Lala Har Dayal was a born motivator. Legend goes that while a professor at Stanford University, he one day entered the Nalanda Club where Indian students would gather, wearing a rather serious countenance. His entry created a buzz, the kinds one would reserve for rock stars. Rock star, Lala Har Dayal was, but of the revolutionary kind.
He had something to say, and an air of expectation settled around the room. “December 23, 1912,” said Har Dayal, “is a date we should all remember.” The students looked at him, wondering about the importance of the date. “This date should be etched in the memory of every nationalist Indian. On this day, Basanta Kumar Biswas struck a blow on the British Raj.” Biswas had hurled a bomb at Viceroy Hardinge. This single act of bravery made Har Dayal believe that the Indians had come to a stage where they desperately wanted British rule and tyranny to end.
Har Dayal ended with a couplet:
"Pagari apani sambhaliyega 'Mir' !
Aur basti nahin, ye Dilli hai !!"
"Take care of your turban Mr Mir ! (Mr Mir is a reference to the Britishers
of the time) This is not just any town, this is Delhi, India
BIRTH OF GADAR
With this, the gauntlet was thrown and the revolutionary movement, Gadar was born. His speech was met with uproar and the entire group of students began raising nationalist slogans and dancing. Soon after, Lala Har Dayal also brought out a pamphlet to spread the word.
Lala Har Dayal’s journey from a middle-class Mathur family in Delhi to the path of revolution was one that passed through the galleries of academia. He was born in 1884. His father, Gauri Dayal Mathur, was a Reader in the District Courts. Lala Har Dayal did his early schooling at the Cambridge Mission School in Delhi and then he went on to do his graduation in Sanskrit from St Stephen’s College. An extremely bright student, he completed his Masters in Sanskrit in a year from Punjab University and then enrolled for a Masters in English Literature. His results surprised everyone as he broke all records with his performance. His achievements forced the government to take notice and he was awarded two scholarships to study at Oxford. He was a Government of India Scholar at Oxford in 1905 and was in England preparing for entry into the Indian Civil Services when he was exposed to the anarchist ideology. He got in touch with Guy Aldred, who brought out a publication, The Indian Sociologist. It was in this publication that Lala Har Dayal first wrote about his political views. In a letter published in the Indian Sociologist, he wrote that their objective should not be to reform government, but rather to reform it out of existence, leaving only nominal traces of it. His writings were noticed by the establishment and he was put under watch by the British intelligence. In 1907, Lala Har Dayal decided, “To hell with the ICS,” resigned his government scholarships and returned to India the next year. In India, too, his radical writings continued and soon the British imposed a ban on his writings. On the advice of Lala Lajpat Rai, he then left India for France.
Lala Har Dayal was blessed with a photographic memory and a gift for languages. In Paris, in 1909 he became the editor of Bande Mataram. Here he interacted with thinkers and sympathizers to the Indian nationalist movement like Bhikaji Cama and others. But this stint in Paris was stifling for Lala Har Dayal and he moved to Algiers. From here he went to Martinique. He was practicing a life of intense austerity in Martinique when he was sought out by Bhai Paramanand. Bhai Paramanand was an Arya Samaji missionary working with revolutionary zeal for the nationalistic cause. He exhorted Lala Har Dayal to use his immense intellect for the revolution and asked him to move to the United States and work for the rights of the Indian immigrant workers there.
So in 1911, Lala Har Dayal moved to the United States and joined the Stanford University as Professor of Sanskrit and Philosophy. He got involved in industrial unionization here and was the secretary of the San Francisco chapter of the Industrial Workers of the World. The body was granted land in Oakland and he helped set up the Bakunin Institute of California there.
His association with the Indian immigrants had also been growing. To encourage young Indians to come to the United States, he convinced Jawala Singh, a wealthy farmer, and set up the Guru Gobind Singh Scholarships for higher education at Berkeley in USA. On the lines of the home of Shyamji Krishna Verma in London, he opened his own rented accommodation house for these scholars – this was known as India House. Events in India, especially the assassination attempt on the Viceroy, further fuelled his nationalist fervor. In 1913, he was invited by the Indian community activists of Portland, Oregon. He addressed Indian community groups and exhorted them to liberate mother India with the force of arms. During his visit to Astoria, Oregon, Gadar Movement was born with Sohan Singh Bhakna as president and Har Dayal as secretary general. The movement spread like wildfire in the United States with large number of immigrant Indians joining – these included the students as well as the workers. To spread their message, the Gadarites brought out a newsletter in different languages. The newsletter, also called Gadar, talked of revolution and a violent overthrow of the British from India. They also gave instructions on bomb manufacture and use of explosives.
The onset of the First World War was seen as an opportune time to launch the offensive in India. As such, several thousand Indians returned to India by sea with arms, explosives and funds. In April, 1914, Lala Har Dayal was still in the United States when the American government, under pressure from the British, came to arrest him on charges of spreading anarchist propaganda. The British had tried to force the Americans to deport Lala Har Dayal, but that did not happen. He managed to obtain bail and fled to Berlin where other Indian revolutionaries in exile had set up the India Independence Committee. Before fleeing the United States, Lala Har Dayal strongly condemned the Americans for their subservience to the British in a press statement.
Even after the end of the First World War, Lala Har Dayal’s exile did not end. He lived for a decade in Sweden, lecturing on Indian Philosophy, art and literature. In 1930 he earned his doctorate on the dissertation "The Bodhisatva Doctrine in Buddhist Sanskrit Literature" from the School of Oriental and African Studies of the University of London. Two years after the publication of his thesis in 1932, he brought out his most popular work "Hints of Self Culture". He lectured and wrote profusely on a variety of subjects in India, USA and various countries of Europe. A polyglot, he was fluent in Urdu, Sanskrit, English, French, German and Swedish Languages.
Har Dayal died in Philadelphia of a heart attack on March 4, 1939 while on a lecture tour of America. His deepest regret was that he could never return to his homeland because the British kept refusing him permission.