Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), (Hindi: “National Volunteer Organization”) also called Rashtriya Seva Sangh, organization founded in 1925 by Keshav Baliram Hedgewar (1889–1940), a physician living in the Maharashtra region of India, as part of the movement against British rule and as a response to rioting between Hindus and Muslims.
Hedgewar was heavily influenced by the writings of the Hindu nationalist ideologue Vinayak Damodar Savarkar and adopted much of his rhetoric concerning the need for the creation of a “Hindu nation.” Hedgewar formed the RSS as a disciplined cadre consisting mostly of upper-caste Brahmins who were dedicated to independence and the protection of Hindu political, cultural, and religious interests. Upon Hedgewar’s death, leadership of the group was assumed by Madhava Sadashiv Golwalkar and later by Madhhukar Dattatray Deoras.
The RSS presents itself as a cultural, not a political, organization that nevertheless advocates a Hindu nationalistic agenda under the banner of hindutva, or “Hindu-ness.” The group is structured hierarchically under the guidance of a national leader, while regional leaders are charged with overseeing the local branches. A major emphasis is placed on dedication and discipline, both mental and physical, as a means to restore strength, valor, and courage in Hindu youth and to foster unity among Hindus of all castes and classes. Paramilitary training and daily exercise and drills are part of this discipline. The RSS reveres Hanuman (in Hindu mythology, the commander of the monkey army) and in the organization’s early years made him the centre of its initiation ceremony.
The RSS has historically played a major role in the Hindu nationalist movement. On several occasions it has been banned by the Indian government, led by the Congress Party, for its alleged role in communal violence. Some of the major political leaders of India’s Bharatiya Janatā Party were or still are members of the RSS.