All of us know that the Arya Samaj was founded by Swami Dayanand Saraswati. However, most of us do not know how much of labour had gone into its formation and how many failures were witnessed by this institution in the initial years. Let us have a brief glimpse into its history and understand why this is going strong since more than a century.
Arya Samaj was not the first reformist movement initiated by Swami Dayanand Saraswati. The Swamy firmly believed in the supremacy of Vedas and this firm belief was to form the basis of setting up of 'gurukuls' in eastern parts of Uttar Pradesh. Though the first few schools proved to be a success, an elaborate and more expansive spread led to the resource crunch since the right teachers who could impart the vedic learning and the finance required to run the schools could not be materialised. This led to the shutting down of these schools.
Even as this reformist was unfolding, the Swamy was attracted to another popular reformist movement of the times, the Brahmo Samaj. There were many points where there was convergence of views and beliefs of the Brahmo Samaj and the Swamy but it was essentially the point of holding the supremacy of Vedas which did not lead Swamy to join the Brahmo Movement. Thus, the ideas of a separate reformist movement, by the name of Arya Samaj, were germinated.
It was during the course of his conducting the discourses in Kolkatta and Mumbai that he established a disciple-base of more than 50 odd students, most of whom were also affiliated to the Prarthana Samaj, another reformist institution of that time. These disciples increasing begin to feel the need to create a separate samaj.
He also participated in a debate in Ahmedabad in which he defeated the local pundits by convincing them about the supremacy of Vedas. It is said that the establishment of the Vedic school at Ahmedabad and formation of Samaj were the result of this victory in the debate.
The sequence of debates and discourses did not end here. He travelled to Rajkot and delivered extempore lectures on the topics identified by the people. It was at Rajkot where he first coined the term 'Arya Samaj' for his institution and developed a list of 28 rules and regulations of the Samaj. It was in one of these rules and regulations that the provision for conducting the Arya Samaj marriage with vedic rituals in an Arya Samaj Mandir was conceptualised.
En route back to Mumbai, he stopped over at Ahmedabad again to distribute the list of these 28 rules and regulations and initated the deliberations. However, the formation of the samaj did not materialise and the Swamy moved on to come to Mumbai without waiting for the deliberations to reach some conclusion.
While in Mumbai, it was thought that holding debates and discussions was not leading the way forward. So, the direct enrollment of the members in the samaj was initiated with great zeal. Soon, 100 odd members led to the formation of this Samaj in 1875 which continues till date and is one of the most long lasting reformist movements of the Hindus. It is clear that the way of its establishment was ridden with controversies and failures and it was the firm belief and conviction of the Swamy about the supremacy of Vedas that led him to form an institution which would be based on the essential tenets of the Vedas.