Lala Har Dayal (October 14, 1884, Delhi, India – March 4, 1939, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) was an Indian nationalist revolutionary who founded the Ghadar Party in America. He was a polymath who turned down a career in the Indian Civil Service. His simple living and intellectual acumen inspired many expatriate Indians living in Canada and the USA to fight against British Imperialism during the First World War.
At an early age he was influenced by Arya Samaj. He was associated with Shyam Krishnavarma, Vinayak Damodar Savarkar and Bhikaji Cama. He also drew inspiration from Giuseppe Mazzini, Karl Marx and Mikhail Bakunin. He was, according to Emily Brown as quoted by Juergensmeyer, “in sequence an atheist, a revolutionary, a Buddhist, and a pacifist”.
He studied at the Cambridge Mission School and received his bachelor’s degree in Sanskrit from St. Stephen’s College, Delhi, India and his master’s degree also in Sanskrit from Punjab University. In 1905, he received two scholarships of Oxford University for his higher studies in Sanskrit: (Boden Scholarship, 1907 and Casberd Exhibitioner, and award from St John’s College, were he was studying. In a letter to The Indian Sociologist, published in 1907, he started to explore anarchist ideas, arguing that “our object is not to reform government, but to reform it’s away, leaving, if necessary only nominal traces of it’s existence.” The letter led to him being put under surveillance by the police. Later that year, saying “To Hell with the ICS”, he gave up the prestigious Oxford scholarships and returned to India in 1908 to live a life of austerity. But in India too, he started writing harsh articles in the leading news papers, When the British Government decided to impose a ban upon his writing Lala Lajpat Rai advised him to leave and go abroad. It was during this period that he came into the friendship of the anarchist Guy Aldred, who was put on trial for printing The Indian Sociologist.
He moved to Paris in 1909 and became editor of the Vande Mataram. But he was not very happy in Paris, so he left the Paris and moved to Algeria. There too, he was unhappy and wondering whether to go- either to Cuba or Japan. After all he went to Martinique, where he started living a life of austerity. An Arya Samaj Missionary, Bhai Parmanand went there to look for him, and found him lonely and isolated. The two discussed founding a new religion modelled on Buddhism. Har Dayal was living an ascetic life eating only boiled grain and potatoes, sleeping on the floor and meditating in a secluded place. Guy Aldred later related that this religion’s motto was to be Atheism, Cosmopolitanism and moral law. Emily Brown and Erik Erikson have described this as a crisis of “ego-identity” for him. Parmanand says that Har Dayal agreed to go to the United States to propagate the ancient culture of the Aryan Race.
Hardayal went straight from Boston to California, where he wrote an idyllic account of life in the United States. He then moved on to Honolulu in Hawaii where he spent some time meditating on Waikiki Beach. During his stay he made friends with Japanese Buddhists. He also started studying the works of Karl Marx. Whilst here he wrote Some Phases of Contemporary Thought in India subsequently published in Modern Review. Parmanand persuaded him by letter to return to California.
He moved to the United States in 1911, where he became involved in industrial unionism. He had also served as secretary of the San Francisco branch of the Industrial Workers of the World alongside Fritz Wolffheim, (later a National Bolshevik after he had left IWW and joined the Communist Workers Party of Germany). In a statement outlining the principles of the Fraternity of the Red Flag he said they proposed “the establishment of Communism, and the abolition of private property in land and capital through industrial organisation and the general strike, ultimate abolition of the coercive organisation of government”. A little over a year later, this group was given 6 acres (24,000 m2) of land and a house in Oakland, where he founded the Bakunin Institute of California, which he described as “the first monastery of anarchism”. The organisation aligned itself with the Regeneración movement founded by the exiled Mexicans Ricardo and Enrique Flores Magón. He had a designated post of a lecturer in Indian philosophy and Sanskrit at Leland Stanford University. However, he was forced to resign because of embarrassment about his activities in the anarchist movement.
He had developed contacts with Indian American farmers in Stockton, California. Having developed an Indian Nationalist perspective, he encouraged young Indians to gain a scientific and sociological education. With the personal help of Teja Singh, Tarak Nath Das and Arthur Pope and funding from Jwala Singh, a rich farmer from Stockton, he set up Guru Govind Singh Sahib Educational Scholarship for Indian students. With Shyamji Krishna Verma’s India House in London, he established his house as a home for these students. Amongst the six students who responded to the offer were Nand Singh Sehra, Darisi Chenchiah and Gobind Behari Lal, his wife’s cousin. They lived together in a rented apartment close to the University of California, Berkeley.