Lala Har Dayal was a revolutionary Indian freedom fighter. He was an accomplished scholar who left his civil services career to participate in the movements for the independence of India. During the first World War, his simple living and patriotic enthusiasm motivated several Indians who were residing in Canada and U.S. to join the movements against the British rule in India.
Lala Har Dayal was born as Har Dayal Singh Mathur on Tuesday, 14 October 1884 (age 54 years; at the time of death) in Delhi, Delhi Division, Panjab Province, British Indian Empire (present-day India). His zodiac sign was Libra. He did BA in Sanskrit at Delhi’s St. Stephen’s College. Later, he went to Punjab University to earn MA in Sanskrit.
Hair Colour: Black
Eye Colour: Black
Lala Har Dayal belonged to a Hindu Mathur Kayastha family.
Parents & Siblings
His father’s name was Gauri Dayal Mathur, and he was a reader at a district court. His mother’s name was Bholi Rani.
Lala Har Dayal was a great follower of revolutionary Indian freedom fighters such as Shyamji Krishna Varma, Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, and Bhikaji Cama and was also immensely affected by the ideologies of Arya Samaj. His ways of fighting for the independence of India bore resemblance to Giuseppe Mazzini, Karl Marx, and Mikhail Bakunin. According to an American scholar, Mark Juergensmeyer quoted Lala Har Dayal as,
in sequence an atheist, a revolutionary, a Buddhist, and a pacifist”
In 1907, he wrote a letter to ‘The Indian Sociologist’ journal when he was studying at St John’s College at Oxford University in England. In the letter, he argued,
Our object is not to reform government, but to reform it away, leaving, if necessary only nominal traces of its existence.”
The British government kept a secret eye on him soon after the publication of this letter in The Sociologist journal against the colonial rule in India. In the same year, he gave up his Oxford scholarships and gave a controversial statement,
To Hell with the ICS”
In 1908, he returned back to India to live a severe life. In India, he wrote various articles in leading Indian newspapers against the colonial suppression in India that led to objections by the British government on his further writings. Later, on the advice of Lala Lajpat Rai and to escape police arrest, he moved abroad. In 1909, he reached Paris. He worked as an editor of the Vande Mataram, an Indian publication started in September 1909 by the Paris India started under the leadership of Madam Bhikaiji Cama.
Later, he moved to Algeria from Paris. Then he shifted to Cuba and then Japan. Thereafter, he stayed at Martinique for a long time where he lived an alone and isolated life. He was living on simple food such as boiled grains and potatoes. He abandoned all his worldly comforts by sleeping on the floor and meditating in a private place. Bhai Parmanand of Arya Samaj faith went to Martinique to look after him. Soon, Bhai Parmanand and Har Dayal mutually discussed the religion Buddhism, and soon, started following the same. Later, Har Dayal’s friend Guy Aldred explained Buddhism to him as not to believe in the religious deities, all the human beings on earth belonged to the same community, and follow ethical behaviour and normative laws. Later, Bhai Parmanand revealed to his companions that Lala Har Dayal wanted to go to the United States to spread the ideologies of the Aryan Race and its ancient roots. Soon, he went to Boston and then to California. There he wrote about his extremely happy and peaceful life in the United States. Soon, he moved to Honolulu in Hawaii. There, he made some Japanese Buddhist friends and spent some time while meditating on Waikiki Beach. During the same time, he studied the writings of Karl Marx. One of his writings titled “Some Phases of Contemporary Thought in India” was published in a publication named ‘Modern Review’ in Calcutta. Thereafter, his companion Bhai Parmanand motivated Lala Har Dayal to move to California.
Activism in the United States
In 1911, Lala Har Dayal reached the United States and joined Industrial Unionism. Thereafter, he worked at the San Francisco branch of the Industrial Workers of the World as a secretary. In America, Lala Har Dayal explained the principles of the Fraternity of the Red Flag, a revolutionary organisation established in California in 1912, as an active member of this organisation. He said,
The establishment of Communism, and the abolition of private property in land and capital through an industrial organization and the general strike, ultimate abolition of the coercive organization of government.”
In the following year, Har Dayal established the Bakunin Institute of California that he mentioned as
The first monastery of anarchism”
This organisation was given land and a house in Oakland, California by the nationalists in Calfornia where it joined its activities with the Regeneración movement which was initiated by the Mexicans Ricardo and Enrique Flores Magón. Later, Lala Har Dayal worked at Leland Stanford University as a professor of Indian philosophy and Sanskrit. Soon, he was expelled from the university due to his involvement in the anarchist movement and its activities. During his stay in California, he met Punjabi Sikh farmers in Stockton. These Sikhs communities started moving to the West Coast at the end of the century as they got attracted to the behaviour of the Canadians living in Vancouver. Lala Har Dayal also got attracted to these Sikhs and Punjabis living in Canada. There, Har Dayal motivated Indians to receive education related to western science, political philosophy, and sociology as propaganda against colonial rule. Soon, he got funds from a rich farmer named Jwala Singh in Stockton and founded a Guru Govind Singh Sahib Educational Scholarship for Indian students with the help of his companions Teja Singh, Tarak Nath Das, and Arthur Pope. Like Shyamji Krishna Varma, Lala Har Dayal also opened an India House in Berkeley as a residential place for the Indian students who received the scholarships. The names of the popular students of this house were Nand Singh Sehra, Darisi Chenchiah, and Gobind Behari Lal. They lived close to the University of California, Berkeley. On 23 December 1912, Basanta Kumar Biswas, an Indian activist attempted the assassination of the viceroy of India and the incident influenced Har Dayal so much that he personally went to the Nalanda Club of Indian students to deliver this news. There he delivered a lecture that ended with an Urdu couplet,
Pagari apani sambhaliyega ‘Mir’ !Aur basti nahin, ye Dilli hai !!”
[Take care of your turban Mr Mir ! (Note: Here Mir is Quoted for Britishers.)This is not just any town, this is Delhi, India Okay !!]
Soon, the speech was followed by Vande Mataram song and dance by the members of his groups at Nalanda Club. Thereafter, he delivered a speech and excitedly told everyone that he was proud that one of his anarchist friends attempted the assassination of the viceroy in India. Suddenly, he took out a pamphlet and called it ‘Yugantar Circular’ in which he praised highly about the bombing:
HAIL ! HAIL ! HAIL !
BOMB OF 23 DECEMBER 1912
HARBINGER OF HOPE AND COURAGE
DEAR REAWAKENER OF SLUMBERING SOULS
CONCENTRATED MORAL DYNAMITE
THE ESPERANTO OF REVOLUTION
Who can describe the moral power of the bomb? It is a concentrated moral dynamite. When the strong and cunning in the pride of their power parade their glory before their helpless victims, when the rich and naughty set themselves on a pedestal and ask their slaves to fall down before them and worship them, when the wicked ones on the Earth seem exalted to the sky and nothing appears to withstand their might, then in that dark hour, for the glory of humanity comes the bomb, which lays the tyrant in the dust. It tells all the cowering slaves that he who sits enthroned as God is a mere man like them. Then, in that hour of shame, a bomb preaches the eternal truth of human equality and sends proud superiors and Viceroys from the palace and the howdah to the grave and the hospital. Then, in that tense moment, when human nature is ashamed of itself, the bomb declares the vanity of power and pomp and redeems us from our own baseness.
HOW GREAT WE FEEL WHEN SOMEONE DOES THE HEROIC DEED? WE SHARE IN HIS MORAL POWER. WE REJOICE IN HIS ASSERTION OF HUMAN EQUALITY AND DIGNITY.”
— Lala Hardayal (Yugantar Circular 1913)
Our Educational Problem published in 1922, Thoughts on Education, Social Conquest of Hindu Race, Writings of Lala Har Dayal in 1920, Forty-Four Months in Germany and Turkey in 1920, Lala Har Dayal Ji Ke Swadhin Vichar in 1922, Amrit me Vish in 1922, Hints for Self Culture in 1934, Glimpses of World Religions, Bodhisattva Doctrines in 1932. He also wrote a book of 392 pages with 7 seven chapters that described the Bodhisattva doctrines that were mentioned in the Buddhists Sanskrit Literature.
Lala Har Dayal was detained by the US government for his involvement in disseminating anarchism. To escape police arrest, he moved to Berlin in Germany. There, he established Berlin Committee and worked for the German Intelligence Bureau against the East. Later, he lived in Sweden for ten years, and in 1930, he attained a PhD degree at the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London. He published his book titled ‘Hints For Self Culture’ in 1932. On 4 March 1939, Lala Har Dayal died in Philadelphia. Before his death, he delivered a lecture as usual. In his lecture he mentioned,
I am in peace with all.”
Later, Lala Hanumant Sahai, a friend of Lala Har Dayal suspected that Har Dayal did not die a natural death and stated that maybe it was poisoning. Lala Hanumant Sahai was the founder member of the Bharat Mata Society which was established in 1907.
- The word ‘Lala’ before his name is not a type of surname that was used in the Kayastha community, but, it was an honorific name given to the exceptional writers.
- Lala Har Dayal was granted two scholarships by Oxford University for his higher studies in England in 1905 named Sanskrit: Boden Scholarships, and in 1907, he was honoured with the Casberd Exhibitioner award by his St John’s College in Delhi.
- Prof. Dharmavira appreciated the works of Har Dayal in his writing. One of his quotes about Lala Har Dayal is mentioned below:
Har Dayal dedicated his whole life to the sacred cause of the motherland. Surely from such a person alone could one ask: “Good Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” Let us drink deep at this spring and wax glad and strong and brave in every nerve and fibre of our being. He was one of the race of those who wrote the New Era in blood. His course was laborious, truthful, simple, independent, noble; and all these in an eminent degree. His experience of the inward and the outward battle was not inconsiderable and it was not confined to his early manhood, but was spread over his whole life. Lala Har Dayal had the Janak and Dadhichi touch and his life demonstrated that he had what it takes.”
— Prof. Dharmavira (9 July 1969)
- In 1987, a postal stamp was released by the India Department of Posts in the name of Lala Har Dayal to honour his sacrifices for the independence of India against the colonial rule on foreign soil.