Founder of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. His strong desire was that all the people should dedicate themselves to the service of Motherland forgetting the differences of caste, creed, etc… He exemplified this ideal in his own life. He shone as a simple and loving personality.
22 June 1897 on that day, Queen Victoria of England completed exactly 60 years of her ascent to the British Throne. Naturally, an atmosphere of pompous festivity of that Diamond Jubilee prevailed everywhere. The British Government had arranged grand functions in all villages, towns, and cities in Bharat too. Among other things, they distributed sweets among the school children.
The poor were served with food. The prominent in society were conferred with decorative titles. A mood of revelry among people in Nagpur (Maharashtra) was evident from their new attire.
Children were hurrying to their schools in groups in eager anticipation of the sweets which were to be distributed there.
But amidst all this, one young boy was not happy. He threw away the sweets given to him and sat alone in a corner brooding.
His elder brother came and asked him, “Why are you downcast? Didn’t you get the sweets?”
‘What’s there in that sweet?” – the boy pointed to the sweets thrown away by him and added,
“But why should we celebrate the jubilee of the Queen who has snatched away from our Bhonsle’s kingdom?”
The sweets, which were sweet to others were bitter for this boy. He had perceived nothing but bitterness in the sweets. He was barely eight at that time. Patriotism had found lodgment in his heart even at such a tender age, Such was Keshav.
The boy was eventually to become famous as Dr. Keshav Baliram Hedgewar. He founded the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, a nationwide organization. He gave a new orientation to the country. He awakened self-respect and patriotism among the Hindus.
Happy Family Life
The first day of April 1889. Keshav was born in Nagpur. His mother Revatibai hailed from the Paithankar family. She was married to Balirampant Hedgewar. Keshav was their fifth child. They had six children in all. Revatibai was serene and composed by nature. She adjusted herself to the temperaments of all her in-laws.
Balirampant was extremely short-tempered.
Added to this, the family was in dire poverty.
However, this did not come in their way of leading a happy family life.
The three Hedgewar brothers were adventurous by nature. Their spirits rose whenever they were confronted with an impossible task. Once the well in their backyard was to be readied for annual worship. It was full of dirt and mire.
The three brothers took it upon themselves to clean the well by removing the entire dirt. They did not inform about this plan to the elders in the house, fearing that they might prevent them.
The same night they addressed themselves to the task. They first ascertained that all others were fast asleep. Then the trio drew out all the soiled muddy water from the well, removed the accumulated dirt, and quietly went to bed before morning. The others in the house were surprised to find fresh and clean water shining in the well the next morning.
Hardship During Childhood
At the close of the nineteenth century, the epidemic of plague used to play havoc in the country every few years. No medicine nor cure was available for the disease at that time. People were greatly distressed. And to add insult to injury, the British began to intentionally target the people for harassment, which was more severe than the dreaded disease.
As an unavoidable consequence, many people died a most tortuous and harrowing death. Nagpur then had a population of a hundred thousand, and out of them, two to three hundred people succumbed every day to plague.
Being an orthodox priest, Balirampant was attending to funeral ceremonies of the deceased every day. Many others in the city had deserted their homes and were living in hutments on the outskirts. But Balirampant did not budge from his house. He scornfully remarked: “What can the plague do to me?”
But dead rats were soon found in his house too. Both he and his wife caught the disease. Treatment was started. One day, his son Sitarampant went out to bring medicines. On his return, shock awaited him. His father and mother had both died! Keshav was just thirteen then.
After the sudden and simultaneous demise of both parents, Keshav’s hardship knew no bounds. The eldest brother Mahadev Shastri had taken to loose and unbridled ways. All the household chores like cutting wood, drawing water, cooking, etc., fell to the lot of Keshav and his elder brother Sitarampant.
Sometimes they had to go without food. Often they had to roam about with torn clothes on them. As if this were not enough, their short-tempered eldest brother heaped abuses and thrashed them often. Keshav began to spend most of his time in his friends’ houses.
But Keshav was full of self-respect. Often even when he was hungry, he would not approach his friends for food. It was not in his nature to stretch his hand before anybody for anything.
Despite travails, his attention to his studies was never affected. He was always ahead in his class.
He was sober and spoke sparingly. He established an instant rapport with others, and others too longed for his company. He was a favorite student of his teachers. The daily four-mile run to the school never proved to be a problem for him He was deeply inspired by incidents from the heroic life of emperor Shivaji.
Gallant Fighter For Motherland
Patriotic personalities like Lokmanya Tilak, Mahatma Gandhi, etc., were fighting to put an end to the oppressive rule of the British. Keshav was ever eager to listen to the speeches of such great leaders. He nourished a desire to become a speaker like them.
Keshav and his friends formed a discussion group for the purpose.
In 1905 Lord Curzon, the then Viceroy of Bharat partitioned the Bengal Province into two. This provoked thousands of youths to revolt against the British. Foreign clothes were burnt.
A few British officers were killed. How could the British tolerate this? They rained lathi blows on the protesters and shot many. They arrested the freedom fighters and dumped them in jails.
This was the time when “Vande Mataram” (read more about the author of the National Song here) had become the refrain of the freedom struggle. It turned out to be the war cry of millions of youths, reverberating in the skies of Bharat.
Keshav was then studying in Neel City High School of Nagpur. The very mention of “Vande Mataram” used to enrage the British. It was as if the molten lead was being poured in their ears. They had banned the singing of “Vande Mataram” in schools. Severe punishment awaited those who brazenly sang it. Such was the terror-stricken atmosphere prevailing then.
One day during 1908, an officer of the Department of Education arrived for inspection of the Neel City High School. The students were already occupying their seats in the respective classes.
The atmosphere in the school was rather serious and disquieting.
The Inspector set out for inspection along with the Headmaster of the school. They wanted to first visit the matriculation class. Barely had they reached the threshold of the classroom when, like a bolt from the blue, a deafening cry of “Vande Mataram” rang out of that classroom piercing the ears of the duo. The Inspector was angry beyond words. Shutting his tears, he moved to the next class. There too, the same scene awaited him: the same resounding roar of’ ‘Vande Mataram’ greeted him.
The Inspector thundered,
“This is treason. Who has been singing Vande Mataram’? Debar all those fellows from the school. They should be punished mercilessly.”
Passing strict orders, he left the school in a huff.
The question which occupied the minds of all was, who might be the brainy chap who was so bold as to organize the singing of “Vande Mataram” in the chorus?
The teachers held out threats to the students.
When this method failed, they begged of them to reveal the secret. But to no avail. They declared that they would order mass rustication if the name was not revealed. The students remained unmoved.
As none disclosed the name of their leader, all the students of both the classes which had sung ‘Vande Mataram’ were summarily removed from the school. But all of them came out of the school and marched like victorious warriors singing in unison ‘Vande Mataram’, this time with an even louder voice.
Keshav never set foot in that school again. He was a blossoming youth of just nineteen then.
His was a well-built, tall, muscular body: a result of regular workouts in the gymnasium: rather dark in complexion face pitted with smallpox marks; a bright pair of eyes. It was the same Keshav who had kindled the flame of patriotism in the bosoms of his fellow-students in the Neel City High School to sing ‘Vande Mataram’.
After leaving the Neel City High School, Keshav joined Rashtriya Vidyalaya of Yeotmal.
The leaders had started such schools at several places for providing national education to students. It was a model school with ideal teachers, who were content with low salaries, but evinced a very keen interest in imparting good education to students.
Since it was inculcating a national outlook through education, the Government was naturally unhappy, on the account of perpetual harassment by the Government the Yeotmal School was eventually closed down. But Keshav remained unperturbed. He went to Pune to continue his studies. Thereafter, he took up his Entrance examination of Calcutta Rashtriya Vidyapeeth at Amaravati in Maharashtra.
In those days of extreme hardship, it was a miracle that Keshav had progressed so far in studies. It was indeed a remarkable achievement on his part. Steeped in poverty, the household never knew when the next meal would present itself to them.
But it was not this condition that was worrying Keshav. His anxieties were different. What caused immense sorrow to him was that the Motherland was under an oppressive foreign rule. Many felt that armed revolt against the British was the only way for freeing the country.
Persuaded thus, Keshav chose to go to Bengal, which was the cradle of revolutionaries, to gain experience in their close association. In fulfillment of the desire of Keshav, the elders of Nagpur like Dr. Moonje came forward to provide the necessary help for Keshav’s further education. He was sent to the National Medical College of Calcutta – to a strange land 700 miles away from Nagpur, in mid-1910.
‘Keshav’ became ‘Keshavrao’ with his admission to the Medical College at Calcutta.
Strong In Mind And Body
Soon after joining the college, Keshavrao developed an intimate friendship with students coming from different provinces. He utilized his leisure in cultivating them. He soon became the most sought after friend, of all. Hardly was there anyone who was not drawn to him. Such was his affable and amiable disposition.
As in Nagpur, he continued with his daily physical exercises without break. Milk was taken in plenty to cope with the exercises. Thereby his body became well built and shapely.
Intolerant Of Egoists; Friend of Sufferers
Righteous indignation was a special trait of Keshavrao. He was prompt to react to injustice or oppression of any kind. Once during the college vacation, he had gone to Yeotmal. Keshavrao was on an evening stroll with his friends in the Civil Lines area.
On the way, they saw that a British Deputy Commissioner was approaching them. The British officers in those days were full of arrogance. An unwritten code required that the local people were to move away to make way for the British officers and salute them. This was intimated to Keshavrao by his friends. He, however, did not care and went ahead in the usual way without saluting.
The Deputy Commissioner came close, but Keshavrao remained passive. The former then had to move away from him. But how could high-strung D.C. swallow such an insult? He turned back and burst out, “Don’t you know the etiquette here?”
With his hands in his coat pockets, Keshavrao retorted,
“What have I to do with the manner here? I come from the Capital City of Nagpur.
Nothing like this is observed in Nagpur. And mind you, it’s not proper to salute an unknown person.”
Seething with anger, D.C. departed helplessly.
Keshavrao never tolerated any insult either to the nation or to national leaders. Once a public meeting was held under the chairmanship of Deshbhakta Moulvi Liyaqat Hussain. One of the speakers passed some disparaging remarks about Lokmanya Tilak. This was enough for Keshavrao to burst forth with indignation. He rushed to the dais and slapped the errant speaker in full public view!
Keshavrao was full of sympathy for those caught in any kind of distress. In 1913, river Damodar in Bengal was in spate. People, animals, homes, and huts were inundated under the floods. Keshavrao with his friends swung into action. They rushed to the spot for protecting the sufferers and bringing succor in their hour of travail.
He served food to the hungry and spoke words of courage and confidence as they had lost all hopes about their life. Keshavrao busied himself day and night. No barriers of language or region stood in his way of service.
Prudence And Caution
Keshavrao had close contact with the revolutionaries in Calcutta. His friendship with the prominent revolutionaries like Shyarnsundar Chakravarti, Motilal Ghosh, and others was very intimate. Not all were admitted easily to the main organization of revolutionaries, called the ‘Anusheelan Samiti’.
From the moment he left Nagpur, Keshavrao was constantly shadowed by the Intelligence Agents. Keshavrao sensed it immediately and remained watchful. Once a police officer named Ketkar came to his room under the guise of a student. He began to develop fake intimacy with the other students. But Keshavrao was suspicious. He tried to convince others that Ketkar was a police agent and cautioned them to be careful while dealing with him. But hardly anyone believed him.
Narayanrao Savarkar, brother of Swatantryaveer Savarkar, was released from jail in June 1920. He had thereafter decided to join Calcutta Medical College for his further studies. One day, after ascertaining that Ketkar had gone out, Keshavrao broke open the latter’s box. He found a confidential letter from the Government, which said,
“N.D.S. is coming there. Keep him under surveillance.”
Keshavrao showed that letter to his friends and retrieved it to its original place. They all were astonished. They then appreciated the prudence and alertness of Keshavrao.
Despite these involvements, Keshavrao never allowed his studies to suffer. He always secured good marks in his examinations. He passed the final examination and obtained an L.M. S. degree in 1914. Soon thereafter he received an offer of a handsome job from Bangkok. But he turned it down, as he had already decided to dedicate his whole life for the cause of the nation.
The financial condition of his house had worsened. Naturally, all the people hoped that Doctor Keshavrao would open a dispensary and help his elder brothers. Doctors, in general, commanded great respect of the people in society in those days.
Their income also was substantial. But Keshavrao did not bother at all about it. Many people insisted on his marrying. He did not show the slightest inclination in that direction. He wrote to his uncle: “I want to work for the country and hence wish to remain unmarried. While doing this work, anything may happen. Knowing this fully well, it is not good to risk the life of any girl.”
On his return to Nagpur, Hedgewar busied himself in various political and social activities.
Bapuji Kavre was a friend of Hedgewar. He was deeply involved in the revolutionary activities in the Central Provinces since 1908.
Hedgewar joined him wholeheartedly. Keshavrao met several prominent persons in Nagpur for the purpose. He delivered speeches wherever he went, deploring the slavery thrust upon the country. His earnest expression and appeal touched the hearts of the people. He also collected some money from sympathetic people secretly and with it he purchased pistols, bullets, and gunpowder, for distribution among the young revolutionaries.
There was a town called Kamathi near Nagpur.
An army establishment was camping there.
Keshavrao developed contacts with the personnel there. One day, a few of the revolutionaries donned the military uniform and went to the Railway Station. In broad daylight, they unloaded some boxes of ammunitions, meant for the Army, from the railway wagon and vanished with the booty.
Keshavrao arranged subsequently to burn all those uniforms lest it comes to light as a result of some inquiry at a later date. But the Government undertook a countrywide search for the hideouts and headquarters of the revolutionaries, to exterminate them. This did have a dampening effect on the minds of the revolutionary activists. Some of them bade good-bye to the country’s cause. The hold of discipline on them had become slackened. Selfishness came to the fore, and confidence melted away.
Keshavrao gained experience of both the bright and dark sides of a national worker’s life through all these activities. He began to seriously ponder the condition of society.
His incisive thinking brought him to the conclusion that unless the people are given proper training and good sanskaras for leading a disciplined life, their love of the country and readiness for sacrifice would never remain firm or last long.
Thereafter Hedgewar plunged into several types of programs for awakening people. Political activities were being carried out under the banner of ‘Rashtra Seva Mandal’, which was founded at the instance of Lokmanya Tilak.
Hedgewar was the youngest member of that group.
Hedgewar also formed ‘Rashtriya Utsava Mandal’ for generating fervor and enthusiasm among the youths, Program of Shivaji Jayanti, Ganesh Utsav, Shastrapujan, Sankraman Utsav, etc., were celebrated under its auspices. His speeches during these functions thrilled the hearts of the youths.
It was the year 1919. The situation in the country was hooting up on account of the Khilafat and Non-cooperation movements. It was in that year that the All-India Congress Committee held its session in Amritsar. Keshavrao participated in that conference.
The task of mobilizing a strong band of 1,500 volunteers for the Congress session scheduled at Nagpur in July the same year was entrusted to Doctor Hedgewar. He strove day and night for the purpose. He and his colleagues campaigned for the passage of a resolution declaring ‘Poorna Swaraj’ (complete self-rule) as the goal of the Congress.
The Non-cooperation movement was spreading. People responded enthusiastically to the ‘Swaraj in one-year’ slogan of the leaders. Keshavrao undertook a brisk tour in the village after village in the Central Provinces for mass awakening. The British Government naturally could not remain a silent spectator. They imposed restrictions on Doctor Hedgewar that he should neither participate in nor deliver speeches in any public meetings, nor even converse in a group consisting of more than five persons.
Hedgewar ignored these impositions.
He went on unhindered with his itinerary. The Government then charged him with treason, dubbing his speeches as objectionable. Hedgewar argued his case himself in the court and said:
“Hindusthan belongs to the people of this country. Who gave the Englishmen right to trample on the native people and rule over them oppressively? The British claim of being the rulers of Hindusthan is a brutal murder of justice, morality and Dharma.”
On hearing the fierce arguments of Hedgewar the Judge remarked:
“Your arguments in the court are even more seditious than your original speech.”
Doctor Hedgewar was punished with one year’s rigorous imprisonment.
After his release from the jail, Doctor Hedgewar was accorded a hero’s welcome. He was honored by the people at several places.
Mothers performed ‘aarti’. Khadi clothes were presented to him.
The Sampoorna Swaraj movement was in full swing. Hedgewar brought out a journal in cooperation with his friends titled ‘Swatantrya’.
It was full of fierce articles demanding complete Independence. When the paper began to limp due to financial losses, Doctor Hedgewar himself took over the reins of its editorship.
But as time passed, the Non-cooperation movement cooled down. In-discipline and selfishness had reared their ugly heads in society. The conspiring Britishers created rifts and rivalries between Hindus and Muslims.
After observing all this, Doctor Hedgewar came to the conclusion: If the yoke of British slavery has to be overthrown, we have to mainly trust the Hindus. We have to awaken patriotism, discipline, and bravery. Then only will the Muslims shed their separatist tendencies and stand shoulder to shoulder with the Hindus in the nationalist movement.
Rashtriya Swamyamsevak Sangh
Hedgewar intensified his contacts and established personal rapport with a large number of people. In 1925, he founded the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, on the auspicious day of Vijaya Dashami.
From little acorn grows the mighty oaktree.
Little droplets make the vast ocean. One heart joining with the other hearts, the strength of Sangh soon grew. People began to attend the Sangh Shakhas irrespective of their being rich or poor, no matter to what caste they belonged.
Hedgewar maintained personal contacts with them all. He busied himself in the thought and work for the Sangh day and night. Poverty in his house was unredeemed. How to run the house with the meager and uncertain earnings from his elder brother’s priestly profession?
Doctor Hedgewar had several very close and well-meaning friends.
They all were concerned about him and his household. He never sent anyone back without some kind of hospitality. This did involve expense, and resources were scarce.
Some friends of Doctor Hedgewar decided to collect some amount every month to help in the upkeep of the house. But Keshavrao politely and firmly declined the offer and told them,
“No money should be collected from society and spent for my sake.”
There the matter rested.
Gradually all his associates had begun to endearingly call Keshavrao Hedgewar as ‘Doctorji’.
Wherever he went, he created a lively atmosphere full of mirth and enthusiasm around him.
His working method was not showy and pompous. He was walking miles together to reach a village or town for informing the people about the country, its plight and their duty towards it.
He was meeting rich people as also the illiterate poor even in small hamlets.
Doctorji was not only trying to inculcate discipline in others; he was discipline incarnate. Once he had gone to Adegaon for the Upanayana (sacred-thread) ceremony in a friend’s house there. Soon after the function, Doctorji informed his intention to return to Nagpur immediately.
But his friends insisted that he stay with them at least for three or four days, as they enjoyed his pleasant company. The next day was a Sunday, the day of the weekly Sangh parade in the morning at Nagpur, which Doctorji wanted to attend at all costs. Though late, he left Adegaon with his companions in the night itself. There were no buses at that late hour from Adegaon, an oddly situated village. The distance between Adegaon and Nagpur was 32 miles.
But undaunted, Hedgewar started on the journey along the muddy track strewn with thorns. In the dead of night, he walked for about twenty miles and reached the main highway leading to Nagpur, which was still some ten miles away. As he was in a hurry, he could not afford sloth. After some time, however, there came a late-running Nagpur-bound bus. They took it and reached Nagpur early the next morning. This was how he participated in the weekly parade.
The Swayamsevaks had thought that he would not be able to attend the parade. It was a sweet surprise to them all. Doctorji was thus setting his example of discipline and determination before all of them.
Growth Of Sangh Work
The Sangh was growing in Nagpur and the surrounding districts. It soon began to spread to other provinces too. Doctorji went to several places and inspired the youths for taking up the Sangh work. He traveled to Kashi (Banaras), Punjab, even distant Karnataka, and planted the sapling of Sangh work there. His advice to the Sangh Swayamsevaks desirous of pursuing their higher education was,
“Go to other provinces and pursue your studies there. While studying, start the Sangh Shakhas also.”
His plan for expansion of Sangh work in such a natural and unobtrusive way bore fruit. Swayamsevaks went to far-off cities like Kashi, Lucknow, etc., for their further education. They started the Shakhas there too. Thus the Sangh work grew in leaps and bounds.
In April 1930, Mahatma Gandhi gave a call for ‘Satyagraha’ against the British Government. It echoed in the far corners of the country. Doctorji decided to participate in the proposed Satyagraha. He also wanted to use the prison-stay to cultivate youths from other places, as that would enable him to spread the Sangh ideology to different parts of the country. He participated in the famous ‘Jungle Satyagraha’ along with others.
They were promptly arrested by the Government. Doctorji was sentenced to nine months imprisonment and sent to Akola jail.
Appreciation By Gandhiji
It was an incident in 1934. A Sangh camp of about 1,500 Swayamsevaks was held in Wardha.
Just facing the camp was the Ashram of Sevagram. Gandhi happened to be staying there for rest. He was observing the various programs of the Swayamsevaks on the ground in the morning and evening every day. It aroused his curiosity to have an insight into the working of the Sangh camp personally. Zilla Sanghchalak Appaji Joshi came to Know about this. He welcomed Gandhi to the camp.
Mahatma arrived in the camp exactly at 6 a.m. the next day as planned. Swayamsevaks were standing in file with perfect discipline. Bhagwa flag was hoisted. Along with the Swayamsevaks, Gandhi too did Dhwajapranam (salutation to the flag). Then, with a scanning eye, he went around the camp. He saw that all the Swayam Sevaks were staying together, dining together, without any differentiation of any kind. Seeing that blend of body and mind of thousands of countrymen in all their activities in the most natural way, Gandhi was greatly impressed.
But he nevertheless was not too sure. He inquired from a few Swayamsevaks, “What is your caste?” All of them answered, “I am a Hindu”!People were belonging to many castes like Brahmin, Maratha, Mahar, Tailor caste, Barber caste, etc., among them. But there were absolutely no caste barriers and no sense of high or low, not even a faint shadow of it. Gandhi was very happy to know this. During the meeting with Doctorji, he said,
“Doctorsahab, you have built a really marvelous organization.
You are silently carrying out the work which I wished to do myself.”
Many years later while addressing the Sangh workers in Delhi in 1947, Gandhi recollected his experiences about the Wardha camp and said,
“You are straightforward people. You don’t have even an iota of the feeling of untouchability amidst you. An organization like the R.S.S., drawing its inspiration from an attitude of sacrifice and service, is bound to grow and achieve success.”
Blessings From The Eminent
Doctorji desired that all the leading personalities of our country should know and appreciate the need for the Sangh work and should be persuaded to be involved in it to the extent possible. Towards the end of 1928, he met Subhash Chandra Bose in Calcutta. Doctorji’s way of presenting his ideas and his deep insight into the problems faced by the country did not fail to have an impact on the sharp mind of Subhash Babu.
Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya was one of the greatest patriots of our country. Once Doctorji invited him to the Mohitewada Shakha.
Observing the Shakha amid the dilapidated structure and broken walls, Malaviya inferred that the financial condition of the Sangh was not sound. He was famous for collecting funds for any national or social cause. He said to Doctorji,
“Doctorsahab, I am called a royal beggar. If you approve, I shall be happy to collect some funds for Sangh also.”
“Panditji, Sangh does not need money. Your blessings are more valuable to us.” The reply of Doctorji came as a surprise for Malaviya. He said,
“My experience is that all organizations pay more attention to funds than to persons. But your approach is quite different. You have given the first place for the heart. I shall proclaim this greatness of yours, wherever I go.”
Opposition to Sangh had grown almost in proportion to its spread. The Government of Central Provinces promulgated an order banning the participation of the Government servants in Sangh programs. In 1933, it further suggested that the administrations of the local self-government institutions should also pass such orders forbidding their employees from participating in the activities of the R.S.S.
Under such trying circumstances, Doctorji went on cogently putting forth the policy of the Sangh before all:
“Sangh is away from politics. Our organization is not against anybody. Without animosity to anyone, the Sangh is striving to make the Hindu society strong and efficient. In the name of the Almighty, we are engaged in this work.”
‘Kesari’ of Pune and other newspapers from Nagpur wrote strong articles in support of the stand taken by Doctorji. People belonging to various parties and sections of society protested against the vindictive attitude of the Government.
Public meetings were also held at several places. Hot discussions took place in the Assembly Council of Nagpur about the said Notification. Even members of Muslim, Parsi and Christian communities took the Government to task on this issue.
Finally, it was put to vote. A resolution condemning this decision of the Government was passed by a majority Consequently the Government itself collapsed, thereby indicating the collapse of haughty opposition to the Sangh.
Simple, Loveable Personality
Despite his popularity among the people, Doctorji never posed himself as a great person.
He shunned publicity. Doctorji’s life was, simple and austere. Ordinary chappals on his feet; a simple dhoti, an ordinary shirt on his person: a coat with a collar, and a high cap on his head this was all that constituted his attire.
When Doctorji was available in Nagpur, many acquaintances were coming to his house. It was his habit to welcome all respectfully and make kind inquiries about their welfare. If he found that the visitors had no arrangements for staying elsewhere, he would invite them to stay in his house and to partake in the humble roti available in his house. In case the food available was insufficient, he would say, “I have had my meal.
Kindly come and have food.” That he had to serve never bothered him. He never allowed the dire poverty to show up in his face or his manner.
Quick temper was a family trait of the Hedgewars. The father Balirampant was almost dreaded for his irascibility. His eldest son Mahadev Shastri too breathed fire. No less short-tempered was Doctorji himself in the early days. However, after the beginning of Sangh’s work, there appeared a total change in his nature.
He became mellowed. He thereafter used to speak with others in the sweetest and affable manner. He brought about a metamorphosis in his nature as it were for the sake of the organization.
By 1939, Sangh Shakhas had been started in most of the provinces. Day and night, Doctorji struggled hard for the expansion of the Sangh work throughout the length and breadth of the country. He traveled remaining unmindful of rain, sun, cold or floods.
He took in his stride both praise and abuse by the people. He faced fun and starvation with equanimity. He struggled hard against odds and crises. During a short span of 15 years, he successfully laid a sound foundation for Sangh’s work.
Such continuous and strenuous spate of activities naturally began to tell upon even his steel-like body. His health went on deteriorating. Often he suffered from chronic back pain.
The fever would invade him suddenly. In January of 1940, he was taken to Rajgirh in Bihar for the hot-spring treatment.
By the time he returned from Rajgirh to Nagpur, the annual ‘Sangh Shiksha Varg’ training-camp had already begun.
Swayamsevaks from all the States were participating in that camp Doctorji desired to be close to them. Put his hands on their shoulders and talk to each of them. But due to burning fever, it became impossible for him even to move out of the bed.
Despite this, he gathered all his strength, went to the camp and spoke a few words before the Swayamsevaks, saying:
“Today, I am seeing a mini-Bharat before me. Let there be no occasion in the life of any of you to say that you were once a Sangh Swayamsevak some years ago.”
This was his last message.
As days passed, his illness went on aggravating. He saw that he was not going to live much longer. He called Guruji – Madhav Sadashiv Golwalkar – near him and in the presence of others said to him, “Hereafter the entire responsibility of the work of the Sangh is on your shoulders.”
On the morning of 21st June 1940, at the age of 51, Doctorji breathed his last. People from all walks of life and parties in Nagpur participated in his funeral procession in large numbers. His last rites were performed in Reshambagh. Today there stands a lofty memorial dedicated to his memory. It has been a perennial source of inspiration to all that go there to pay their homage.
Torch-Bearer To The Country
Hedgewar did not wear the robes of a sannyasin; nor did he run away from the normal way of life in the society. But his inner being enlarged itself to include the entire society: the society at large became his family. He remained a life-long celibate to be able to apply himself totally to the task he had charged himself with.
He was indeed a sannyasin in essence, though not in the external form.
He lived only for 50 years. But the fragrance of his life will permeate society for hundreds of years to come. Persons influenced by his thoughts, words, and deeds are countless indeed. The incense-stick burns itself into ashes but spreads its aroma in the surroundings.
By wearing himself out, Doctor Hedgewar created a generation of dedicated social workers with unsullied nationalist spirit, character, and total identification with Hindu society, ever willing to sacrifice themselves in the nation’s cause.
A tiny lamp lit 10 decades ago has now become an effulgent star shining in the national horizon surrounded by a galaxy of millions of shining stars in the expansive skies, illumining cities, villages, hamlets, homes, and hearths. With every passing day, the star shines brighter and brighter.