The ongoing global Covid-19 pandemic has reiterated the old saying that ‘swasthya is the greatest wealth’. The impact of the lockdown on the economy bears testimony to the fact that people are willing to bear financial losses for the sake of their swasthya. The concept of ‘swasthya’ has been propounded by our Rishis several centuries ago. Sushruta Samhita, defines it as “सम दोष सम अग्निश्च सम धातु मल क्रिय । प्रसन्न आत्मेन्द्रिय मनाः स्वस्थ इत्यभिधीयते ॥” (Samadosha, samagnischa samadhatumala kriyaha. Prasanna atmenindriya manaha swasthya ityabhidheeyate.). According to this definition, a person is in the state of ‘swasthya’ if ‘the three doshas are in equilibrium, the digestive fire is in a balanced state, the seven dhatus (body tissues) and the three malas (excretory processes) are functioning normally, and the atma, indriya (sensory and motor organs), and the mind is in a pleasant state’. Swasthya is essential to pursue the four purusharth.

The word ‘swasthya’ does not have a synonym in English language. The experiences of the western world are restricted mostly to their sensory perceptions of the physical world; hence, its vocabulary does not have words for the terms and concepts propounded by Rishis of Bharat several centuries ago based on their perception of higher realms of existence. However, the mistranslation of these terms and concepts during the period of struggle against the British presence in Bharat and the subsequent interpretation of scriptures and formulation of policies based on such mistranslation has had disastrous consequences. In the context of ‘swasthya’, a much narrower concept of ‘health’, defined by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in 1948 as ‘a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity’ is considered as its translation in English language.   

Interestingly, this pandemic is making us acknowledge the science behind the traditions of Bharat and realise the hollowness inside the consumption driven western society. There are strong indications to assume that in the post-corona world Bharat will regain its position of ‘Vishwa Guru’ using the treasure of knowledge we have inherited from our Rishis. It is also most likely that the devastation caused by this pandemic will direct human beings to strive for the pursuit of swasthya and the Bharatiya systems of attainment of well-being are likely to become an integral part of the life of people across the global. While the world is set to follow the footsteps of Bharat, it is essential that we also put an end to the blind aping of the west and reorient ourselves towards the knowledge created by our great ancestors through their tapasya. We are fortunate that the path towards attainment of swasthya, one of the greatest treasures, has been discovered and narrated to us by the Rishis through the scriptures.

Param Pujya Dr Keshav Baliram Hedgewar Ji, a Rishi of modern Bharat and founder of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) adapted this ancient knowledge of Bharat to suit the needs of the present time and gave us the method of ‘Shakha’. A ‘Shakha’ can be defined as the daily assembly of swayamsevaks at a fixed place, at a fixed time for a fixed duration of time for the conduct of a fixed set of activities. This method is being adhered to by RSS since its inception for ‘vyakti nirman’ (holistic development of swayamsevaks) in order to attain the objective of ‘परं वैभवं नेतुमेतत् स्वराष्ट्रं’ (Param Vaibhavan Netumetat Swarashtram). The shakha is the body and soul of RSS. Every son of Bharat can come and attend a shakha. It has to be added that Rastriya Sevika Samiti, an organisation working with Matri Shakti adopts a similar method for the swayamsevikas. The daily attendance of shakha is a sadhana and it can elevate a swayamsevak to the highest level of glory. Since, every swayamsevak is an integral part of the Rashtra, the glory attained by them translates into glory for our Rashtra – Bharat. The attainment of swasthya is but a small desirable outcome which can be achieved by regularly attending the shakha.

A shakha can be classified based on the age of the swayamsevaks attending it. It can be for children, young persons (includes both students and those earning their livelihood), and elderly. Irrespective of the age group of the swayamsevaks in the shakha, the mukhya shikshak of a shakha blows the whistle for assembly daily at a fixed time. This enables a swayamsevak to adhere to a fixed routine. A major cause of lack of swasthya in people of all age groups in the present times is the absence of a routine in their daily life. We come across many persons who work, eat, and sleep at odd hours of the day. Once the swayamsevak starts attending the shakha daily, his life falls into a routine. This has a direct positive impact on his physical and mental health. This also enhances his productivity in his studies or workplace as the swayamsevak now cuts down on several activities which are of wasteful nature.

The activities undertaken in a shakha for ‘vyakti nirman’ of the swayamsevaks are aimed at inculcating discipline and teamwork, imbibing leadership skills, physical development, development of intellectual faculties, practice of organisational skills, practice of sewa, improvement of communication skills, and above all instilling the spirit of selfless service and sacrifice for Bharat. Let us discuss how these activities help in the attainment of swasthya.

The most essential prerequisite for attaining swasthya is a disciplined life. There should be discipline in all aspects of our life. This important characteristic is of our life is imparted in the shakha. A fixed time is allotted for the conduct of physical activities including games in the shakha. The nature of physical activity conducted in the shakha depends on the age group of the swayamsevaks. Surya Namaskar is a compulsory activity in the shakha for young persons. It is a complete exercise and is extremely beneficial for attainment of swasthya. The practice of simple pranayam in the shakha for elderly persons ensures that they can maintain their swasthya.

People who have never attended a shakha and are unaware of the objective of RSS sometimes ponder about the practice of dand by swayamsevaks. The simple act of holding the dand properly in various positions cultivates mental discipline. The compulsory practice of ‘dand prahar’ in the shakha is very helpful in keeping the joints of our body supple and prevents them from becoming stiff. This activity can prevent joint related problems which have become very common even among the younger generation due to our lifestyle. The various physical activities and games conducted in the shakha improves lung power, stamina and bodily strength. These play a major role in enhancing our immunity. A strong immune system is an essential requirement of swasthya.

The baudhik activities undertaken in the shakha to enhance the intellectual faculties keep the swayamsevak mentally active. Activities like singing in a group, storytelling, and analysis of current events have positive impact on the mental sphere. These activities are very effective in relieving accumulated mental stress and anxiety. This is very important because stress has become a major factor leading to several lifestyle related diseases like diabetes and hypertension. A swayamsevak is expected to memorise the subhashit, amrit vachan, and geet   selected for a specific period. Such activities keep the memory sharp and can ward off age related problems like dementia and alzheimer’s disease. Daily recitation of the Prarthana keeps the swayamsevak focussed and agile. Thus, daily attendance of shakha can be immensely beneficial for physical and mental health.      

Mental stability is a major determinant of swasthya. The mind can only be stable when there is prosperity and stability in our family, village or urban community we are part of, and the Rashtra. Due to the training in the shakha, a swayamsevak is able to perform duties towards his family and his community with utmost sincerity. As part of the activities of shakha, he meets other swayamsevaks and those who have never attended a shakha. He undertakes sewa karya at least once a week. The various activities of the shakha fosters cooperation, unity, and equality. These lead to the attainment of social health.

In view of the several health-related benefits associated with the shakha, it is suggested that the shakha should be integrated into government policies. School going boys and young men should be encouraged to attend the shakha as it will shape their character and protect their health. The introduction of shakha in each village of the country as part of a public health strategy can save expenditure incurred on health. It can also be promoted in the correctional settings and can be an effective way of tackling the menace of drug abuse among youth in several states of Bharat. Elderly men should be encouraged to attend shakha, as it will enable them to lead a life without being dependent on others. Attending the daily neighbourhood shakha is the best way to keep the doctor away. Even during this period of lockdown, the innovative concept of ‘Parivar Shakha’ has acted as an effective strategy of coping with the prevailing situation. It can be concluded by stating that the shakha is the panacea for all problems in our society.

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