Veer Savarkar was a relentless champion of social reform. During his time, Hindu society had been weakened by seven shackles namely sparshabandi or untouchability, shuddhibandi or prohibition of reconversion, betibandi or prohibition of inter-caste marriages, rotibandi or prohibition of inter caste dining, sindhubandi or prohibition of seafaring, vyavasayabandi or prohibition of following profession of other castes and vedoktabandi or prohibition of performing Vedic rites. Through his speeches, writings and actions, Savarkar made concrete efforts to break these seven shackles. From 1924 to 1937, Savarkar was interned in Ratnagiri, a small coastal town in Western Maharashtra and was prohibited from taking part in political activity. It was there that he concentrated his energies towards social reform. He was of the opinion that for the progress of the Hindu nation, both social and political reforms were necessary; that politics was a sword and social reform the shield, each being ineffective without the other. It must be remembered that Ratnagiri was a bastion of orthodoxy. As Savarkar has himself said, social reforms are not for the faint-hearted; one must be prepared for a tough fight all the time. In 1925, Savarkar started a survey of the Maharwada or the colony of the Mahars, an ex- untouchable low caste among the Hindus. He started organized mass singing of bhajans or Hindu devotional songs. He toured small towns around Ratnagiri such as Dapoli, Khed, Chiplun, Devrukh, Sangameshwar, Kharepatan, Devgad and Malvan and made speeches decrying the practice of caste-based segregation and ensured that schools in these places stopped this pernicious practice. He ensured that children of the so-called low castes such as Mahars, Chamars and Bhangis or Valmikis as they are now called compulsorily attended school by distributing chalk and slates and giving monetary incentives to their parents. He exposed schools that continued the policy of caste-based segregation but sent false reports to higher authorities. To ensure that untouchability disappeared not just from schools but also from homes, Savarkar accompanied by people from different castes visited numerous houses on the occasion of Hindu festivals like Dassara and Makar Sankranti to distribute traditional sweets. He organized mass haldi-kumkum gatherings of Hindu women and ensured that women from ex- untouchable castes applied kumkum to women of higher castes. He gave complimentary passes of his plays to ex- untouchables so that they may freely mingle with people of other castes. Workers of the Ratnagiri Hindu Sabha would take Mahars on complimentary tours of Ratnagiri town and port. To improve the lot of the ex- untouchables, Savarkar gave monetary assistance and raised a musical band of the ex-untouchables. He started restaurants open to Hindus of all castes. In the face of social boycott, he organized mass inter-caste dining. On 22 February 1933, amidst much fanfare, he organized a bonfire of the statue of untouchability. He lent support to Dr. Ambedkar in his Mahad and Nashik campaigns against untouchability. Even after his release from Ratnagiri, he continued his fight for social reform. His presidential addresses to the Hindu Mahasabha contain references to abolition of untouchability. As Hindu Mahasabha president, he frequently visited the homes of ex-untouchables. The Patitpavan Mandir at Ratnagiri is a standing testimony to his indefatigable commitment to social reform.
Savarkar wanted to start a temple that would be freely open to Hindus of all castes. On Magh vadya 14 (Mahashivaratri) day i.e. 10 March 1929, Shankaracharya Dr. Kurtakoti laid the foundation stone of this temple. The whole of Ratnagiri town wore a festive look and Hindu flags designed by Savarkar (saffron flags with kripan kundalini on them) dotted the town. Elephants and horses from a circus were brought for the procession. Youngsters from various gymnasiums, bands of lathi-wielding men and lezim bands together with countless men and women participated in the procession. Children from the Anand Sangeet Mandali (a music group) sang the welcome song. Then Shivu Chavan (a Bhangi or Valmiki boy who was taught by Savarkar himself to read and write) rendered a heart-rending lyric composed by Savarkar. After this, Savarkar explained the idea of the Patitpavan (lit: redeemer of the fallen) Mandir. He said, “I had this idea for some time now. Indeed, the Kashi Vishweshwar, Jagannath Puri, Dwarka, Rameshwar and other temples should be, subject to certain rules and regulations open for darshan to Hindus of all castes. No Hindu should be denied access on the basis of birth-based caste distinction. However, I thought that until this principle is accepted by society, there should be at least one temple that has its doors open to all Hindus. Last year when I met Shriman Bhagojiseth Keer at the new Bhageshwar temple built by him, he told me that being a member of the Bhandari caste, he could not perform puja at the old temple and this fact pained him. He had hence decided to build a temple where he could get the satisfaction of performing puja himself. Accordingly, he got that temple built. I told Sethji that the plight of our untouchable brethren is far worse than his previous plight. They are unable to have darshan even from a distance. I told him that he was wealthy and capable and could hence build a temple; but what about them? Is it not therefore necessary for you to build a temple for them also? My question touched his mind and he agreed to extend all possible help towards the building of such a temple. As a result, our work became easy. Now, idols of Bhagwan Vishnu (the protector of the virtuous and destroyer of the wicked) and Lakshmi shall be consecrated at this temple. Any Hindu who has a bath and wears clean clothes will have the right to perform puja of these idols. At the door of the sanctum sanctorum, there shall be a shivling and padukas (sacred wooden footwear); any Hindu even if he has not had a bath shall have the right to perform their puja. The pujari (priest) of this temple will not necessarily be a Brahmin by birth. However he would need to have knowledge of all the priestly duties. The temple shall have a trust. The trustees will have one member each from the Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya and untouchable communities and one representative of Bhagojiseth Keer. Thus the main feature of this temple would be equal rights to all Hindus.” Savarkar continued, “Without this feature, there would have been no need to build a new temple. That community which does not have the strength to defend its existing temples has no right to build new ones. This temple aims to give this strength. Today it is not just the Mahar, Chamar and untouchable community that has fallen (become patit), the entire Hindu society that is under foreign yoke has fallen. He who redeems this entire fallen Hindu Rashtra, I call Patitpavan (Patit =fallen; pavan=holy). He who gives back all that we Hindus have lost, I call him Patitpavan.” This was followed by the ‘Hindu unity’ song penned by Savarkar. Finally, the foundation stone of this unique temple was laid.
The temple was built over the next two years at a cost of Rs. 100000/-. The cost was largely borne by Shriman Bhagojiseth Keer. Savarkar had planned to consecrate the idols at the hands of Shriman Bhagojiseth Keer who was a Bhandari by caste and hence traditionally debarred from performing Vedic recital and puja. To this end, he wrote several articles, delivered speeches, corresponded with several people and arranged for the cost of bringing several people from the Mahar and Chamar colonies. At Bhagoji’s insistence, Savarkar brought invited such learned Brahmins from Kashi and Nashik who approved of Bhagoji’s right to recite the Vedas and perform puja. For two days, these Brahmins and Savarkar were engaged in discussion on whether all Hindus should have the right to recite the Vedas. Savarkar opined that every Hindu, whether Mahar or Maharaj (king) should have the right to recite the Vedas. But the learned pandits would not accept Savarkar’s position. At the last moment, the pandits said that while Bhagoji may be a man of character and god-fearing and he might pay them handsomely they could still not bring themselves to grant him the right to perform Vedic rites. The pandits even refused to accept Shankaracharya Dr. Kurtakoti’s ruling in this regard. At this turn of events, Bhagoji Keer said that he did not wish to create a controversy if the pandits were adamant. He would perform the puja according to Puranic rites as per the instructions of the pandits. Savarkar told Sethji, “Look, Sethji, we have built this temple to preach a new principle. Otherwise there are several old temples. If you beat a retreat, I cannot remain with you. You know well that I do not consider any Brahmin to be a priest. I believe that anyone who knows priestly duties is a priest. At your insistence, I invited another set of Brahmins who would agree to let you perform the Vedic recitation and consecrate the idols. I don’t care even if these Brahmins now change their stand. We should go ahead with our programme as planned. We should not retreat.” Seeing Savarkar’s resolve, Sethji agreed to perform the rituals under the directions of these other Brahmins. The ceremony was attended by saints such as Shankaracharya Dr. Kurtakoti, Masurkar Maharaj with his hundred disciples, Panchlegaonkar Maharaj, Chaunde Maharaj, Godhade Maharaj; Dr. ND Savarkar, Dr. Velkar and Lalji Pendse from Mumbai; Upadhye from Nagpur; Gopalrao Desai from Bhagur; Kesari representative RG Bhide, Lavante with reconverted Hindus from Goa, leaders of Arya Samaj, Chamar leader Rajbhoj from Pune and Chavan from Malvan, Mahar leader Subhedar Ghadge and Patade from Pune and other Mahar and Chamar leaders from different towns. Everybody was freely mingling and witnessing the proceedings. On 21 February 1931, certain rituals took place. The next day was Phalgun shuddha 5, Shalivahan shaka 1852 i.e. 22 February, 1931. Learned Brahmins under the leadership of Shri Ganeshshastri Modak, a disciple of Masurkar Maharaj performed the havan and the idols of Shri Vishnu-Lakshmi or Patitpavan were duly consecrated by the Shankaracharya at 12.39 p.m. All the assembled Hindus raised slogans of “Long live Hindu Dharma”. At 4 p.m., Savarkar, the Shankaracharya and other religious leaders gave speeches underlying the significance of this temple. After this meeting, a grand procession was taken out. The Chamar leader Rajbhoj of Pune worshipped the Shankaracharya’s feet with his own hands. Hitherto, the untouchables were denied the right to pay obeisance to the Shankaracharya directly. With this, one more taboo was broken! The Patitpavan Mandir consecration had already marked the breaking of the taboo on non-Brahmins performing Vedic rites. The Patitpavan Mandir is a symbol of Savarkar’s lifelong commitment to social reform.