The Arya Samaj movement has been in South Africa for more than a century and the Arya Pratinidhi Sabha is nearly 90-years-old. The Ten Principles of the Arya Samaj, which comprise the solid foundations of the movement, have been widely acclaimed for their human value, universal appeal and practical usefulness in every field of life – religious, moral, social, economic and political. The word ‘Arya’ does not refer to any particular race, religion, sect or group and aims only at character building. The Vedic injunction is ‘Manubhav’ -– be a good human being, and the Ten Principles aim to help man achieve just that. As you page through this brochure, you will read brief stories, pen portraits of key luminaries of the movement and see photos of how humble people whose forebears came to this new land as indentured labourers became these good human beings by their keen sense of public spiritedness, commitment and determination to raise their lot both spiritually and materially.
The Arya Samaj has played its part in keeping those who had left their motherland connected to their cultural roots and heritage. This brochure shows many examples of the establishment of vernacular classes and religious study groups in a number of different areas as well as the historic setting up of the hugely successful English medium Veda Niketan graded course of study in Hinduism Programme which attracted thousands of entrants, not only locally, but from around the world since its inception in 1962. The Arya Samaj movement has played a pioneering role primarily in the cultural, educational and religious aspects of community life but the question is – what now? The main challenge is for the Arya Samaj movement is to remain relevant in a fast changing world.
The Arya Samaj has gained wisdom over the past nine decades and knows that what worked yesterday may not necessarily work today. A modern day challenge, which is one of the themes of the World Vedic Conference 2013, is the erosion of family and community values. Daily we read of and witness family discord, neglected and abused children, the scourge of gambling and other social evils. So how do we in the Samaj, with a proud legacy of being pro-active, address these challenges? Principle Nine of the Ten Principles urges us not to be blind to the problems of our less fortunate and disadvantaged brethren. No man or group can be happy if all around people are in want or miserable as this would bring down the whole social structure. To do good to others is therefore no favour but enlightened self interest. Each affiliate of the Samaj has a number of social programmes and projects. The question is – how many of us are devoting time and energy, like our forebears did, to being life and passion to these programmes?
Hindus in South Africa are a minority grouping and there are further differences in modes of worship and belief systems within this religious grouping. The Arya Samaj has taken the bold step of inviting all these different organisations to participate in a gathering where each will have the opportunity to promote the theme of unity in diversity as part of the World Vedic Conference 2013 in Phoenix. This session is aptly named “Hindu Unity”.
It is another sad reality that many of the youth today cannot perform a simple havan or recite the mantras that accompany this ceremony. The Arya Samaj continues to be at the forefront of teaching the community, regardless of religious affiliation, the performance of this ancient ceremony and its symbolic meaning. Bahukund Yajnas have become a key grassroots initiative of the Arya Samaj SA. The Samaj is keenly aware of the huge benefits of using modern technology to ‘mass communicate’ with people around the globe and aims to use this resource to the fullest, to propagate its message. The Atharva Veda says it is the duty and esponsibility of those who know the Vedic wisdom to share and teach it to others because it can become a mighty and uplifting force in the way it affects society. This is the ongoing challenge of the Arya Samaj movement!
Arya Samaj amar rahe!
Professor Usha Desai