Swami Karpatri Ji: The forgotten Dharma SamarAt

The various causes taken up Swami Karpatri in the service of Sanatana Dharma deserve much more recognition.

Swami Karpatri Ji: The forgotten Dharma SamarAt

The rise of Hindutva has been the most significant development of Indian politics in recent times. Naturally, there have been countless debates and discussions centred around the origins and journey of Hindutva. In such discussions, we find frequent mention of organisations such as Arya SamAj, Ramakrishna mission, Hindu MahAsabhA and RSS along with its different affiliates. We also find names associated with these organisations such as  Dayanand, Vivekananda, Savarkar and GolwAlkar coming up repeatedly.
However, there’s one stalwart of the Hindutva movement who seems to have been completely forgotten: Swami Shri KarpAtri ji.
Abhinava Shankara, Paramhansa, Dandi Swami, Dharma SamrAt –> Swami KarpAtri ji.
A religious leader of the highest standing and a giant in the AdhyAtmika domain who was also intimately involved with broader social issues of the day. He lent his support to many causes, that still remain at the centre of Hindutva concerns. He was a brilliant thinker who wrote profusely on themes related to theory and practice of politics. He also played an important role in the electoral politics of India by establishing Akhil Bharatiya Ram Rajya Parishad.

Why have we forgotten KarpAtri ji?

The facts above, clearly indicate that KarpAtri ji was an important figure within the Hindutva fold. Then what explains the almost complete absence of KarpAtri ji from the consciousness of the Hindutva crowd? Today prominent Hindutva leaders not only invoke the names of Vivekananda and DayAnanda repeatedly but also actively work to appropriate “outsiders” such as Gandhi and Ambedkar. However, not once do they mention Swami KarpAtri ji. What explains this?
Well, the explanation lies in the fact that the dominant force driving Hindutva movement for at least the last 150 years has been “reform”. From Dayananda to Narendra Modi, some sort of reform in Hindu religion or society has always been a central part of the Hindutva agenda. We see this reformist impulse in the idol-smashing Arya SamAjis of the late 19th century and we see it in RSS’ ambiguous views on the Sabarimala temple entry issue in our own times.
Opponents of Hindutva may repeatedly brand them as regressive but the self-image of an average Hindutva organisation is that of a social reformer. That is why, even while these organisations continually declare loyalty to the ancient SanAtan Dharma, we find them gradually adopting and embracing all progressive ideas of the age.
Didn’t Arya SamAjis vehemently oppose Moorti pooja? Does RSS find “I am spiritual but not religious”  attitude to be problematic?
Hasn’t RSS associated with and legitimised many new age non-traditional gurus like Sri Sri Ravishankar and Sadhguru?
These rhetorical questions have been raised to indicate how Hindutva organisations have played a key role in infusing Hindu society with a reformist and progressive spirit. It’s these reforms, often observed in initiatives such as inter-caste dining and marriage, more than the appeals to ancient traditions of this land that have helped Hindutva organisations to gain broader acceptability and political power.
This implies that the triumph of Hindutva is actually the triumph of the reformist Hindutva and today the only surviving version of Hindutva, at least politically, is the reformist one. No wonder, KarpAtri Ji who propagated a Dharma ShAstra driven staunchly conservative and traditional version of Hindutva finds no place in the Hindutva discourse.

The need to study KarpAtri ji

Some might say that it’s only fair since his ideas failed the test of political popularity a long time ago. However, popularity or zeitgeist can’t be the only parameter for evaluating ideas. Besides, given the fact that Hindu society seems to have been set into a motion of never-ending reforms for at least the last 150 years, it is not implausible that in the near future a counter-cyclical impulse may arise to curb this reformist tendency.
That will not only make more conservative Hindutva systems relevant again but also trigger a search for the meaning of real conservatism. And what better representative of the PAramparik view than KarpAtri ji can be there? As a spiritual master of the highest standing who lived his life, in its minutest details, in accordance with the Dharma ShAstras, he is the ultimate standard in Indian politics of past couple of centuries to test your “Trad Quotient” against.
Also, even if KarpAtri ji’s views never again become socially or politically relevant, he still deserves to be studied as the last of the great traditionalists of India.
Hoping that adequate justification has been provided for the relevance of studying KarpAtri ji, a summary of his life, ideas and work will be attempted in the following space.

From Birth to SanyAsa

KarpAtri ji was born as the third and youngest son of Pandit RAmnidhi Ojha and Shrimati Shivarani in 1907 in village Bhatani of Pratapgarh district ( UP ). He was given the name HaranArAyana. He had a spiritual bent of mind from a very young age and frequently experienced deep feelings of VairAgya that caused him to run away from home many times. As this started happening frequently, his father decided to get him married, hoping that marriage would modify his behaviour. Hence, he was married, at the age of 9, to Kumari Mahadevi ji.
However, nothing changed as HaranArAyana kept trying to escape home till one day his father, whom he deeply loved and respected, told him that he could leave once he had fathered a child. The young vairAgi grudgingly accepted the condition. At the age of 19, he became the father of a girl child. He reminded his father of the promise and despite all protests from his family, left his home forever.
Sometime after leaving home, he took SanyAsa DeekshA from Swami Brahmananda Saraswati (He became the Shankaracharya of Badrika Ashrama later). After Deeksha, he was renamed Harihar Chaitanya and sent to study in a gurukul in Narwar, Bulandshaar.
Harihar Chaitanya stayed there for two years studying VyAkarna, VedAnta and 6 Darshanas among other things. While studying, he also continued his sAdhana which included fasting and YogAbhyAsa. In 1927, he left the Gurukula and walking along the Ganga river, reached Uttarakhand where he spent the next three years in ekAnt sAdhana that ended with him attaining AtmagyAna or self-realisation.
He returned back to his gurukul where he was welcomed as a Paramhansa (one who has AtmagyAna). It was during this period that he got his most popular name “KarpAtri”. He was so called so because, as part of his austerities, he would eat only that food which he could receive, as BhikshA,  on his hand (Kara).
From Narwar, Harihara Chaitanya left for India’s religious capital KAshi , which was to become the base for all his future activities. Here, he met many prominent religious scholars and MahAtmAs who were very impressed by the scholarship and TapasyA of this young sanyAsi. His fame started to spread and soon he was instructed by his guru Swami BrahmAnand Saraswati to become a Dandi Swami. KarpAtri ji wasn’t too keen but out of respect for his Guru, he accepted the proposal.
Sometime during 1931-32, at the age of 24, he formally accepted the Danda from the hands BrahmAnanda Saraswati ji near Durga Kund, Varanasi. The skies of Dharma Nagari Kashi were filled with cries of “KarpAtri Swami HariharAnanda Saraswati ki jai”. It’s here that he was also hailed as “Abhinva Shankara”
Here we note that Dandi Swamis are a special class of SanyAsis who carry a Danda (Staff) with them. Being an advaitin who followed the Dashanami tradition, KarpAtri ji was to carry a single Danda just like the current Puri Shankaracharya ji does.

The Organization builder: Dharma Sangha and Shiksha Mandala

He spent the first few years after becoming Dandi Swami in TapasyA but sometime during the mid-1930s he started to think about the issues facing the larger society. As his gaze turned outward, he found the society to be in a state of moral and spiritual decadence. He concluded, after deep contemplation, that the root of all problems facing the society was the decline of Dharma.
He saw Dharma PrachAra as the only way to arrest this decline. In pursuance of this objective, he brought together many Astikas involved in JapA and anushthAn and established Dharma Sangha in 1940. He travelled extensively to promote the work of Dharma Sangha. Hundreds of branches of Dharma Sangha were established all over India. In 1945, Dharma Veer Dal was established to streamline the organisation of Dharma Sangha.
As the branches of Dharma Sangha expanded, it conducted a variety of yajnas in many cities of India. First of these was a “Rudra MahAyajana” in Sonipat. This was followed by “Sahastrachandi yajnas” in Gadh Mukteshwara and Meerut. “ShatamukhakotihomAtmaka Mahayajna” was undertaken in Delhi and Kanpur. These yajnas were enthusiastically attended by people and many hailed this as the revival of yajnayuga.
Education was another priority area for KarpAtri ji as he believed that at the bottom of the moral and spiritual decline in the society was the lack of “SadashikshA” or good education. He established Dharma Sangh ShikshA Mandal for providing such education. Many schools, where education was imparted through the traditional guru-shishya paramparA, were started in places such as Kashi, Delhi, VrindAvan, HisAr and Churu.

Anti Hindu code bill agitation

This was a period of intense activity in Swami KarpAtri’s life as he  espoused a variety of causes related to Dharma rakshA. One such early campaign was against the inheritance bill and Hindu marriage and divorce bill drafted by Hindu law committee formed in 1941. Swami Karpatri ji argued that the implementation of inheritance bill would destroy Hindu families by increasing the strife and conflict with them. He attacked the marriage bill saying that it promoted licentiousness.
Most importantly, he said, these proposals were in violation of Hindu Dharma shAstras and no government had the right to interfere in the religious matters of Hindus. He toured the country and conducted many meetings to gather support against these bills. Many telegrams and letters were sent to the government. These activities had their impact as the Hindu law committee found that nearly 80% of people opposed the proposals. These bills had to be dropped.
KarpAtri ji’s opposition to Hindu code continued even after independence. After Ambedkar’s first draft of Hindu code in 1948, KarpAtri ji conducted ” Code Virodhi yAtra” all over the country. He played an important role in mobilising public opinion against the Hindu code. He also formed the “Mahila Sangha” to bring together women who were against the code. As a result of these activities, the government was forced to amend many parts of the code.

Akhand BhArat: Opposing Pakistan

KarpAtri Ji was also one of the earliest people to strongly oppose the demand for Pakistan. Right after the Muslim League passed the Pakistan resolution in 1940, KarpAtri ji made opposition of Pakistan an integral item of Dharma Sangha meetings. He raised the slogan of “Akhand BhArat” and organised hundreds of meetings to oppose the demand for Pakistan. Here, it should be mentioned that he had predicted as early as 1940 that Congress will ultimately accept the demand for Pakistan.
In the build-up to the partition of India, widespread violence was unleashed by Muslim league on Direct Action Day in August 1946. In Noakhali, Bengal brutal violence against Hindus was observed. Many temples were destroyed, sacred Tirthas were defiled and many Hindus were forcibly converted to Islam.
Disturbed by these events, KarpAtri ji toured extensively in the riot-affected areas of Noakhali. He consoled and inspired the Hindus with  “RAm NAma” mantra. He also arranged for blankets, clothes and food grains for the victims of violence. A 5000 bigha land was purchased to establish a colony where Hindu riot victims were given houses.
KarpAtri ji was full of sympathy for those Hindus who had been forcibly converted. He said that forcible conversion was illegitimate and the Hindus who had been converted in this manner should still be considered Hindus. Shuddhi was organised for such people. These views of KarpAtri ji filled the poor Hindus of Noakhali with hope and enthusiasm. Many rich Hindus of Bengal and members of Dharma Sangha came forward and generously contributed to the efforts of KarpAtri ji.

Dharma Yuddha

India neared independence as an interim government led by Jawaharlal Nehru was formed. However, KarpAtri ji noticed that anti-Hindu legislations were becoming even more frequent than before with the government presenting bills such as Intra Gotra marriage bill and Divorce bill. He decided to take steps for combating anti-Hindu attitude of the Government.
In January 1947, KarpAtri ji declared that if the government didn’t accept Hindu demands such as cow slaughter ban, he would start a “Dharma Yuddha” against the government. After this announcement, he started to travel for spreading the message of Dharma Yuddha. Many delegations and memorandums were sent to the government. However, there was no change in its stance.
Finally, in April 1947 he presented 5 demands in the assembly. These were:
1. भारत अखंड हो – India should not be partitioned
2. गोवध बंद हो – Stop cow slaughter
3. अधार्मिक बिल रद्द हों – Discard aDhArmika bills
4. मंदिरों की मर्यादा सुरक्षित रहे – Maintain dignity of temples
5. विधान शास्त्रीय हो – Law should be based on ShAstras.

(Snapshot of KarapAtri ji’s popular slogans)
Soon, KarpAtri ji was arrested and sent to the Lahore jail but the Dharma Yuddha continued for nine months. More than 5000 people were arrested and many prominent leaders lost their lives. Despite widespread agitation, there was no change in the government’s stance. However, seeing the anger of the public, KarpAtri ji was released soon.

Cow slaughter ban movement

We next come to the issue that KarpAtri ji was most intimately involved with and most well-known for: Cow slaughter ban. He argued that the cow was not only the symbol of Dharma and Sanskriti but also the mainstay of India’s economy. From milk to gomutra and cow dung, each of the products derived from the cow were immensely useful. Using these arguments, KarpAtri ji demanded a complete and immediate ban on cow slaughter by the passing of a central law. He was actively involved in many campaigns, before and after independence, for the fulfilment of this objective.
As mentioned earlier, gauhatyA ban was an integral part of the Dharma Yuddha. However, due to partition related violence, Dharma Yuddha had to be suspended in many key areas. He, therefore, decided to focus solely on Mathura. He started a satyAgraha demanding that the 14 slaughterhouses in Mathura be shut down. Soon, he was arrested and put in Agra jail for six months but the agitation continued and finally, the Mathura municipality agreed to shut down these slaughterhouses. In the next stage, KarpAtri ji encouraged people to pressurise local boards and municipalities to shut down slaughterhouses. As a result of public pressure, 32 districts passed such proposals.
In 1954, Dharma Sangha organised a VirAt Gau Raksha Sammelan. KarpAtri ji also met the UP Chief Minister GV Pant to demand cow slaughter ban. Soon, anti-cow slaughter legislations were passed by UP and Bihar. However, the central government led by J L Nehru obstinately kept ignoring  such demands. KarpAtri ji severely criticised Nehru saying that he not only didn’t allow the passing of a central legislation but also created obstacles when state governments tried to make such laws.
He pointed out how the Central Agriculture Ministry, in 1950, had instructed all state governments to not implement a complete ban on cow slaughter. Similarly, in a 1953 lecture, Nehru instructed agriculture ministers of states to not have a ban on cow slaughter. Despite such hostility, KarpAtri ji kept working tirelessly and travelled to many parts of India to create public support for cow slaughter ban. He also met many prominent leaders such as Lal Bahadur Shastri and Gulzarilal  Nanda in this period.
However, the goal of a central cow slaughter ban law remained elusive. As a result, it was decided in 1966, in a huge Gau rakshA sammelan in Prayag that the time for petitions was over and it was time for BalidAn (Sacrifice) for the sacred cause if Gau rakshA. The demand for Gau rakshA was presented before the Home minister in September 1966. It was also decided to hold a huge protest in front of the parliament on 7th November 1966.
This turned out to be the biggest ever protest against cow slaughter. More than a million Gau Rakshaks assembled, in front of the parliament, to demand ban on Gau HatyA. It was a totally peaceful and nonviolent protest. KarapAtri ji declared from the stage,

“We have nothing against a particular political party. The people of ruling party are our own people. We want their welfare. We have only come to demand Gau rakshA”

( Translated from Hindi)
Despite this, the government came down heavily on the protestors. The Police started a lathi charge and then bullets were fired on the crowd that included many prominent sAdhus of India. A curfew was imposed in Delhi. As per official estimates, 11 people were killed. However other sources indicate that this figure was much higher and ran into hundreds.
KarpAtri ji was arrested the next day and sent to Tihar jail where he was attacked by some inmates. It was a violent attack in which he received head injuries and lost vision in one eye. The government relented after the brutal assault on  Gau Rakshaks and formed a committee to find ways to implement a cow slaughter ban. However, this was just a delaying tactic and a cow slaughter ban remains as elusive as ever.
Here, we pause for a moment to ask what happened since that massive protest.
– Why haven’t we seen another protest like the one in 1966?
– Why couldn’t we take forward the fervour created by KarapAtri ji to its logical culmination?
– From demanding a ban on cow slaughter to justifying beef consumption, we have come far.
– What changed?

In Politics

We now turn to KarpAtri ji’s involvement in electoral politics. His decision to participate in electoral politics was triggered by the realisation that various governments were repeatedly violating the Hindu Dharma Shastras through a variety of legislations. It was not possible to stop this without influencing the political domain. For  KarpAtri ji politics or Neeti was just another means of Dharma sevA.
He used to say,

” Dharma is the husband of Neeti. Separated from Dharma, Neeti becomes a widow and a widow doesn’t have the capacity to bear fruits (फलोत्पादन) “

(Translated from Hindi)   
He repeatedly stressed the need for political consciousness among DhArmika people for survival of Dharma. He used to ask,

” Of what use is freedom if Dharma is destroyed ?”
” If you alter and deform the brain of a person through chloroform and then remove the shackles from his hands and legs, would that person be called free? “

(Translated from Hindi) 
When elections were declared in 1945, he appealed to all Dharmika people to join politics. In September 1945, Akhil Bhartiya SanAtani dal was formed by him to provide a platform for such people. Many other organisations such as Dharma Sangha, Pandit Sabha and SanAtan Dharma SabhA were associated with it. They also had an understanding with Hindu Mahasabha. It was decided that only those people be voted who sign the pledges of SanAtani dal.
After independence, KarapAtri ji established the RAm RAjya Parishad(RRP) in 1948. Cow slaughter ban, opposition of Hindu code bill along with preservation of VarnAshrama vyavasthA were among the key objectives of the party. The party also defended the property rights of princes and landowning classes and as a result found support from these groups in Rajasthan and Central India even though they didn’t have much belief in the overall philosophy of KarpAtri ji.
In 1952 General elections, the party got 2% of the national vote. Its share was 14.2% of votes in Madhya BhArat and 9.3% in Rajasthan. It won 3 Lok Sabha seats, all in Rajasthan and 32 assembly seats. It was a promising start for a fledgling party. However, its performance dropped sharply in 1957 elections as it got only 0.38% of the votes and no Lok Sabha seats. Still, it managed to win 22 assembly seats.
In the 1962 elections, the party faced a setback in Rajasthan with many of its supporters switching loyalty to the newly formed Swatantra party. The party managed to win 2 Lok Sabha seats but after elections, its member from Madhya Pradesh joined Jana Sangha while the one from Rajasthan joined Swatantra. After the 1962 election, the party didn’t win any Lok Sabha or assembly seats as the party’s organisational structure weakened considerably and most of its members switched to Jana Sangha and Swatantra
Over the entire course of  RRP’s existence, there were continual talks regarding a merger with other Hindutva parties such as Jana Sangha and Hindu MahasabhA. However, KarpAtri ji’s refusal to accommodate progressive items at the cost of Dharma made such a merger impossible and even though these parties sometimes cooperated with each other, they were essentially rivals targeting the same Hindu vote. As is well known, RRP finished last in this race among Hindutva parties. The reason, more than anything else, was its staunch conservatism.

KAshi VishvAnAth incident

Here, it would be appropriate to go to an episode that underlines KarpAtri ji’s uncompromisingly conservative beliefs. We are referring to the Kashi VishvAnAth episode of 1957.
As per the rules of KAshi VishvAnAth temple, no one was allowed to touch the Shivalinga. Even the king of kAshi used to pray from afar. Everyone was allowed inside the temple but no one was allowed inside the Garbhagriha. However, controversy erupted in December 1957,  when a group of Harijans forcibly entered there with the help of the city magistrate. While most will see this is as an act in tune with egalitarian principles, KarpAtri ji saw this as an attack on religious freedom.
He said,

 ” Followers of SanAtan Dharma should have the freedom to worship in temples as per the rules in Vedas and ShAstras.”

” There should be no violation of ShAstra based methods of Murti Pooja.”

(Translated from Hindi)
He was very angered by this forcible entry and viciously attacked the government saying,

” In terms of religious oppression, the Congress govt. is worse than Aurangzeb. Religious freedom granted by the constitution has been reduced to a joke.”

(Translated from Hindi )
He was so infuriated that he announced the construction of a new VishvAnAth temple. This temple was constructed in Meerpur, KAshi . As per the rules of this new VishvAnAth temple, no one except the priest was allowed to touch the Shivalinga.
This incident displays the essence of KarpAtri ji’s thinking. He was a hardcore paramparAwaadi who followed the shaAstric injunctions to the T. Going against the fashion of the day, he also unabashedly defended the birth based varna vyavasthA. He opposed the popular reform programs such as inter-caste marriages and dining.
His defence of varna vyavasthA was based on the slippery slope reasoning where loosening of JAti boundaries would lead to the breaking of more boundaries. He argued that acceptance of inter-caste marriages today would lead to demands for inter-religion marriages and even inter-species marriages in the future. Such unending reform, he believed, would lead us to anarchy.
Therefore, he reasoned, it was more prudent to stay within the bounds of the time tested varnAshrama vyavasthA that had provided continuity and stability to Hindu society. He didn’t see the four-fold classification as an oppression enabling hierarchy but as a coming together of complementary parts which formed and sustained the whole.


It’s true that for the majority, such views are unpalatable today. However, it can’t be denied that there is a strong correlation between the decline of varna vyavasthA and societal ills such as loss of cultural pride, breakdown of families and a general moral decline.
We need to investigate if this correlation is also accompanied by causation. If yes, we’ll have to take a fresh look at varna vyavasthA to know if the very fashionable “oppression” view of varna vyavasthA hasn’t blinded us to the functionalities associated with it.
Secondly, it would be very unfair to limit discussions about KarpAtri ji to his views on caste alone. He was a renowned scholar and thinker who expressed his views on a variety of issues and should be studied in totality.
Finally, whether you agree with him or not, KarpAtri ji’s was the strongest voice for every cause that he espoused. He remained true to his convictions even if it meant losing popularity and political power. It has been 38 years since he left his body but many of the causes he fought for such as government interference in temples and banning of cow slaughter are still at the centre of Hindutva concerns. There is a lot that reformist Hindus can gain from KarpAtri ji’s wisdom.
He was the among the very best representatives of BhAratiya Sanskriti. As Dharma SamrAt, the king of Dharma, he was the very embodiment of Dharma for millions of people across the country. To discard him would be to make a break with our ancient BhArata. To forget him would be to forget Dharma itself.

About Author: Pramod Kumar

Pramod is a teacher from NCR. He is interested in Indian history and culture.

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