In 2008, after his second assembly election win in 2007, Narendra Modi wrote a book titled Jyotipunj (which translates as “beams of light”) in which he retold the life stories of sixteen men who inspired him. All sixteen men were members of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, and many of them mentored the young Modi in his time as a pracharak in Ahmedabad in the mid and late 1970s. The longest biography is of the RSS’s second sarsanghchalak, MS Golwalkar, who expanded the organisation after he was given its charge by its founder KB Hedgewar. Modi does not refer to any personal contact with Golwalkar in this essay. Even so, the reverence with which Modi writes of Golwalkar in the essay, titled ‘Pujniya Shri Guruji,’ (guru worthy of worship) suggests that Golwalkar is the second most important influence—Vivekanand is the first—on the life of the prime minister of India. We will be publishing the first English translation—by Aakar Patel—of the biography in four parts. In this, the first, Modi writes admiringly of the ease with which Golwalkar took life decisions.
Glancing through our history, some qualities come up when we observe great men.
– References to the Shankaracharya bring to mind his advaita [indivisibility philosophy]
– The Buddha reminds us of compassion
– Mahavir is associated with ahimsa
– Rana Pratap with his determination
– Shivaji Maharaj with his call for a free India
– Guru Gobind with his Panj Pyare
– Guru Tegh Bahadur with his beheading
– Ramkrishna Paramhans with his witnessing of god
– Swami Vivekanand with his message from the world stage
– Tilak with his “swaraj is my birthright” call
– Ambedkar is the modern Manu
– Swami Shradhanand’s sacrifice
– Bhagat Singh’s martyrdom
– The Sardar’s determination
– Gandhi’s mendicant ways
One or another virtue stands out in these souls, who lived to serve their nation. One such gem was Madhavrao Sadashivrao Golwalkar—Param Pujya Shri Guruji—the second sarsanghachalak of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. He appeared to be a spiritual man. But unlike the usual manner of such men, he did not run away from the world. He lived among thousands and inspired nationalism in them.
He did not sit in some Himalayan idyll holding his nose in meditation. We think of him as many things—a leader, a scientist—and we wonder if he was ever spiritual. But then we realise he was different from these kinds of people. His one defining characteristic was that he was a swayamsevak. We are familiar with his other aspects, but cannot grasp them. And we realise that other than being a swayamsevak, he had no other desire.
A Communist Party leader once said of him:
“You know what is wrong with your Guruji?”
And the same person replied: “His unambitiousness.”
This meant that he was entirely free of want, the sign of a very great man. If he had one desire it was—“complete swayamsevak.” “Swayamsevak” means the surrender of the self, the devotion of one’s life to principles. Pa Pu Guruji’s life radiated like one who was a total and complete swayamsevak. He had given up all rest and recreation to achieve this.
He has written of this: “Once I was in search of god. When I looked for him, I was told: ‘Go clean the vessels; go sweep the floor; go clean the garden; go feed the cow.’” Guruji thought: “In my search for god, I went about these tasks without any expectation.”
After he joined the Sangh, he said: “I have Dr Hedgewar’s life and his principles before me.” This total devotion was the source of his life as a complete swayamsevak.
He had many ups and downs in his life. Of eight children, he was the only one to survive. Imagine the expectations his parents would have had of him! A mother such as his would nurture great dreams about her only son! But amid all of this, if the son chooses an entirely different sort of life, it is natural for them to be disappointed. He was master of the sitar and flute and had the ability to move humanity. When such a man chooses to tune his life to the inward music of spiritualism instead, it is only expected that his parents would be disappointed.
He left his home so that he would not continually let his mother down. He roamed the Himalayas, and his agitated mind found stillness only when he reached Sargachi Ashram.
He had a master’s degree and knew the mysteries of science. His mind was a mix of science, religion and culture. He said once that the advance of humanity depended on the advancement of science.
His great teacher was his guru, Swami Akhandanandji. Of Ramkrishnadev Paramhansdev’s eleven disciples, one was Swami Vivekanand and another was Swami Akhandanand. He lived in Sargachi Ashram. Once, when Swami Akhandanand was stroking Guruji’s head, he said: “Madhav, this hair of yours and this beard and moustache, they become you. They bring out your spiritualism. Never cut them.”
And so he never did. Till the end, he wore his hair long. This is why he retained his character as a spiritual man.
It sounds easy. If you and I were told, “Brother, you look quite good. Wear your hair long,” we would think of not cutting it. But with Guruji, it didn’t stop there. The ease with which Akhandanandji told him to wear his hair long, with that same ease Guruji followed this advice for the rest of his life.
Once, Dr Keshvrao Baliram Hedgewarji said to him: “Madhavrao, handle the Sangh’s work.” Dr Hedgewar was on his deathbed; his passing was certain. He had formed the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh in 1925. By 1940, it had spread across India. He decided to now hand over this organisation to a man aged only 34. But he said only very simply to Pa Pu Guruji: “Madhav, handle the Sangh’s work.” This was the only sentence he spoke in 1940.
Dr Hedgewar’s trust
Dr Hedgewar did not stay up all night to tell Guruji what the nation’s condition was, how many bad things had entered Hindu culture after 1000 years of slavery. He did not speak of this. He taught him no songs of patriotism. He said simply: “Madhavrao, you handle this work.”
Let us try and imagine what that moment must have been like. In giving Guruji this responsibility, what would Dr Hedgewarji have thought? How much information had he sought?
Sometimes I wonder if Doctorji had sat Guruji down and instructed him in Hindutva overnight. Had he told him the minor details of the ruin of Hindu society? To get him to serve society instead of devoting himself to moksha and seeking god, what words would have been used?
In 1940, the Sangh’s shape, its influence, was still formative. What would be its future after the founder was gone? Thousands of such questions would arise in ordinary minds. What bridge had joined Doctorji and Guruji? Doctorji had total faith and trust in this young man. It shows what ability Doctorji had to recognise character and to see that a man who was searching for spiritualism would instead devote the rest of his life to society.
And so Guruji gave up his every moment to the responsibility Doctorji had given him. What an amazing event! What an astonishing recognition of character, what faith! Yes, this was what was special about Guruji. The ease with which Swami Akhandanandji had said “Don’t cut this hair,” with that same ease, till the end of his life, from 1940 to 1973, travelling all over India constantly, Guruji threw himself into his work of expanding the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.
Guruji was inclined towards spiritualism. How could such a man take up the work of the Sangh? Why did he give up his entire life for the saffron flag? He has shed some light on this. The daily Tarun Bharat’s editor Madkholkar Bhausaheb had spoken to our respected Guruji at length. Doctorsaheb was also present. When they finished discussing the book at hand, Bhausaheb asked Guruji for permission to ask some personal questions. After Guruji’s passing, Tarun Bharat, in its edition of 16 June 1973, carried a piece headlined “Trikonisangam.” This had the contents of the exchange Bhausaheb had with Guruji. One question was: “I’ve heard that you left the Sangh midway to go to Bengal’s Ramkrishna Ashram. There you took deeksha [religious consecration] under Swami Vivekanand’s gurubandhu [fellow disciple]. Then how did you return again to the Sangh?”
Guruji was stunned by the question. He thought it over with half-open eyes. After a while he began to speak, slowly. He said: “You’ve asked an unexpected question. Whether or not there is a difference between the role of the ashram and the Sangh; that Doctorji will be able to answer more authoritatively. I was always inclined to spiritualism along with the task of nation building. That I would be better able to do this in the Sangh I learned from my visits to Banaras, Nagpur and Calcutta. And so I have devoted myself to the Sangh. I think this is in line with Swami Vivekanand’s message. I’m more influenced by him than anyone else. I think I can only take forward his goals by remaining in the Sangh.”
The twinkle of self-confidence in Guruji’s eyes was something to be seen, wrote Bhausaheb, and even Doctorji had turned sombre.
This, then, was the thinking behind Guruji’s decision to devote his life to the Sangh. For 33 years, he did so.
His faith never wavered. He used to say: “Doctorji’s speeches didn’t really enter my mind. Over time, they seeped into my being. He seized all of me. Whenever I’m in difficulty, his life inspires me and a road opens up.”
He would always instruct swayamsevaks to study Doctorji’s life.
Narendra Modi is the prime minister of India.