New Delhi: This year, 13 April is one of the most important dates for the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) as the organisation will not only be celebrating the beginning of the Hindu New Year, but also the birth anniversary of its founder Dr Keshav Baliram Hedgewar.
According to the Gregorian calendar, Dr Hedgewar’s birth anniversary falls on 1 April, but according to the Hindu calendar, it falls on the first day of the Hindu new year celebrated as ‘Varsha Pratipada’ by the RSS.
‘Varsha Pratipada’ is one of the six festivals that the RSS celebrates officially. The other five are Vijayadashmi, Makar Sankranti, Hindu Samrajya Diwas, Gurupurnima and Rakshabandhan Mahotsav.
So, why did the RSS choose these six festivals? The philosophy behind this move has been explained in a publication titled Sangh Utsav (Festivals of Sangh). The small booklet has been published by RSS-backed publishing house Suruchi Prakashan. The comments in Sangh Utsav are based on the views expressed by M.S. Golwalkar and Bala Saheb Deoras, the second and third RSS sarsanghchalaks (chief), respectively.
“The RSS has chosen these festivals as they synergise with its objectives and name. One must understand here that Sangh has not created any new festival. But these festivals are of national importance and the Hindu society has been celebrating them since times immemorial,” the book reads.
There is one exception to this — ‘Hindu Samrajya Dinotsav’, which was not celebrated at the national level till the RSS included it in its list. “Hindu Samrajya Dinotsav is a festival that inspires an awakening in the society. That is why Sangh has included it in the list of other traditional festivals,” the Sangh Utsav notes.
Explaining the reason for celebrating these festivals, the book states: “Memories of the great personalities who made sacrifices are associated with these festivals. So we (the RSS Swayamsevaks), awaken the society through these festivals.”
More importantly, the celebrations of these festivals help the RSS expand its base. The festivals are generally celebrated at the shakha level. “Once a Shakha decides to celebrate the festival, this helps to showcase the RSS’ ideology and work, to the local community. It helps to bring the local community closer to the Sangh. Thus, these festivals play an important role in creating a conducive environment for the expansion of the RSS.”
Here is a brief description of these festivals in context of the Sangh
1. Vijayadashmi Mahotsav: Although all festivals are of equal importance for the swayamsevaks, this one holds a special place in their heart as the RSS was founded on Vijayadashmi (27 September 1925). Every year, Vijayadashmi falls on a different day according to the Hindu calendar. The festival of Vijayadashmi is celebrated almost in every part of the country and there are several tales and legends associated with it, the most popular being the defeat of the demon king Ravana by Lord Rama, one of the most revered God figures in India.
According to the Hindu epic Mahabharata, the Pandavas’ 14-year exile had come to an end this day and they had worshipped their weapons. In the Hindi heartland, this ceremony is called Shastra-Pujan. The RSS swayamsevaks perform this symbolic ceremony of Shastra-Pujan on this day. This is to inculcate the qualities of bravery and valour among the swayamsevaks.
The festival is associated with the rich cultural history of India and there are several ancient tales, anecdotes and legends associated with it. All of them, however, have a common message: “The victory of good over the evil.”
There has been a tradition in the RSS that the sarsanghchalak delivers a public speech at Nagpur on this day in a function where thousands of RSS swayamsevaks are present.
2. Makar Sankranti: It is one of the most important festivals for Hindus and is celebrated in the month of Magh (January). The ascent of the sun begins to the north on this day. This movement is known as Uttarayan also. The festival marks the commencement of the sun’s journey to the Northern Hemisphere (Makara raashi).
The RSS celebrates this as a festival for several reasons. This is the time period which signifies journey from darkness to light, from falsehood to truth and from death to elixir of life. Indians take a holy dip in rivers on this sacred day. Historically, this festival is associated with several important events. After the daily routine at RSS shakhas, a mix of sesame seed and jaggery is distributed among the swayamsevaks. Senior RSS functionaries deliver lectures about the importance of this age-old festival for society at the shakhas. At times, several shakhas get-together and celebrate it together as well.
“This is the time when swayamsevaks have to think what they have done individually for the country. A new beginning has to be made on this occasion and … swayamsevaks should take a resolve that they will work selflessly for the welfare of the society,” it says in Sangh Utsav.
3. Varsh Pratipada Mahotsav: The RSS marks this as the Hindu New Year. According to the traditional Indian knowledge and scriptures, Lord Brahma had begun creating the universe on this particular day. There are several important events associated with this day. Emperor Vikramaditya had defeated the Shaka invaders and forced them to flee from India. So a new Hindu calendar had begun on this day, called Vikrami Samvat.
This remains one of the most popular calendars in several parts of the country, especially in rural India, for various reasons. Lord Rama’s coronation as king of Ayodhya is believed to have happened on this day. Also, one of India’s greatest modern era reformers, Maharishi Dayanand set up Arya Samaj on this day.
In the Sangh Utsav, it says, “This festival marks the end of an old year and the beginning of the new year. So it is time to review the work of the past year and plan for the upcoming year.”
The swayamsevaks wear full RSS uniform on this day, and before the Saffron Flag is hoisted, a special salute, called ‘Aadya Sarsanghchalak Pranam’, is given in memory of RSS’ founder. The RSS band ‘Ghosh’ plays wherever possible. Several RSS shakhas often get together on this occasion and competitions are held. Key RSS functionaries deliver intellectual discourse on this day. At times, a leading figure from society is also called as the chief guest.
4. Hindu Samrajya Diwas: This festival is different from the rest of the festivals celebrated by the RSS. “While the rest of the festivals celebrated by the RSS are also celebrated by the common people outside RSS also, it is the only festival which is generally not celebrated in the society at mass level. In fact, many people even don’t know that a historical event took place, which deserves to be celebrated,” according to the Sangh Utsav.
The festival is celebrated to commemorate the coronation of Maratha warrior and King Chhatrapati Shivaji. The coronation was done on 19 May 1674. Along with this coronation, a Hindu empire came into existence officially as Shivaji announced: “Hindu self rule should be established, that is the will of the God … This kingdom does not belong to Shivaji but to the dharma.”
The festival is celebrated at the RSS shakha by worshipping portraits of Shivaji and his master (Guru) Samarth Ramdas. The famous letter written by Shivaji to Rajput King Jai Singh is also read on this occasion. The letter calls upon the Rajput warrior not to shed the blood of Hindus for Mughals and exhorts him to join Shivaji for the greater cause.
5. Gurupurnima: In Hinduism, the place of the Guru (master) is considered to be above even that of God. This festival is an occasion to express gratitude to the master for showing the right way to live life and imparting knowledge. In the RSS, the Bhagwa Dhwaj (Saffron Flag) is the Guru and as such is worshipped by swayamsevaks on this day.
The festival is celebrated in the Hindu month of Aashaad and on a full-moon day. The day is also known as Aashaadi Poornima. The swayamsevaks generally wear white clothes (preferably traditional Indian dresses like dhoti-kurta or kurta-pyjama), and the black RSS cap on this occasion and worship the Saffron Flag by offering floral tributes. It is followed by intellectual discourses on the importance of the Guru in life and swayamsevaks are reminded of why RSS chose the Saffron Flag instead of an individual as the Guru.
The message conveyed through this festival is subtle but quite meaningful that the ideology is bigger than any individual and the RSS is not an individual-centric organisation but an ideology‑driven outfit.
6. Rakshabandhan: This is a very popular festival in India and celebrated by almost all communities and religions. Sisters tie a thread, called Rakhi, on their brother’s wrist as a mark of the latter’s commitment to protect.
There are several historical incidents and tales associated with this festival. The RSS swayamsevaks celebrate Rakashabandhan by tying rakhis to each others’ wrists as a symbol of their commitment to protect each other and stand by each other, whatever the circumstances. This helps strengthen a feeling of brotherhood among swayamsevaks.
Over the last several decades, the RSS has expanded this programme in a very interesting manner. After tying the sacred thread to each other, the swayamsevaks go to nearby slums and tie rakhis to the residents living there.
The writer is research director with Delhi-based think tank Vichar Vinimay Kendra. He has authored two books on RSS. Views expressed are personal.
(Edited by Manasa Mohan)
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