Source: Lal Chand, “Swami Shraddhanand”, Punjab's Eminent Hindus, ed. N.B. Sen, 2nd ed. (Lahore: New Book Society, 1944)

Swami Shraddhanand

Swami Shraddhanand (whose birth name was Munshi Ram) was born in 1856, the youngest son of Nanak Chand, a police inspector. The young Munshi Ram had had a habit of first worshipping idols in the temple before consuming breakfast. On one such occasion, he was denied entry from the temple of Vishwa Nath and told to wait until a Rani who had gone in before him had left. Disturbed by the prejudice he was subjected to, he decided that he would no longer take part in idol worship. Upon entering college and perusing European philosophical literature, he became an atheist.

In 1882, Nanak Chand had attended one of Swami Dayanand’s lectures as part of his duties. Inspired by what he heard, he encouraged Ram to attend the next lecture. This was to prove a turning point in causing Ram to begin to turn away from atheism.

While a Tahsildar in Bareilly, Ram was affronted by an incident in which an English merchant had been admitted to a collector before him even though he had arrived first. Following the incident, he resigned and left for Lahore to study Law. He practised as a lawyer from 1885 until 1902. It was also in Lahore that he came into contact with two influences – Brahmo Samaj and Arya Samaj. Upon reading the Satyarth Prakash, the masterpiece of Swami Dayanand, he decided to become a member of the Arya Samaj.

He was also an avid educationist. Concerned by what his daughter was learning from the Christian Mission School, he felt that it was risky to educate girls in a mission school. To provide an alternative, he created the Kanaya Maha Vidyalaya. Within the Arya Swamaj, the issue of education was also a source of contention. While some were of the opinion that Vedic and Sanskrit studies ought to occupy a prominent place in the curriculum of the D.AV. College, others felt that  such a view was unrealistic. This difference in ideals regarding education partially contributed to the division of the Arya Samaj into the Culture Party and the Mahatma Party, which was led by Ram.

In meditating over how best to serve his master and his mission, he concluded that the Gurukula of Darayanand’s dreams should be brought to fruition and resolved to start one in the embrace of nature. A suitable site was found and the Gurukula established. The aim of the colleges in the Gurukula was to attain a synthesis of the prime facets of both Eastern and Western culture. To that end, the students were instructed in Hindi on subjects ranging from classical Indian literature to Chemistry. He also later started a “Kanya Gurukula” for girls.

He took Sanyas in 1917 and left the Gurukula, where he had worked from 1902-1917, to serve the masses. He preached that true Swaraj could be obtained only through brahmcharya and purity of character. When Mahatma Gandhi suspended his satyagraha due to some individuals becoming violent, Shraddhanand resigned from the Satyagraha Committee as he disagreed with the measure taken.

He was the only one in favour of holding the Congress session in Amritsar in the face of reservations following the aftermath of the Martial Law days in the Punjab. The session proved to be a great success. In 1922, Guru-ka-bagh Satyagraha was initiated by the Akalis. The government lent their support to the Mahant and meted out severe torture on the Satyagrahis. Upon seeing this, Shraddhanand headed to Amritsar to assure the Satyagrahis of the Hindus’ support for them. For this, he was arrested and sent to Montogomery jail, where he wrote his autobiography, Kalyan-Marg-Ka-Pathik.

Upon his release from jail, Shraddhanand learnt of the acts of violence enacted against the Hindus by the Mohammedans and was deeply saddened. This spurred him to begin to work zealously for Hindu Sangathan. He was also actively involved in working to bring about social change, setting up the ‘Dalit Uddhar Sabha’, a society for the elevation of the depressed classes in Delhi, establishing the Urdu ‘Tej’ to further the causes of Shuddhi and Sangathan and starting ‘The Liberator’ to raise the condition of the non-brahmans.

Yet, his zealous work for the causes of Shuddi and Sangathan drew resentment, leading to his assassination in 1926.

Source: Lal Chand,  “Swami Shraddhanand”,  Punjab’s Eminent Hindus, ed. N.B. Sen, 2nd ed. (Lahore: New Book Society, 1944), 285-321

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