The year was 1986, the date July 27. On that day thirty-three years ago, a soap opera titled Buniyaad captivated the minds of thousands of television viewers across Northern India, particularly in Punjab, Haryana and Delhi. This was the era of Doordarshan, with no private TV channels remotely in sight. The economy was yet to open up, particularly the telecom sector. However, come Tuesday and Friday, people were glued to the idiot boxes (no flat screens, LEDs, home theatres, laptops or You-tube to watch this serial).

Avid viewers connected with Master Haveli Ram and Lajoji. A few years prior to that, there was another TV show that had held the populace of North India spellbound: the teleserial called Hum Log. Those hooked onto the serial dreaded the infamous load shedding and power cuts, which were quite commonplace. While the former serial had a riveting story spanning across three generations, the latter was staider and pedestrian in its treatment and approach.

These apart, curious viewers connected with the tenets and principles of Arya Samaj in the soaps. This formed the bedrock of the productions. Arya Samaj had by then grown roots in Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh (erstwhile PEPSU), Delhi, Rajasthan and Gujarat.

Way back in the 6th Century BC, there were 62 heterodox sects, which challenged the supremacy and orthodoxy of Aryanism and Brahmanism. This resulted in the establishment of Buddhism, Jainism and the Charavaka philosophy (almost bohemian in its thought process).

After the passage of numerous suns and seasons, several centuries later, tectonic changes were ushered in at the subaltern levels of India once again. This was in the 19th century. Socio-economic, religious and political glasnost and perestroika established roots in India. Be it the Bengal, Madras or Bombay Presidencies or even North India, into the inquisitive and febrile minds dubiety about the existing order had crept in.

Ironically, cataclysmic forces were unleashed by the subjugators (British) themselves through their tyrannical rule and the idiom of liberty, fraternity, equality and democracy. It was thus not surprising that the potentate had let the proverbial genie out of the bottle, which was to break glass ceilings, and waves of change surged through the swathes of intellectuals and the flotsam and jetsam. Simultaneously, the Christian thought of the west triggered off a classic debate among the varied religious philosophies and practices between Christianity vs. Hinduism vs. Islam.

Nevertheless, it goes to the credit of the reformers and minds that were agog and questioned the validity of the established order to conjure something exhaustive and radical. More importantly, the catholic traditions and pluralism were kept uppermost in the mind even as the intellectual pot was kept boiling.

Swami Dayanand Saraswati (1830 to 1883) pioneered what is known as the Arya Samaj movement, which was relatively inclusive in comparison with the Weltanschuung of the Ramakrishna Mission. Two events had an anatomical impact on his impressionable mind. One, he was stupefied to watch a mouse climb upon a Shivalinga in a temple in his native Gujarat. And second, the unforeseen tragedy of the passing away of his uncle. No amount of logic or reasoning could quieten his distraught mind.

His robust and intrepid mind confronted the sanctity of idolatry as he simultaneously sought sanctuary in knowledge to overcome the trauma encountered on the unfortunate demise of his uncle.

In the moment of grief, he comes across as Buddha. Swami Dayanand Saraswati began to view everything as transient and ephemeral.

Not bound in marital knots, he chose to become an ascetic and wanderer. He found spiritual solace at the feet of his Guru, Swami Brijananda. He soon began catechizing the Puranic faith. Dayanand Saraswati opened a dialogue with Brahmo Samaj in order to close ranks. But that was not destined.

This was primarily because Swami Dayanand Saraswati stood for the veneration of the cow, offering of a daily sacrifice of butter to the hearth fire, and the condemnation of monotheism as propounded by Islam, which was not acceptable to Brahmo Samaj. The Samaj also did not accept the infallibility of the Vedas and transmigration of souls.

The interaction between Arya Samaj and Brahmo Samaj, though short-lived, had one positive fallout. Keshub Chandra Sen, once the chief of the latter, endorsed the view of carrying on the propaganda in the language of the masses.

Thus, Swami Dayanand Saraswati began preaching and propagating his esoteric knowledge in Hindi and Sanskrit and went on to publish Satyartha Prakash in Hindi, Veda Bhashya Bhumia partly in Hindi and partly in Sanskrit and Veda Bhashya entirely in Sanskrit.

The organisation found reception in Northern India, spanning the areas from Punjab to Gujarat. The preamble of Arya Samaj laid down three cardinal principles, namely:

The Vedas are infallible and absolutely authoritative as a guiding principle.

Every member ought to contribute 1/100th part of his money towards the organisation.

The knowledge of the Vedas was to be imparted in Arya Vidyalayas.

In addition to the above tenets, Arya Samaj paid attention to morals and virtues that every individual needed to imbibe in their daily lives. These became a kind of Ten Commandments or ten principles of the Arya Samaj.

Swami Dayanand Saraswati simultaneously rejected the prevalent caste system, the supremacy of Brahmins, idolatry and the worship of figurines. Instead, the worship of the Supreme Being and consciousness became the pivots of the organisation. The body encouraged inter-caste marriages and also the Shuddhi movement – reconversion or re-proselytization of Hindus who had become apostates.

Dayanand Saraswati abhorred the ignorance of the masses and set up several educational institutions like the DAV colleges and schools and Dayanand Anglo-Vedic Schools. This assisted in the grand design of fomenting the spirit of nationalism in the country.

All organisations and movements are fired and ignited with zealous beginnings, but over periods get intertwined in the politics of the times. A veritable split took place in the Arya Samaj over the question of eating non-vegetarian fare and the ten principles or Ten Commandments. There were naysayers and those who vouchsafed maintaining the pristine currency of the organisation. Ultimately, the will of the orthodox elements prevailed.

The Arya Samaj movement was to produce two fertile minds in Lala Hansraj and Lala Lajpat Rai, who were at the forefront of our nationalistic struggle and also championing the cause of social reform, with a tinge of Hinduism; willy-nilly, this lead to a conflict between the Indian National Congress and the Muslim League.

We dare not view the contribution of Arya Samaj through a narrow prism. It provided an aperture to the people of North India to join the nationalistic struggle against a tyrannical rule and successfully laid the ground rules for reformation, renaissance and regeneration of the Hindu society.