Guru Purnima (Poornima) is a custom honouring all of the academic and spiritual Gurus who have attained enlightenment or evolution and are willing to impart their knowledge. All Sanatanis (Hindus, Jains, and Buddhists etc) celebrate it across the world. The purpose of this celebration is typically to honour one’s personal spiritual masters or teachers.It is celebrated on the day of the Full Moon (Purnima) in the Hindu month of Ashadha, which runs from June to July.It is also known as Vyasa Purnima because Veda Vyasa, the sage who wrote the Mahabharata and assembled the Vedas, his birthday is celebrated on this day.the day is celebrated as the occasion when Shiva became the first Guru, as he began the transmission of Yoga to the Saptarishis.
‘Guru Purnima’ is one of the six festivals (VarshaPratipada, Vijayadashami, MakarSankranti, Hindu Samrajya divas (Hindu Empire Day), Guru Purnima and Raksha Bandhan ) that the RashtriyaSwayamsevakSangh (RSS), founded in 1925 by a Hindu revolutionary and reformer Dr KeshavBaliramHedgewarcelebrates officially in its various Shakhas spread across Bharat and abroad.Onthis day, every RSS Shakha organises, ‘Guru Dakshina (Offering to the Guru)’. There are primarily two reasons for organising this programme. First, to carry forward the age-old revered cultural and spiritual heritage of ‘Guru-Shishya (Master-Disciple) parampara’, a tradition of India. And second, to arrange finance for the functioning of the organisation. It was decided in the early years of the RSS that for the organisational work, the RSS would take contributions from swayamsevaks only. Thus ‘Guru Dakshina’ as an organisational activity was devised in such a way that Swayamsevaks, in addition to being trained ideologically, also make financial contributions which is used for carrying out the organisational work.
The Saffron Flag, commonly known as, ‘Bhagwa Dhwaj’, is considered to be the ‘Guru’ (the Master) by all Swayamsevaks. When the RSS was started, several Swayamsevaks wanted its founder Dr.Hedgewar to be designated as the ‘Guru’, as he was the most revered figure amongst them and every Swayamsevak looked upto him as an ideal. But Dr.Hedgewar decided that the Saffron Flag should be the ‘Guru’. Every year on the day of ‘Vyas Poornima’, according to the BharatiyaPanchang (Indian calendar), the Saffron Flag is worshipped formally.
This is known as ‘Gurupuja’ and is one of the six main festivals which the RSS celebrates every year. The first ‘Gurupuja’ in RSS was organised in 1928 where the ‘BhagwaDhwaj’, was formally worshipped as the ‘Guru’ for the first time. Since then, there has been no break in this tradition and the Saffron Flag continues to occupy the highest pedestal in the RSS hierarchy. It is the ‘Supreme’, even above the Sarsanghchalak.
Why is Saffron Flag treated as the Master or the Supreme by the RSS? The question has baffled many as there has been a general tradition even in India that many spiritual and religious institutions and organisations have had their founders as the Guru and they are worshipped by the followers. In the rich Indian tradition of, ‘Bhakti movement’ and even in the contemporary era, there is no dearth of individuals treated as the ‘Guru’. In fact, the decision to have the saffron Flag as the Guru is a unique move even if one goes into the recent world history. A Saffron Flag being the ultimate Master in a mammoth organisation that could be called one of the largest voluntary organisations of the world is worth pondering upon. Many in the RSS have tried to explain this interesting aspect of the organisation.
According to RSS ideologue H.V. Seshadri, “BhagwaDhwaj, has been a venerated symbol of the national culture and tradition of Bharat (ancient name of India) since ages. When Hedgewar started the Sangh, he placed the Bhagwa before all Swayamsevaks as the supreme symbol of all national ideals. He eulogised it as the Guru and established the tradition of Gurupooja on the Vyaspoornima day.
That is the day when Swayamsevaks place their devotional offerings at its altar (this is known as ‘Guru Dakhsina’). The Bhagwa-coloured flags have since been adopted by several mass organisations like BMS (BharatiyaMazdoorSangh) ABVP (Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad), VKA (Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram), BKS (BharatiyaKisanSangh) and Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP). The daily fluttering in tens of thousands of places all over the country in Shakhas, with its mass display on occasions by these other organisations, has carved for the Bhagwa a unique place as a national symbol par excellence in the hearts of the people.”
Interestingly, Seshadri also explains the struggle associated with the acceptance of the Saffron Flag outside the RSS. He says, “It was in the field of labour that the toughest challenge was posed to the acceptance of Bhagwa; for, the trade union field the world over has for long been dominated by the Red flags. But the BMS took up the Bhagwa and forcefully presented it as the traditional national symbol representing universal welfare. The Saffron has now become popular and adorns all BMS programmes. When a huge BMS procession waded its way through the streets of Calcutta, a leftdominated metropolis, during the 6th BMS National Conference in March 1981, citizens were surprised to see the Saffron Flags instead of the usual red in the hands of thousands of workers. Prominent newspapers of Calcutta also commented on this as an altogether new phenomenon.”
N.H. Palkar, Karyavah of the RSS in Maharashtra Province wrote an interesting book exclusively on the Saffron Flag of the RSS. The book was originally written in Marathi and got published in 1958. A Hindi translation of the same was later reproduced. This 76-page book examines the origin of the Saffron Flag and dates it back to Vedic period. Palkar says, “The Saffron Flag has always been respected in the Hindu social life…it finds mention in Vedic literature as ‘Arunketu’.” He further adds that the Saffron Flag has been a source of inspiration to get up and fight back for the Hindus whenever they faced attacks by the foreigners. The Saffron Flag was used as a well-planned measure to motivate Hindus to fight back and protect the nation.
Palkar explains several historical incidents to establish the national character of the Saffron Flag. Some of them are being given here.
-“Guru Gobind Singh (the Sikh Guru), who led thousands of Sikh warriors to protect the Hindus, also wielded a Saffron Flag. The Saffron Flag is a symbol of revival of Hinduism and the followers of Guru Gobind Singh won Kabul and Kandhar in Afghanistan under the leadership of Sikh General Hari Singh Nalwa during Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s time,”
-“Just like Punjab when Muslims attacked Rajasthan, the Rajput warriors under the leadership of Rana Sanga and Maharana Pratap fought back under the Saffron Flag. Chhatrapati Shivaji and his followers fought the battle of freedom under the Saffron Flag to establish the Hindu Kingdom.”
Palkar elaborates by citing historical example from the history of South India when the Kings of Vijaynagar Kingdom were engaged in fierce battles to push back the attacks from Muslims. The conclusion is clear that Saffron is the colour of valour and sacrifice for nation.
Palkar also explains the importance of the Saffron colour in the famous spiritual tradition of India commonly known as ‘Bhakti movement’, which is credited with the revival of a reformed Hinduism in the medieval era.
“The Saffron Flags flutter on the top of innumerable temples and (Hindu) monasteries of India,” says pointing out that along with valour, the Saffron Flag is also associated with the ideals of renunciation. Palkar mentions that it was Saffron Flag around which the revolutionaries rallied during first war of India’s independence from the British Rule in 1857.
In the epilogue of his book, he concludes, “After going through the complete history of ‘BhagwaDwaj’, one realises that it is not possible to separate the Hindu society from this flag. BhagwaDhwaj is the natural symbol of Hindu society, i.e. Hindu Rashtra (country).”
What Palkar has written in this section of the book forms one of the fundamental rationales that RSS Swayamsevaks are often explained in the intellectual discourses in the RSS Shakhas and training camps when it comes to a discussion on the importance of ‘BhagwaDhwaj’.
Palkar succinctly puts it, “Hindu nation, Hindu society, Hindu religion, Hindu culture, Hindu way of life and Hindu philosophy are all integrally related to the Saffron Flag. The Saffron Flag is capable of inspiring qualities like renunciation, sacrifice, valour, patriotism, etc.” “The Saffron Flag is a witness to the constant struggle and victories of the Hindu society…. One can’t imagine Hindu dharma (the word ‘religion’ is not used here as according to many scholars Hinduism is a ‘dharma’, i.e. way of life and it can’t be equated to a religion which is related to, certain set of rituals), Hindu culture and Hindu nation without the Saffron Flag. Culture is the lifeline of any country. Hindu culture is the lifeline of our country and the Saffron Flag is a symbol of Hindu culture.”
Palkar makes a very significant statement when he says, “The existence of the Saffron Flag doesn’t depend on the fact whether it has been granted any official (probably he wanted to convey recognition by government authorities) status or not. That is why even today, the Saffron Flag is worth worshipping for political parties, social outfits, sects or sub-sects. The Saffron Flag is a symbol of aspirations of the Hindu society and it has that energy to provide inspiration to realise these aspirations. This energy may not be embodied but it does get revealed in the form of a united Hindu society.”
The most important tenet which guides the RSS philosophy regarding treating BhagwaDhwaj or the Saffron Flag as its Guru is that an individual can fall from grace or may have some weaknesses but the Saffron Flag can’t. It is apparent that the decision to choose Saffron Flag as the Guru in RSS was taken primarily due to three reasons:
First, to make an organisation stand unitedly and grow, a flag remains historically one of the most potent means.
Second, the cultural nationalism which is one of the key building blocks of the RSS’ ideology finds its most comprehensive reflection in the Saffron Flag.
Third, the RSS wanted to ensure that it does not become a person-centric organisation by putting a symbol of cultural nationalism at the highest pedestal instead of an individual.
This seems to have worked well for the organisation which has witnessed a massive expansion of its base in all walks of life over more than nine decades without getting mired into a controversy over the issue of ‘Head’ of the organisation. It is astounding not to have a war of succession in any such organisation. The credit to a large extent should also go to such decisions of granting supreme status to the Saffron Flag. Thus, everyone in the Sangh Parivar bows their head in front of the Saffron Flag with great reverence, including the Sarsanghchalak. And at the RSS Shakhas, these fluttering flags convey the spirit of cultural nationalism everyday, round the year.
This could, perhaps, explain how the RSS Swayamsevaks find themselves so closely connected with the idea of cultural nationalism. Guru Dakshina Every RSS Shakha organises, ‘Guru Dakshina’, a programme for its Swayamsevaks on a particular day in the year.
There are primarily two reasons for organising this programme.
First, to carry forward the age-old revered tradition of ‘Guru-Shishya (Master-Disciple)’ tradition of ancient India.
And second, to arrange finance for the functioning of the organisation.
The students used to stay in the Ashrams of saints in ancient India and on completion of their education and training, used to offer ‘Dakshina’, as a mark of respect for the Master. In the Hindu tradition, the value of the ‘offering’ did not matter, what really mattered was the sense of gratitude with which the ‘Dakshina’, was given. The teachers used to accept whatever was offered with an equal sense of contentment. This sacred tradition was revived by the RSS in modern times in its ‘Shakha’, right since its inception and is performed till date.
It is a simple ceremony which is held indoor. Generally, it is held in a hall where around 50-100 people can sit. The ceremony is generally held in the morning. The dress code is, ‘all white’. On the day of Guru Dakshina, the Swayamsevaks prefer to wear the traditional Indian dress of ‘Kurta-Payjama’ or ‘Kurta-Dhoti’. The Saffron Flag is hoisted within the big room/hall auditorium and a ceremonial Indian earthen lamp is lighted. The framed photographs of the RSS founder Dr.Hedgewar and the second RSS Sarsanghchalak, MS Golwalkar (fondly addressed as ‘Guruji’ within the RSS) are placed alongside. Incensed sticks are also placed. All the Swayamsevaks sit on the floor where a number of ‘daris’ (a kind of Indian carpet made of thick cloth used at homes generally), or clothe sheets are laid. Before that the room is properly cleaned. There is pin-drop silence and it is mandatory for Swayamsevaks to reach well in time before the scheduled beginning of the programme. All of them sit in rows. Prior to the beginning of the programme, they are given a plain white envelope with their names written on it by the Shakha head, i.e. Mukhyashikshak/ShakhaKaryavah. These envelopes are often delivered to them personally at their homes along with the information regarding schedule of the ‘Guru-Dakshina’. The attempt is to inform all the Swayamsevaks who has ever attended a Shakha in that area even once. This is probably an effective way to keep the new recruits connected to the RSS even if they are not attending the Shakha.
The programme of Guru Dakshina is simple but very impressionable atleast for the newcomers due to the prevailing spiritual atmosphere. Anyone who has ever attended ‘Guru Dakshina’, with an open mind would vouch for it that the atmosphere is unique and leaves a long-lasting impression, especially on the younger minds. The Indian incense sticks are lighted, there is an aroma of sobriety all around. A few Sanskrit shlokas are recited by everyone praising the ‘Guru’ and expressing their gratitude. The Swayamsevaks also sing together some patriotic songs remembering the ‘golden age’ of India and vowing to bring back that age by being part of the nationbuilding process. Then Swayamsevaks get up one by one, offer some flower petals kept in a tray near the Saffron Flag, bow their head to the flag with their straight right palm horizontally parallel to the ground (this is the way RSS Swayamsevaks always bow their heads in front of the Saffron Flag during all programmes including daily Shakha). This is called ‘DhwajPranam’, by the RSS, i.e. greeting the Saffron Flag with respect. The Swayamsevaks then place the envelopes which have some money in it (there is no fixed amount which one has to keep in the envelope and no one asks about it). The envelope is closed, so no one knows who has put in how much money. The Swayamsevak again does ‘DhwajPranam’ and comes back and sits at his place in the row and the next Swayamsevak then goes and performs ‘Guru Dakshina’, in a similar way. After ‘Guru Dakshina’, there is a brief intellectual discourse delivered by either one of the senior RSS functionaries invited for the same or by any other guest who has been invited for the special occasion.
The RSS encourages its Shakha Chiefs to utilise the ‘Guru Dakshina’, programme to invite the local professors, doctors, retired members of the armed forces or any other well-known person as the ‘main speaker’, for the programme. This helps to expand the organisation its outreach by getting non-RSS members involved. The general experience has been that anyone who is not an RSS Swayamsevak and comes to the programme of Guru Dakshina for the first time as a main speaker goes back with such a strong impression that he remains a lifelong supporter and friend of the RSS. At the end of the programme, there is the usual RSS Prayer and then everyone disburses.
Here a few things must be mentioned regarding the concept of Guru Dakshina. Guru Dakshina was conceived in the earlier days as a two-pronged measure to collect funds from within the organisation to support its expansion and to establish the importance of Saffron Flag as the “Supreme Master.” With the passage of time, the programme of ‘Guru Dakshina’, became a great medium to connect with even those Swayamsevaks who generally may not attend the RSS activities regularly. At least once in a year, the RSS is able to connect with them. Over the years, as the RSS expanded with its frontal organisations working in several spheres of society and its Swayamsevaks being spread out all over the country, there are specific ‘Guru Dakshina’, programmes held in the RSS Offices or at other places for those who may not be attending the RSS Shakha but would be working in some other organisations. So you have special Guru Dakshina programmes for journalists, bureaucrats, senior RSS functionaries, members of RSS frontal organisations. The most important lesson that can be drawn from the ‘Guru Dakshina’, programme is the honesty with which all the money is handled and how money is not used as the criteria for judging a Swayamsevak’s place in the organisation. After every Guru Dakshina programme, the money is counted by the Chief Organiser (Mukhyashikshak/ShakhaKaryavah), a list is prepared in which names of persons and the money kept in their envelopes is recorded in writing and handed over to the designated senior functionary who further hands it over to the seniors and then at the Central level, all the money is utilised for supporting the RSS activities. No one keeps a single paisa and there has never been a case of any ‘corruption’, in the whole history of RSS.
The RSS functionaries attribute all this to the ‘character-building’, carried out at the RSS Shakhas day in and day out. Even some critics of the RSS would agree that in a corruption-ridden society, this is a successful model which can be followed. In fact, the key for all the successful RSS activities is ‘Strong Character’, according to the RSS functionaries. The Guru Dakshina is performed once a year. Generally a fortnight or a month‘s deadline is fixed within which all RSS Shakhas and other affiliated organisations have to organise, ‘Guru Dakshina’. It is a tradition which has never been broken in the RSS and is considered to be the most revered and sacred one.