Religious and social reform

Note: The word ‘samskara’ refers broadly to the deliberate and positive influences which help create deep and lasting impressions on the mind of a person so as to generate interest in him about Truth and Dharma, help bring out a positive personality and free the mind of its negativities. In this section, the word ‘samskara’ has been used by Savarkar to refer to the sixteen traditional Hindu samskaras. These are

  1. garbhadaan (coming together of husband and wife for purpose of conception),
  2. punsavanam (ceremony to be performed after conception to seek a male child),
  3. seemantonnayan (ceremony of parting of hairs of the expectant mother to keep her spirits high and positive),
  4. jataakarma (the newborn is given a secret name and honey and clarified butter or ghee to taste before it is breastfed),
  5. naamakarana (naming ceremony),
  6. nishkramana (formal seeing of the sun and moon by the child),
  7. annapraashana (ceremony wherein the child is first given solid food),
  8. chudaakarana (ritual shaving of the head leaving a tuft of hair intact),
  9. karnavedha (ritual piercing of the ears),
  10. upanayan and vedaarambha (thread ceremony and initiation of Vedic studies),
  11. keshaanta (ritual cutting of hairs and giving gurudakshina or offering to the guru),
  12. samaavartan (return to the house to start the life of a householder),
  13. vivaaha (marriage ceremony),
  14. vaanaprastha (retirement to a life of austerities),
  15. sanyaas (renunciation of all worldly ties andengagement in contemplation and meditation),
  16. antyeshti (last rites after death).

Given below is an English translation of Savarkar’s assorted views on this subject.


What do religious ceremonies represent?

Ceremonies that have been perpetuated as dharmic in the dharmasamskaras perhaps reflect the prevailing history of those times. It is as if the wisdom and ignorance of those times have been fossilized in the form of the dharmic samskaras. (1935, Vidnyannishtha nibandha or pro-science essays, Samagra Savarkar vangmaya, Vol. 3, p.317)

When does a custom or practice become fit to be discarded?

No practice is per se self-evident and eternally valid from the dharmic viewpoint. A practice may be considered dharmic so long as it is useful to a particular society under specific circumstances. Once a practice starts becoming harmful to society, it becomes fit to be discarded. (1931, Samagra Savarkar vangmaya, Vol. 3, p.776)

Dynamism and status quo

While dynamism is necessary for the welfare of society, maintaining status quo is also desirable to some extent. (1936, Samagra Savarkar vangmaya, Vol. 3, p.633)

Do not raise the bogey of Sanatana dharma to stall reform

Even after a hitherto beneficial religious custom becomes harmful to the nation, it is not instantly discarded by society for fear of violating the scriptures. Even when giving up a harmful custom was in the interests of the nation and dharma, society would blindly insist that doing so would be sinful. Latter-day authors of the smritis would raise the bogey of “this is Sanatana dharma” while inserting shlokas. This proved to be a costly mistake. (1963, Sahaa soneri paane or Six Glorious epochs of Indian History, Samagra Savarkar vangmaya, Vol. 4, p.756)

When does a custom become adharma?

That custom which only harms humanity instead of benefiting it even to the slightest extent is adharma. (Samagra Savarkar vangmaya, Vol. 4, p.313)

Changing a tradition is not an insult to our forefathers

A custom may have been beneficial in the past or seemed to have been correct in the light of prevailing wisdom. However, if such a custom has now become harmful or been rendered invalid by experimental science, then changing it or accepting its invalidity is not an insult to our forefathers; rather it is a tribute to both us and them. For it proves that our forefathers had extended the frontiers of human wisdom in their times to the fullest extent possible and that we in our turn have enriched human wisdom by taking advantage of their contribution. (1935, Savarkaraanchya goshti or Short stories by Savarkar, Samagra Savarkar vangmaya, Vol. 2, p.552)

Do not wait for reforms to automatically happen with the passage of time

Though work in the social sphere may appear secondary to political activity, it needs to be taken up because both are closely related. It is incorrect to wait for reforms to happen automatically with the passage of time. For the things we take for granted today have occurred because of efforts made in the past. So it is important that we make strenuous efforts to realize our dreams. (1937, Hindu samaj sanrakshak Savarkar or Savarkar, the protector of Hindu society, p. 388)

Social reform-political freedom

If freedom is won without having achieved social reform, it will not last even for three days. (1941, Akhand Hindusthan ladhaa parva or The battle for undivided Hindusthan, p. 202)