. [29] It marks the climax of the Shuddhi-Move. Orthodox Brahmins and reformers worked together for the first time through the perceived threat of the growing Islamization of India, but soon separated again due to the irreconcilable views on the untouchables. Also in 1926 became the spokesman for the ShuddhiMovement, Svami Shraddhanand, murdered by a Muslim after converting his wife. So she lost Shuddhi- Movement its strongest advocate. [30]

Final consideration

The Shuddhi-Movement was the most controversial innovation of the Hindu formers. Not only in their own camp, but also among other religious groups, it triggered considerable resistance. It shows how attempts were made to react to Western cultural criticism, but above all how the confrontation with Christianity and Islam led to a change in Hinduism.

The perceived fear of domination or even the loss of one's own culture by others, and ultimately the fear of the extinction of one's own religion and 'race', called the development of a ritual, more precisely the invention of a new tradition based on a ancient ritual, the need for which had not existed before. Hinduism, which previously defined its religious affiliation by birth, developed into a religion with the possibility of gaining new members through active mission.

The development of the Shuddhi further showed how religious reform developed into a movement to change the lot of the untouchables and thus became an attempt to implement social reforms, even if these goals were not achieved. The intensifying dispute with Muslims since the beginning of the 20th century contributed to the creation of a Hindu 'we-feeling' and thus to strong efforts to separate both groups. These tendencies, from which Hindu nationalism developed, formed a building block in the emergence of Indian communalism. The result of this, that each group only makes politics in the interests of their own religious community, still arouses many tensions between the various social or religious groups today. The confrontation with the Muslims is particularly intense on the Hindu nationalist side and has not only recorded a large number of conversion and conversion campaigns over the past twenty years, but also violent confrontations that reached their sad climax in the Gujarat riots of 2002 .


[1] Jordens, J. T. F., Dayananda Sarasvati. Essays on His Life and Ideas. Delhi 1998. p. 163. hereinafter referred to as: Jordens, Sarasvati.

[2] See ibid. P. 163.

[3] See ibid. P. 163.

[4] See Fischer-Tiné, H., Kindly Elders of the Hindu Biradri. The Arya Samaj`s Struggle for Influence and ist Effect on Hindu-Muslim Relations, 1880-1925. in: Copley, A. (Ed.), Gurus and their Followers. New Religious Movements in Colonial India. Delhi 2000, p. 112. hereinafter referred to as: Fischer-Tiné.

[5] Cf. Rothermund, D., The political will formation in India 1900-1960, Wiesbaden 1965 (= series of publications of the South Asia Institute of the University of Heidelberg, vol. 1), p. 38.

[6] See Jordens, Sarasvati. P. 165.

[7] See Datta, Pradip, K.D., Dying Hindus. Production of Hindu Communal Common Sense in Early 20th Century Bengal, p. 1305f, in: Economic and Political Weekly, June 19, 1993, pp. 1305-1318.

[8] Cf. Klimkeit, H-J., Political Hinduism. Indian thinkers between religious reform and political awakening. Wiesbaden 1981. p. 193. In the following named as: Klimkeit.

[9] See Jordens, Sarasvati. P.166.

[10] Klimkeit, p. 192.

[11] Dayananda Sarasvati (1824-1883).

[12] See Schrenck-Notzing, C., 100 years of India. The political development 1857-1960. Stuttgart 1961. p. 37.

[13] See Fischer-Tiné, p. 109.

[14] Ibid. P. 113.

[15] See Jordens, Sarasvati. P. 164.

[16] See Jordens, Sarasvati. P. 166.

[17] Lala Munshi Ram (1857-1926), called Svami Shraddhanand.

[18] See Jordens, Sarasvati. P.167.

[19] Ibid. P.167.

[20] Cf. Klimkeit, p. 195.

[21] Cf. ibid. P. 195.

[22] See Jordens, Sarasvati. P. 169.

[23] Cf. Klimkeit, p. 196.

[24] For further information see: Lütt, J., Hindu-Nationalismus in Uttar-Pradesh 1867-1900. Stuttgart 1970.

[25] See Jordens, Sarasvati. P. 170.

[26] Cf. Rothermund, D., Indian history in outline. P. 102.

[27] See Jordens, Sarasvati. P. 170.

[28] See Fischer-Tiné, p. 119.

[29] See Jordens, Sarasvati. P. 175.

[30] See Jordens, J. T. F., Swami Shraddhanand. His Life and Causes, Delhi 1981, p. 164.

This article belongs to the focus: Islam in South Asia.


  • Datta, Pradip, K.D. (1993): Dying Hindus. Production of Hindu Communal Common Sense in Early 20th Century Bengal, in: Economic and Political Weekly, June 19, 1993, pp. 1305-1318.
  • Fischer-Tiné, H. (2000): Kindly Elders of the Hindu Biradri. The Ārya Samāj`s Struggle for Influence and ist Effect on Hindu - Muslim Relations, 1880 - 1925. in: Copley, A. (Eds.): Gurus and their Followers. New Religious Movements in Colonial India. Delhi.
  • Jordens, J. T. F. (1998): Dayananda Sarasvati. Essays on His Life and Ideas. Delhi.
  • Jordens, J. T. F. (1981): Svāmī Śraddhānand. His Life and Causes, Delhi.
  • Klimkeit, H.- J. (1981): Political Hinduism. Indian thinkers between religious reform and political awakening. Wiesbaden.
  • Rothermund, D. (1989): Indian history in outline. 3rd edition, Darmstadt.
  • Rothermund, D. (1965): Political decision-making in India 1900-1960. Wiesbaden, (= publication series of the South Asia Institute of the University of Heidelberg, vol. 1, publisher Hermann Berger and others).
  • Schrenck-Notzing, C. (1961): 100 Years of India, Political Development 1857-1960, Stuttgart.