Welfare of the downtrodden classes has been a priority programme of Arya Samaj – a progressive Vedic movement to preserve and propagate the Vedic knowledge in its prestine form. The general view that Dr. B.R. Ambedkar became a Buddhist only for reasons of its having a rational outlook needs to be given a second thought. If rationality was the only consideration, in that case other options like joining the fold of Arya Samaj or Sikhism were also open to Dr.Ambedkar. Arya Samaj having a rational outlook was actively engaged in the Dalit upliftment programme much before Dr.Ambedkar appeared on the scene. As would be evident from the following narrative, Arya Samaj movement also contributed in shaping Dr.Ambedkar’s career since his student days.
Of course, Dr.Ambedkar was a prominent personality, a legal luminary and a literary figure. However, as far as Vedic studies are concerned, it seems that like many other contemporary writers he too based his comments primarily on common anarsha granthas, literature with several interpolations written mainly by medieval masters during India’s period of decadence. His impressions are apparently not based upon study of texts free of interpolations representing the true Vedic tradition in a holistic manner. Had he also studied the rational arsha vedic exegesis and uninterpolated writings of the ancient sages perhaps his views like that of Swami Dayanand Saraswati would have been different and he would have found satisfactory explanations to certain riddles/enigmatic points/secrets of the symbolic Vedic language in our ancient texts.
Rationality is the basis of Vedic lore. As per Nirukta of Acharya Yaska, Logic has been described as one of the rishis – Tarkoo vai rishi. Manu Smriti(12-106) says Yasterkenanusandhatey sa dharma ved netra,i.e., one who investigates the truth with logic and reason he alone can comprehend the truth. There are hundreds of Vedic hymns where prayers have been made to God for medha budhi which is capable of rational thinking. Even in the Gayatri mantra a devotee prays for intellect which the Vedic people regard as basic for developing a rational outlook. In the Vaishishka Darshan(6.1.1), it is said that Vedic knowledge should be understood with reasoning and objectivity or else it will look absurd – Budhipurva vakyakritivrdey.
It is also a historical fact that the proper study of Vedas had fallen into disuse and misuse much before the advent of Jainism and Buddhism and clues to properly understand Vedic Samhitas almost remained sealed for centuries leading to animal sacrifices in Yajnas and other obnoxious practices. The ancient methodology as propounded in Brahman Granthas, Nirukta of Yaskacharya and some other texts to rationally interpret the Vedas had been forgotten. It was Maharishi Dayanand Saraswati (1824-1883) who in recent times revived that methodology and made a serious attempt to put Vedic studies in their right perspective. That is why Sri Aurobindo says “In the matter of Vedic interpretation, I am convinced that whatever may be the final interpretation, Dayananda will be honoured as the first discoverer of the right clues. Amidst the chaos and obscurity of old ignorance and age-long misunderstanding his was the eye of direct vision that pierced to the truth and fastened on that which was essential. He has found the keys of the doors that time had closed and rent asunder the seals of the imprisoned fountains.” (Source: Bankim-Tilak-Dayananda by Sri Aurobindo, pub.by Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry, Ist Ed.1940).
It is quite unlikely that a well read person like Dr.Ambedkar was not aware of the works of Swami Dayanand Saraswati and his rational views which had influenced even his sponsors i.e., Maharaja of Baroda and Maharaja of Kolhapur who supported his education. Dr.Kushal Dev Shastri in his book “Arya Samaj aur Dr.Ambedkar” writes that apart from Maharaja Sayaji Rao of Baroda Estate and Maharaja of Kolhapur- Rajrishi Sahuji who too had leanings towards Arya Samaj contributed financially for the education of Dr.B.R. Ambedkar and he was sent on a scholarship abroad for higher studies. Incidentally this happened when the educational and social services for upliftment of downtrodden classes in Baroda were being looked after by stalwarts like Pt.(Master) Atma Ram Amritsari an Activist of Arya Samaj who moved from Punjab to Baroda in 1908 to help Maharaja in his great mission. In removal of untouchability and upliftment of depressed classes, Pandit Atma Ram Amritsari, Inspector of Schools at Baroda initially faced lot of challenges and difficulties like many other Arya Samajists who despite all odds were engaged in similar missions in other parts of the country. Taking cue from the life and teachings of Swami Dayanand, Arya Samaj was quite active in raising the social and educational level of Dalits since 1885 especially in North India. So much so Mahashya Ram Chand Mahajan who was actively associated with removal of untouchability programme of Arya Samaj in Jammu region was severely beaten by Rajputs and he succumbed to his injuries resulting into his death on 20th June, 1923. In Sialkot Maghodar Sabha was formed in 1903 and Pandit Ganga Ram successfully carried on his reform programme and got a large number of meghas (considered to be low caste) admitted in Arya Gurukuls and other educational institutions. From 1903 onwards many dalitodhar/Achhutodhr sabhas were established at Sialkot, Lahore, Amritsar, Allahabad, Delhi, etc. which took up constructive programmes for the welfare of Dalits. In fact this word ‘Dalit’ was also coined for the first time by Arya Samaj as is apparent from names of various Sabhas like All India Shradhanand Dalitodhar Sabha which was established in 1921 and Dayanand Dalitodhar Sabha established in Lahore on 11 May, 1930. After his return from U.S.A., Dr.Ambedkar wrote to Pt.Atma Ram that due to his poor legal practice he was not in a position to immediately clear the educational loan taken from Maharaja Baroda. Panditji who had close contact with Dr.Ambedkar took up the matter with Maharaja and got the loan waived off completely. Many Dalit students of Pt.Atma Ram Amritsari in those days became Mechanical Engineers. Panditji’s family members including his daughter Sushila Kumari remained closely associated with the work relating to dalit welfare.
There is no chance that all such massive dalit welfare programmes/removal of untouchability and other attempts made by Arya Samaj in breaking the birth based caste barriers could have escaped the attention of Dr.Ambedkar. It was especially, with the efforts of Shri Ghansham Singh Gupta, President, Madhya Pradesh Arya Pratinidhi Sabha, in 1937 an Act was passed for validation of Inter-caste marriages amongst Hindus. An important question ,therefore, arises here as to why Dr.Ambedkar did not join the rational Arya Samaj which repudiated ‘caste’ based on birth and his choice fell for Buddhism which in those days was hardly doing any ground work? Dr.Ambedkar has admitted in his book ‘Annihilation of Caste’ “I must admit that the Vedic theory of Varna as interpreted by Swami Dayanand and some others is a sensible and an inoffensive thing. It did not admit birth as a determining factor in fixing the place of an individual in society. It only recognized worth. The Mahatma’s (Mahatma Gandhi) view of Varna not only makes nonsense of the Vedic Varna but it makes it an abominable thing. Varna and Caste are two very different concepts”.
To my mind Dr.Ambedkar ignored Arya Samaj and embraced Buddhism because of his misconceptions and misgivings about the Vedic texts. He outrightly rejected the authority of Vedas and Shastras primarily because of the influence of the distorted writings of orthodoxy as well as the imperial scholars. Dr.Ambedkar writes “You must take the stand which Guru Nanak took. You must not only discard the Shastras, you must deny their authority, as did Buddha and Nanak. You must have the courage to tell the Hindus, that what is wrong with them is their religion-the religion which has produced in them this notion of the sacredness of caste.” (Source: Annihilation of Caste, by Dr.B.R. Ambedkar, pub.by Anand Sahitya Sadan, Aligarh). Here I think Dr.Ambedkar was mistaken and he missed some of the important points . No doubt Guru Nanak was opposed to the evil practices prevalent in those days amongst Hindus, but his role was that of a good Doctor who does not pluck the eye in order to treat some eye ailment. The root of Adi Granth (Guru Granth Sahib) is in the Vedas and Guru Nanak says “Asankh Granth Mukh Ved Path” i..e, there are innumerable scriptures but the main amongst them are the Vedas. At another place he says Guru Nanak clearly says as the lamp is lit darkness is removed. Similarly by study of the Vedas, evil thoughts-paaps are destroyed – Diva baley andhera jai, Ved path mati papa khai(Adi Granth – page 791).
Similarly we find that Pt.Dharma Deva Vidya Martanda, an eminent scholar from Arya Samaj in his book “Mahatma Budha an Arya Reformer (1957 Ed.) while quoting some references from a Buddhist text, ‘Sutta Nipata’ has proved Mahatma Buddha’s belief in the authority of the Vedas and says “It is generally believed that Buddha was opposed to the Vedas altogether and he revolted against their authority. But on an impartial study of the Buddhist scriptures, containing Buddha’s discourses we find that there is no truth in this common belief. Certainly as we have shown above, he had no regard for those people who were well versed in the Vedas, but were not leading pure and noble lives according to the Vedic teachings.” In a meeting with Pt.Dharam Devji, Dr.Ambedkar said that you have explained to me about the ancient Vedic religion like parents teaching a child, but to me it appears that mindset of the orthodoxy does not seem to be changing.
However, I think there was a fundamental difference between the approach of Dr.Ambedkar and Arya Samaj. Dr.Ambedkar wanted to completely annihilate the caste system while the majority of leaders of Arya Samaj were keen to revive the ancient Vedic System of Varna based on qualities and actions of an individual, i.e., the karmana system. ‘Jat-Pat-Todak Mandal’ of Lahore whose members were overwhelmingly Arya Samajists who played a very active role in removal of untouchability and breaking the caste barriers invited Dr.Ambedkar to preside over their conference in 1936. However, the Conference had to be cancelled because Dr.Ambedkar was not willing to expunge his derogatory remarks about the Vedic texts from his address. Mr.Sant Ram, Secretary of the above Mandal in a letter sent to the Harijan mentioned that in the supplementary portion of his written speech, Dr.Ambedkar also insisted that this was his last address as a Hindu. According to Dr.Mahendradas Thakur, Dr.Ambedkar had at one point made up his mind to join Arya Samaj along with persons of Dalit community, but due to proximity of Arya Samaj and Hindu Mahasabha, he instead decided to embrace Buddhism (Source: Arya Samaj aur Dr.Ambedkar by Dr.Kushal Dev Shastri, 2008 Ed.pub.by Shri Ghudmal Prahladkumar Arya Dharmarth Nyas, Hindon City, Raj).
-Y. k. wadhwa