Savarkar: Echoes from a Forgotten Past by Vikram Sampath

"Science," the Greek word for knowledge, when appended to the word "political," creates what seems like an oxymoron. For who could claim to know politics? More complicated than any game, most people who play it become addicts and die without understanding what they were addicted to. The rest of us suffer under their malpractice as our "leaders." A truer case of the blind leading the blind could not be found. Plumb the depths of confusion here.

Savarkar: Echoes from a Forgotten Past by Vikram Sampath

Postby admin » Thu May 13, 2021 2:10 am

Savarkar: Echoes from a Forgotten Past: 1883-1924
by Vikram Sampath
This collection published 2019 Copyright © Vikram Sampath 2019. The moral right of the author has been asserted. [Dokumen.PUB https://dokumen.pub/savarkar-echoes-fro ... 56148.html]

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The first serious biography of Savarkar in English, this book allows us to understand a man whose ideas have come to define contemporary India.

-- Faisal Devji, Professor of Indian History, University of Oxford


A gripping narrative ... We get a rich portrait of Savarkar as a poet and writer as well as a political activist and theorist.

-- Sugata Bose, Gardiner Professor of History, Harvard University


Contents:

• Advance Praise for the Book
• Dedication
• Prologue
• 1. The Early Years
• 2. Painful Transitions
• 3. The Birth of a Revolutionary
• 4. Inside the Enemy Camp
• 5. And the Storm Breaks
• 6. Endgame London
• 7. L’Affaire Savarkar
• 8. Sazaa-e-Kalapani
• 9. The Jail Chronicles
• 10. Political Potboiler
• 11. Who Is a Hindu?
• 12. The Interpretation of Thoughts
• APPENDICES
• Appendix I: Full Text of ‘O! Martyrs’
• Appendix II: Full Text of ‘Will and Testament’, 1910
• Appendix III: Petitions by V.D. Savarkar
• Appendix IV: Is Hindusthan Disarmed?
• Illustrations
• Bibliography
• Notes
• Acknowledgements
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Re: Savarkar: Echoes from a Forgotten Past by Vikram Sampath

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Advance Praise for the Book

‘Generally, there is consensus in a country about its great men and women, allowing some people to make a few critical comments on him or her. It is rather an exception that opinion in a country gets to be so divided so as to cause a complete polarization, with some at one pole admiring a person as a messiah, a trailblazer; and others, on the other, denouncing him as an ogre, an embodiment of evil. And which pole dominates depends on the supervening sociopolitical and cultural atmosphere of the country. When nether pole dominates, it takes a lot of courage on the part of an author to buck the trend and seek the truth.

‘Vinayak Damodar “Veer” Savarkar (1883–1966) was such an exceptional person. And Vikram Sampath has proved to be such a courageous author. In fact, when I undertook to write a biography of Dr Shyama Prasad Mookerji, incidentally a close associate of Savarkar, I came across similar feelings; I went ahead notwithstanding, claiming no credit for any courage, certainly not of the kind that Vikram has shown.

‘For Savarkar was a much more maligned person than Dr Mookerji. While the onslaught on the latter was more by way of omission than commission, Savarkar had been directly and personally accused of complicity in Gandhiji’s assassination; he had also been falsely accused of begging for mercy to be released from the hellhole otherwise known as the Cellular Jail in the Andamans, of whipping up hatred against Muslims and Christians, and so forth . . . Therefore, writing a biography of Savarkar would take more courage and the most painstaking research possible to rubbish the accusations thrown at him. This Vikram has been able to do admirably, plumbing the depths of material on him not only in English but also in Savarkar’s native Marathi.

‘Vikram’s command of the English language, his writing skills and his penchant for description, especially of the inhuman torture that the prisoners had to undergo at the hands of the unspeakable Scottish jailor Barrie make the text both heart-wrenching as also very readable. The book covers his life up to about 1924 and leaves the reader waiting impatiently for the remaining part of his life—possibly the most productive phase— when he crystallized his concept of Hindutva, put it into practice and got Dr Mookerji to second for him at a time when his health had begun to fail. Although the two parted company later, it was Savarkar’s philosophy that got his second to take it onwards and found a new party, the Bharatiya Jana Sangh, which later metamorphosed into the Bharatiya Janata Party, which has just come to power at India’s centre with a decisive majority’

—Tathagata Roy, governor, Meghalaya, Raj Bhavan, Shillong


‘Because of his opposition to the Congress and the belief that he was complicit in the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi, historians of independent India have tended to ignore the life of V.D. Savarkar. This is the first of a two-volume biography based on formidable research in hitherto unconsulted documents in Marathi and in archives across the world. It explores, as never before, the formation of the young revolutionary who was to create the doctrine of Hindutva. This is a key work for understanding the development of ideas dominant in Indian politics today.’

—Prof. Francis Robinson, Royal Holloway, University of London


‘The first serious biography of Savarkar in English, this book allows us to understand a man whose ideas have come to define contemporary India. A long overdue study, and one full of new material, it heralds a welcome departure in the scholarship on Indian political thought.’

—Prof. Faisal Devji, professor of Indian history, University of Oxford


‘Based on extensive research, Vikram Sampath provides a gripping narrative of the first half of the life of an anti-colonial revolutionary turned ideologue of Hindutva. Sampath’s biography delves into Savarkar’s formative influences in Maharashtra, his camaraderie with radicals in England and France, and his suffering as a prisoner in Andaman. We get a rich portrait of Savarkar as a poet and writer as well as political activist and theorist.’

—Prof. Sugata Bose, Gardiner professor of history, Harvard University


‘Vikram Sampath’s book is not limited to providing mere biographical details of the life of Savarkar, but offers historical context through detailed descriptions of historical events of that era. Thus, it makes a dual contribution to Indian history. The author staggers Savarkar’s biography with details of the sinister British rule in India, which gave rise to powerful nationalist leaders of multiple stripes during the early phase of the Indian independence movement.

‘The book fulfils a long overdue prerequisite for an authentic historical biography of a brave son of India. It examines the life of Savarkar closely, while also providing lesser-known details, which help dispel the many mythical accounts of Savarkar’s life. As a corollary, this book also supplements our existing patchwork of knowledge on the history of Indian independence.

‘Sampath’s is both a biographical work as well as a historical book on one of the most misunderstood nationalists of India. This book brings forward, for the first time, an authoritative examination of material (letters, speeches, official communication, newspaper reports) and numerous never-before-studied documents.

‘The book begins with the birth of Savarkar, narrating events of his childhood and young adult life in the first few chapters interspersed with thought-provoking details of the political circumstances of India. Through the depiction of successive struggles of young Savarkar in plague-affected western India between 1899 and 1900, the author demonstrates the struggles of average Indians under British rule. With Savarkar’s move to Nashik from 1900 onwards, his nationalist activities gained momentum as he founded Mitra Mela (also its affiliate Rashtrabhakta Samuha). Savarkar’s activities and entanglements with the national movement here pitted him against British authorities, and at times brought him in opposition to established national leaders including Tilak. Crucial is Savarkar’s decision to champion the celebration of Shivaji Utsav during this early phase. Savarkar’s brilliant speeches inspired numerous young nationalist leaders, while the British government used these speeches to prosecute him on charges of sedition many year later. Of utmost interest are the chapters discussing the life of Savarkar in London (including his short stint in Paris) followed by his imprisonment in the Andamans and later in India. Sampath’s rich prose brings history to life with amazing clarity.

‘The book makes a most valuable and original contribution to historical scholarship on the Indian independence movement. It also makes important “modifications” to the hitherto established views on the independence movement, giving a new and critical analysis of the events. His study infuses India’s independence movement with the necessary complexity, which has remained too simplistic for far too long due to missing information. Sampath offers a consciously alternative narrative of India’s independence that is representative of her numerous trials and tribulations.

‘The book captures the formative period of India’s independence movement, which was the true crucible of India. Emerging under alien rule, India endured the most arduous journey, which was only partially recollected in the simplistic narrative preserved in India’s history books. Sampath successfully addresses this lacuna by bringing forward the dimensions that have missed a critical evaluation. He offers an alternative narrative to the prevailing colonial and Western recollections of the independence movement, thus providing a new and original lens to examine Indian history.

‘Savarkar is necessary reading for every student of Indian history. I also strongly suggest that everyone interested in learning about India reads this.’

—Lavanya Vemsani , professor, Shawnee State University; president, Ohio Academy of History; editor-in-chief, American Journal of Indic Studies


‘Veer Savarkar remains one of the most intriguing figures in contemporary Indian history. He invites Manichean sentiments from his supporters and his detractors. Vikram Sampath’s brilliant biography demystifies the man, the thinker and the leader. Far from being a hagiography, the book is essential reading for all those interested in contemporary India and the rise of Hindutva.’

—Prof. Amitabh Mattoo, professor, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi; honorary professor of international relations, University of Melbourne; chair, governing body, Miranda House College, University of Delhi; governing board, Australia India Institute, Delhi


‘Veer Savarkar comes to life for the English-speaking reader in Vikram Sampath’s extraordinarily well-researched and immensely readable new biography. A must-read for anyone who wishes to understand one of the most important, least studied and much maligned leaders of India’s struggle for freedom against British colonialism. In Sampath’s engaging and sympathetic account, Savarkar emerges as a complex, gifted and enigmatic visionary, the determined opponent of Empire who was also an ideologue and inspiration of Hindu political and cultural nationalism’

—Prof. Makarand Paranjpe, director, Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla


‘This is the most significant work on Savarkar since Dhananjay Keer’s biography seven decades ago. Vikram Sampath has earlier won acclaim for his history of Mysore’s Wodeyar dynasty. His biographies of Gauhar Jaan, India’s first classical musician to record on the gramophone, and late S. Balachander, the veena maestro, have established him as the country’s foremost biographer.

‘Sampath now interrogates one of modern India’s most controversial political figures. Drawing on an impressive array of archival material in India and the United Kingdom, as well as a vast corpus of writings in the regional languages, he exhibits a mastery over his subject that will be difficult to surpass.

‘Sampath’s canvas is vast. From the cultural resurgence in early twentieth-century Maharashtra, to the liberal petitioners and extreme nationalists, the emerging trend of violent armed struggle, Sampath presents a panoramic view of a tumultuous period of Indian history. Amidst this he situates Savarkar, his childhood, personal tragedies, his London visit, the powerful articulation of swaraj and swadharma, and the landmark work, The War of Independence of 1857.

‘Thereafter, events followed in quick succession: the Nasik Trial, arrest in London, dramatic escape and capture at Marseilles, deportation to India, award of two life transportations to the Andamans, the horrific jail conditions and the distressed response. It’s a gripping tale, skilfully told. In Vikram Sampath, Savarkar has at last found his Boswell. Readers will eagerly await the second volume’

—Prof. Meenakshi Jain, senior fellow, Indian Council of Social Science Research


‘A rare biography that offers details of a fascinating saga, the life story of one of the most charismatic characters in modern history, which captures the overall ambience of the tumultuous times, when our society was fighting centuries of cultural–religious–political humiliation and marginalization. Vikram Sampath fills up admirably many critical gaps in our flawed historiography, particularly the revolutionary strand, systematically smothered in sarkari narrative, seeking to set the record straight. No easy task!

‘Vinayak Damodar Savarkar was no ordinary human being—an original thinker, a rationalist; demolishing with aplomb the received wisdom on the issues he had to deal with. Every calumny hurled against Savarkar is explained in painstaking details with hitherto unknown evidence, deployed with finesse and sound logic. Who would know about such nuggets of history—the commitment to India’s freedom—of Dadabhai Naoroji’s granddaughter, Perin, belonging to a genuine minority community, never demanding exclusive privileges; and of Niranjan, the son of Bipin Chandra Pal. Vikram brings out the surprising fact as to how Madan Lal Dhingra was seen sympathetically by some senior British politicians as against the hostility of some Indian leaders! Every revolutionary missing from our history books—Shyamji Krishna Verma, Virendranath Chattopadhyay and many such real heroes—come alive in this exhaustive study.

‘Beginning with the genealogical tree of Chitpawan Bramhans, the revolutionary fervour in the Bombay Presidency, the centrality of Poona, the role of the Mitra Melas, Abhinav Bharat, revolutionary secret societies in Nashik with their road-map delineated in detail, in the backdrop of the larger all-India picture, his marriage as a school student, his interest in world history, the stint at Fergusson College, details of family life are all there. From India House, London, to the Cellular Jail, and the subsequent story are analysed in great detail.

‘Those who have maligned Savarkar systematically without any credible evidence stand exposed by the weight and logic of Sampath’s work and come out as men of wavering principles, if not hypocrites, consistent in their policy of compromise with both Muslim separatism and British hegemony. Vikram takes us through the suppressed pages in our history.

‘The British may or may not regret the mass murder of Indians at Jallianwala Bagh, but looking at Savarkar’s experience of the Cellular Jail in the Andamans, about which he himself wrote, and which has been denied the importance it deserves, we have one more item on our national agenda to ask the British to apologize for—their barbaric treatment of freedom fighters.

‘Fidelity to facts and reliance on primary source materials, most of it archival, held in UK and India, make this a very credible and inspirational story. An academically sound historical narrative needs to be even-handed in its treatment of the subject matter and Vikram fulfils this criterion.’

—Prof. Saradindu Mukherji, historian and member, Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR)


‘This book is a true gift. The pages are imbued with valuable information, wisdom and thought born of deep research and great reflections. If you want to live an important angle of Indian history, please begin here’

—Imam Mohamad Tawhidi, bestselling author, scholar and Islamic reformer


‘Vikram’s book fills a big gap in our understanding of one of the most influential thinkers of early twentieth-century India, Veer Savarkar, who is much debated but is also often misrepresented by followers and detractors alike. In this superb volume on the “revolutionary phase” of Savarkar’s life, Vikram has not merely recreated the man but also his times. Read it, not just to understand Savarkar, but also to understand the emergence of modern India.’

—Sanjeev Sanyal, bestselling author and principal economic advisor, Ministry of Finance, Government of India


‘Veer Savarkar is undoubtedly one of India’s most influential freedom fighters. He stands apart by the personal example he set as a patriot, intellectual, writer and scholar par excellence.

‘Savarkar was prominent in hoisting the flag of defiance on British soil against Britain’s oppressive colonial rule in India. He was angry with the glorification of the mass murder of Indians in the 1857 war in the British media. While studying in London, Savarkar headed a band of Indian students to organize and protest Britain’s colonization. He infused the passion for fighting for freedom in an entire generation of young Indians, both in Britain and India.

‘Savarkar’s life was truly extraordinary. He was classified as a serious threat to the British Empire and had to escape from Britain in a manner that defies imagination. While being transported to India, he was caught while trying to escape, leading to a famous international case. After returning to India, Savarkar continued to work zealously for India’s freedom.

‘Savarkar was incarcerated at the Cellular Jail for over eleven years. I hardly knew about Savarkar till I visited Port Blair and the Cellular Jail a few years ago. I was shocked at the bleak environment and tools of torture Britain employed to break its inmates. The prisoners were yoked to oil mills to grind seeds into oil, tortured and continuously beaten, deprived of adequate food and medical care, human beings made to work like animals under the violent whip of the British master.

‘At Kalapani, Savarkar was confined to solitary imprisonment to shatter his will and set an example to the rest of the inmates. He suffered bodily and mentally. He was often denied rights that were due to political prisoners like him. None of the other freedom fighters of India widely recognized today—Gandhi, Nehru, Patel, Azad, Jinnah—were imprisoned and tortured to this extent. From his solitary cell window, Savarkar would see Indian revolutionaries hanged by the British, never sure when he would be put to death. Despite the extensive torture and degrading health, his spirit endured.

‘Savarkar was released from prison when the Government of India Act was being drafted. He gave an undertaking that he would not participate in political activities and settled down in Ratnagiri to write a definitive thesis on the Indian nation and enthuse people to carry on the fight for freedom. Through his popular thesis on Hindutva, Savarkar was the foremost proponent of the Hindu social reform movement.

‘The tragedy of Savarkar is that after his death in 1966, the leftist account of our history and freedom movement superseded the factual narrative. Despite Indira Gandhi’s reverence for Savarkar’s efforts, saying, “Savarkar’s defiance of the British government has its own place in the freedom struggle,” he was posthumously abused, denigrated and defiled. His views were relegated for ideological reasons. Any mention of his ideas was automatically labelled as communal and unacceptable. Even in recent times, as is evident in Mani Shankar Aiyar’s displacement of a memorial plaque in Savarkar’s name, efforts to cast him as anti-Indian continue. It is only after I visited the Cellular Jail that I started reading about Savarkar. Only after personal examination can the offensive nature of the ideological manipulation of his legacy be fully understood.

‘Vikram Sampath has done extraordinary research into Savarkar’s life and history. This book covers Savarkar’s life from his childhood until his release from jail, and formulation of the Hindutva thesis. Here, Vikram has placed in front of the Indian audience a neutral and objective picture of who he was, what his writings were, and what he did for India’s freedom. We wait in anticipation for the sequel, which will provide us with more details of his life after release from prison and events thereafter.

‘With this effort, Vikram has set an example of how New India’s scholars and historians can crack through the many manipulations and falsehoods behind the politically convenient “accepted construct” of India’s recent history and unearth the inspiring stories of our freedom movement’s many heroes who are deliberately ignored and oft-maligned. The true facts and deeds of patriots and freedom fighters like Savarkar must be made available to all Indians so that we can evaluate and decide for ourselves their impact on our shared history.

‘Vikram has done well to independently research, publish hitherto unpublished material and explain Savarkar’s life. It is up to the reader to make an objective assessment of Savarkar’s impact on India and our freedom. History is only as useful as what we can make of it. I hope this book contributes to the formation of your understanding of India’s unsung heroes’

—T.V. Mohandas Pai, chairman, Manipal Global Education


‘Missing from the monochromatic rendition of the freedom struggle in school history textbooks for long, Savarkar remained “a pleasant addiction” in the author’s curious mind. The British called him “a dangerous, seditious force” but the Nehruvian-era historiography labelled him a cowardly traitor. The author found in the much-maligned historian’s enigma “a poet’s heart and a revolutionary’s brain” and a bundle of delightful contradictions. Savarkar even left a message for his future biographers, urging them to write without “inhibitions and fears”. Vikram Sampath’s is neither an apology for Savarkar, nor an effort to correct historical wrongs. It is a laborious, painstaking and substantive research from archival documents in India and the United Kingdom.’

—Shekhar Gupta, editor-in-chief, The Print


‘Vinayak Damodar Savarkar has finally got a twenty-first-century biography he deserves. It is probably the first of several, for the man— revolutionary, activist, reformer, intellectual—is vastly influential and relevant to any study of contemporary Indian society. The “intellectual fountainhead” of political Hinduism, Savarkar’s slim tract Hindutva (1923) anticipated many of the ambitions, anxieties and urges of today’s India. It has also given its author a salience that was ironically denied to him in his lifetime. Savarkar himself would have smiled wryly at this. He once remarked, as Vikram Sampath quotes him, “time would be the best arbiter of a man’s destiny”. Time and history have generously vindicated Savarkar.

‘Savarkar lived a rich life—a radical, “veer” freedom fighter; the subject of an international human rights and wrongful detention court battle in which his legal case was argued by, among others, a grandson of Karl Marx; author of a riveting biography of the uprising of 1857; a writer and poet of rare sensitivity in his native Marathi; a prime product of the firm and compelling intellectual and cultural narratives of Poona and especially of its Brahmin community, among modern India’s early educated elites. Unfortunately, his final years and succeeding decades after his death in 1966 saw him being examined substantially through the prism of immediate party politics and ideological prejudices—rather than as a legatee of the Maratha renaissance, a product of his age, and an autonomous and independent political thinker, with a gift for trenchant interventions.

‘In the India of 2019, there is more acceptance of Savarkar’s ideas. Sometimes this is without explicit recognition that the ideas that have been so embraced are actually ideas he advocated, often alone and isolated, close to a century ago. Consequently, there is a greater interest in Savarkar, and in what he represented and why he did so. Vikram Sampath’s book seeks to fill many of those gaps. It is a welcome addition to our public discourse.’

—Ashok Malik, former press secretary to the President of India, political analyst and commentator


‘Savarkar has long been a subject of abuse and adulation, both based on an incomplete understanding of his life and ideas. Vikram Sampath has written the finest biography. He has researched his subject in incredible depth and breadth, tracked down documents and memories long forgotten. This will restore the right balance to the story of one of the revolutionaries of modern India.’

—Meghnad Desai, eminent author and columnist, professor emeritus, London School of Economics
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Re: Savarkar: Echoes from a Forgotten Past by Vikram Sampath

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Dedication

Dedicated to the everlasting memory of my beloved Amma, my best friend, guide, philosopher, confidante and mother, all rolled into one; for whom I did/do everything that I did/do.

CHAP. XX. Of what concerns Women.

A Man, both Day and Night, must keep his Wife so much in Subjection, that she by no Means be Mistress of her own Actions: If the Wife have her own Free-Will, notwithstanding she be sprung from a superior Cast, she will yet behave amiss.

So long as a Woman remains unmarried, her Father shall take care of her; and so long as a Wife remains young, her Husband shall take care of her; and in her old Age, her Son shall take care of her; and if, before a Woman's Marriage, her Father should die, the Brother, or Brother's Son, or such other near Relations of the Father shall take care of her; if, after Marriage, her Husband should die, and the Wife has not brought forth a Son, the Brothers, and Brothers Sons, and such other near Relations of her Husband shall take care of her: If there are no Brothers, Brothers Sons, or such other near Relations of her Husband, the Brothers, or Sons of the Brothers of her Father shall take care of her: If there are none of those, the Magistrate shall take care of her; and in every Stage of Life, if the Persons who have been allotted to take care of a Woman do not take care of her, each in his respective Stage accordingly, the Magistrate shall fine them.

If a Husband be abject: and weak, he shall nevertheless endeavour to guard his Wife with Caution, that she may not be unchaste, and learn bad Habits.

If a Man, by Confinement and Threats, cannot guard his Wife, he shall give her a large Sum of Money, and make her Mistress of her Income and Expences, and appoint her to dress Victuals for the Dewtah (i. e.) the Deity.

A Woman is never satisfied with the Copulation of Man, no more than Fire is satisfied with burning Fuel, or the main Ocean with receiving the Rivers, or the Empire of Death with the dying of Men and Animals; in this Case therefore, a Woman is not to be relied on.

Women have Six Qualities; the First, an inordinate Desire for Jewels and fine Furniture, handsome Cloaths, and nice Victuals; the Second, immoderate Lust; the Third, violent Anger; the Fourth, deep Resentment (i. e.) no Person knows the Sentiments concealed in their Heart; the Fifth, another Person's Good appears Evil in their Eyes; the Sixth, they commit bad Actions.

If a Woman is pregnant, they must give her the Sadheh (the Sadheh is, to give a pregnant Woman, in the Ninth Month, Rice, Milk, and Sweetmeats, and other Eatables of the same Kind for her to eat, and to dress her in handsome Cloaths.

If a Husband is going a Journey, he must give his Wife enough to furnish her with Victuals and Cloaths, until the promised Period of his Return; if he goes without leaving such Provision, and his Wife is reduced to great Necessity for want of Victuals and Cloaths, then, if the Wife be naturally well principled, she yet becomes unchaste, for want of Victuals and Cloaths.

In every Family where there is a good Understanding between the Husband and Wife, and where the Wife is not unchaste, and the Husband also commits no bad Practices, it is an excellent Example.

The Creator formed Woman for this Purpose, viz. That Man might copulate with her, and that Children might be born from thence.

A Woman, who always acts according to her Husband's Pleasure, and speaks no ill of any Person, and who can herself do all such Things as are proper for a Woman, and who is of good Principles, and who produces a Son, and who rises from Sleep before her Husband, such a Woman is found only by much and many religious Works, and by a peculiarly happy Destiny, such a Woman, if any Man forsakes of his own accord, the Magistrate shall inflict upon that Man the Punishment of a Thief.

A Woman, who always abuses her Husband, shall be treated with good Advice, for the Space of One Year; if she does not amend with One Year's Advice, and does not leave off abusing her Husband, he shall no longer hold any Communication with her, nor keep her any longer near him, but shall provide her with Food and Cloaths.

A Woman, who dissipates or spoils her own Property, or who procures Abortion, or who has an Intention to murder her Husband, and is always quarrelling with every Body, and who eats before her Husband eats, such Woman shall be turned out of the House.

A Husband, at his own Pleasure, shall cease to copulate with his Wife who is barren, or who always brings forth Daughters.

If a Woman, after her monthly Courses, while her Husband continues in the House, conceiving her Husband to be a weak, low, and contemptible Object, goes no more to him, the Husband, informing People of this, shall turn her out of his House.

If a Woman, following her own Inclination, goes whithersoever she chooses, and does not regard the Words of her Master, such a Woman also shall be turned away.

A Woman, who is of a good Disposition, and who puts on her Jewels and Cloaths with Decorum, and is of good Principles, whenever the Husband is cheerful, the Wife also is cheerful, and if the Husband is sorrowful, the Wife also is sorrowful, and whenever the Husband undertakes a Journey, the Wife puts on a careless Dress, and lays aside her Jewels and other Ornaments, and abuses no Person, and will not expend a single Dam without her Husband's Consent, and has a Son, and takes proper Care of the Household Goods, and, at the Times of Worship, performs her Worship to the Deity in a proper Manner, and goes not out of the House, and is not unchaste, and makes no Quarrels or Disturbances, and has no greedy Passions, and is always employed in some good Work, and pays a proper Respect to all Persons, such is a good Woman.

A Woman shall never go out of the House without the Consent of her Husband, and shall always have some Cloaths upon her Bosom, and at Festival Times shall put on her choicest Dress and her Jewels, and shall never hold Discourse with a strange Man; but may converse with a Sinassee, a Hermit, or an old Man; and shall always dress in Cloaths that reach from below the Leg to above the Navel; and shall not suffer her Breasts to appear out of her Cloaths; and shall not laugh, without drawing her Veil before her Face; and shall act according to the Orders of her Husband; and shall pay a proper Respect to the Deity, her Husband's Father, the Spiritual Guide, and the Guests; and shall not eat until she has served them with Victuals (if it is Physick, she may take it before they eat) a Woman also shall never go to a Stranger's House, and shall not stand at the Door, and must never look out of a window.

Six Things are disgraceful to a Woman: 1st. To drink Wine and eat Conserves, or any such inebriating Things. 2d. To keep company with a Man of bad Principles. 3d. To remain separate from her Husband. 4th. To go to a Stranger's House without good Cause. 5th. To sleep in the Day- Time. 6th. To remain in a Stranger's House.

When a Woman, whose Husband is Absent on a Journey, has expended all the Money that he gave her, to support her in Victuals and Cloaths during his Absence, or if her Husband went on a Journey without leaving any Thing with her to support her Expences, she shall support herself by Painting, by Spinning, or some other such Employment.

If a Man goes on a Journey, his Wife shall not divert herself by Play, nor shall see any publick Show, nor shall laugh, nor shall dress herself in Jewels and fine Cloaths, nor shall see Dancing, nor hear Musick, nor shall sit in the Window, nor shall ride out, nor shall behold any Thing choice and rare; but shall fasten well the House-Door, and remain private; and shall not eat any dainty Victuals, and shall not blacken her Eyes with Eye-Powder, and shall not view her Face in a Mirror; she shall never exercise herself in any such agreeable Employment, during the Absence of her Husband.

It is proper for a Woman, after her Husband's Death, to burn herself in the Fire with his Corpse; every Woman, who thus burns herself, shall remain in Paradise with her Husband Three Crore and Fifty Lacks of Years, by Destiny; if she cannot burn, she must, in that Case, preserve an inviolable Chastity; if she remains always chaste, she goes to Paradise; and if she does not preserve her Chastity, she goes to Hell.


A Code of Gentoo Laws, Or, Ordinations of the Pundits, From a Persian Translation, Made From the Original, Written in the Shanscrit Language, by Nathaniel Brassey Halhed, 1776
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Re: Savarkar: Echoes from a Forgotten Past by Vikram Sampath

Postby admin » Thu May 13, 2021 2:22 am

Prologue

The year was 2004. Newspapers and television channels in India were agog with a controversy that had erupted in distant Port Blair. The previous Government of India headed by Atal Bihari Vajpayee had decided to honour the memory of a freedom fighter, who had been incarcerated at the infamous Cellular Jail in Port Blair, with a plaque carrying his name and quotation. The Indian Oil Foundation had set up this memorial. It was a well-known secret among government and media circles that the assiduous efforts of Ram Naik, the then petroleum minister in the Vajpayee cabinet, were behind the much-belated recognition to the departed soul. With the general elections of 2004, the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) led by the Indian National Congress (INC) ousted Vajpayee’s government. In a swift move, within just a few months of coming to power, the new government and its petroleum minister Mani Shankar Aiyar got the plaque removed. Aiyar also went on to make several disparaging comments about the freedom fighter, justifying the move to displace the memorial. Both Houses of Indian Parliament were rocked by the controversy, with the erstwhile ruling party and now the principal Opposition party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and its Maharashtra ally Shiv Sena demanding a restoration of the plaque and an apology from the minister. This did not come and the Opposition was told in no uncertain terms that the UPA government had no intention of revoking this decision.

This was perhaps the first time that my interest in the freedom fighter who was at the centre of this unseemly controversy, Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, was stoked. I had of course heard his name in passing, though it was conspicuously absent from all our history textbooks at school. Having studied in schools following the CBSE (Central Board of Secondary Education) syllabus, it certainly seemed to me that successive Central governments in India did not wish young people of the country to know anything about this man.

Since a forbidden fruit has always been an attractive proposition from the time of Adam and Eve, over the next couple of years, Savarkar remained a pleasant addiction to my curious mind. At the same time I was getting more conscious of the manner in which his name gets entangled in every current political dogfight in India’s polarized polity. How did a man who died way back in 1966 manage to evoke such strong passions in the current generation? I wondered. And thus began my personal journey of discovering the life of the much-maligned Savarkar.

As the intellectual fountainhead of the ideology of Hindutva, Savarkar is undoubtedly one of the most contentious political thinkers and leaders of the twentieth century. Accounts of his long and stormy life have oscillated from glorifying hagiographies to reproachful demonization. The truth, as always, lies somewhere in between and has unfortunately never been told to the people of this country.

I was to slowly discover that Savarkar was a bundle of contradictions and a historian’s enigma. He simultaneously means many things to many people. An alleged atheist and a staunch rationalist who strongly opposed orthodox Hindu beliefs and the caste system and dismissed cow worship as mere superstition, Savarkar was also the most vocal political voice for the Hindu community through the entire course of the Indian freedom struggle. He and his ideology stood as one of the strongest and most virulent opponents of the Indian National Congress in general and of Mahatma Gandhi and his philosophy of pacifism and non-violence in particular. A feted revolutionary who created an intellectual corpus of literature that inspired the revolutionary movement in India for decades, Savarkar was also a passionate and sensitive poet, a prolific writer and playwright, and a fiery orator. It is rare to find a combination of a poet’s heart and a revolutionary’s brain in a single man. The social reformer in him strove to dismantle the scourges of untouchability and caste hierarchies, and advocated a unification of Hindu society.

Savarkar and his views could not have been more relevant to Indian politics and society than now, in 2019, with the Indian ‘right’ being in political ascendancy. With electoral politics and valuable judicial time being consumed by meaningless rhetoric around Savarkar and subsequent defamation cases that follow, it almost becomes a historian’s burden and duty to lay the facts bare for every discerning reader to judge where the truth lies. This biography attempts to do precisely that over two volumes.

In 2014, India voted resoundingly for a stable government with a majority in the Lower House and which was free from all influence of the once powerful Indian National Congress. With this reversal of political fortunes, there has been a renewed interest in revisiting the lives of several national leaders who had hitherto not received their due in the course of the monochromatic narrative of the freedom struggle that has been popularized by the regimes post-Independence. Today, scholars are unearthing new information about leaders such as Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, Bhagat Singh and other revolutionaries, Lal Bahadur Shastri, Deendayal Upadhyaya and Shyama Prasad Mookerji, thereby looking at the multiple historiographical prisms through which one can view modern Indian historical discourse.

But Savarkar has somehow been left out of this reassessment. While his ardent followers and biographers have extolled his greatness, his critics have slammed him as a cowardly traitor, murderer and a communal bigot. Savarkar, his contributions, his political philosophy and his legacy need to be re-examined and reassessed both by the yardstick of historical facts and documents that stare us in the face, and also through his own copious writings, which sadly have not reached mainstream scholarship as they have been largely in Marathi. This biographical series does just that.

The ubiquitous word in contemporary Indian discourse is ‘Hindutva’. Commentators and politicians use the term in a broad sweep, seldom caring for the subtle historical nuances that underlie it. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and Savarkar had differences of opinions on matters of Hindutva. Gandhi’s assassin Nathuram Godse in his confessional statement that was banned for decades mentions his disillusionment with what he describes as Savarkar’s ‘pacifist’ version of Hindutva. These facts demonstrate that there have been many versions of this term during its long and chequered history, since the time Savarkar pioneered its popularization in 1923.

An assessment of the political philosophy of Savarkar and his Hindutva is essential to understand the situation that India finds itself in, in 2019, grappling with quite the same issues and contentions that he had been writing or warning about. At the same time, his flaws and follies need to be assessed in conjunction with his vision and philosophy, since he was undoubtedly one of the most critically influential political thinkers of his time. After all, as American historian John Noble Wilford states: ‘All works of history are interim reports. What people did in the past is not preserved in amber . . . immutable through the ages. Each generation looks back and drawing from its own experience, presumes to find patterns that illuminate both past and present.’

Being a prolific writer, Savarkar wrote extensively about his own life. While information of his early life, replete with rich details, is extant in his memoirs, he has chosen to black out several time spans in his long, tempestuous life. It has thus been an incomplete autobiography. It trails away, even as he got caught in the whirlwind of political campaign in the run-up to freedom and later the trials related to Gandhi’s assassination where he was presented as a co-accused. Towards the end of his life, he had willed his secretary Balarao Savarkar to make use of the corpus of available documents about his own life, newspapers, diary notes and articles to chronicle milestones of his life. Balarao compiled these in volumes in Marathi titled Ratnagiri Parv, Hindu Mahasabha Parv and Akhanda Hindustan Ladha Parv . They cover the period from 1924 till his death in 1966 in extensive detail.

Towards the end of 1926, the first English biography of Savarkar titled The Life of Barrister Savarkar was published in Madras under a curious pen name ‘Chitragupta’. In Hindu mythology, Chitragupta is the accountant of Yama, the God of Death, who keeps a meticulous debit and credit account of every soul’s sins and virtues. There have been various allusions about who the author is—from Congress leader C. Rajagopalachari, the revolutionary V.V.S. Aiyar to Savarkar himself writing under a pseudonym. The identity of the author continues to remain a mystery. The book chronicles the stormy years that he spent in London till he was arrested and sent back to India.

Thereafter, Sadashiv Rajaram Ranade penned a brief biography in Marathi that was sold out within a fortnight of its release. In 1943, when Savarkar turned sixty, Shivarampant Karandikar wrote an elaborate biography that ran into nearly 600 pages. He referenced numerous newspaper articles, personal correspondences, memoirs, diaries and accounts of people close to Savarkar. Given its explosive content, the British government promptly ordered its ban. The proscription stayed on till 1947. But even after Independence, given the widespread negative perception that was spread about Savarkar in the aftermath of Gandhi’s murder, people preferred to stay away from him or with anything associated with him due to fear of reprisal from the government of independent India.

Legends abound about how several eminent people lost their jobs, livelihood and reputation for demonstrating the least of associations with him. It is said that Karandikar was so frustrated that he wanted to burn all remaining copies of the book. It was left to eminent Marathi writer and historian Balwant Moreshwar Purandhare (popularly known as Babasaheb Purandhare) to convince Karandikar against this. Purandhare even volunteered to assist in selling the copies canvassing from door to door.1

By the end of the 1950s, the Government of Bombay released some secret papers from its archives related to the revolutionary body that Savarkar had founded, Abhinav Bharat. Like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, other aspects of the revolutionary period of Savarkar’s life and stormy contemporary events began falling in place. Accounts by R.K. Patwardhan (Nashikache Dashakatil Shatkrutya ) and Mukund Sonpatki (Daryapar) were published. D.N. Gokhale’s chronicle of Savarkar’s elder brother, Ganesh Damodar or Babarao, brought to light further details of the trials and tribulations faced by the brothers. Memoirs of former comrades of Savarkar in Abhinav Bharat such as Sridhar Raghunath Vartak, Damodar Mahadeo Chandratre and Krishnaji Mahabal added new shades to the emerging picture of this man’s life. A compilation of all this emergent information along with extensive personal interviews with Savarkar himself was accomplished by his confidant Dhananjay Keer. Keer’s biography in English is among the first complete accounts of Savarkar from his birth in Bhagur in 1883 till the time of his death in 1966. It has been hailed by fans and criticized by opponents for being highly eulogistic.

Within this rubric of several biographies, this book posits itself as one that presents to its readers an objective assessment of Savarkar and his contemporaries based on extensive archival research of original documents from across the world and hitherto unused Marathi documents.

Savarkar was himself quite philosophical in his approach about why his story needed to be told. In his memoirs that are now compiled in a tenvolume collection, Savarkar Samagra Vangmaya, he begins by thanking the amazing ability that human beings have to forget. But for this, we would have miserable experiences and painful memories of this and past lives haunting us all the time! Past wounds can impair present and future paradigms and relationships, he opines. In this fine balance between remembering and letting go, he conjectures that memoirs and autobiographies need to pass a litmus test to ascertain whether they need to be written at all in the first place. Beyond one’s personal self and family, if someone’s story brings to light a conglomeration of several other noteworthy individuals who have shaped the country and her fate, such a story deserves to be recorded. He then asserts that his story is so inextricably linked with that of the nation, its destiny and a narrative of two or three of its generations that he would not wish for them to be burnt away on his pyre. It is with this intent that he sets off to compile his memoirs.

With so little known about the armed struggle for freedom, given the oppressive alien regime and an uncooperative sovereign rule thereafter, he believes that a narration of his life that brings to light these obscure facts and heroes becomes a national duty. Being the eternal rationalist, Savarkar however cautions, not only himself, but also every future biographer of his. While the temptation to exaggerate and pay encomiums to oneself would be intense in order to win wide public acclaim, he calls for restraint and a conscious detachment with the writing. In his own words:

While it is nice to describe a beautiful rose in full bloom, it would be incomplete without a description of everything—right from its roots, the stem, the manure and nutrients that have sustained it, the fresh and dried leaves as also the thorns, in order to conceptualize the beauty of that rose in all its dimensions. Likewise, for a human being’s biography, he needs to be presented ‘as is’ and not ‘as should be’—from head to toe, nothing more, nothing less, as transparent and true to reality as one can be. Everything that can be said or unsaid, that is embarrassing or praiseworthy has to be documented without inhibitions and fears. Of course given the social and political situation that I am writing these in, despite my will, some of the details are being suppressed a little. Also, it would be a breach of trust to reveal confidential details of renowned people whom I have had the good fortune of meeting and interacting with closely in my life. Still, I hold a promise that I have revealed all that needs to be revealed, with the least of colours and bias from my side.2


The iconoclast that he was, Savarkar also asserts that after a couple of generations if the people of India found his memoirs to be useless and of little significance, they were free to throw these away in the bins of history. Time would be the best arbiter of a man’s significance, he adds. After all, the universe is intelligent enough to remove vestiges that serve no purpose, in order to create space for the new.

With this guidance coming straight from the mouth of the protagonist, all that I needed to do was to follow his advice carefully—try to present the picture ‘as is’ and not ‘as should be’, with the documents available at my command. This book is not an apology for him, nor does it take on itself the lofty goal of correcting historical wrongs done to a national figure. If these do happen, they would be purely coincidental and not intended to be so. Stripping off any personal biases, the records must be allowed to speak for themselves. It is after all this painful process of cutting all emotional cords with the subject that has been the object of your obsession for years that determines whether the narrative that follows thereafter is an objective biography or a eulogizing hagiography. I wish to believe that I have tread the path of the former and the rest is for the readers of these volumes to decide.

Meanwhile, with the coming back to power of the Bharatiya Janata Party helmed by Narendra Modi in 2014, the displaced plaque at the Cellular Jail was reinstalled in July 2015, exactly eleven years after it had been removed. The same Ram Naik did the honours of laying the new foundation stone. History seemed to have come full circle. In the everchanging electoral fortunes of the world’s largest democracy, it is a historian’s hope that the legacy of Savarkar, and of men like him, do not become political footballs in the ugly arena of toxic public life.

Dr Vikram Sampath
Bengaluru, March 2019
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Re: Savarkar: Echoes from a Forgotten Past by Vikram Sampath

Postby admin » Thu May 13, 2021 2:24 am

1 The Early Years

9 July 1879, Poona

Sir Richard Temple had a fairly long innings as a civil servant in British India. Few contemporaries could boast of the kind of knowledge he possessed about the country and its public opinion, especially about the British Empire. During his Indian term from 1847 to 1880, Sir Temple had held several important positions in Punjab, Central Provinces, Bengal, and the crowning glory of this stellar career was his appointment as the governor of Bombay from 1877 to 1880. With this vast experience behind him, a troubled Sir Temple wrote two confidential letters to the viceroy, Lord Lytton.1 Given the many spelling and grammatical errors in these letters, it is obvious that Sir Temple had penned them in considerable haste. He had reason to worry, since there was serious trouble on hand. As recently as 1875, there had been several agrarian riots in the districts of Ahmednagar, Poona, Satara and Solapur in the Bombay Presidency. In 1876–77, the Deccan had suffered an acutely miserable famine and epidemics of cholera, plague and smallpox. These had led to a commission of inquiry and eventually to the Deccan Agriculturists’ Relief Act of 1879. The Act sought to protect farmers against arrest for their inability to repay their debts. But it was too little, too late. The discontent had already gained ground across the Deccan. Wasudev Balwant Phadke, whom Sir Temple had dismissed as a petty Brahmin ‘brigand leader’, 2 had led a bloody uprising against the British. It was obvious that there were rumblings in paradise and that public disaffection was simmering against alien rule.

But it was not these recent incidents alone that Sir Temple narrated at length to Lytton. Instead, he presented a historical sweep of the region and its people since that eventful year of 1818 when the British had managed to snuff out the mighty Maratha Empire under the Peshwas. ‘It is commonly said,’ wrote Temple, ‘that it was the Mahomedans whom the British displaced as rulers in India. This is true only in a restricted sense. It would be nearer the truth to say that it was the Mahrattas in the main, whom we displaced.’ 3 Given the expanse and influence of Maratha rule across India by 1818, the observation was accurate. Unlike the Sikhs whose fighting spirit was vanquished and who somehow forgot the ignominy of defeat following the Second Anglo-Sikh War of 1848–49, the thorn of the 1818 debacle stuck in the flesh of self-respecting Marathas. And more so, as Sir Temple elucidated, in the community of the Chitpawan Brahmins of the region. But who were these Chitpawans who sent such shivers down the spine of the mighty British Empire?

Mythical accounts of the origins of the Chitpawan Brahmins can be traced back to Parashuram, a saint considered an incarnation of Lord Vishnu. Their fair complexion, light eyes, and their large settlements along the western coast of India, particularly Ratnagiri, suggest that they may have come from Iran to Maharashtra by sea. 4 Organized into fourteen patrilineal groups, or gotras, they had no formal caste leadership or guidelines for conducting their social lives, but instead owed a loose allegiance to their religious pontiff, the Shankaracharya of Sankeshwar. From the hilly and economically depressed Konkan strip along the western coast where they initially settled, earning them the title of ‘Konkanastha’ Brahmins, the Chitpawans, who accounted for nearly 20 per cent of the Maharashtrian Brahmin population as per the 1901 census, migrated eastwards towards the ‘desh’ or mainland. Here they were up against their fellow caste-mates, the Deshastha Brahmins, who outnumbered them and composed the traditional elite of the region. From being cultivators, priests and petty traders in their home strip of the Konkan, the newly arrived Chitpawans soon became administrators, diplomats and even martial soldiers. They quickly appropriated all the skills needed to rise up the political and economic ladder, and left the Deshasthas to occupy lower positions in administration or continue as priests.

This pre-eminence of the Chitpawan Brahmins in administration was firmly rooted following Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj’s death in 1680 and the establishment of the Peshwa rule by the early eighteenth century. The Peshwas, prime ministers of Shivaji Maharaj’s descendants, were Chitpawan Brahmins themselves. They became the de facto political authority after Shivaji, while his descendant and grandson, Shahu Maharaj, occupied the ancestral throne at Satara. From the appointment of Balaji Vishwanath Bhat as the Peshwa in 1713, the Chitpawans found their way into all the departments of government. They followed the Maratha princes everywhere from Baroda, Indore and Sangli, to Miraj and Jamkhandi. The Peshwa generously rewarded eminent Chitpawans with large grants of land. From princes or sardars, administrators, statesmen, diplomats to being landholders, bankers, merchants and commanders of the mighty Peshwa army, it was a golden era in Chitpawan history.

However, all this changed dramatically and abruptly after 1818. The British conquest destroyed the patronage of the old ruling classes and stripped the Chitpawans of their hereditary advantages. The new systems of administrative service that the British introduced necessitated new skills. Yet, it was the ever-adaptive Chitpawan Brahmin who reinvented himself even under this biggest challenge to his monopoly by becoming the first of the community to benefit in large numbers from colonial English education, thus taking up civil service positions. The key post in the Bombay services was that of the mamlatdar (district revenue collector), and Brahmins, mostly Chitpawans, occupied nearly three-fourths of the positions in this grade. The Public Service Commission found that in the Bombay Presidency, 41.25 per cent of the deputy collectors were Brahmins. By 1886, thirty three of the 104 subordinate judges in the Presidency were Chitpawans.5 The reason the Chitpawans benefitted so extensively under British rule was explained by Sir Temple in his letter to Lytton, stating that the pre-eminent ‘position is won not by favour but by force of merit’.6 What then, one wonders, embittered a community that depended so much upon government service for its livelihood?

Sir Temple summed this succinctly in his letter to Lytton where he spoke of the Maharashtrian Brahmins’ nostalgia for their former military and political glory over vast parts of the country. The subsequent fall from grace stirred a potent sentiment of resentment against the British since the 1820s itself. ‘The Chitpawun tribe,’ explained Temple, ‘are inspired with national sentiment and with an ambition bounded only with the bounds of India itself . . . the true Chitpawun . . . unites the hardihood and energy of a martial Commander with all the address and skill of a diplomat . . . nothing that we do now, by way of education, emolument or advancement in the public service, at all satisfies the Chitpawuns . . . Education does indeed in some respects draw them towards us—they reflect on many large matters solely through our language; they learn to use our modes of thought and to dis-use their own. On the other hand, education is certainly making their minds restless . . . They will never be satisfied till they regain their ascendancy in the country, as they had it during the last century . . . never have I known in India, a national and political ambition, so continuous, so enduring, so far reaching, so utterly impossible for us to satisfy, as that of the Brahmins of Western India, especially the dominant section of the “Concan-ust” Brahmins above described.’7

That many of Maharashtra’s prominent writers, educationists, social reformers, historians, civil servants, lawyers and journalists—from Mahadev Govind Ranade, Bal Gangadhar Tilak to Vishnushastri Krishnashastri Chiplunkar, Ganesh Agarkar and Gopalkrishna Gokhale— were Chitpawan Brahmins fiercely opposed to British rule reinforced Sir Temple’s analysis. It was in such a family of nationalistic Chitpawan Brahmins that Vinayak Damodar Savarkar was born in 1883.


Bhagur, 1883

The little town of Bhagur is about 22 kilometres from Nashik. Given its hospitable climate and good water supply, the British established their cantonment at Deolali, about 4 kilometres away from Bhagur. The Nashik region was part of the Maratha Confederacy till 1818; it was later divided between the Khandesh and Ahmednagar districts of the Bombay Presidency. The Nashik district was created in 1869 and, as per the 1901 census, had a population of 816,504—witnessing a 3 per cent decrease in the decade 1891–1901. One of peninsular India’s largest rivers, the Godavari, originates in Nashik in the Tryambakeshwar mountain range and continues its journey eastwards in the district. Near the banks of the Godavari is one of Hinduism’s most sacred pilgrim spots—the ancient Tryambakeshwar Shiva temple, which is among the twelve traditional jyotirlingas or mystical Shiva temples.

About seven or eight generations before Vinayak Damodar, the Savarkars had migrated to Bhagur after the Peshwa granted it as a generous jagir to the family. Their place of origin was Palshet in the Guhagar taluk of Ratnagiri district in the coastal Konkan region. Palshet had an abundance of trees named sawri. Their original surnames were Oak and Bapat, but since they hailed from the land of sawri trees, they came to be known as ‘Savarwadikar’, which, in due course, got shortened to ‘Savarkar’. 8 One of Vinayak’s ancestors was supposed to be a famed Sanskrit pundit. The Peshwa was so pleased with his scholarship that he gifted him a golden palanquin. The remnants of the palanquin that rested in the local Khandoba temple became part of their family lore. Given their eminence, after the migration of the Savarkars and their caste kin, the Dhopavkars, to Bhagur as its landlords, the fortune of the little town also shone like that of the palanquin-riding ancestor. The Savarkars, specifically an ancestor named Mahadev Dixit Savarkar, were also granted the adjoining village of Rahuri as a jagir for the aforementioned’s heroism. During the 1818 war, their ancestor, Parshurampant Savarkar, also served as an able diplomat negotiating between the Peshwas and the British.

Stories of the lavish Savarkar household, with fourteen courtyards, were passed on from generation to generation. So much so that much later, young Vinayak would eagerly count these fourteen courtyards each time an excavation in the house threw up a buried structure of the past; but he would always be disappointed that the number never squared. Rumours about the family well leading to hidden underground treasures that were guarded by a giant serpent were also part of this family’s romance with its glorious and hoary past.

Vinayak’s paternal grandfather had two sons and a daughter. His father, Damodarpant, or Annarao, was the younger of the two brothers, with a gap of about fifteen years separating the siblings. The elder uncle, who was called Bapu Kaka, was of athletic build and keenly interested in physical fitness and exercising. The legal profession deeply attracted him and he had several lawyer friends. He owned mangroves and farms but yearned for domestic bliss as his wife had died early without any offspring. Bapu Kaka never remarried and though his relationship with his younger brother remained strained, he treated his nephews and nieces as his own children, showering them with all his affection. The only sister of the two Savarkar brothers was married into the Kanetkar family of neighbouring Kothur. Her husband and Bapu Kaka were business partners.

Damodarpant lived in a world of his own. He was a friendly and mildmannered man whose humility painfully extended to making him cringe with embarrassment each time honorifics were showered on him as the young jagirdar (landlord). He had completed his matriculation from Nashik High School and his teachers remembered him as an intelligent, though naughty child. He was even infamous for having thrown a ball at the school principal once. Besides being deeply religious, Damodarpant was a poet of sorts who had memorized and recited verses of great bards of Marathi and Sanskrit. He was married to Radhabai, daughter of Manohar Dixit, who belonged to the Dixit family of Brahmin scholars of Kothur. Like Damodar, Radhabai’s brother was equally interested in poetry and it was this interest in literature from both sides that rubbed off on the next generation of Savarkars. After losing two children, the couple was blessed with a son on 13 June 1879. This child too was sickly at birth and fragile health dogged him all his life. He was named Ganesh and he was lovingly called ‘Babarao’.

Four years later, on 28 May 1883, Damodar and Radha had their second son who was born in the family house at Bhagur. He was named Vinayak, but everyone affectionately called him ‘Tatya’ at home. The weak and petite Radhabai had suffered great labour pain and it was believed that she would most probably lose the baby. In 1886, Radhabai gave birth to a girl, Maina, who was called ‘Mai’. Two years later, on 25 May 1888, the youngest of the siblings, Narayan, was born. He was called ‘Bal’ at home and was the cynosure of their eyes.

Damodar’s family was picture-perfect. The young couple took strolls by the Daarna river each evening, and spent many a happy afternoon eating fresh, ripe mangoes with their children in their farms. The local Khandoba and Ganapati temples; a tree from which his father fell unconscious while attempting to pluck fruits; a dilapidated mutt; and the babul trees on the banks of the Daarna whose flowers were imagined as relatives waiting for him with open arms—were all enduring memories for the young and sensitive Vinayak. Many years later, he paid tribute to these lasting memories of his village and its picturesque and iconic spots in his Marathi poem ‘Gomantak’. He was forever lost in thought and fanciful imagination and would pen down most of it.

Vinayak was always the leader of the pack, the domineering child who loved public attention and adulation. He was fond of being pampered and ‘honoured’ as the ‘little jagirdar of Bhagur’ 9 and even as a child, he would sit amid his ‘subjects’ 10 and enact mock courts with them. Farmers from the countryside who came home with bullock carts laden with fresh mangoes and other produce to their landlords never failed to pay their obeisance to the young boy. On his part, Vinayak would be deeply moved by their hard work, imploring them to sit in the shade, rest a bit while he served them refreshments. The petrified farmers would shriek in horror at the suggestion because entering their jagirdar’s house and sitting there would earn them the ire of the senior Savarkar brothers. To this, Vinayak would triumphantly tell them that if anyone caught them for their supposed indiscretion, they could confidently take his name and be let off. On a few occasions when Bapu Kaka walked past these squatting peasants, they would stand up in fright and seek his pardon, informing him that it was Tatya who had forced them to sit there and rest. With a broad smile on his face, Bapu Kaka would say, ‘Well, if the chota jagirdar has seated you here as his valued guests, how can I muster the courage to dislodge you? Sit, sit, enjoy yourselves!’ 11 and hurry away. This would boost the boy’s ego further.

Damodar’s maternal grandfather was known to be a brave warrior who had once commanded a battalion of horses. On one occasion, they had raided a group of dacoits and defeated them, taking away with them a beautiful idol of an eight-handed goddess—Ashtabhuja Bhawani. 12 Damodar’s mother had brought this idol to the household she had married into and it was installed at the family altar. The local priest had advised the family that being an extremely potent deity, it needed a daily animal sacrifice to propitiate it. The Savarkars being Brahmins and strict vegetarians had to hence shift the deity to the local temple where all the diurnal rituals could go on unabated. Every year, there was a grand procession of the goddess. Several years later, when Damodar built a new house, he decided to defy the priests and get the idol installed at home as the family deity. 13 The Bhawani idol attracted young Vinayak, who spent hours sitting in front of her, talking and chanting hymns. During the Navaratri festival, Damodarpant devoutly kept fasts, decorated her and made offerings of food, lamps, flowers and incense, even as Vinayak religiously sat beside him. Every time during the recitation of the Durga Saptashati when Damodar chanted ‘Namastasyai namastasyai namastasyai namo namah ’ (Repeated Salutations to you O! Mother!) in his highpitched voice in chaste Sanskrit, Vinayak always got goose pimples.

Vinayak began his education at the local government school when he was six. A keen interest in reading everything from newspapers to books caught up fast with the precocious child. Soon, he taught himself English till the level of a grade three student in order to access the several books that he found at home. His natural genius was further honed and nurtured by his father, also a voracious reader. There is a lasting memory that Vinayak cherished of his childhood when he was seven or eight years old. Damodarpant would summon his entire family around him after dinner. What followed was an intense reading of the scriptures, the Ramayana, the Mahabharata, and Marathi and Sanskrit works such as Rama Vijay, Hari Vijay, Pandav Pratap, Shiva Leelamrit, Jaimini Ashwamedh, Bharat Katha Sangrah, along with bakhars (chronicles) and powadas (ballads) of the heroic exploits of Shivaji, Rana Pratap and the Peshwas. These readings instilled a deep understanding of religiosity and historical consciousness in the impressionable minds of the children. This would be followed by a long and intense discussion in which Radhabai and her four children were encouraged to participate and share their views.

But Damodarpant was also a strict disciplinarian when it came to his children. He would teach Babarao English, something that the latter would seldom understand. This would anger Damodarpant so much that he would run behind him in the courtyard, holding his ears and making him repeat each word and its spelling till he got it right. Tatya would come to his elder brother’s rescue each time he faced their father’s ire and help him hide behind the altar of the family tulsi plant. Once something that Tatya did angered Damodarpant so much that he locked his son in a cupboard. Radhabai was distraught searching for her son all over the house before finding him unconscious in the cupboard. She then gave her husband an earful about how he should not be so harsh with the kids.

The image of this happy family was suddenly shattered in 1892. It seemed like just another day when the family was observing the shradh ceremonies of an ancestor. Radhabai, who was in her early thirties at the time, had suddenly taken ill with a high fever. Despite this, she completed all the chores in the kitchen, but fell unconscious immediately afterwards. In no time her pulse rate declined rapidly. She was diagnosed with cholera. Even as Damodarpant sat by her bedside with tears in his eyes, she summoned all her children, embraced them and gesticulated to their father to take care of them, and soon afterwards, passed away. 14 Vinayak was nine years old and later recalls in his memoirs that even the faintest memory of her face had faded away and that if she appeared in front of him in flesh and blood he would scarcely be able to recognize her at all. He was too young to even register the intensity of the tragedy that destiny had played on him and his siblings. After cremating her and returning home, Vinayak remembers that a potato curry had been prepared by a relative, and that he ate it with much relish, its taste remaining with him all his life. Evidently, the loss of a mother and the immense vacuum that it creates in an individual’s life had simply not sunk in for any of the children.

Damodarpant, who was constructing a big three-storey house for his family, quickly got it completed and moved there to escape the memories that haunted him in the old house. Bapu Kaka stayed back. Given that Damodarpant was a young man, barely in his thirties and with four children to look after, every well-wisher advised him to remarry. But he was vehemently against the idea and instead decided to play the dual role of a mother and a father to the little ones, trying his best to ensure that they did not miss her presence too much. From handling the family business to the kitchen, to putting them all to bed, it was a quick transition that Damodarpant was forced to make. As the eldest sibling, Babarao also had little option but to forget childhood and step up to being a responsible adult in the face of this crisis. He assiduously stood by his father and assisted him in all the chores including cooking.

Right from his childhood, Vinayak found the caste system that plagued Hindu society reprehensible. In his own little way he broke these barriers. Despite being an upper-caste Brahmin, and a landlord at that, all his childhood friends were from poor backgrounds and belonged to the supposed lower castes. Parashuram Darji and Rajaram Darji, who belonged to the tailor community, were among his best friends. Their father owned a village theatre company where he donned female roles and sang melodious songs known as lavani s. The boys ate together and the Darjis’ mother treated Vinayak as her own son, showering him with all her love. Gopalrao Anandrao Desai, the son of the local land record officer, Vamanrao Dhopavkar, Babu Kulkarni, Tryambak Darji, Balu Kulkarni, Bhiku Banjari, Sawalaram Sonar, Bapu and Nathu were the other close childhood friends and associates of Vinayak. The favourite pastime of these boys was to jointly build a mock temple, install a deity in it, and participate equally in its worship and even take out a grand procession on a toy palanquin. These boys were all witness to the rising political awareness and the seeds of revolution germinating in their talented friend Vinayak. He was also an extremely voracious reader, much beyond his age. Vinayak insisted on reading aloud the books and newspapers he loved along with his friends and discussing them in depth, so that they enriched their knowledge together. The feeling of community living and progressing in harmony rather than in competition was thus a part of Vinayak’s character from a very tender age.

The streak of rationality and questioning tradition too came early to him. Once a multicoloured book on the shelf at home caught his attention and he decided to read it, despite it being in Sanskrit, of which he understood very little. When Damodarpant discovered that his young son was reading the Aranyakas he was enraged. There was a superstition that reading the Aranyakas at home forebodes evil for the reader’s worldly life and they needed to be read in seclusion in the woods. This left a lasting question in Vinayak’s mind. How could someone as intelligent as his father believe in such superstitions?, he wondered. Mocking the belief, he continued reading the book without anyone’s knowledge and proved to himself that this was just a fanciful and concocted tale.

History fascinated Vinayak from his childhood. A Short History of the World peered at him from the top of the bookshelf and he immediately lapped it up. Sadly for him, the first half of the book was torn and it began from Arab history. This instilled the eternal dilemma that every true and objective historian faces. Even if one were to reconstruct these destroyed pages, his young mind wondered, could one ever get to the story’s ‘beginning’? What about those stories that preceded the ones in print, those that never got written? Have we, in that case, as a civilization, lost them forever? This philosophy of his towards historiography finds a reference in his poem ‘Saptarshi’ in which he emphatically states that if we want to understand world history, we would at best get only a fraction of it, as the ‘beginning’ remains elusive forever. At an age when most of his contemporaries shuddered at the very thought of reading school textbooks, such were the profound thoughts that were finding root in Vinayak’s fertile, young mind.

The same bookshelf held forth several other treasures for him. Among the writings that caught his fancy was the monthly Nibandhamala written by Vishnushastri Krishnashastri Chiplunkar starting 1874. This was one of his favourites. Chiplunkar was a vocal spokesperson for assertive nationalism in Maharashtra. In this seminal work, he reminds the people of Poona of their glorious past and questions British rule. From translations of the Mahabharata, editions of the Kesari newspaper, a monthly journal titled Saddharmadeep and Homer’s Iliad to the Marathi poetry of several stalwart poets such as Moropant and Vaman, Vinayak ravenously devoured all the books. And, all of this even before he was eleven. He emulated Chiplunkar’s style in his own essays on several contemporary issues.

Poetry germinated in Vinayak when he was only eight years old. While he employed all the poetic metres in Marathi of Ovi, Phatka and Arya styles, it was Moropant’s Arya metre that attracted him the most. Unfortunately, his teachers and the school headmaster were far from appreciative of, or understood, his poetic genius and dismissed it as a gimmick. An earlier headmaster had been sympathetic to Vinayak’s poetic talents. While he made the young lad run errands for him, he also trusted him immensely. Vinayak was given the most trustworthy task of handling the school seal and also the slightly meagre job of keeping a watch in school while the teacher took a lazy siesta. In return, Vinayak got a patient hearing to all his compositions in Arya. But the man who succeeded this headmaster, a poet himself, had a peculiar aversion to Vinayak. When the boy took his poems to him, the headmaster threw them back after a glance, snapping that merely stringing words together did not make one a poet. Savarkar rues in his memoirs that all his life he singularly missed that loving mentor who could hold his hand and show him the path. But not the one to be disheartened, he kept at it and even sent his poems to several newspapers of the time. It was a proud moment for him and the entire family when his first poem ‘Swadeshi ki Phatkaar’ appeared in the newspaper Jagat Hitecchu. It seemed like sweet revenge to everyone who mocked him and his efforts. Little did the editor of the newspaper know that the poet he had published was just twelve years old!

Due to his interest in reading the scriptures, history, poetry and epics, Vinayak would sometimes fall back on his homework. But he devised an ingenuous way of circumventing this problem. He would come late to class on the day he had not finished his homework and sit at the very last bench. By the time his turn came, he would have finished the work, while others were submitting their answers, thereby also managing to emerge first in class, winning the accolades of teachers.

His penchant for reading newspapers gave Vinayak a window to the happenings in contemporary Maharashtra and the country. It was a turbulent period that witnessed numerous events, all of which caught his attention.

Socio-political situation in Maharashtra

A significant demographic change that occurred in Maharashtra after 1818 was the rapid decline of Poona, the erstwhile capital of Peshwa glory, in every walk of public life. Several rich sawkar (banker) families who had also accumulated significant wealth suddenly lost their eminence. Disbanded members of the Peshwa army loitered jobless. Replacing Poona in its eminence, the city of Bombay began to emerge as a modern metropolis of cosmopolitanism and economic growth. With the opening of British trade with China in the 1830s, Bombay was the veritable bridge in the commercial lifeline of the East India Company stretching from Liverpool to Canton. Textile industries began to be set up here. The first cotton mill was started in 1851 by Kawasji Dawar; by 1880 the number of mills rose to forty-three, and to seventy-three by 1885.15

Significantly, the movers and shakers of this new economic resurgence were largely non-Maharashtrians. The British, Parsis, Bhatias and Khojas dominated the Bombay textile industry, while the Marathi speakers were relegated to the status of workers in the mills, whose plight was beyond miserable. In education too, Bombay stole a march with the then governor, Mounstuart Elphinston, establishing a network of educational institutions. It was only from the 1870s that Poona began to stage a comeback in the socio-political narrative and presented a contrast to Bombay on almost every issue. While Bombay presented a progressive, liberal and moderate viewpoint on several issues, Poona became the mouthpiece of conservative and, sometimes, extremist trends.

One of the pioneers who shifted the axis of importance to the Maharashtrian cultural capital of Poona was Justice Mahadev Govind Ranade(1842–1901) after his transfer to the city in 1871. A liberal thinker and judge in the Bombay High Court, he was active in campaigns to promote women’s education and to end the taboo surrounding widow remarriage. Through several social, political and cultural institutions and his own oeuvre of prolific writings, he advocated social reforms, criticized the British economic policies, and insisted on industrialization and capital investment through swadeshi or home-grown initiatives. Around the same time, the Sarvajanik Sabha established in Poona in 1870 under the leadership of Ganesh Vasudev Joshi (popularly known as Sarvajanik Kaka) began to play an important role as the mouthpiece of Poona’s intellectuals, and through them, the Marathi-speaking citizens of the Presidency. From petitioning governments to intervening in matters related to Indian representation in governance to famine relief and social reforms, the Sabha, with which Ranade too got deeply involved, tried to build a new Poona narrative in Maharashtrian politics.


In 1880, a group of young graduates who were inspired by Vishnushastri Krishnashastri Chiplunkar opened the New English School at Poona. The principal objective was to make English education accessible and affordable to a large cross section. They found a unique way to overcome the problem of lack of funds. The teachers serving in the school agreed to work gratis. M.B. Namjoshi, who ran the Deccan Star newspaper, offered his services by merging it with the school. A vernacular newspaper was also in the works. The profits from the press were meant to subsidize the activities of the school. By early 1881, under Chiplunkar’s leadership, Bal Gangadhar Tilak headed the activities of the school. 16 A spirited young man, Gopal Ganesh Agarkar, joined them soon. They started the publication of two newspapers—the Mahratta and the Kesari . In no time, the school became a success and financially viable. This inspired the founders to establish the Deccan Education Society in 1884 and by the end of the same year, Fergusson College.

Even though the gentlemen had come together with the larger objective of spreading education, ideological differences—particularly between Tilak and Agarkar—soon began to surface. While the Kesari carried articles advocating social reform and government legislation to regulate Hindu society, the Mahratta of the same week under Tilak’s pen would passionately urge the contrary. 17 Their squabbles on every issue of social and political importance were public. Finally, by 1888, a frustrated Agarkar decided to start his own English-Marathi newspaper, Sudharak, assisted by his young accomplice, Gopalkrishna Gokhale, who had joined the Society in 1886. Agarkar wrote bitter letters, some possibly in the heat of the moment, complaining of Tilak’s attitude and what he termed as ‘self-glorification at the cost of honesty, unity, friendship, public duty, and several other social virtues’.18 The ill will among hitherto comrades eventually blew up in the face of the Society after Agarkar’s alleged misuse of funds given by the Holkar Maharaja of Indore to the Society. 19 This ended with Tilak’s resignation after a hotly contested board meeting. He quit the Society frustrated and deeply disappointed at his own failure to stamp his influence, ideas and leadership on his associates. But Tilak took away with him the two newspapers—Kesari and Mahratta . These newspapers were to prove invaluable assets for him in both launching a vindictive tirade against his betrayers, and also enhancing his own political mastery and influence in the politics of the Deccan. The battle lines between the competing ideological positions of the moderate, liberal, self-flagellating reformist and the extremist, fiercely nationalist and Hindu-conscious were firmly drawn.

Through his newspapers and his political activities, Tilak adopted a unique strategy to make Hinduism, as well as Maharashtra’s historical icons, relevant to contemporary times. Positing himself as a sentinel of nationalistic values, his newspapers combined praise of Hindu society and the glories of its hallowed past with criticisms of the degraded present, along with a beacon of hope for a better future. His popularity rose due to his championing the protests against the controversial Scoble Bill of 1891, also known as The Age of Consent Act, that forbade consummation of marriage with a Hindu girl under the age of twelve, making it a punishable offence. The Bill was part of the reforms agenda of Ranade, Gokhale, Agarkar and others. But given its sensitivity and the impact it would have on traditional Maharashtrian households, Tilak’s fierce opposition to the fact that the British were interfering in the social and religious lives of Hindus won him a lot of popularity.

Tilak also threw his weight behind the celebration of the Ganapati festivals in Maharashtra. After the fall of the Peshwas in 1818, public festivities had petered out, but continued to be celebrated quietly in domestic and temple contexts. It was not until the 1890s that the festival was revitalized for large-scale public involvement, lasting over ten long days. Bhausaheb Lakshman Javale, a renowned Ayurvedic doctor of Poona, along with some of his friends—Dagdusheth Halvai, Nanasaheb Khasgivale, Maharishi Annasaheb Patwardhan, Balasaheb Natu, Ganapatrao Ghoravadekar and Lakhusheth Dantale—started a small-scale community celebration of the Ganapati festival by erecting a makeshift pandal in Poona in 1892. This came to be called the Bhau Rangari Ganapati Mandal. Tilak approved of this revitalization to unify the Hindu community. He enhanced the scale of the festival and widely publicized it through his newspapers. He thereafter became the much-recognized icon of the Ganapati festivities.

In 1894, Tilak began his own massive Ganapati celebrations, installing a pandal in the courtyard of the Kesari newspaper press in Vinchurk Wada. This also enabled Tilak to circumvent British colonial laws against political gatherings and disseminate his views within the rubric of a religious festival. Many of these Ganapati idols were depicted in a heroic fashion slaying a demon. These hidden transcripts made effective use of religious icons to convey veiled political messages, where the demon being slayed was a personification of the British, and Ganapati, the remover of obstacles that came in the path of freedom.

But beyond the patient petitions and representations of the liberal reformers and the grandiose and extremist nationalists, a quiet third category of political thought also grew. This latter group was aligned to the concept of violent armed rebellion to overthrow British power. They had their roots in the suppressed armed struggle of 1857 and strongly believed that an uprising in the British Indian Army was the only way to liberate the country. One of the fathers of Indian armed revolution who exploded on the political scene in Maharashtra during this time was Wasudev Balwant Phadke (1845–83). A Chitpawan Brahmin like Ranade, Gokhale and Tilak, W.B. Phadke had secured enough English education to get himself a government job. Starting off as a clerk in the audit office at the Great Indian Peninsula Railway, he was soon promoted to the military finance office under the controller of military accounts and served there for over fifteen years. Being in Poona, he was initially an ardent follower of Ranade and an activist of the Sarvajanik Sabha, propagating swadeshi. From starting the first non-governmental school in Poona in 1874 to organizing youth camps for unity and undertaking relief measures in farflung famine-struck areas, the spirit of nationalism burnt strongly in Phadke. A masterful orator, his fiery speeches inspired people in Poona to come out in large numbers to listen to his views.

But the devastating famine of 1876–77, the subsequent inaction of the British dispensation to address this calamity and a pusillanimous response from the Indian nationalists in pushing the government enough on the issue, disillusioned him from the political activities that he had hitherto participated in enthusiastically. The turning point, however, came in the form of a personal trigger with his officer denying him permission to visit his village, Shirdon, when news of his dying mother reached him. Defying the lack of permission, he left for his hometown. But by the time he got there, his mother had sadly passed away. Of what use was his loyalty, service and conscientiousness when he could not meet the person he loved the most during her dying moments?, he wondered. With no effective redressal of his grouse and his immense guilt of letting his mother down, Phadke decided to break ranks and form a secret revolutionary group. A junior member of this secret group, Gangadhar Vishnu Joshi, described the modus operandi of the organization:

The organization consisted of four groups. The first organized meetings of schoolboys without the knowledge of inquisitive teachers at secret places outside the school. The message of independence was conveyed by the spokesman of the organization at these meetings. The second group took out processions, which went about singing patriotic songs that chiefly included the prayers of saints such as Ramadas and Tukaram. During the later part of the day, the preachers belonging to the third group sang satirical songs describing the pathetic plight of India under alien rule. People often invited these singers to their houses for singing the songs. The fourth group consisted of active members engaged in revolutionary activities. The members of this secret organization had to take an oath of secrecy and to say that ‘I shall respond to the call of my nation, sacrificing everything of mine at the alter of my motherland’. In the desolate thicket beyond the temple of Narsimha in Pune city sixty to seventy youth daily gathered for training in sword exercise given by Wasudev. They included students, teachers, government servants and public workers. Wasudev’s second wife Bai Saheb Phadke was also a member of this group and even Bal Gangadhar Tilak, then in his teens, is reported to have frequented this secret group.20


The members collected arms and ammunitions and to test their capabilities, organized mock battles on the hill near Fergusson College in Poona. Shivaji Maharaj was their eternal inspiration, both in his vision of a free nation and the guerrilla tactics of attacking the enemy. Phadke soon organized several backward communities—the Ramoshees, Kolis, and Dhangars—in Maharashtra, committing several political robberies to

collect money for his mission. The targets were always the rich merchants or banias, although women would be spared. In May 1879, Phadke undertook the Konkan expedition, looting Nere, Chikhli and Palaspe, and the booty was more than Rs 150,000. But while returning from Konkan, Major Daniel caught the revolutionaries in the Tulshi Valley of the Mawal province and confiscated the loot after a tough fight. Daulatrao Naik, the leader of the troop, had to sacrifice his life. Notices of bounty were put up for Phadke by the British government in various places.

In retaliation, Phadke audaciously announced a double bounty on anyone who brought the heads of Bombay governor Sir Richard Temple, Poona’s collector and the session judge. He signed this declaration in his own name with the self-styled honorific: ‘The new Pradhan of the Peshwa’. He also declared that this act of his would lead to a rebellion across India and a massive repeat of the 1857 uprising. This declaration was stuck on all the major walls and buildings in Poona. At the same time, on the night of 13 May 1879, his revolutionary associates set fire to two big European bungalows—the Vishrambagh Wada and Budhwar Wada—in Poona, burning government documents. 21 These incidents found its echoes in London as it was quoted in the British Parliament. Going into a tizzy, the press there reacted in horror, even calling for the imposition of martial law in Poona. The Daily Telegraph, Morning Post, The Times, Bombay Gazette and several newspapers castigated the government for living in a world of make-believe while discontent simmered underneath. The Bombay Gazette noted with deep concern:

The rumours that have been flying about Western India for the past few months have now received ample confirmation. The rumours ascribe to certain members an ambition on their part to renew in Western India those tactics by which Shivaji in days gone by succeeded eventually in sapping the power of the then mighty Mughal Empire. A little martial law would do Poona a great deal of good. The Mutiny attained its dangerous proportion mainly because we ignored it at the beginning. There should be no mistake of that sort in Poona now.22


Sir Richard Temple also outlined in detail these activities of Phadke in his letter dated 3 July 1879 to Viceroy Lord Lytton. That someone from their own governmental ranks could be so embittered to organize an armed rebellion against them rattled the British government in India. It also blew in the face of British claims back in London that things were fine in India after the Queen’s Proclamation of 1858 and the subsequent ‘reforms’ in governance that they claimed to have brought about. Phadke was a living embodiment of their failures and he had to be curbed at any cost.

However, the Ramoshees decided to part ways with Phadke soon after. In the few pages of his extant diary, Phadke writes about them in utter frustration:

Seeing what had occurred in the last ten days, I began to consider what all this would end in, and how I could accomplish anything with such people (Ramoshees) who on committing a dacoity first of all rob and make away with the booty and then bully for their share of the division, after which they are anxious to return to their homes at once. Under such circumstances how can two hundred men be collected? . . . If I had two hundred men I would have looted the Khed treasury and got much money as at this time the revenue was being collected and had I got more money I could have got the assistance of 500 horses. Through poverty no one possesses horses. If I had got horsemen they would have been good men, not deceitful like Ramoshees . . . they (Ramoshees) fear to go before guns and have great avarice of money.23


But not one to give up easily, Phadke sent his emissaries to the Lingayat adventurers, the Rampa rebels in the Godavari district, and to all the native states in the south. He sent his trusted accomplice, Bhaskar Jyotishi, to Benares on a secret mission and sought reinforcements from Maulvi Muhammad Saheb of Hyderabad who was the leader of the Arabs, Rohillas and Sikhs in the service of the Nizam of Hyderabad. He summoned his colleagues in different parts of India to rally around his banner, envisioning a simultaneous rising all over India. His vision was to stop mails, cut off railway and telegraph lines, break open jails and get the convicts on to the revolutionary side. In his own words:

Having obtained Rs 5000/- from a Savkar, I proposed to send to all sides three or four men a month in advance, so that small gangs might be raised by them and from which great fear would come to the English. The mails would be stopped and the railways and telegraph interrupted, so that no information could go from one place to another. Then the jails would be opened and all the long sentenced prisoners would join me because if the English government remained they would not get off. If I obtained 200 men, even should I not be able to loot the treasury, I should carry out my intention of releasing criminals. How many and where the military were would not be known and thus thousands of ignorant people would collect. This would be good and my intentions would be carried out . . . When a child is born it is as a drop of water, when he grows up he can carry out his desires, but only in one year or five can he do it? So also with a ‘BAND’! Even though it may be small, if the foundation is good it shall grow big and conquer this oppressive government. There is much ill feeling among the people (against the British) and if a few make a commencement those who are hungry will join. Many men are inclined to begin and the result would eventually be good.24


Contemporary newspapers like the Deccan Star and Bodh Sudhakar were tempted to compare the activities of Wasudev Balwant Phadke with the events of the American War of Independence. The Bodh Sudhakar of 13 December 1879 rues:

We are certain that those who esteem and applaud Washington will do the same in the case of Wasudev Balwant, but the natives of India have lost all ideas of patriotism and hence there is no one among them to appreciate him. Washington pursued a policy which was perfectly understood by all his countrymen but the plans of Wasudev Balwant were utterly unintelligible to his followers . . . Wasudev Balwant wished to establish a republican government but the accomplishment of this object was no easy matter unless all the people were of the same mind with him.25


Things now took an unfortunate turn for Phadke. The British were on the run to capture this nuisance of a ‘brigand’. He was encircled from all sides in Gangapur, near the Sholapur–Karnatak border, and eventually captured, tried and sentenced for life to the fort of Aden. He unsuccessfully tried to escape and finally fasted to death on 17 February 1883.

Paying rich tributes to him, the editor of the Amrita Bazar Patrika wrote:

Vasudeo Balwant Phadake possesses many of the traits of those high souled men who are now and then sent in this world for the accomplishment of great purposes . . . The noble feelings of a Washington, a Tale (of Switzerland) and a Garibaldi animated his breast . . . his heart overflowed with love for India. Whatever he had he was willing to offer for his country, even his life. The very idea of establishing a Republic shows the unselfish nature of his mind. He had no intention to establish a Raj of his own . . . forget for a moment that Phadake led bands of dacoits and sought the subversion of British Government and then he stands before you as being as superior to the common herd of humanity as the Himalayas to the Satpura range.26


One does not know the exact contours of the ‘republic’ that Phadke wished to establish. But from contemporary reports in newspapers it can be inferred that he was deeply influenced by the concept of the American Republic and wanted to model the new, free India on similar lines. Thus, it was not mere anarchy and dacoity that revolutionaries such as Phadke indulged in. They also had a broad vision of the alternative that they wished to establish after overthrowing British rule by force.

While Phadke’s rebellion might have been crushed, the spirit of armed rebellion was still alive. It undoubtedly was left leaderless and scattered for a while, but the embers were not extinguished. The belief that arming India and Indians was the only way to snatch freedom from the British began to gain ground. The mobilization and support that Tilak offered this sentiment further aided the belief. By 1894, many secret groups roamed Maharashtra with a renewed hope.

The other outcome of these explosive events was a growing realization in the minds of the British, albeit in a minority, of the need to engage with Indians and win them over to avoid a repetition of 1857. Allan Octavian Hume (1829–1912) was one such British administrator and policy influencer. As the collector of Etawah, he had seen the horrors of 1857 first-hand. The nightmare of having to paint his skin black and wear a sari and burqa to escape the bloodthirsty revolutionaries looking for British officers in 1857 had a lasting impression on him. He was a critic of Lord Lytton, by the end of whose listless career devastating famines, frontier wars and administrative vagaries produced a potpourri of disenchantment with British rule. After his retirement, around the same time, Hume wanted to do something to ensure that ‘sudden violent outbreak of sporadic crime, murders of obnoxious persons, robbery of bankers and looting of bazaars’ 27 did not coalesce to ‘develop into a National Revolt’ 28 that it had a potential to. He rued that the British government had a ‘studied and invariable disregard, if not actually contempt for the opinions and feelings of our subjects’. 29 He believed in the need for an institutionalized channel of communication between the rulers and the ruled. It was envisaged that several existing civil society organizations across India, such as Ranade’s Sarvajanik Sabha, the Bombay Presidency Association with members like Pherozeshah Mehta, Nana Shunker Sheth, Justice Telang and Badruddin Tyabji, and Surendranath Banerjea’s Indian National Association (INA) in Bengal would merge to create this pan-Indian platform.

Accordingly, the Indian National Congress took shape and its first session was held in Bombay on 28 December 1885 with seventy-two delegates in attendance. Hume assumed the charge as general secretary and Womesh Chunder Bonnerjee of Calcutta was elected president. The Congress had no intentions of seeking independence from British rule and instead pledged unswerving loyalty to the Crown. It had modest demands —recruitment of Indians in high offices, reduction of taxes, appointment of a few Indians on government advisory bodies and creating a partial entry for Indians into the legal system. The acceptance, even in part, of even some of these ‘demands’ could then be showcased by the British as living up to the aspirations of the Indian people, who on their part would be expected to be ever grateful to this benevolent, participatory regime. As Hume’s biographer Sir William Wedderburn noted:

There was no cause for fearing political danger from the Congress . . . it is the British Government which has let loose forces which unless wisely guided and controlled must sooner or later involve consequences which are too dangerous to contemplate. And it is to limit and control them and direct them when there is yet time to do so . . . that this Congress movement was designed.30


One gets a glimpse of the nature of demands and motivations of the Congress and its early leaders in the words of Dadabhai Naoroji, who elucidated in his presidential address at the Ninth Annual Session of the INC at Lahore on 27 December 1893:

Our faith in the instinctive love of justice and fair play of the people of the United Kingdom is not misplaced . . . I for one have not the shadow of doubt in dealing with such justice loving and fair minded people as the British. We may rest fully assured that we shall not work in vain. It is this conviction, which has supported me against all difficulties. I have never faltered in my faith in the British character and have always believed that the time will come when the sentiments of the British Nation and our Gracious Sovereign proclaimed to us in our Great Character of the Proclamation of 1858 will be realized.31


In these early days of the nationalist struggle for freedom, these pioneering leaders, while not wanting at all either in patriotism or intent, had almost an innocent belief in the fairness and intent of British rule, which was deemed as divinely ordained for the betterment of India. They hoped and believed that such conciliatory tones, reverential petitions and requests would help them achieve a greater participation for Indians in the process of governance.

Back in faraway Bhagur, the sheer expanse and the drama surrounding these tumultuous developments across Maharashtra and India captivated young Vinayak who keenly followed all that was happening.
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Re: Savarkar: Echoes from a Forgotten Past by Vikram Sampath

Postby admin » Thu May 13, 2021 2:25 am

2 Painful Transitions

After the tragedy of Radhabai’s demise, the year 1896 finally brought cheer to the Savarkar family. Babarao turned seventeen and was married to Yashoda, the niece of Nanarao Phadke of Tryambakeshwar. She was two years younger than Vinayak and thus began a lifelong friendship between the two. In her memoirs, she narrates the incident of her first meeting with her favourite brother-in-law, Vinayak.1

A day before the wedding, unable to contain his curiosity about his future sister-in-law, Vinayak, along with his younger brother Bal, turned up at the residence of Yashoda’s uncle, advocate Nanarao Phadke. Yashoda was busy with the pre-marriage rituals. Besides, she was suffering from a bout of conjunctivitis. The smart thirteen-year-old Vinayak arrived at their doorstep and with an air of confidence inquired: ‘Is this the Phadke residence? Where is our sister-in-law?’ A bemused group of women asked him who he was and which sister-in-law he was looking for. Vinayak’s gift of the gab and smart replies won their hearts. Yashoda’s mother, Mathura Tai, reminisced that she could not tire seeing Vinayak’s adorable, handsome and delicate frame.

After the wedding that was held at Tryambakeshwar, when the time came for the Yashoda’s departure, she started crying at the prospect of leaving her maternal home. Her mother tried in vain to console her. Seeing her sob uncontrollably, Vinayak stepped forward and assured her mother that he would take care of nursing her conjunctivitis and give her the proper medication. His innocence about the reason for her tears made everyone, including Yashoda, burst out laughing. On the return journey at night from Tryambakeshwar to Nashik in a bullock cart, Vinayak kept describing the natural beauty of the region to Yashoda who could barely keep her eyes open.

True to his word, on their return, he took care of her conjunctivitis, and she was soon cured. The Savarkar household, bereft of a woman for long, got in Yashoda a loving girl, who stepped up to be a mother to her two younger brothers-in-law. As per Hindu tradition, her maiden name too was changed after marriage to Saraswati, but the name Yesu Vahini (sister-inlaw), as Vinayak and Bal called her, stuck with her for the rest of her life. She was the affectionate confidante that Vinayak had always craved. He taught her to read and write and shared his writings and poems with her. In return, Yesu taught him melodious Marathi songs from her vast repertoire, particularly the Marathi Gajagauri songs dedicated to the Mother Goddess.

Shortly after the wedding, Babarao completed his Marathi education in Bhagur, and Damodarpant decided to send him to Nashik to pursue higher education in English. Babarao was always a spiritually inclined young man. In Nashik, he came under the influence of a mendicant, Balabua, from whom he learnt several techniques of yoga and meditation. He began following austerities like surviving on merely ghee and water for an entire month and remaining awake for long hours in the night. It is said that he spent almost fourteen to fifteen hours daily on his yogic and spiritual pursuits. Unlike his younger brother Vinayak, the political upheavals in the country hardly mattered to Babarao and they even failed to impact his mind. For someone so aloof from political matters, it was quite a transition when he jumped into the revolutionary fray many years later, after being inspired by Vinayak.

Around this time, communal riots rocked different parts of the Bombay Presidency. The Ganapati festivals and the subsequent processions often invited Muslim ire and led to conflicts. The Muslims quoted their theological texts that prescribed offering their prayers in silence— something that the processional music of the Hindus allegedly disturbed. Trying to deduce which community began a riot was a classic chickenand-egg problem. On 6 February 1894, in Yeola, a small weaving centre in the Nashik district, a conflict erupted over a report that a pig’s head had been thrown into a local mosque. On receiving the news, the mamlatdar went to the mosque and found ‘two portions of a dead pig, cut in half, lying in the mosque and its enclosure’.2 He urged the crowd that had gathered ‘not to attempt any reprisals’.3 But soon after, news arrived that ‘the Musalmans had retaliated by slaughtering a cow in the Hindu temple’.4 This led to further rioting and military assistance was sent for. Later in the day, the mamlatdar heard that ‘the Hindus were making arrangements to burn the Juma mosque’.5 Even as police protection could be arranged, news came in that Muslims ‘had set fire to the Muralidhar temple’.6 Elsewhere, other mosques and temples were damaged or destroyed. Four people were killed.7

Government officials attributed this spurt in violence to the cow protection movement that had gained ground. It was one of the central tenets of the Arya Samaj founded by Hindu reformer Swami Dayanand Saraswati. Cow protection societies existed in Punjab since 1882. In Bombay, it was around 1887 that the Society for the Preservation of Horned Cattle was formed with modest goals such as construction of gau shalas or cow refuge homes. However, by the 1890s, cow protection societies had spread across a number of Deccan towns including Ahmednagar, Belgaum, Dharwar, Poona, Satara, Nashik and Yeola.

The other reason for the outbreak of clashes between the two communities was the vexed one of Hindu processional music being played in front of mosques. With music being considered taboo in Islam, the Muslim clerics detested the processions that played loud music passing by their places of worship, while the Hindus contested it saying they were using a public space where no one could dictate their actions. As early as 1859, a Bombay Sadr Faujdari Adalat (court) had ruled that music in temples that formed part of religious worship must be respected. However, processional street music, which was not necessarily part of core Hindu religious ritual, should be conceded only when it did not interfere with the liberty of others. Thus:

The right of praying in their mosque must be secured to the Muhammadans so long as their prayers are not a nuisance to others, and the Hindus may be allowed to accompany their processions with music so long as their music is not a nuisance to others; but whenever it becomes a nuisance, it ought, the Judges think, to be prohibited.8


In the Kesari, Tilak denounced the government for what he alleged as appeasement of the Muslim sentiments when it came to cow slaughter and which had led to these riots all over the Presidency. 9 The processional music issue too bothered him and he decided to retaliate by making the Ganapati festivals grander and more ostentatious than before. The processions were marked by loud shouts of call to arms for the Hindus and to rebel as Shivaji did to overthrow alien power. The festival was organized as a mela movement. A mela consisted of a group of young men or students, dressed in special costumes, armed with sticks, who practised singing, dancing, drilling and fencing. Each mela was attached to a particular Ganapati celebration and would go around the town and the countryside before and during the ten days of the festival. They performed popular verses and songs in which references to current political events were inserted. It is these songs that Muslims objected to and that led to a communally precarious situation.

Vinayak and his friends were absorbing from the Kesari , Pune Vaibhav and other newspapers the stories of these bloody riots and the polarized tinderbox that Maharashtra had become. Each time they heard of the attack on Hindus, they would be enraged and wondered why Hindus could not organize themselves and retaliate instead of suffering repression. To avenge the riots, Vinayak and his friends planned a secret attack on a mosque in Bhagur that had been left unused for decades. By dusk, the team of boys armed with their little weapons attacked the mosque, broke down parts of it and made a quick escape. When the news reached their Muslim classmates, they were incensed and there was a showdown at school. The ‘Hindu side’ led by Vinayak and armed with their ‘weapons’ managed to trounce the opponents. A truce was thereafter called for, as per which both sides agreed not to bring this to the notice of any teacher. However, a few Muslim boys were seething with rage and sought revenge by vowing to put meat into the Brahmin boy’s mouth.10

While these incidents could be dismissed as childish squabbles, Vinayak acknowledges in his memoirs that these experiences taught him how poorly organized and disunited the Hindu community was and how easy it was to subjugate them. 11 The Hindus were perpetually divided among themselves along several fault lines, especially caste, and this made them doubly vulnerable to attacks. They were full of self-doubt and suspicion about the other, and seldom committed to the ‘cause’. Vinayak decided to establish a ‘military training school’ of sorts to instil a sense of discipline, rigour and commitment among his group.

The boys divided themselves into groups—some of them played the role of Hindus, while others were either Muslims or the British. Neem seeds were used as mock bullets. Those who were unafraid of the attack of the neem seeds and managed to grab the saffron Hindu flag or bhagwa from the middle of the field while also stealing the opponent’s arms was declared the winner. Almost always it was Vinayak who headed the Hindu side and steered them to victory. If ever the Muslim or British side seemed to win, he would diplomatically urge them (after all they were only playacting) to accept defeat for the larger ‘national interest’. After all, in their skit, the Hindus could never lose. The boys would sing victory songs and parade all through Bhagur after these games. Babarao was good at archery and Vinayak began to learn this art from him. Damodarpant had a sword and a gun at home that Vinayak would keep looking at with awe, touching and feeling these, and trying to learn to use these as well.

A historically conscious Vinayak was thrilled to read about a new initiative that his hero, Tilak, had started in 1896. On 15 April 1896, on the same lines as the Ganapati festival, Tilak inaugurated the Shivaji festival at Raigarh in Poona. The objective was to raise funds to maintain Shivaji’s tomb in Raigarh and to instil a sense of nationalism drawn from their past in Maharashtrians. The festival was held annually on the anniversary of Shivaji’s coronation—a momentous occasion that had led to the foundation of the glorious Maratha Empire. Ballads, or powadas, were composed in praise of Shivaji and his inspirational guru, Ramdas; athletic competitions were held; kirtans and plays performed, and lectures given on Maratha history. Tilak’s detailed programme published in the Kesari of 3 March 1896 for a ‘proper celebration’ at the festival at Raigarh on 15 April that year was certainly an attempt to regulate spontaneous celebrations and harness them for the nationalist cause:

The images of Shivaji and Ramdas will figure most prominently in the celebration . . . during the three days that it will last, lectures, sermons, dramatic representation (not of the sensual or obscene type), singing of historical ballads . . . will form the chief items on the programme . . . Things produced or manufactured in foreign countries, such as petroleum, candles, glassware . . . will be strictly eschewed at the celebration and only home-made articles will be brought . . . even at the possible sacrifice of some aesthetic attraction. Readings of the Dasbodh and Shivavijaya will be given during the three days . . . A specially composed ode in honour of Shivaji will be sung on the last day with Shivaji’s standard floating overhead. The mankaris, staff and volunteers will remain standing while the ode is being sung and will greet its close with shouts of Har Har Mahadev! The singing of the ode will be the most important function in the whole celebration.12


The Marathi paper Sudharak— edited by Tilak’s ideological opponent and long-time rival, Gopal Ganesh Agarkar, till his death in 1895, and thereafter by Sitarampant Deodhar—was foremost in opposing this use of Shivaji as a symbol for nationalist purposes. It insisted that his appeal was extremely localized to Maharashtra and that the symbol of a monarch who could not unite the country against foreign rule was inappropriate, especially at a time when national unity was crucial. On 29 May 1899, the

Sudharak asked: ‘Under what obligations are the Muhammadans or the Bengalees or the Rajputs to remember Shivaji? It is . . . clear that the festival has in it nothing that can make it national even among the Hindus.’ 13 Moderate newspapers that cautiously supported Tilak’s programme also commented on its special regional appeal. For example, on 25 April 1898, the Indu Prakash opined:

Wherever there is Hinduism, Shivaji’s name will be reverenced and we should not wonder if we hear of Shivaji’s birthday celebrations in Madras next year. He is essentially a national hero for all Hindus, and the Marathas may well rejoice that he was born among them. It is but natural that among the Marathas more than ordinary enthusiasm should be evoked by these celebrations . . .14


Tilak himself was aware of stretching this too much. In the Kesari of 9 April 1901, he painstakingly argued:

It does not matter if in different parts of India such celebrations are held in honour of different national heroes. Although the main object is to unite the whole of India as one nation, it cannot be denied that the whole Indian nation is made up of different smaller nations and that the solidarity of different parts taken by themselves is indispensable for, and by no means inconsistent with the general unity of the nation.15


Building on the success of both these festivals, in the same year, Tilak managed to gain control over the Sarvajanik Sabha and outsmart his longtime rivals Ranade and Gokhale, who resigned in disgust and wrote disparagingly about Tilak and his actions. But Tilak’s success was shortlived. The excessive involvement of the Sarvajanik Sabha under Tilak during the famine that gripped the Deccan in 1897 and their incitement to farmers to not pay taxes angered the government. They derecognized the Sabha as a body that had any claim to address the government on matters related to public policy. Tilak’s influence got neutralized even before it could create much impact.

Deeply inspired by Tilak, Vinayak and his friends too organized the first Shivaji Jayanti festival in Bhagur at the house of Marwari Seth Balmukund Maniram. Vinayak’s brilliant keynote speech left everyone, including Damodarpant, spellbound.

After Vinayak completed his primary school, Damodarpant insisted that he join Babarao in Nashik to pursue his education at the prestigious Shivaji School. Accordingly, the thirteen-year-old Vinayak left his hometown for the first time in pursuit of education and excellence. The two brothers stayed in a modest accommodation near the Kanadya Maruti Temple in Nashik. They cooked their own food as eating out meant losing one’s caste for a chaste Brahmin. But Vinayak firmly refuted such beliefs and gorged on the delicious jalebis at the Gangaram Hotel in the city.

Every fortnight, Damodarpant would come to Nashik to visit his sons. Being very attached to his father, Vinayak would eagerly wait for his arrival and become sad on the day he was scheduled to depart. His homesickness was further accentuated by the kind of classmates he had. Hardly anyone shared the kind of zeal for academics, current affairs or politics, squandering their time in mindless pursuits.

It is worth mentioning that Vinayak was the favourite student of all his teachers at school. Given his exceptional intelligence, sense of discipline and his poetry and writing skills, he emerged as the apple of their eyes. In fact, one of his teachers inspired Vinayak to send his article to the Nashik Vaibhav newspaper. After much scepticism, he wrote a piece on Hindu culture and its glory. The editor of the newspaper was surprised at the content, style and flow of the article and found it hard to believe that the author was a schoolboy. The essay was published in two parts and was widely appreciated all over Nashik.

The Lok Seva was another important newspaper in Nashik. Its editor and owner was the renowned theatre artist Anant Waman Barve. The newspaper was a veritable mouthpiece for Tilak’s work and carried several patriotic essays and articles about Tilak’s Ganapati and Shivaji festivals. Barve used to sing melodious patriotic songs in programmes and festivals that were regularly organized on the banks of the Godavari in Nashik. While most of his schoolmates would be gallivanting aimlessly by the riverbanks, Vinayak was an uninvited but regular attendee of all these events and nationalistic gatherings by the Godavari. Here, he heard some stirring speeches and melodious songs and constantly internalized all that he was hearing. His teachers introduced Vinayak to Barve as a poet and writer and this enabled easier access to future events. Barve also implored Vinayak to participate in the annual debate competition in Nashik. Although he was well past the application deadline, on Barve’s insistence Vinayak was given admission to the contest, which was merely three days thence. The topic was the same for all students and Vinayak was the last speaker as he had enrolled so late. Since most of what had to be said would have already been conveyed by earlier speakers, by the time the last speaker came to the podium audiences would normally get bored and leave. But Vinayak’s speech captivated them from the very beginning and they stayed rooted. The judges were quick in making their decision and Vinayak was unanimously declared the winner. The judges were however sceptical about the originality of Vinayak’s speech as they found it difficult to believe that a fourteen-year-old boy could write or conceive of subjects and topics in this mature manner. It was left to Barve and Vinayak’s teachers to adjudicate that the young lad was indeed a fine writer and a thinker. This was Vinayak’s first attempt at public speaking and he had effortlessly won his maiden attempt. People of Nashik began to talk about this talented young man with fiery oratorial skills.

Encouraged by this success, Vinayak began reading several Marathi books on public speaking to hone his innate skills. The various elements of constructing an argument, consolidating and concluding them, voice modulation, body language, intonation, command over language and such aspects of public speaking fascinated Vinayak. He worked hard on these skills to later become a master orator, someone who could mesmerize large crowds.

During these formative years, all the reading and reflecting made Vinayak question several beliefs and rituals that were blindly followed at that time. In fact, he had frequent arguments with Babarao on such matters. It was from this fire of doubt and agnosticism that his interest in philosophy and religion sprang. He began making critical evaluations of the scriptures and the Vedanta and engaged in debates and discussions with those stuck in rituals of religion, superstitions and a strong belief in either theism or atheism. Babarao’s spiritual quests took him to all kinds of godmen and saints, many of whom were quacks and would end up exploiting his naivety. Once in Nashik, Babarao took Vinayak to a sadhu staying in Panchavati’s Rama Dharamshala. He was told that the sadhu was a reincarnation of Saint Ramdas who had guided Shivaji in his conquest against the Mughals; that he had a vision of Vinayak’s future and was keen on meeting him. When Vinayak saw the sadhu, he told him that the only earnest desire in his life was to overthrow the British Empire through armed rebellion. The sadhu admonished him and asked him to abandon these silly and demoniac goals and become his disciple instead and serve him with devotion so that he could have a vision of God. Nothing happens without God’s will, and the British Empire too was God’s wish for India and Indians, and it is only when the Almighty desires that India might dream of liberation, he contended.

The illogical argument enraged Vinayak and he entered into a long altercation with the sadhu. How can a kingdom of thieves and dacoits be God’s wish?, he argued. And if it truly is, how does envisioning an overthrow of such a despotic regime make one demoniac? Isn’t the mobilization and the germination of the very thought of ending the rule also God’s handiwork? Finally, Babarao had to intervene and drag his irate brother home. Thus, right from his youth, rationality and logical arguments marked every aspect of Vinayak’s personality. He questioned even men of religion and beliefs that were considered sacrosanct.

Meanwhile, in 1896–97 the most fatal pandemic of plague struck India and particularly Maharashtra. The British authorities had no real idea of the causes or cure of the disease. Beneath the outwardly appearance of confidence was a great sense of alarm. Special Plague Officer Walter Charles Rand and Surgeon Captain W.W. Beveridge were dispatched to Poona in February 1897 as part of a Special Plague Committee (SPC) to contain the disease by any means. The governor of Bombay, Lord Sandhurst, through his private secretary, J.J. Heaton, insisted that in Poona ‘the plan of using soldiers by themselves must definitely be abandoned. No search party should be without a respectable native . . . The most careful, thorough and earnest attempt must be made to work with and not against the people . . . In the existing Municipal institutions and ward committees you have some kind of organization.’16

Despite these cautionary words from the governor, the British in general and Walter Rand, in particular, were keen to eradicate the plague quickly as it adversely affected their commercial interests. European countries were refusing to purchase goods from Indian territories as they feared that the epidemic might spread. The Government of India passed the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897, that empowered authorities to take drastic steps to contain the plague. Ironically, by 12 March 1897, instead of doctors and nurses, 893 officers and men—both British and native—were placed on plague duty. It was incumbent on the principal occupant of every house to report any case of outbreak of plague or deaths caused by it in their family to the committee. In their zeal, Rand and his men ruthlessly searched every house to find plague victims, showing little respect even for places of worship, ill-treating old men and molesting women. Victims of plague were forced to vacate their houses overnight and leave the town to live in isolation camps. Their possessions were destroyed or burnt. At a time when the patients needed treatment, rest and recuperation, they were hounded out of their homes and all their properties and possessions destroyed to quarantine the town. Funerals were declared unlawful until the deaths were registered. This constant harassment by the soldiers caused a deep sense of hatred and resentment. Tilak thundered in the Kesari about the inhuman conduct of Rand’s men and criticized the methods adopted by the Plague Committee. ‘The Government should not have entrusted the execution of this order to a suspicious, sullen and tyrannical officer like Rand,’ noted Tilak.17

And then one day, on the evening of 22 June 1897, Poona shook to its very foundations. Walter Rand and his lieutenant, Charles Ayerst, were shot at. Rand lingered on for a few days before succumbing to his injuries; Ayerst died immediately. The assassins, it later emerged, were two brothers, Damodar Hari Chapekar and Balakrishna Hari Chapekar. It seemed like their actions were a protest and revenge against the repressive plague control measures that Rand had implemented. Who were the Chapekars who had in effect reignited the spark of revolution that had dimmed after Wasudev Balwant Phadke’s death?

The three Chapekar brothers—Damodar, Balakrishna and Vasudev— were driven by a revolutionary zeal of religion-based nationalism. Around 1885, their father, Hari Bhau, who was a kirtankar (professional singer of devotional songs) migrated to Poona from their native place Chinchwad. His young sons barely received any formal education. They were known to mock those who took English education and did not even spare Ranade or Tilak. In his autobiography, Damodar Chapekar writes: ‘My father had taught me the First English book at home. I studied the Second Book for four months in the New English School, but having in the meantime imbibed a dislike for the English language and left off studying it.’18

The young Chapekars were a witness to the upsurge of nationalistic feelings brought about by Tilak’s Ganapati and Shivaji festivals. They were volunteers at the festivals and actively participated in the melas, performing acrobatics and cultural programmes. But soon they were disillusioned even with these festivals and their grandiose arrangements. The ‘great deal of talk’ in these festivals ‘exasperated’ them. 19 They believed that the ostentatiousness involved would not have been something that even Shivaji, had he been alive, would have approved. The real tribute to Shivaji was not in talking about him or celebrating him in grandeur, but in picking up arms and fighting for the nation as their hero did. They dismissed the constitutional methods of the Congress, which they dismissed as a sham and a mere ‘talkative body’ and were not inspired even by the mass politics of extremist nationalists like Tilak.20

Damodar, whose views had inspired his two younger brothers, strongly believed that it was English education that had led to the moral degradation of Indians and diverted them away from their cultural moorings to the path of vice. The British Empire to him was not just political subjugation but also included social, religious and cultural. Damodar notes:

So strange is the influence of the study of English that if one simply intends to learn that language or if a child learns by heart only the first two or three letters of its alphabets, he begins at once to look upon his elders as fools and despises his good and ancient religion. If the mere odour of English education has this effect, where is the wonder if any righteous person who fully tastes it should turn an Englishman from top to toe and an earnest votary of the bottle? 21 . . . When the English assumed the administration of India they thought it necessary to extinguish the spirit of the Hindus by making them addicted to the vice of education.22


As devout Hindus, they found the British interference in their religious customs and practices reprehensible. The Scoble Bill was one such example of British interference. The general pro-Muslim policies of the British, including supporting Muslim claims when it came to matters of playing processional music outside mosques, angered the Chapekars. Incidentally, in 1894, Walter Rand had ruthlessly punished some respectable Hindus in Wai for playing musical instruments before a masjid, thus breaking government rules.23

After failing to get enlisted in the army despite several attempts, possibly because of the British policy of excluding Chitpawans from government services and the army, Damodar Chapekar notes:

A system of administration so cruel as that of the English cannot, even if search be made, be found, in any region of this globe. Far better were the tyrannical Yavana kings who with sword in hands actually cut the throats of men as if there were so many goats. But the English are perfidious and I positively declare that no other people can be found on this earth who are as villainous as they and who like them ruin others by a show of kindness . . . Hitherto there have been many cruel Yavana kings in India but they made no rules from excluding Hindus from particular appointments or for limiting the number of those open to them. 24


Damodar Chapekar created a group of more than a hundred young boys dedicated to the cause of armed revolution. This ‘Chapekar Club’ was also known as ‘Rashtra Hitecchu Mandali’ or society for promoting national interests. One of the tasks was to collect arms, which was difficult to procure in British territory and had to be purchased from the adjacent domain of the Nizam of Hyderabad. But they always suffered from a paucity of funds. 25 Elaborating on the activities of this Club, Damodar writes:

We used to teach the following exercises: wrestling, danpatta, kathi , lance exercises, high and long jumps and boxing. 4 to 6 in the evening was the appointed time . . . we also collected historical works containing accounts of warriors and established a library at the place . . . In the evening one of us two brothers used to give historical readings. Selecting some episode in ancient history, we used to deliberate upon it in a way suited to impress upon the minds of the boys a sense of self-respect and love for one’s own religion . . . Whenever in the course of our readings we came across descriptions of battles containing such terms and expressions as Morchebandi, Khandak, Ganimikava and Chapa , as well as names of arms we explained them with sufficient clarity to make them understand.26


The group decided to smear tar and disfigure the Queen Victoria statue in Bombay. After the act, Damodar, writing under the pseudonym ‘Dandapani’ (literally meaning ‘The one with a staff in hand’) to Suryoday , a local newspaper from Thane, notified the editor about his association with the group and made its aims and objectives explicitly clear.

We have formed an association called Dandapani. Our fixed determination is to die and kill others for the sake of our religion. It’s first achievement was the blackening of the face of the statue of the Queen of England who made a distinction between Natives and Europeans . . . This Dandapani Association will not be overawed by any one. Anyone who encourages immorality, whether the Queen or someone superior to her is the enemy of this association.27


But the ultimate path that the Chapekars chose was that of political assassination. They were inspired by tales of the Mahabharata and the Gita that spoke of how killing for swadharma, or one’s faith, and vanquishing evil by the forces of virtue were not immoral. On 22 June 1897, the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria was being celebrated in Poona. Damodar and Balakrishna, each armed with a pistol, selected a spot near Ganeshkhind Road and waited for their victims in pitch darkness. Even as the official carriage was returning from Government House after the celebrations, the brothers exchanged their code words: ‘Gondya aala re aala ’ (Our target has come). Balakrishna leapt at the carriage and shot its occupant point-blank. He then realized that it was not Rand but his military escort, Ayerst, whom he had shot. The road was too dark for the coachman of the carriage that was following behind to notice what had happened in front. Balakrishna quickly signalled Damodar, who took his position and jumped into Rand’s carriage that followed and shot him in his head from the back. Rand was rushed to Sassoon Hospital where he succumbed to his injuries on 3 July 1897. The brothers slipped away in the darkness after accomplishing their task.

The British government was rudely awakened by these killings and announced a bounty of Rs 20,000 for information about the assassins. The Chapekars’ ex-associates, the Dravid brothers, turned informants of the government and passed on the details of the plot to the British. Based on this, the Chapekars were arrested and charged under Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). In his confession recorded on 8 October 1897 before Chief Presidency Magistrate W.R. Hamilton, Damodar elaborated on the motivations behind the attack:

I went to Poona . . . the operations for the suppression of the plague were commenced . . . In search of houses a great zulum (atrocity) was practised by the soldiers. (They) entered the temples and brought out women from their houses, broke idols and burnt Pothis (holy books), we determined to revenge these actions but it was of no use to kill common people, it was necessary to kill the chief man. Therefore we determined to kill Mr Rand who was the chief.28


Balakrishna managed to escape, but once again with the information passed on by the Dravid brothers, the government managed to intercept him. To avenge the treachery of the Dravids, the youngest brother, Vasudev, along with Mahadev Vinayak Ranade and Khando Vishnu Sathe murdered them near their house in Sadashiv Peth on 8 February 1899. All of them were however rounded up by the police.

On 18 April 1898, Damodar Hari was hanged. The following year, Vasudev, Balakrishna and Ranade were also executed on 8 May, 10 May and 12 May respectively.

The assassination and the subsequent execution of the Chapekars caused a sensation all over Bombay Presidency. The stories of their chivalry, the trial details and the manner in which they embraced the gallows with verses from the Gita on their lips moved Vinayak immensely. He was incensed when several newspapers chided the Chapekars for being misguided and rash young men. While their actions lacked strategy and careful planning, to abuse martyrs who had laid down their lives for the country was something that Vinayak simply could not accept. He lost sleep for several nights after this. In a moment of intense emotion, he rushed to the idol of the Ashtabhuja Bhawani in his home town in Bhagur and poured his heart out to her. He made a fervent vow in front of his family goddess that he was committing himself and his life to free the motherland through armed struggle. He declared in her presence: ‘Shatrus maarta maarta mare to jhunjen! ’ (I will wage war against the enemy and slay them till my last breath). Little did he know that the innocent vow taken by a teenager was to have so many repercussions on so many people— from bloodshed, attacks, executions and incarcerations. But the seed of revolutionary thought was firmly sown that night in presence of the goddess and there was no looking back thereafter.

Vinayak even wrote a prayer in the Durga Dasa Vijay that he was composing in honour of the goddess, where he beseeched her to grant him the strength to follow up on this resolve. His associates burned copies of this work a few years later when the police raided their house suspecting conspiracy, lest it land up in the wrong hands. Vinayak also wrote a play on the Chapekars, titled Veershriyukta , to spread the spirit of revolution in Bhagur, and a local theatre group of Ranoo Darji was willing to stage it too but backed out in the last minute fearing consequences. Vinayak’s poem ‘Chapekarancha Phatka’ was a rage till even the 1910s and inspired youngsters across Maharashtra. Each time he sang or recited the poem, Vinayak would tremble with emotion and his voice would choke with both anger and sorrow.

Damodarpant was deeply worried by this revolutionary turn in his son’s nature. Although it was he who had instilled patriotism and a love for Tilak and his works in Vinayak from a young age, and was proud of his metamorphosis, seeing his son become so emotionally attached to the idea at such a young age, his constant talk of murdering the British, his many sleepless nights, restless behaviour, and pensive mood worried him. One night, Damodarpant came to Vinayak’s room and saw him breaking down while writing a poem. He picked up the paper and saw that his son was writing about the Chapekars. He complimented the poetry but then with great affection held his face with both his hands and told him: ‘Tatya, you are the only hope for our family, the centre of our household and the source of support for me. Don’t put your life at risk. You have no idea what the dreadful consequences are of the path that you are trying to tread. Continue your poetry; study well, become a famous man and then do whatever you wish.’29 Vinayak remained silent but told himself that nothing and nobody could now change his resolve.

The general tendency in Poona and the rest of Bombay Presidency was to assert that these revolutionary deeds were the work of isolated cranks. Even the Kesari did not support the Chapekars, and Tilak called the assassination a ‘shocking tragedy at Poona which we all deplore’, although he blamed the colonial high-handedness in dealing with the plague that led to ‘feelings of dissatisfaction’. 30 This was wordplay. Tilak did not go all out to criticize them but made a fleeting and cursory condemnation of the violence. It was public knowledge that he tacitly supported the Chapekars.

But it was the Kal , a newspaper edited by the indefatigable Shivram Mahadev Paranjpe (1864–1929), that published an editorial which appeared to argue that the Chapekars had acted according to what they believed to be the law of God—a law higher than that of man.31 Paranjpe was an old associate of Tilak. Following his brave editorials, Paranjpe was severely ostracized and was in fact barred by Dadabhai Naoroji from attending any Congress sessions, lest the organization got tainted.

The fiery articles of the Kal that shone with revolutionary zeal had a great impact on Vinayak and he became a diehard admirer of Paranjpe and the newspaper. In his own words:

Wherever I went, I would insist on reading the Kal and also used to read it out to other people . . . because there was no other journal that would (openly) justify the armed revolution . . . (and) if it (the Kal ) had not directly shaped my opinion, it certainly influenced my knowledge, understanding, linguistic style and enthusiasm . . . If at all I am to revere someone as the Guru of my revolutionary inspiration, it is certainly the Kal.32


An unexpected fallout of the Chapekar incident was the arrest of Tilak on charges of sedition under Section 124A. It produced as evidence a speech he had made in 1897 at the Shivaji festival and which had been reported in the Kesari a few days before the assassinations. The Bombay government claimed that an unsigned report on the Shivaji festival at which Tilak and others spoke, and a poem written under a pseudonym, which was far from unique in subject, opinion or rhetorical strategies were an incitement to ‘disaffection of the Government’.33

The poem ‘Shivaji’s Utterances’ (and signed ‘mark of the Bhawani Sword’) appeared in the editorial columns of the Kesari . In it, the eponymous figure laments the plight of India in a language that traffics in opacity. Its opening lines read: ‘By annihilating the wicked I lightened the great weight on the globe. I delivered the country by establishing Swarajya and by saving religion. I betook myself to shake off the great exhaustion which had come upon me. I was asleep, why then, did you my darlings awaken me?’

According to the unsigned report of the Shivaji festival held from 12 to 14 June 1897, Professor Jinsinwale, one of the prominent attendees, said in his lecture: ‘If no one blames Napoleon for committing two thousand murders in Europe, if Caesar is considered merciful though he needlessly committed slaughters in Gaul . . . many a time, why should so virulent an attack be made on Shri Shivaji Maharaja for killing one or two persons? The people who took part in the French Revolution denied that they committed murders, and maintained they were removing thorns from their path, why should not the same principle be made applicable to Maharashtra?’34

Histories of extraordinary violence were invoked in the article to draw attention to the double standards by which Indian political violence is deemed savagery, while the same in other parts of the world is feted as chivalry. Tilak reportedly said:

Let us even assume that Shivaji first planned and then executed the murder of Afzulkhan. Was this act of the Maharaja good or bad? This question, which has to be considered should not be viewed from the standpoint of even the Penal Code or even the Smritis of Manu or Yagnavalkya or even the principles of morality laid down in the western and eastern ethical systems. The laws, which bind society, are for common men like yourselves and myself. No one seeks to trace the genealogy of a Rishi nor to fasten guilt upon a king. Great men are above the common principles of morality. These principles fell in their scope to reach the pedestal of great men. Did Shivaji commit a sin in killing Afzulkhan or now [sic]? The answer to this question can be found in the Mahabharata itself. Shrimat Krishna’s advice [teaching] in the Geeta is to kill even our teachers [and] our kinsmen. No blame attaches [to any person] if [he] is doing deeds without being actuated by a desire to reap the fruit [of his deeds]. Shri Shivaji Maharaja did nothing with a view to fill the small void of his own stomach [i.e., from interested motives]. With benevolent intentions he murdered Afzulkhan for the good of others . . . do not circumscribe your vision like a frog in a well; get out of the Penal Code, enter into the extremely high atmosphere of the Shrimat Bhagavad Geeta and then consider the actions of great men.35


Cutting across ideological barriers, several national leaders such as Seth Dwarkadas, Y.V. Nene, Surendranath Banerjea and Dadabhai Naoroji rallied around Tilak. As Surendranath Banerjea wrote: ‘For Mr Tilak my heart is full of sympathy, my feelings go forth to him in his prison-house. A nation is in tears.’ 36 Tilak was provided financial assistance by the Bengali nationalists who even established a Tilak Defence Fund. They even got the famous Calcutta barrister, L.P.E. Pugh, to defend Tilak in court and paid his fees of Rs 10,000. 37 The trial took place over six days in Bombay (8 to 14 September 1897). However, it took the jury only forty minutes to arrive at a verdict of guilty, by a vote of six to three—six Europeans and three Indians. Tilak was sentenced to eighteen months’ rigorous imprisonment but he was released a few months before the end of his sentence.

After his conviction, there was an outpouring of support for Tilak all over the country. The front page of the moderate newspaper, Bengalee , of 25 September 1897 sported a black border (as did Amrita Bazar Patrika and Indian Mirror in Calcutta) as a mark of protest and stated:

This number of the Bengalee appears with a black border out of respect and sympathy for Mr Tilak. We believe him to be innocent of the charge laid to his door. No native of India, certainly, no one possessed of intelligence and capacity of Mr Tilak (and even his enemies must admit that he is a man of exceptional ability), can be otherwise than loyal to the British Government.38


The equally moderate The Hindu in Madras of 15 September 1897, lamented:

The conviction of Mr Tilak has cast a gloom over the whole country. The news has been received everywhere with intense grief and with a sense of humiliation. It is not that law and justice have been vindicated, but that the policy of reaction which for some time the enemies of the Indian people have been urging, has triumphed.39


Allahabad’s Advocate , another moderate newspaper, noted:

The sensation created by Mr Tilak’s conviction throughout the length and breadth of India is natural . . . The State trial has made his name a household word, and we think we are not exaggerating to say that every Indian who reads newspapers, or keeps himself in any way in touch with public opinion feels strongly for him on his misfortune, while there are thousands, nay, lakhs of men, who consider him a martyr to his country.40


~ While the spirit of revolution and political activism had fully possessed Vinayak, Babarao was largely untouched by it. He managed to pass fifth grade in English, but slowly his interest in studies waned. He carried on till the seventh grade driven by sheer fear of his father. Babarao was strangely attracted to two totally contradictory sets of people—on the one hand, god-men with long, matted hair and ash-smeared faces, and on the other, theatre artists with painted faces. Late-night discussions about drama, songs and dance, along with tea and snacks were his favourite pastimes. And during the day, he roamed around in the company of sadhus, trying to understand tantra. Around 1898–99, there was news about Swami Vivekananda teaching the tenets of Raja Yoga to anyone who stayed with him at his Mayawati Ashram. 41 Babarao, who had already begun showing signs of renunciation from family life, wanted to run away and take spiritual initiation under him. The Savarkars would have lost Babarao to both family and revolution had it not been for the scourge of plague that hit Maharashtra yet again—this time, closer home.

In 1899, when Nashik was hit by the plague, Damodarpant forced Babarao and Vinayak to discontinue school for a while and return to Bhagur. When the epidemic spread to Tryambakeshwar where Vinayak’s sister, Maina, and brother-in-law, Bhaskar Rao Kale, lived, Damodarpant advised them to shift to Bhagur as well. But as luck would have it, by the time everyone got to Bhagur, the plague had spread to Bhagur too. Given the repressive plague measures of the government, people concealed information about any plague victim in their houses. The death of rats would be passed off as a casual attack by a neighbourhood cat. The Savarkar household too kept shut about the death of rats in their courtyard and secretly disposed them. The plague soon hit the neighbourhood where the Savarkars lived. Vinayak sat by the window all night, frightfully listening to the cries of pain of several afflicted neighbours. He wanted to make a will that in case he were to die due to the plague, all his works, Durga Dasa Vijay, Sarvasaar Sangrah and other poems, should be posthumously published.

Spurred by a sense of duty and compassion, Damodarpant involved himself wholly in the relief operations, despite being warned against it. One evening, after returning from his visits to the houses of friends who were hit by plague, Damodarpant seemed very distraught. Without speaking a word, he retired upstairs to the upper floor of the house. Bal, who usually slept with his father, was strictly told not to come near him. Instead, he summoned Vinayak to him and with tears in his eyes said that his joints were hurting badly and it seemed to him that he might have contracted plague too. Vinayak recounts in his memoirs that right from childhood it was his nature that each time he was faced by a crisis, he would become cold and stone hearted, and turn action-oriented sans any emotions; he would look for ways to solve the problem on hand. He quickly brought medicines for his father and the family decided to keep the whole matter a secret, lest the police get to know and evict them. Bal was asked to play sentinel by the door and not let anyone inside.

Once, when Vinayak saw Bal strolling away from his designated spot at the door, he yelled at him in anger. The little boy came to his elder brother with tears in his eyes, telling him that his thighs too ached badly. He had contracted plague as well. An aghast Vinayak asked his sister-in-law, Yesu Vahini, to tend to Bal, while he would care for Damodarpant. Vinayak and Yesu eagerly waited for Babarao to return from Tryambakeshwar where he had gone to fetch Maina and her husband. Damodar’s condition rapidly worsened. The plague caused intense thirst, but they were not to give him water, even as he cried loudly for it, turning uncontrollably violent a few times. Babarao returned the next morning and seeing the condition at home, advised Maina and her husband to move elsewhere. That very night, on 5 September 1899, Damodarpant became violent and was locked up on the upper floor of the house. When they opened the door in the morning, they discovered that their beloved father had passed away. At the tender age of sixteen, Vinayak was orphaned.

The family could not even grieve his death because Bal’s condition was still precarious. With Damodarpant’s death, there was no way they could continue living in the house as the government would evict them to the segregation camps. With the help of a family friend, they got a little hut built for themselves on the outskirts of the city. Meanwhile, they had to spend a few nights at the Mahadev and Ganesh temples in town. Their paternal uncle, Bapu Kaka, came to his unfortunate nephews who had lost both their parents at such a young age. The ordeal was so physically and emotionally exhausting that Vinayak recollects in his memoirs that they felt they would collapse from sheer fatigue any moment. Unfortunately for them, in just a few days, Bapu Kaka also contracted plague.

The crisis that the Savarkar family faced was unprecedented. The place that they took shelter at was notorious for dacoits who they feared might loot them, knowing they were the erstwhile jagirdars. The desolate location had a cremation ground nearby; wails of people, the smell of burning corpses and the cries of owls and wolves made it an eerie experience. Vinayak recounts how a street dog came and kept them company all night during those frightful days and if any stranger came near the family, he would bark and scare them away.

The news of the crisis that befell the Savarkar family reached Nashik. One of Damodarpant’s friends, Ramabhau Datar, whom the former had helped when his father was afflicted by plague, brought all of them to Nashik. It was a Herculean task given the strict government vigil on people moving across towns. He kept the Savarkars at his house despite strong protests from the entire locality to not let them in because it was a communicable disease. Unfortunately, after reaching Nashik and within ten days of his younger brother’s demise, Bapu Kaka also passed away. The tragedy kept compounding with each passing day.

Bal was still suffering from the disease and was admitted to the plague hospital. Babarao refused to leave his side and tended to him at the hospital all day. There was a European nurse in the hospital who was extremely harsh in her treatment of patients and many felt that suffering the disease was much better than tolerating her rudeness and unskilled handling. When she tried the same with Bal, Babarao picked a quarrel with her, reported her to the senior doctor and also had the nurse fired. Thereafter, till the replacement filled in the nurse’s shoes, without caring for his own health, Babarao volunteered to nurse the patients himself. He was not allowed to come back home from the hospital or interact with others outside the hospital. It was only Vinayak and Yesu Vahini who stayed back at the outhouse of the Datars, worried every minute about what might be happening at the hospital. Vinayak would take food for his brothers each day and wait outside. He was not allowed to meet or interact with Babarao because of the fear of contracting the disease. His biggest nightmare of Babarao also falling victim came true one morning. Vinayak was crestfallen.

However, Babarao and Bal were cured, and by then, the plague too subsided in Nashik. The two returned home and in a few months recuperated completely. The family decided to settle down in Nashik itself.

That dreadful night, when the Savarkars ran in mortal fear, along with little Bal who was suffering from high fever, Vinayak bid a permanent farewell to Bhagur, the land of his parents and ancestors. A new life awaited him in Nashik.
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Re: Savarkar: Echoes from a Forgotten Past by Vikram Sampath

Postby admin » Thu May 13, 2021 2:26 am

Part 1 of 3

3 The Birth of a Revolutionary

Nashik, 1899

The town of Nashik is deeply rooted in legends and boasts a hoary past that dates back to the times of the Ramayana. Back then it was known as Panchavat, the land of five banyan trees. Lord Rama, Sita and Lakshmana are supposed to have stayed here during their exile. This was also the place where Lakshmana cut off the nose of the demon princess, Surpanakha, and hence the place draws its name from nasika , the Sanskrit word for nose. Many people think that since the town is surrounded by nine mountain peaks (or shikhars in Marathi), it was known as Nava-Shikha , that later became Nashik.1 The Sita Gufa or Cave of Sita, where she prayed, and from where she was abducted by Ravana; the Ram Kund where Lord Rama supposedly took his daily bath, where mortal remains and bones are believed to dissolve magically as did King Dasharatha’s; and a host of other temples reverberate with this same faith. Once every twelve years, the Maha Kumbh at Nashik brings people from across India and outside to take a holy dip in the waters of the Godavari River. The town has also been part of several important ruling dynasties. Peshwa Baji Rao II wanted to make it his capital and also got a palace called the ‘Peshwa Wada’ (later known as Sarkar Wada) constructed there towards the end of the eighteenth century. Ironically, the British used the same building to conduct trials of revolutionaries of the freedom movement.

When the Savarkars moved to Nashik permanently in 1899, it was among the more backward towns of Maharashtra. Narrow lanes, irksome priests who harassed pilgrims, and dusty roads were all that it had. Being the district headquarters, it however offered better opportunities for English education, and it was mainly because of this that Damodarpant had insisted that both Babarao and Vinayak go to Nashik for their higher studies.

During the end of their earlier stay in Nashik, before Damodarpant’s demise, the Savarkar brothers had moved to the narrow, congested lanes of Tilbhandeshwar that also housed an eponymous temple of Lord Shiva. They had rented a single room on the top floor of the Vartak household. By then, Vartak had passed away. But his wife, a daughter and three sons— Nana, Trimbak and Shridhar—considered the Savarkars as their own family members. In 1899, on relocating to Nashik permanently, the family decided to stay in the same Tilbhandeshwar area where Ramabhau Datar’s house was also located. Ramabhau’s brother, Vaman, who later became a renowned doctor ‘Vaidya Bhushan’ Vaman Shastri Datar, was roughly the same age as Vinayak and hence the two became good friends. The Savarkars and Datars lived as one family, shared kitchens and pooled their incomes. There were many others in this new world who became Vinayak’s close associates and played an important role in his political activities.

When Babarao and Bal were admitted in the city’s plague hospital, the former met Trimbak Rao Mhaskar, an officer at the hospital. Even though Mhaskar, who was in his thirties then, was stricken by extreme poverty, he was compassionate and helpful to anyone who was in distress. Being educated, he managed to strike a chord with Babarao, the only literate and well-read patient in the hospital. Being a staunch patriot, Mhaskar organized small public gatherings and festivals in Nashik without garnering too much publicity from them. Eminent leaders of Nashik such as Bapurao Ketkar, Dajirao Ketkar, Loksevakar Barve, Raibahadur Vaidya, Kavi Parakh and others knew Mhaskar well and thought highly of his organizational skills.

Mhaskar’s friend, Raoji Krishna Paage, a government employee, was however a study in contrast. While Mhaskar was shy, an introvert, Paage was an attention-seeking, outspoken and witty man. Like Mhaskar, he too organized small public agitations all the time. They were however united in their goal of achieving freedom for India through armed revolution but had no clarity of thought or vision on how to get there. Being staunch Tilak supporters, they assumed that public mobilization through festivals and mass activism was the only way to national liberation. They had formed a students organization called Vidyarthi Sangha. Like a loving elder sibling, Mhaskar advised Vinayak on the need to be vigilant and careful, and not venture completely into the idea of a total armed revolution. Vinayak expressed his deepest thoughts and ideas to Mhaskar and Paage and revealed his desire to start an underground student society. He told them that merely organizing festivals of Ganesh and Shivaji would hardly achieve anything tangible; that one needed to strike at the very root of the poisonous tree, and that was possible only through total armed revolution. But the Chapekar incident and its fallout instilled in them fear of the consequences and they remained sceptic for a while.

Near the Datar and Vartak households lived a priest, Dhondobhat Vishwamitra. A fair, stocky and ebullient man, who relished paan, tobacco, tea, lemon soda and playing cards after his temple duties, Vishwamitra was the life of the locality. His Maratha maid’s son, Aabaa Darekar, was crippled after a prolonged fever at the age of eight. But he was a jolly fellow who composed bawdy songs (lavanis) and wrote a play, even as his mother struggled at housework to eke out a living. Aabaa, however, earned substantial money by selling kites, paper handicrafts, coloured paper caps and pet animals. He was the unofficial leader of the boisterous locality boys and even Ramabhau, Vaman, Trimbak and others were under his spell. It was amazing that despite being illiterate, he wielded such influence on educated, upper-caste, English-speaking boys.

Initially, Aabaa and his cronies did not like Vinayak too much and derided him as a bookworm and a nerd. Some in Aabaa’s group were envious of Vinayak’s poetry skills and carried tales to Aabaa about him, as he too was an amateur poet of sorts. However, Vinayak’s intelligence and wordplay had piqued Aabaa’s interest, and he wanted to know the secret behind his writing and oratorical skills. Vinayak’s ‘Sinhagadacha Powada’ or the ‘Ballad of Sinhagad’ 2 of 1670 attracted Aabaa’s attention. Finally, breaking the ice, he visited Vinayak to ask him for help with his writing; something that Vinayak immediately agreed to. Soon Aabaa’s group began respecting Vinayak. The lessons in grammar, poetry and history by Vinayak kindled Aabaa’s latent genius and he was deeply influenced by the spirit of freedom. Soon, he became one of Maharashtra’s famous patriots and freedom-poets, writing under the pen-name ‘Govind’. His most famous poem is entitled ‘Ranaaveen Swatantrya kona milaale’ (Who has ever won freedom without a bloody war?).

It was in these very narrow lanes of Tilbhandeshwar that the first modern, organized secret society of young revolutionaries in India took shape. Under sixteen-year-old Vinayak’s stewardship, and Mhaskar and Paage as members, the Rashtrabhakta Samuha, or The Society of Patriots, was formed towards the end of November 1899. The three young men took an oath to liberate India through armed struggle and sacrifice their lives for the cause too, if needed. Many of the ideas about the methods and organization of the secret society were borrowed from Thomas Frost’s work Secret Societies of the European Revolution, 1776–1876 . Frost had surveyed several such societies and mentioned that a ‘secret society may be distinguished from other combinations [by] the adoption of an oath of secrecy and fidelity, an initiatory ceremony, and the use of symbols, passwords, grips, etc.’3

The trio decided to invite S.M. Paranjpe of Kal , whose writings and newspaper had inspired them, to be their adviser. Reaching out to a national hero like Tilak was considered unfeasible at this early stage and they decided to approach Tilak once they had some work to showcase. Spurred by his vow to the goddess after the execution of the Chapekars, Vinayak was comfortable with the idea of going it alone as well. Mhaskar provided the much-needed perspective, as he feared that Vinayak might do something stupid in his youthful exuberance. The trio decided to keep this society strictly secret and not even tell Babarao about it. The idea was to mobilize the youth and select a few of them for armed revolution after adequate training. Paage was already working closely with the youth and the newly founded Samuha needed to intensify that outreach. The trio used the cryptic acronym ‘Ram Hari’ for the society. Thus, someone mentioning ‘Today Ram Hari would be meeting’ would mean the members of the Samuha were scheduling a secret meet.

Vinayak suggested that they needed a dual organization—a front-end entity that organized ‘peaceful’ activities like festivals and melas, which could have a wider societal outreach and become the hunting ground for talented youth with a nationalistic drive and organizational skills. Those chosen in this manner would then be a part of the core, secret armed revolution group. So on 1 January 1900, the trio started the ‘Mitra Mela’, or Group of Friends, as a front-end organization of the Rashtrabhakta Samuha. Slowly, people like Babarao, the Datar brothers, Varthak brothers, Aabaa Darekar and others joined the Mitra Mela. It met every week on Saturdays and Sundays; one speaker would be selected and detailed discussions followed every lecture. Initially, the topics were general, but Vinayak slowly began talking about politics, current affairs and the revolutionary zeal. His fiery speeches at the Mela meetings would stress on the need for an armed struggle. He opined that there was no point merely cutting leaves of a poisonous tree; one had to strike at the root to dismantle it. For such a task, one needed an axe and the person wielding it would have to risk his life.

The Congress, Vinayak said, kept harping on about cutting leaves and pouring milk (prayers and petitions) to the poisonous tree. According to him, following the path of the Congress and Gokhale—of peaceful petitions and prayers—might get a few Indians jobs and fanciful titles, but not total independence for the nation. Even Tilak’s initiatives and civil disobedience, Vinayak postulated, would get Indians a few rights, but not the ultimate goal of complete liberation. However, given the immense nationalism and work that patriots like Gokhale and Tilak had put in, Vinayak warned his team not to belittle their contribution, but to effectively fuse their ideologies and build on them. While one needed to be grateful to them for kindling the spark of freedom in the hearts of Indians, there was a need to go beyond, even if it took another hundred years to achieve that eventual goal, he exhorted. Even if the topics of discussions in the Mitra Mela meetings related to language, literature, economy, history, fitness, cow protection, or Vedanta, Vinayak would always steer them to the main theme of political freedom and armed revolution.

The initial meetings were held at Paage or Mhaskar’s house. Soon, they decided to have a permanent venue and the single room at Aabaa Darekar’s house was chosen, given its location atop Vishwamitra’s house. From the narrow lanes of Tilbhandeshwar, even finding this little room tucked away on the first floor, accessible only through a stair of creaky wooden steps, was difficult and this made it a perfect secret spot. The members decorated the place. The main portrait in the room was a painting of Shivaji Maharaj by the royal painter Ravi Varma. Pictures of the heroes of the 1857 uprising—Nana Saheb, Rani Lakshmi Bai of Jhansi, Tatya Tope—and later revolutionaries like Wasudev Balwant Phadke, the Chapekar brothers and Mahadev Vinayak Ranade adorned the walls: a lineage of the armed revolutionaries of the country, of which the Mitra Mela members were the rightful inheritors. Mhaskar suggested toning down the revolutionary spirit in the room by putting up a portrait of the British emperor and empress too so that if the police ever raided the place no suspicions would be raised. But Vinayak strongly vetoed the suggestion, saying that arrest would be a better option than defiling the walls by hanging the portraits of despotic rulers. Hence a compromise was reached, and paintings of Hindu gods and goddesses were hung to camouflage the revolutionary spirit a bit.

Even though the little room was so closeted from the main road and voices would not carry, some members would loiter in the streets outside to check if they were being heard or spied upon. If ever the voices from the room were loud enough to be heard on the street outside, they would send a coded message inside to swiftly switch to safer topics. Talks on non-political issues were written down as well and these were archived, so that in the possibility of a raid it could be shown as a harmless, apolitical forum of young, intelligent men.

The objectives of the Mitra Mela were kept vague: ‘Striving for allround development of our country.’ New members were selected by a majority of older ones after they were satisfied about the suitability of those willing to join. The Mela documented the list of enrolled members, taking care to keep the title blank so that the police did not get a whiff of what was under way. Slowly, when the government started getting suspicious of their activities, the Mela stopped writing or documenting anything, including the income-expense statements that used to be normally read out.

The Shivaji festival used to be an insipid affair in Nashik, but with the Mitra Mela and its mobilized youth, the utsav, or festival of 1900, was a grand one. During this occasion, Vinayak delivered a stirring speech:

Till now we Maharashtrians kept saying that Shivaji Utsav is only a historical commemoration and it has no political colour. But the festival that we have organized here in Nashik is both historical and political. Only those people, who have the capability to struggle for the freedom of their country just like Shivaji Maharaj, have the real right to organize and celebrate a festival commemorating his memory. Our main objective must therefore be to strive towards breaking the shackles of colonial rule. If our only aims are finding solace in foreign rule, earning fat salaries, be peaceful negotiators with the government on inconsequential issues such as lowering taxes, diluting some laws here and there, and secure ourselves enough to eat, lead comfortable lives, earn pensions and privileges—then this Utsav is not for you or for Shivaji, but that of the last Peshwa Baji Rao who capitulated to British might! Here we are invoking the god of revolution, Shivaji Maharaj, so that he may inspire and instil that energy in all of us. Depending on circumstances our means might change, but the end is non-negotiable and that end is total and complete freedom for our motherland.4


The speech became the talk of town and Mitra Mela suddenly created quite an impression on the people of Nashik. The Ganapati festival soon followed and the Mitra Mela members got an idol of Lord Ganesha installed. Vinayak’s talks drew huge audiences. Aabaa Darekar wrote stirring lyrics, set them to tune and sang them. During the festival, the streets of Nashik reverberated with the chants of ‘Swatantrya Lakshmi ki Jay ’, or ‘Victory to the Goddesss of Freedom’—a slogan coined by Vinayak.

The Mitra Mela members had to select subjects of their choice, research them, read books on the topic, write essays and then lecture and debate on them in the weekly meetings. However, many rarely took this seriously and only came for bigger events, utsavs, processions or if a visiting celebrity’s lecture was organized. Vinayak insisted that people take part in these meetings and lectures to understand the history and context of the freedom struggle and revolution by becoming aware of what was happening inside and outside the country. These topics could not be discussed openly at educational institutions or public spaces and hence the Mitra Mela meeting was the best forum to equip oneself with knowledge and past experiences before planning anything big. Revolution was not a mindless activity; it had to be backed by strategy and knowledge. Vinayak resolved to hold these meetings weekly irrespective of the attendance. Many, including Babarao, who was initially not at all interested in politics or revolution and just came for his younger brother’s sake, slowly started becoming more regular.

However, all these activities did not hamper Vinayak’s studies. Towards the end of 1899, he got into high school in grade five and in a couple of months got promoted to grade six by doing well in the examinations. R.B. Joshi, the principal of Nashik High School, was an eminent scholar. He was a close associate of Gopalkrishna Gokhale. He, and all the other school teachers, knew about Vinayak’s multifarious extracurricular activities and praised him as the most talented boy in school who fared well despite these distractions.

Since most members of the Mitra Mela were young, Vinayak did not want their studies to suffer due to their involvement in the activities. He, along with a few others, would undertake teaching pro bono for those members who were weak in any subject and ensure they all passed examinations. Most of Vinayak’s day was spent reading newspapers, gathering knowledge on current political issues in India and outside and reading books outside the school curriculum. But even as the half-yearly or annual exams beckoned, for a month or two he would shut himself in a room and make a thorough and meticulous study of the subject. He passed his examinations with flying colours, much to the surprise of his teachers who had predicted failure because of his irregularity at school. Babarao would celebrate his younger brother’s success by distributing sweets in the neighbourhood and patting Vinayak’s back with love and pride— something that Vinayak recounts as the best reward he could ever aspire for.

After Damodarpant’s death, the young and inexperienced Babarao was taken for a ride by many people who usurped much of their family property and farms. There were debts to be cleared and Babarao wanted to take up a government job. To get a job, he needed to produce two security bonds of Rs 500 each. This was hard to get for a long time, but eventually he succeeded and got a job as a cashier in the famine relief department. He faced several hardships and insults but ensured that none of these troubles ever reached his younger brothers, confiding only in his wife Yesu. They would run out of provisions at home, and Babarao and Yesu would many a time starve themselves in order to feed Vinayak and Bal. At work, he soon found out that his department was steeped in corruption. Refusing to be a part of such misdeeds, he raised his voice. Consequently, he was dismissed from the job, even as the threat of mounting debts loomed large. This was when Yesu sold all her jewellery, except her traditional nose ring that her mother had gifted her during her wedding, to clear their debts. But when Babarao needed to pay the fees for Vinayak’s education, he hesitatingly asked her to part with this last ornament. Without a murmur, she handed it over to him as it was for the cause of her favourite brother-in-law’s education. No wonder Vinayak was deeply attached to his sister-in-law. In a poem written to her in 1909, he states:

Mateche Smaran hou na dile, Shrimati Vahine Vatsale!
Tu Dhairyaachi asasi moorti! Maazhe Vahini, Maazhe Sphurti!

O! Loving sister-in-law, you never made me feel the absence of my mother
A symbol of bravery and sacrifice, you are my perennial inspiration!


Yesu even lost a child because she neither took care of herself nor did she get adequate nourishment. The only beacon of hope for Babarao and Yesu was Vinayak and his bright future.

Babarao was not at all worldly-wise and everyone who owed the family money managed to easily con him. He once went to Bhagur to collect money from people to whom Damodarpant had lent money. One Karanjkar made up a story about a huge secret treasure buried by the riverbank and that he would have this excavated after performing a few rituals and donate the entire treasure to the Savarkars. He requested Babarao to give him a few hundred rupees to perform this ritual and the latter readily agreed and secured this money after much effort. They were to meet at the riverbank by night to dig out the treasure, but expectedly the con man never turned up. Babarao waited all night with great expectation, and even later was unwilling to acknowledge that the fellow was a rogue. He believed in the innate goodness of all human beings, but more often than not he was usually cheated because of his naivety.

Vinayak felt miserable about Babarao’s piteous condition and worried constantly about his elder brother having to finance his education. He wanted to quit studies and start working so that he could shoulder his brother’s burden. Once Vinayak ran a high fever and in a half-delirious state expressed his concerns about his education. This moved Babarao and he hugged his brother tight and assured him that he simply need not worry as long as he was alive. Vinayak decided to write to Kal ’s editor, S.M. Paranjpe, to get him any job that might be available at the newspaper desk. Mhaskar who knew Paranjpe decided to carry this letter to him, along with an introduction to Vinayak. 5 Without letting Babarao know, Vinayak even appeared for the public service exam that helped young men secure petty jobs of bookkeeping, accounting, etc., in district offices at a monthly pay of about Rs 15 to 20. He passed the examination as well, but Babarao was adamant that Vinayak should not discontinue his studies and that he was willing to put up with every hardship to ensure that his younger brothers were well educated.

In 1900–01 plague hit Nashik yet again. Babarao and Ramabhau Datar were at the forefront of providing relief to people. They literally carried corpses on their backs, taking them to the funeral grounds, as no one else was willing to perform this task. But when the epidemic lasted for more than two months, Vinayak’s maternal uncle, Bhikaji Sakharam Maohar, forced them to leave Nashik and come to their house in Kothur. Babarao stayed back to help the victims, but the rest of the family moved to a farmhouse owned by Jagirdar Annarao Barve on the outskirts of Kothur. While in Kothur, Vinayak delivered several stirring speeches, inspired people and soon a Kothur branch of Mitra Mela was established. Annarao’s son, Vaman Rao Barve, and his cousin, Balwant Rao, became its members. Soon, a Bhagur branch too came up, administering to its members the same oath of striving for freedom without caring for one’s life.

By the time the plague subsided and Vinayak returned to Nashik, Queen Victoria had died (22 January 1901), and this opened the floodgate of sycophantic Indians expressing their servile gratitude and condolences. Lengthy adulatory columns and obituaries were written in newspapers about how India had been orphaned by the death of her loving mother, the empress. Paeans were sung to the new emperor, Edward. This was nothing new. Such was the sycophancy towards the Empire among several Indians that when Lord Ripon had taken charge as viceroy in 1880, he was heartily welcomed by all and his carriage was reverentially pulled by the scholarly pandits of Kashi. 6 Paage and Mhaskar felt that it might be prudent to call for a prayer meeting in the deceased queen’s memory and declare loyalty to the new monarch, only to escape British suspicion. Although the Mitra Mela was just a year and a half old, the calls to freedom, the festivals and the rhetoric of its members, especially Vinayak, had caught British attention. While Vinayak understood his comrades’ motivation, he felt it was unnecessary as there was no reason for them to prove their character as being non-seditious just yet. He argued forcefully against the queen, whom he accused of being complicit in the massacre of Indians in 1857. His vehemence finally led to the cancellation of the proposed prayer meet.

When festivals in honour of Emperor Edward on his coronation were organized, the Mitra Mela and its volunteers secretly put up posters all over Nashik castigating the festivals and its organizers with provocative statements like ‘Why would you honour someone who had made your mother a slave?’ They would tear up the festoons and flags at pandals where such festivals were organized. When the head of one such festival committee declared King Edward as his father, the Mitra Mela posters mocked him, asking what the emperor meant to his mother. They were pasted by Vinayak and Babarao’s brother-in-law, Anna Phadke.

In 1901, Vinayak completed grade six and got into high school. His passion for reading only increased with each passing year. He was now acquainting himself with the international histories of various kingdoms of the past and also biographies of revolutionaries from America and Europe. Whatever he read, he would make a quick synopsis of the content so that they were easier to revisit for future essays or talks. This in itself had taken the shape of a huge volume and he had titled it Sarvasaar Sangrah —the summary of everything—which had the distilled knowledge of different books. Sadly, this book too did not survive the future police raids. Even for the Mitra Mela talks, Vinayak prepared a summary sheet to serve as a ready reckoner. He spoke eloquently on diverse topics such as the dynasties of ancient Iran, the Moors of Spain, the Dutch Revolt in the Netherlands, and the lives of Italian revolutionaries Giuseppe Mazzini and Giuseppe Garibaldi to an audience who had barely even heard of anything from outside Maharashtra. In his diary, he made a systematic list of all the books read in a year, pen pictures of people he met, and childhood memories and experiences. These diaries too were unfortunately destroyed during the time of the revolution and raids.

Vinayak had accomplished the feat of reading all the Marathi books at the Nashik Library, including those that were not easily comprehensible and hence necessitated a second read. His young mind struggled to gather the complete purport of Herbert Spencer’s Liberal Utilitarianism . Many years later in England, when he asked people who had read Spencer in English, he realized to his amazement that the Marathi translations of Spencer’s works that he had read in Nashik had given him more knowledge than those who read the originals. Vinayak’s fertile mind also correlated these philosophies of Western writers with Indian writings. He firmly believed that Lord Krishna was the first proponent of this utilitarian theory as expounded in his words in the Gita or the Bhagavata. Vinayak had made a list of nearly twenty to thirty books that all members of the Mitra Mela had to read so that they were intellectually aware about world history, heroes such as Napoleon, Mazzini, Vivekananda and others, and events related to revolutions across the world. In addition, they also had to read the Kal , which had two sections ‘Tarun Italy’ and ‘Kheti-Kisaani’ related to revolutions in Europe and how international secret societies operated. Thus, he not only expanded his own knowledge and understanding but also his comrades’ in the Mitra Mela.

Alongside intellectual enrichment, exercise and physical fitness were a compulsory part of the regimen for Mitra Mela members. They had to ready themselves for struggles that involved languishing in jails, hunger, lashings and back-breaking hard work in captivity. Everyone learnt and practised swimming, running, staying hungry for a long time, trekking mountains and forests, among others. Vinayak had a frail and petite body since childhood and he had shaved his head like all Brahmin boys to maintain a pigtail. However, from the age of twelve to thirteen, physical fitness became his enduring interest—he regularly did yoga, surya namaskar, used dumbbells for his workout and managed several push-ups a day. He also learnt the martial arts of mallakhamb (traditional Indian pole gymnastics) and kushti (wrestling).

The Mitra Mela suffered a jolt in 1901 with the sudden and untimely death of Mhaskar due to plague. Even in his last days, he would enact fights and scenes of liberating the country. After his death, Paage too slowly began to distance himself from the organization and Vinayak was the only one left. Separate branches for children and teenagers were formed with Vinayak’s younger brother Bal and others leading it.

Vinayak found new companions in the Mitra Mela. Vishnu Mahadev Bhat, or ‘Bhau’ as he was called, was the maternal cousin of the Savarkars and almost the same age as Vinayak. He became one of Vinayak’s closest associates. He had lost his father in childhood and his mother had brought him up against all odds. With his sharp intellect, powerful oratorical skills and wide knowledge he greatly enriched the Mitra Mela activities. Sakharam Dadaji Gore was another companion in the Mela. An extremely jovial, extroverted and sociable young man, Gore had the unique distinction of failing the matriculation examinations for a record number of times. Being older in age than most classmates due to this, he always threw his weight around. Even the teachers were sometimes wary of his arrogant behaviour. A perennial last-bencher and class howler, he occupied the last seat in class with great pride as if it were his well-earned jagir. The squint in one of his eyes added to the overall comicality his appearance exuded. He regularly accompanied his brother to Tilbhandeshwar to spend time playing cards with Aabaa Darekar and that is when he met Vinayak. He would initially attend the weekly meetings and in his characteristic non-serious and jovial way, spoil the sombre mood and serenity of the meetings with his antics. But slowly he came to realize the seriousness of the cause and became so involved that he did not think twice about martyring his own life for the country’s freedom.

Other new members who joined the Mitra Mela after Mhaskar and Paage were the Khade brothers, Sarode, Shankar Gir Gosavi, Dhanappa Chiwdewala, Devsinh Pardesi, Khushal Singh, Ganapati Magar, Mayadev, Ghanshyam Chiplunkar and others. All of them were devoted to Vinayak, whom they considered their guru and mentor. On his part, Vinayak would counsel them on every issue and motivate them about the cause, prescribe readings, and supervise their fitness regimen.

The orthodox Brahmins of Nashik despised the Mitra Mela, as its members ranged from every strata of society—Brahmin, bania, farmer, Maratha, barber, shudra, kayastha and so on, and they worked and dined together. This was completely taboo and an anathema in a deeply casteridden Maharashtrian society of the times.

The same year, in 1901, Vinayak was to face his matriculation examinations and like always, had reserved the last three months for intense study. But a new development was waiting for him. His maternal uncle came visiting and informed them that he had fixed Vinayak’s marriage. This led to a great deal of inner turmoil for Vinayak on whether marriage would impede his revolutionary path and also ruin an innocent girl’s life were he to be arrested or hanged. At the same time, his worries on account of his brother still financing his education would not abate.

In fact, this was a subject of many discussions among the young men of Mitra Mela—should those adopting the revolutionary path get married? Vinayak would forcefully argue that a brave patriot who had no qualms about laying down his own life for his country needs to have progeny as brave as him. It was natural to have self-doubts about whether distractions imposed by marriage and children would swerve one from the path of national service. But if a revolutionary was mentally strong enough to sacrifice his parents, family and his own life, why should wife and children stand in the way? Instead, he could mould his wife and children towards the path and make them strong enough to accept any eventuality. If a revolutionary died early, was it not society’s responsibility, for whose sake he had sacrificed his life, to take care of his wife and children? If she was a young lady and wished to remarry, why should she not be allowed to do so? Such were Vinayak’s arguments on this topic with his comrades. He also espoused similar thoughts in his poem ‘Kamala’.

The girl’s father, Ramachandra Trimbak Chiplunkar (popularly known as Bhaurao Chiplunkar), was born in 1863, and was known to Vinayak’s maternal side in Kothur for a long time. Two generations of his family had served in the Jawhar principality near Thane and served the current prince as his dewan (prime minister). Their forefathers had served as killedars, or commanders of the fort, of Harihargarh near Tryambakeshwar. After the fall of the Peshwas in 1818, they sought shelter in several small principalities. Bhaurao’s grandfather, Bapuji Govind Chiplunkar, and father, Trimbak Bapuji Chiplunkar, served the Jawhar state. Trimbak Bapuji played an important role during the transition of power to Patang Shah, one of the rajas of the state. 7 The state tacitly supported several revolutionaries and also assisted an unsuccessful attempt to set up an arms and pistol manufacturing factory in Nepal in 1907 at Tilak’s instance.8

Bhaurao was tall, well built, good-looking and aristocratic. He rode horses, hunted, and was adept at shooting, wrestling and gymnastics. His house was always crowded with people who came seeking his help on a host of issues. Soldiers and horsemen stood in attendance at his doors. When Bhaurao heard about Vinayak’s predicament regarding his education, he volunteered to take complete charge of financially supporting his college studies. This was quite reassuring to Vinayak and also to Babarao who was struggling to make ends meet. His father-in-law’s continued assistance for his studies was something that Vinayak was deeply grateful to him for:

If there be any man or any family next to dear Baba [Ganesh Savarkar] to whom I owe all that is best in me owing to whose noble patronage and winning solicitude I had unusual chances and facilities of assimilating the noblest things of this world and even of doing something for our common Motherland, then that man and that family is theirs [Chiplunkars].9


Following this assurance from Bhaurao Chiplunkar, Vinayak married Yamuna, the eldest daughter of Bhaurao, in 1901, in the Hindu month of Magha (January–February). Born on 4 December 1888, Yamuna was only thirteen at the time.

Shortly after the wedding, Vinayak hurriedly studied for his examinations and left for Bombay to appear for the final matriculation examinations. It was his first visit to the city, and he stayed at a friend Balu Barve’s house in Angrewadi. With just a month to go for the matric examinations, he put everything, including Mitra Mela, aside and concentrated on his studies.

By the time Vinayak returned to Nashik, the plague hit yet again, and the family moved temporarily to Kothur. The repeated outbreaks of plague were symptomatic of a complete lack of a public health mechanism and demonstrated the callousness of the British government. International efforts to impose quarantine to prevent the spread of epidemics such as cholera and plague were not the government’s priority at all. The government followed a reactionary strategy rather than a precautionary one.

In the serene surroundings of his maternal house in Kothur, Vinayak composed a beautiful poem ‘Godavakili’, in praise of the Godavari. Many theatre actors reached out to him there and requested him to write songs, which he did. ‘Sharaabi ’ and ‘Do patniyon ka pati ’ and other songs were composed during this time. He also wrote an essay for an essay competition organized by the Marathi journal Karamnook that was run by eminent novelist Hari Narayan Apte. It was titled ‘Who is the greatest Peshwa?’ Vinayak wrote a fantastic piece on Peshwa Madhav Rao I, which won him the first prize as well. This essay was, in fact, prescribed in the 1940s by the Bombay University for the matriculation syllabus. Vinayak’s presence in Kothur gave a fillip to the nascent Mitra Mela’s activities there.

The examination results were soon out and much to the delight of the Savarkar family and the Mitra Mela comrades, Vinayak had passed with flying colours. It was an important statement for Vinayak too, answering sceptics who feared that involvement in revolutionary activities impeded academics. His success was quoted as a shining example that belied any such apprehensions. With Bhaurao Chiplunkar’s financial support, young Vinayak was all set to pursue higher education. By then, he had emerged as a powerful orator, a master debater, a prolific writer and poet and a leader of a revolutionary secret society that was spreading its wings, slowly yet steadily, in several towns and villages of the Nashik district.

Poona, January 1902

On 24 January 1902, Vinayak enrolled at the prestigious Fergusson College in Poona for a major in the arts. By the turn of the century, Poona had become an epicentre of Indian politics. Justice Ranade had passed away in 1901. Even though Ranade was critical of revolutionaries and their methods, Vinayak composed a moving eulogy titled ‘Maajhi namra takrar’ (My humble complaint) to the departed soul:

Aho bahut maatala yama swatantra ka jahala?
Varishtha adhikari kakuli na yavari raahila? A
dhi nipajati kiti jatati deshakari ase,
Tashaata sama konihi vibuddha madhavaacha ase.
Mhanuni radato prabhu nabahu nyayamurti stava.
Swadesha hita sadhaka janana hey aso sarvada.10

(Oh God! There are so few people with an innate virtue of striving hard for the nation.
Justice Ranade was one among such priceless gems.
Why have you snatched him away from us, dear Lord?
That is why I am complaining, nay crying before you—
do not take away such invaluable people like Ranade from our midst!)


But Tilak’s release from prison after the Chapekar incident imbued fresh enthusiasm among the nationalists, galvanizing the freedom movement. Vinayak had reached Poona at the most propitious time. In Poona, among the first things he did was to call on his hero and role model S.M. Paranjpe, editor of Kal . His son, Shrikrishna, was almost the same age as Vinayak and the two struck an early friendship. He also paid his respects in person to Tilak, whose life and writings had inspired him since his childhood days in Bhagur. Despite being ideologically opposed to the moderate views of Gopalkrishna Gokhale, Vinayak is said to have called on the statesman several times while he was in Poona. 11
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Re: Savarkar: Echoes from a Forgotten Past by Vikram Sampath

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Part 2 of 3

Soon, Vinayak’s magnetic personality, deep knowledge and fiery oratorical skills attracted a large group of students around him who formed the ‘Savarkar Group’. In 1902, the Fergusson College branch of the Mitra Mela was started with Shrikrishna Paranjpe, H.B. Bhide, Kaka Kalelkar, Dattopant Tarkhadkar, Tilak’s son Vishwanath Tilak, Antrolikar, Moholkar, Risbud, Ranade of Sholapur, Joglekar of Junner, Athani, Oak, Godbole, Daji Ganesh Apte and Thatte among the earliest members. From the narrow lanes of Tilbhandeshwar, the Mitra Mela had, in a very short time, become a more widespread organization. These members met on the hillock adjacent to Chatushringi in Poona or on a hill behind Fergusson College. Some of the day-scholar members of the Mitra Mela started branches in their localities in the city.

At the Deccan College, students of junior BA class were given an option of simultaneous study of LLB (Bachelor of Law) degree. After completing his first year, in 1903, Vinayak began attending these lectures in the evenings. Soon a Mitra Mela branch sprang up even in Deccan College with Babasaheb Khaparde, 12 Randive, Pande, Gurunath Bevoor, Devbhankar and Pandurang Mahadev Bapat (famous later as ‘Senapati’ Bapat) joining this branch.

Different student clubs of Fergusson College brought out their own magazines and weeklies, and the club that Vinayak belonged to had a handwritten one called Aryan Weekly. Vinayak contributed articles on a wide range of topics from history, politics and nationalism to literature and science to this weekly. Many of these articles found their way into the local Poona newspapers. In an article titled ‘Saptapadi’, he traced the seven stages of evolution of a subjugated nation till it finally found liberation. He also composed a lot of poetry while in college. His poems were published in the newspaper Bhaala, run by the Bhopatkar brothers.

There was a photograph of Shivaji that hung in the dining hall of the college and every Friday, a poem in praise of the ruler (composed by Vinayak in February 1902) was sung there. This was the first ever arati song composed by anyone eulogizing the great ruler. The song began with this stanza:

Aryancha deshavara mlenchancha ghaala,
Aala aala Savadha ho Shiva Bhupala;
Sadgadita Bhoomata de tuja haatela
Karunaarava bheduni tava hrudaya na ka gela.
Jaideva jaideva Jai Jai shivaraya!
Ya Ya Ananya Sharana Aarya Taaraya.13

(Oh Shivaji! This land of the Aryans
has been repeatedly attacked by the Mlechchhas (non-Indians).
Please wake up!
This land is calling for your help.
Are you unable to hear that pleading tone of this motherland?
Is it not piercing your heart?)


His philosophical poem, ‘Vishwaath aajavari shashwata kaay jhaali?’ (What is permanent in the universe) was published in Kal in 1902. Its first stanza is as follows:

Haa unnati avanati cha samudra jaato.
Bhaswan ravi hi udayaasta akhanda gheto;
Utkarsha aani apakarsha samana kele vishwaath
Aajavari shashwata kaay jhaali?14

(Just as high and low tides are cyclical for the seas;
the rising and setting is a diurnal process for the sun;
and just as progress or regress are two sides of the coin of life;
what exactly is permanent in this universe?)


Sir Balchandra Bhatawadekar, an eminent citizen of Bombay, had announced a poetry contest on behalf of the Winter Lecture Series run by Bombay’s Hindu Union Club. It carried a cash prize of Rs 20 for the best entry. Vinayak’s heart-wrenching poem on the plight of Hindu widows, titled ‘Vidhawanchi Duhkhe’, which dealt with cruel customs and outdated traditions, was adjudged one of the best entries as it was tied with another budding poet Shripad Narayan Mujumdar’s poem. Along with being a young revolutionary, Vinayak clearly showed signs of a social reformer who had no trouble challenging orthodoxy and established social evils. The poem was published later in the magazine Vividha Gyana Vistaar in 1904. 15 Its opening stanza is as follows:

Dete ka koni o! Abalecha yaa madeeya hakela?
Bola ho! Bola ho! Dheeracha ek shabda tari bola
Satheecha jarathaanno vidhuranno nava vadhu khushaala vara
Lagnacha ashta dishi vidhawa pari anya na varo naura
Haa nyaya kona? Kaa ho vidhawa vidhuraata bheda haa asala?
Kaslya apradhacha vidhawanna krura danda haa basala?

(Is there anybody responding to this pitiable appeal of helpless widows?
Please answer! Have enough courage to answer my question!
Old, tottering widowers aged sixty and above can easily have a young bride
But so many young widows are unable to find a bridegroom
Is this justice? Why this difference between widows and widowers?
For what crime are women punished this way?)


In 1903, his poem ‘Hymn to Liberty’ created quite a patriotic stir among the masses, and even after Independence, it would be broadcasted on All India Radio (AIR). It is still popular across India as the iconic song ‘Jayostute’. It has been immortalized in the voice of the nightingale of Indian music, Lata Mangeshkar, set to tune by her brother, Hridaynath Mangeshkar.

Jayostute! Jayostute! Shri Mahan Mangale Shivaaspade Shubhade
Swatantrate Bhagavati! Twaamaham Yashoyutaam Vande!
Rashtraache Chaitanya Murt tu, neeti sampadaachi
Swatantrate Bhagavati! Srimati! Rajni tu tyaanchi.
Paravashatechya nabhaat tuchee, aakaashi hosi
Swatantrate Bhagavati! Chandni Cham Cham lakh lakh si!
Vande Twaamaham Yashoyutaam Vande! (1)

Gaalavarachya kusumi kinva kusmaancha gaali
Swatantrate Bhagavati! Tooch ji vilasat se lali T
u Suryache tej, udadhiche gambhiryahi tuchi
Swatantrate Bhagavati! Anyatha grahana nashta techi
Vande Twaamaham Yashoyutaam Vande! (2)

Moksha Mukti hi tujheecha rupe, tulaacha vedanti
Swatantrate Bhagavati! Yoginija Parabrahma vadati
Je Je Uttam Udaatta Unnata Mahanmadhura te te
Swatantrate Bhagavati! Sarva tava sahachaari hote
Vande Twaamaham Yashoyutaam Vande! (3)

Hey Adhama rakta ranjite, sujana pujite!
Sriswatantrate Sri Swatantrate Sri Swatantrate!
Tuja saathi maraNa te janana, tujha veeNa janana te marana
Tuja Sakala charachara sharana, charachara sharana, sriswatantrate! (4) 16

(Victory to you, Oh! Ever Auspicious, munificent and holy Mother!
Oh! Glorious Goddess of Freedom! I seek your blessings for success.
You are the embodiment of our national spirit, morality and accomplishments
You are the Queen of Righteousness, Oh! Goddess of Freedom! I
n these dark skies of enslavement, you are the bright beacon and star of hope.

The flowery cheeks of people and the fields of blossoms,
You are that blush of confidence, Oh! Goddess of Freedom!
You are the radiance of the Sun, the solemnity of the oceans!
Oh! Goddess of Freedom! But for you, the sun of freedom is eclipsed.

Oh! Goddess of Freedom! You are the face of eternal happiness and liberation,
This is why sages hail you as the supreme consciousness, in our scriptures.
Oh! Goddess of Freedom! All that is ideal and lofty, magnificent and sweet!
Is associated only with you.

Stained with the blood of the evildoers whom you destroy, nurturing the righteous!
Life is to die for you! Death is to live without you!
The entire creation surrenders unto you, Oh! Goddess of Freedom!)


I described earlier the way nationalism separated the domain of culture into two spheres—-the material and the spiritual. The claims of Western civilization were the most powerful in the material sphere. Science, technology, rational forms of economic organization, modern methods of statecraft—these had given the European countries the strength to subjugate the non-European people and to impose their dominance over the whole world. To overcome this domination, the colonized people had to learn those superior techniques of organizing material life and incorporate them within their own cultures. This was one aspect of the nationalist project of rationalizing and reforming the traditional culture of their people. But this could not mean the imitation of the West in every aspect of life, for then the very distinction between the West and the East would vanish—the self-identity of national culture would itself be threatened. In fact, as Indian nationalists in the late nineteenth century argued, not only was it undesirable to imitate the West in anything, other than the material aspects of life, it was even unnecessary to do so, because in the spiritual domain, the East was superior to the West. What was necessary was to cultivate the material techniques of modern Western civilization while retaining and strengthening the distinctive spiritual essence of the national culture. This completed the formulation of the nationalist project, and as an ideological justification for the selective appropriation of Western modernity, it continues to hold sway to this day.

The discourse of nationalism shows that the material/spiritual distinction was condensed into an analogous, but ideologically far more powerful, dichotomy: that between the outer and the inner. The material domain, argued nationalist writers, lies outside us—a mere external that influences us, conditions us, and forces us to adjust to it. Ultimately, it is unimportant. The spiritual, which lies within, is our true self; it is that which is genuinely essential. It followed that as long as India took care to retain the spiritual distinctiveness of its culture, it could make all the compromises and adjustments necessary to adapt itself to the requirements of a modern material world without losing its true identity. This was the key that nationalism supplied for resolving the ticklish problems posed by issues of social reform in the nineteenth century.

Applying the inner/outer distinction to the matter of concrete day-to-day living separates the social space into ghar and bahir, the home and the world. The world is the external, the domain of the material; the home represents one's inner spiritual self, one's true identity. The world is a treacherous terrain of the pursuit of material interests, where practical considerations reign supreme. It is also typically the domain of the male. The home in its essence must remain unaffected by the profane activities of the material world—and woman is its representation. And so one gets an identification of social roles by gender to correspond with the separation of the social space into ghar and bahir….

The world was where the European power had challenged the non-European peoples and, by virtue of its superior material culture, had subjugated them. But, the nationalists asserted, it had failed to colonize the inner, essential, identity of the East, which lay in its distinctive, and superior, spiritual culture. Here the East was undominated, sovereign, master of its own fate. For a colonized people, the world was a distressing constraint, forced upon it by the fact of its material weakness. It was a place of oppression and daily humiliation, a place where the norms of the colonizer had perforce to be accepted. It was also the place, as nationalists were soon to argue, where the battle would be waged for national independence. The subjugated must learn the modern sciences and arts of the material world from the West in order to match their strengths and ultimately overthrow the colonizer. But in the entire phase of the national struggle, the crucial need was to protect, preserve, and strengthen the inner core of the national culture, its spiritual essence. No encroachments by the colonizer must be allowed in that inner sanctum. In the world, imitation of and adaptation to Western norms was a necessity; at home, they were tantamount to annihilation of one's very identity…

It is striking how much of the literature on women in the nineteenth century concerns the threatened Westernization of Bengali women. This theme was taken up in virtually every form of written, oral, and visual communication—from the ponderous essays of nineteenth-century moralists, to novels, farces, skits and jingles, to the paintings of the patua (scroll painters)…. To ridicule the idea of a Bengali woman trying to imitate the ways of a memsaheb (and it was very much an idea, for it is hard to find historical evidence that even in the most Westernized families of Calcutta in the mid-nineteenth century there were actually any women who even remotely resembled these gross caricatures) was a sure recipe calculated to evoke raucous laughter and moral condemnation in both male and female audiences. It was, of course, a criticism of manners, of new items of clothing such as the blouse, the petticoat, and shoes (all, curiously, considered vulgar, although they clothed the body far better than the single length of sari that was customary for Bengali women, irrespective of wealth and social status, until the middle of the nineteenth century), of the use of Western cosmetics and jewelry, of the reading of novels, of needlework (considered a useless and expensive pastime), of riding in open carriages. What made the ridicule stronger was the constant suggestion that the Westernized woman was fond of useless luxury and cared little for the well-being of the home….

Yet it was clear that a mere restatement of the old norms of family life would not suffice; they were breaking down because of the inexorable force of circumstance. New norms were needed, which would be more appropriate to the external conditions of the modern world and yet not a mere imitation of the West.

What were the principles by which these new norms could be constructed?

Bhudeb supplies the characteristic nationalist answer.
In an essay entitled "Modesty," he talks of the natural and social principles that provide the basis for the feminine virtues. Modesty, or decorum in manner and conduct, he says, is a specifically human trait; it does not exist in animal nature. It is human aversion to the purely animal traits that gives rise to virtues such as modesty. In this aspect, human beings seek to cultivate in themselves, and in their civilization, spiritual or godlike qualities wholly opposed to the forms of behavior which prevail in animal nature. Further, within the human species, women cultivate and cherish these godlike qualities far more than men. Protected to a certain extent from the purely material pursuits of securing a livelihood in the external world, women express in their appearance and behavior the spiritual qualities that are characteristic of civilized and refined human society…

The point is then hammered home:


Those who laid down our religious codes discovered the inner spiritual quality which resides within even the most animal pursuits which humans must perform, and thus removed the animal qualities from those actions. This has not happened in Europe. Religion there is completely divorced from [material] life. Europeans do not feel inclined to regulate all aspects of their life by the norms of religion; they condemn it as clericalism.'... In the Arya system there is a preponderance of spiritualism, in the European system a preponderance of material pleasure. In the Arya system, the wife is a goddess. In the European system, she is a partner and companion….


The new woman defined in this way was subjected to a new patriarchy. In fact, the social order connecting the home and the world in which nationalists placed the new woman was contrasted not only with that of modern Western society; it was explicitly distinguished from the patriarchy of indigenous tradition, the same tradition that had been put on the dock by colonial interrogators. Sure enough, nationalism adopted several elements from tradition as marks of its native cultural identity, but this was now a "classicized" tradition—reformed, reconstructed, fortified against charges of barbarism and irrationality.

The new patriarchy was also sharply distinguished from the immediate social and cultural condition in which the majority of the people lived, for the "new" woman was quite the reverse of the "common" woman, who was coarse, vulgar, loud, quarrelsome, devoid of superior moral sense, sexually promiscuous, subjected to brutal physical oppression by males. Alongside the parody of the Westernized woman, this other construct is repeatedly emphasized in the literature of the nineteenth century through a host of lower-class female characters who make their appearance in the social milieu of the new middle class—maidservants, washer women, barbers, peddlers, procuresses, prostitutes. It was precisely this degenerate condition of women that nationalism claimed it would reform, and it was through these contrasts that the new woman of nationalist ideology was accorded a status of cultural superiority to the Westernized women of the wealthy parvenu families spawned by the colonial connection as well as to common women of the lower classes. Attainment by her own efforts of a superior national culture was the mark of woman's newly acquired freedom. This was the central ideological strength of the nationalist resolution of the women's question….

Formal education became not only acceptable but, in fact, a requirement for the new bhadramahila (respectable woman) when it was demonstrated that it was possible for a woman to acquire the cultural refinements afforded by modern education without jeopardizing her place at home, that is, without becoming a memsaheb… Indeed, the achievement was marked by claims of cultural superiority in several different aspects: superiority over the Western woman for whom, it was believed, education meant only the acquisition of material skills to compete with men in the outside world and hence a loss of feminine (spiritual) virtues; superiority over the preceding generation of women in their own homes who had been denied the opportunity of freedom by an oppressive and degenerate social tradition; and superiority over women of the lower classes who were culturally incapable of appreciating the virtues of freedom….

Recent historians of a liberal persuasion have often been somewhat embarrassed by the profuse evidence of women writers of the nineteenth century, including those at the forefront of the reform movements in middle-class homes, justifying the importance of the so-called feminine virtues. Radharani Lahiri, for instance, wrote in 1875: "Of all the subjects that women might learn, housework is the most important. . .. Whatever knowledge she may acquire, she cannot claim any reputation unless she is proficient in housework." Others spoke of the need for an educated woman to develop such womanly virtues as chastity, self-sacrifice, submission, devotion, kindness, patience, and the labors of love. The ideological point of view from which such protestations of "femininity" (and hence the acceptance of a new patriarchal order) were made inevitable was given precisely by the nationalist resolution of the problem…

Education then was meant to inculcate in women the virtues—the typically bourgeois virtues characteristic of the new social forms of "disciplining"—of orderliness, thrift, cleanliness, and a personal sense of responsibility, the practical skills of literacy, accounting, hygiene, and the ability to run the household according to the new physical and economic conditions set by the outside world. For this, she would also need to have some idea of the world outside the home, into which she could even venture as long as it did not threaten her femininity. It is this latter criterion, now invested with a characteristically nationalist content, that made possible the displacement of the boundaries of the home from the physical confines earlier defined by the rules of purdah to a more flexible, but nonetheless culturally determinate, domain set by the differences between socially approved male and female conduct. Once the essential femininity of women was fixed in terms of certain culturally visible spiritual qualities, they could go to schools, travel in public conveyances, watch public entertainment programs, and in time even take up employment outside the home. But the "spiritual" signs of her femininity were now clearly marked—in her dress, her eating habits, her social demeanor, her religiosity….

in this as in other aspects of her life, the spirituality of her character had also to be stressed in contrast with the innumerable ways men had to surrender to the pressures of the material world. The need to adjust to the new conditions outside the home had forced upon men a whole series of changes in their dress, food habits, religious observances, and social relations. Each of these capitulations now had to be compensated for by an assertion of spiritual purity on the part of women. They must not eat, drink, or smoke in the same way as men; they must continue the observance of religious rituals that men were finding difficult to carry out; they must maintain the cohesiveness of family life and solidarity with the kin to which men could not now devote much attention. The new patriarchy advocated by nationalism conferred upon women the honor of a new social responsibility, and by associating the task of female emancipation with the historical goal of sovereign nationhood, bound them to a new, and yet entirely legitimate, subordination.

As with all hegemonic forms of exercising dominance, this patriarchy combined coercive authority with the subtle force of persuasion. This was expressed most generally in the inverted ideological form of the relation of power between the sexes: the adulation of woman as goddess or as mother. Whatever its sources in the classical religions of India or in medieval religious practices, the specific ideological form in which we know the "Indian woman" construct in the modern literature and arts of India today is wholly and undeniably a product of the development of a dominant middle-class culture coeval with the era of nationalism. It served to emphasize with all the force of mythological inspiration what had in any case become a dominant characteristic of femininity in the new construct of "woman" standing as a sign for "nation," namely, the spiritual qualities of self-sacrifice, benevolence, devotion, religiosity, and so on. This spirituality did not, as we have seen, impede the chances of the woman moving out of the physical confines of the home; on the contrary, it facilitated it, making it possible for her to go into the world under conditions that would not threaten her femininity. In fact, the image of woman as goddess or mother served to erase her sexuality in the world outside the home.


-- The Nation and Its Fragments: Colonial and Postcolonial Histories, by Partha Chatterjee


Vinayak also dabbled in the Marathi literary genre of powadas, or ballads, and composed two significant ones on Maratha heroes Tanaji and Baji Prabhu. Vinayak begins the ballad on Tanaji with the words of Jijabai, the heroic mother of Shivaji Maharaj thus:

Gulamagirichi bedi paaee tasheecha dharta na?
Gulamagiricha narakaamajhi tasecha pichata na?
Swaatantryacha sukha ni maaji janma swatantraanche
Gulamagiricha ukeeradyavari gulama nipajaaya che

(The fetters of slavery that you exhibit on your legs;
You seem to have fallen in love with this wretched state of hell?
No doubt, you neither feel bad nor shameful about this state of yours.
But remember, if you are free, your future generations will lead a life of self-respect;
But if you embrace your slavery thus, your successors would wallow similarly!)


In the powada on Baji Prabhu. each stanza ends with the refrain

Chala ghaalu swatantryasangari ripuvara ti ghaala
Avachita gaathuni, thakavuni, bhulavuni kasaahi khechava17

(In this freedom struggle let us all get together and attack our enemies.
Strike catching him unawares, strike by stealth, or by mesmerizing him
Do whatever you please, but attack for sure!)


Bal, along with two bright boys, Dattu and Shridhar (who later became well known as Prof Dattopant Ketkar and Advocate Shridharpant Vartak), performed these powadas to much public acclaim in Nashik. S.M. Paranjpe invited Bal, Vartak and Ganapat Ramachandra Magar to Poona to perform during the Shivaji festival on 17 June 1905. 18 Tilak, who witnessed the performance, praised it, ranked it the best and honoured them with a gold medal. Tilak even invited them to perform at the Shivaji festival at Raigarh Fort. These ballads were later printed by Babarao under the Laghu Abhinav Bharat Mala publication series in May 1906. The British government proscribed these ballads, but by then they had attained the popularity of folk songs all over Maharashtra.

Not much of the prose that Vinayak wrote during this period is available. On the occasion of the centenary of the erstwhile Maratha Empire’s influential statesman and minister, Nana Phadnavis, he wrote a thought-provoking article called ‘Why should the celebration of historical characters be held?’ It concludes with his forceful assertion:

To pay our national gratitude that we owe to those heroic souls, these festivals should be celebrated as a mark of reverence and remembrance of the immense good that those benevolent men have done to this world. Such celebrations have the sanction of ancient traditions as well. They are the veritable clouds that shower the nectar of instruction. They are the monuments of virtues to emulate. They are the catalysts of positive human thought and action. They are the preceptors who impart direction to the youth on the righteous path. They are the living history of the deeds of noble heroes . . . Especially, we Hindus, should take to these celebrations in order to emerge from the present degraded state that we find ourselves in, largely due to want of self-respect and dutifulness. For this is the only easy and sure path to our nation’s liberation and her prosperity.19


Vinayak had made an in-depth study of all the dramas of Kalidasa and Bhavabhuti, the legendary playwrights of Sanskrit literature. In an essay, he brilliantly contrasted their styles. The English poets Scott, Shakespeare and Milton influenced him the most. Milton’s Paradise Lost was among his favourite works and he had even learnt many of its cantos by heart. His extensive reading found its reflection in his insightful writings. His essay ‘Ramayana and Iliad’ that compares the two great epics was a masterpiece that won him much acclaim even from his professors. Jeremy Bentham, John Stuart Mill and Herbert Spencer’s political philosophy made a lasting impact on him. Vinayak was particularly impressed by the utilitarian philosophy of Bentham and Mill. He writes: ‘In college days I read Bentham and Mill and . . . based my moral thinking on the lines of utilitarian principles as explained by them . . . Not only that, I would teach this utilitarian philosophy even in our revolutionary organizations.’20 While he wrote plays later in his life, as a student of Fergusson College, he even acted in two of them—a minor role in the play titled Tratika in 1902 and the role of Iago in Zunzarrao , the Marathi version of Othello, in 1904.

In the Mitra Mela meetings at Poona, Vinayak gave scholarly lectures on world history, and the lives of great revolutionaries of Italy, Netherlands and America. The intent was to provide his young colleagues an insight into the tortuous life of struggles that a revolutionary had to brace himself for. At Fergusson College, he once delivered a powerful lecture on the history of Italy. This session was presided over by one of Maharashtra’s most eminent historians and scholars ‘Itihasacharya’ 21 Vishwanath Kashinath Rajwade who was deeply impressed by the young man’s knowledge, research and oratorical skills. He cautioned him from linking the subject of the history of Italy and its revolutionaries to Indian politics or delivering such speeches that could be easily construed as seditious.

In 1903, at the opening of a new session in college, when young Vinayak was called upon to address the students, the hall echoed with the thunderous applause of his colleagues and admirers. On this occasion, he gave a stirring speech on India’s glorious past and bemoaned the loss of freedom. The entire hall was overcome with emotions, and a harried Professor C.G. Bhanu, who was presiding over the meeting, hastily rose and told the audience: ‘Young men! You need not take Savarkar seriously. He is a Devil!’ 22 Such was the sway that the knowledge and oratorical skills of young Savarkar had on his comrades. Always dressed in his trademark black cap, short collared coat and distinguished by his prominent cheekbones and jawline, broad forehead and piercing eyes, Vinayak’s magnetic personality was difficult to ignore for even those who did not like him.

With Vinayak moving to Poona, the onus of the Mitra Mela in Nashik fell on Babarao—a man who till a few years ago had wanted to renounce worldly pleasures and become a disciple of Vivekananda. After a lot of inner turmoil, he decided to throw his weight behind his younger brother’s mission. Commenting on his change of heart from spiritual pursuits to revolutionary work, Babarao stated:

My only purpose is and has always been to achieve the eternal or Brahman. Now I realize that my countrymen are nothing but a form of the Brahman only. The way to achieving Brahman is not necessarily through asceticism in the Himalayan peaks alone, but from serving my countrymen and freeing them from British yoke.23


As the Mela’s secretary, he took the lead in organizing lectures of several leaders such as Tilak, S.M. Paranjpe, Aurobindo from Bengal, Syed Haidar Raza, advocate Babarao Deshpande of Nagar, Shankar Balkrishna Deo of Dhule, Kashinath Waman Lele from Wai and others. These were held in the Vijayanand and Brahmanand theatres. Being particular about punctuality, Babarao would insist that the lectures begin on time and hence people thronged the theatres nearly half an hour before they commenced. The lectures were preceded by patriotic songs and on special occasions such as Dussehra or Shivaji Jayanti, processions of decorated palanquins with loud exultations to the leaders went all over Nashik.

In 1903, young Narayanrao organized an allied association called the Mitra Samaj in which nearly 200 schoolchildren of his age (all in their early teens) enrolled themselves. Prominent members included S.R. Vartak, K.B. Mahabal, K.P. Bhagwat, Ketkar brothers, V.N. Barve, Sitarampant Shauche, Vishwanathrao Patwardhan, Gochide, Dandekar, Vaishampayan and K.G. Karve. They practised physical activities such as push-ups, gymnastics, swimming, marathons, etc. Their favourite pastime was enacting a play titled Ramadasi Hadasam where they went to one of the dilapidated forts around Nashik, imagined the saffron flag, or bhagwa, flying atop it, and rehearsed various war techniques to protect this flag of their nation and faith. On several occasions, they would leave for these unknown forts and difficult terrains within the jungles with limited resources of food and clothing, stay there for a couple of days in order to acclimatize and adjust themselves to literally ‘living on the edge’.

The children also published handwritten journals propagating freedom and advocating the revolutionary cause. Bal, like his brother Vinayak, wrote articles and also delivered speeches on the economic condition of India, famines, effects of disarmament on Indians, and the dissolution of the princely states. These evoked great interest among the students, who listened with rapt attention to these animated lectures. The members accosted British officers and shouted slogans of ‘Swatantrya Lakshmi ki Jai ’ demanding absolute and complete freedom to India—when such an idea was unknown in most parts of the country. The police got wind of these activities and routinely kept track of all that was going on in the schools.

Not to be left behind, the women of Nashik too organized themselves under the Atmanishtha Yuvati Sangha around 1905. Yesu Vahini was the association’s main organizer. Nearly fifty to sixty women enrolled despite the obvious revolutionary agenda associated with it. Prominent members included Janakibai Gore, Laxmi Bai Bhatt, Godumai Khare, Laxmi Bai Datar, Janakibai Datar, Parvati Bai Gadgil, Uma Bai Gadgil, Laxmi Bai Rahalkar and Yamuna Bai Savarkar, among others. Tilak’s daughter, Parvati Bai Ketkar, was a prominent member and on one occasion her mother, Satyabhama Bai Tilak, presided over the meeting. 24 The group gathered every Friday and collectively read newspapers, specifically articles related to political and social issues. This was followed by elaborate discussions, and possible solutions deliberated upon. They also arranged lectures among themselves on several topics of national interest. They eschewed the sacred offerings or prasad served in temples as it contained foreign-manufactured sugar. In their gatherings, they sang patriotic songs and taught these to the young children of the family. Festivals such as Shivaji Jayanti, Rani Lakshmi Bai Jayanti, Dussehra and so on were celebrated collectively.

With the wide network of the Mitra Mela branches all over Maharashtra, Vinayak decided to convene a gathering of all its members. In 1903, the first such meeting was held at advocate Randive’s house in Dhule over a period of two days. Nearly seventy members from various parts of Maharashtra—Nashik, Poona, Kothur, Bhagur, Trimbak and Berar —attended this meeting. It was a stocktaking exercise for the organization to evaluate its work and make future plans.

The following year, in 1904, about 200 members of the Mitra Mela gathered in Nashik for the second convention that was held at V.M. Bhat’s house, Bhagwat Wada. Vinayak spoke about Mazzini and Young Italy to this vast gathering of bright, spirited revolutionaries who were all stirred up with nationalistic fervour. It was in this meeting that Vinayak proposed a new name for the Mitra Mela, Abhinav Bharat (New India), one that terrorized British authorities not only in India, but abroad as well. In front of a picture of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj touching his sword, the oath that was administered to the members went something like this:

Vande Mataram (Salutations to the Mother!)
In the name of God,
In the name of Bharat Mata,
In the name of all the martyrs that have shed their blood for Bharat Mata,
By the love innate in all men and women, that I bear to the land of my birth,
Wherein lie the sacred ashes of my forefathers, and which is the cradle of my children.
By the tears of the countless mothers for their children whom the foreigner has enslaved,
imprisoned, tortured and killed,
I...

Convinced that without Absolute Political Independence or Swarajya my country can never rise
to the exalted position among the nations of the earth which is Her due, And convinced also that
that Swarajya can never be attained except by the waging of a bloody and relentless war against
the Foreigner, solemnly and sincerely swear that I shall from this moment do everything in my
power to fight for Independence and place the Lotus Crown of Swaraj on the head of my
Mother;
And with this object, I join the Abhinav Bharat, the Revolutionary Society of all Hindustan, and
swear that I shall ever be true and faithful to this, my solemn Oath, and that I shall obey the
orders of this organization (body);
If I betray the whole or any part of this solemn Oath, or if I betray this organization (body) or
any other working with a similar object, May I be doomed to the fate of a perjurer!25


Thereafter, annual sessions became a regular feature. In 1905, Abhinav Bharat’s meeting was held at Kothur and the following year in Sion. In 1906, Babasaheb Khare and V.M. Bhat decided to go to Calcutta for the annual Congress session presided over by Dadabhai Naoroji. On the sidelines, they intended to create alliances with like-minded secret societies of young revolutionaries there, such as Anushilan Samiti, Swadhin Bharat and others. They decided that the need of the hour was simultaneous armed rebellions all over India.

The following year, in 1907, Babarao and nearly a hundred members of the Abhinav Bharat attended the Surat Congress session. Babarao found an enthusiastic young man, V.O. Chidambaram Pillai, who had also come to attend it. He administered the oath of the Abhinav Bharat to Pillai and asked him to go back to Madras and enlist more members. Pillai later became an important revolutionary figure in Madras and engineered uprisings in Tirunelveli and Tuticorin. 26 At Surat, a secret meeting of revolutionaries was arranged where Babarao and his associates met the Bengali revolutionaries Aurobindo Ghose, his brother Barindra, and Congress leader Surendranath Banerjea. 27 Thereafter, the members of Abhinav Bharat were in regular touch with the revolutionaries from Bengal. Regular meetings of such secret societies across India began to be held. Thus, contrary to popular narratives of dispersed activities of firebrand radicals devoid of any plan or strategy indulging in mere mindless violence and political assassinations, the emergent revolutionary movement was a planned, coordinated and a strategic one.

In the past too attempts had been made to coordinate the activities of various secret societies that had sprung up in different parts of India, particularly Maharashtra and Bengal. In 1904, a staunch associate of Tilak, Damu Kaka Bhide, had called a meeting of Abhinav Bharat members and secret societies from Nagpur and Poona. Wamanrao Joshi, Shamarao Deshpande, Durani and Palekar, and Vinayak, V.M. Bhat and Vishnu Sitaram Randive from the Abhinav Bharat were present for this secret meeting. However, it ended inconclusively due to Vinayak’s uncompromising stance of seeking total and absolute freedom and nothing short of it.28

Wherever a member of the organization went, he would start a branch of Abhinav Bharat. In the Nashik district itself, by the end of 1906, branches were opened at Trimbak, Bhagur, Ozar, Kothur, Niphad, Igatpuri, Dhodap, Vani and other places. 29 Soon branches mushroomed at Junnar, Bombay, Pen, Satara, Nagpur, Nagar, Sholapur, Dhule, Kolhapur, Baroda, Indore, Gwalior, Aurangabad, Hyderabad and other places. Marathe, Bapat, Kolhatkar, Jog and Gokhale belonged to the Pen branch; Tonpe, 30 Barve, Trimbakseth Gujarati, Shivram Seth Sonal and Anant Kanhere belonged to the Yeola branch; the Hyderabad unit was headed by Vinayak Govind Tikhe; 31 the Bombay branch included V.M. Bhat, Balasaheb Kher who later became the chief minister of Bombay under the Government of India Act of 1935, Dr Gune, Vhandawarkar, Murdeshwar, Dr Sonapar, solicitor Thatte, engineer Ghate, Chiplunkar and others. Dr Parulkar, Wagh, Dr Athalye and others formed part of the Vasai unit, while nearly forty to fifty members made up the Gwalior branch.

The Baroda unit included barrister Deshpande, Kelkar, Sardar Mujumdar and Rajaratna Manikrao as its members. Jivatram Bhagwandas Kripalani, popularly known as Acharya Kripalani, who later became the president of the INC during the transfer of power in 1947, also came under the spell of Abhinav Bharat when he was a student of the Deccan College in Poona. Other prominent members included Kundanmal Firodia from Ahmednagar who later became the speaker of the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly and Shripad Damodar Satavalekar, who wrote several books on Indian philosophy.

Each branch worked as autonomous units and was linked through their heads. They thus formed a vast network or federation of secret societies united by a common fire and passion. The structure was similar to the secret societies that operated successfully in Ireland and Russia. Vinayak’s thorough study of world history and politics had given him an insight into these societies and hence he decided to structure the Abhinav Bharat on similar lines. All the members were not known to each other. As Bhat recounts, this helped in saving ‘a number of institutions, thousands of members and cache of arms’. 32 Vinayak’s writings and speeches of the time reveal his strategy and philosophy of revolution:


The Abhinav Bharat calls for total and complete freedom, to attain which armed revolution is an inevitable means. But was our goddess of freedom a blood-thirsty and anarchist deity? No, not at all. The excess of hyper nationalism is as dangerous as the complete lack of it. We need to deliberate on the binaries of Violence versus nonviolence; truth versus falsehood, nationalism and humanity in our weekly meetings. Our testing stone needs to be Utilitarianism—the maximum good to the maximum people. But truth is relative and how do we then define what is good and what is bad? Well the obvious acts such as a thief going scot-free and a saint being executed is clearly untruth, disqualification and adharma. And whenever the cruel exploiting force gags the voice of truth in this manner, then the forces of justice must unite to decimate them and to do that secretive and strategic coming together becomes our dharmic responsibility. After all, Lord Krishna also grew up in stealth in Nanda’s house before killing Kamsa. If he had gone strictly with the ‘truth’ he would have been killed by Kamsa’s demons. Similarly, Shivaji stealthily escaped from Aurangzeb’s capture. Secrecy per se is neither good nor bad but what its utility is for, gives it a positive or negative character. Similar is the case with national struggle. For the restoration of legitimate rights through which the maximum good is possible to the maximum number of people, the struggle through violence is also a virtuous act, while supporting an exploitative force that captures another’s land, property and rights and destroys another’s house is demoniac and needs to be destroyed ruthlessly. The nation must always be for the good of its people.33


In a rare approach of postulating a broad humanitarian acceptance, Vinayak always emphasized that he or his associates must not hate the British; that they should be considered enemies only till the time they illegitimately captured and subjugated Indians. But once India was liberated from these shackles, there should be no trouble embracing them as friends and fellow humans. So much so that if tomorrow another country captured England in a similar illegal and exploitative way, Indians must be the first to support England’s right to struggle and free itself. Vinayak proclaimed in both Mitra Mela and Abhinav Bharat that their true caste and religion is humanity and humanity alone. ‘Our concept of freedom,’ wrote Vinayak, ‘was expansive and all-embracing—the actual nation is this earth and the true king, the God Almighty. But in today’s India all kinds of civil liberties and personal freedoms are held captive. Even for spiritual freedom, political freedom to practice your path is necessary.’ 34 He found no incongruity between spiritual struggle for salvation and a political struggle for freedom. The latter, he believed, was a stepping stone towards the former and should not be considered a sin. The main aim of Abhinav Bharat was an overarching and all-inclusive vision of integrating the material and spiritual responsibilities of both the nation and the individual to attain a state of complete freedom—an almost utopian freedom in all its dimensions. This was not limited to just materialistic welfare, but intellectual, moral and spiritual progress too, along with political independence. The vision of freedom was one of divinity, of a divine goddess. No wonder then that they started and ended every meeting and their letters to one another with ‘Swatantrya Lakshmi ki Jai’ (Victory to the Goddess of Freedom).

Cautioning his young comrades against joining the organization with romantic ideals of revolution, he urged them to be prepared for the thorny path ahead:

Easy patriotism seems like the order of the day and has also led several people to important positions, but for us the steps of patriotism lead straight to the noose. If all these courteous petitions to the government seeking concessions could lead to freedom, we would be the happiest. But since that is an impossibility, that is why we are going on this path. The path of petitions and requests are important and at best, they were preliminary measures. But the ultimate means was only armed struggle. However, this path will be bloody and that is something I keep emphasizing to my associates by narrating the tales of similar political revolutions in Netherlands, Ireland, Italy, etc. It will not just be imprisonment like Tilak suffered. But you will be beaten black and blue, eyes gouged out, kept hungry for days and weeks, your parents, wife and kids will be brought before you and insulted in front of your eyes. While you might be strong enough to suffer physical and mental tortures on yourself but to see your innocent family suffer in front of you will require strength of another kind. Every trick will be employed by the oppressor to break your will, your soul, your heart and your resolve. Do you have it in you to suffer like the Hindus did in the past or the Protestants? Do you have it in you to burn in the pyre like Sati and yet remain alive and be a warrior of dharma for your country? If yes, only then this path is open for you.35


The clarity of thought, purpose and vision of a man in his twenties is striking when one reads Vinayak’s prose and lectures of this time.

Meanwhile, the Nashik branch of Abhinav Bharat invited Tilak to its meeting on 25 and 26 August 1906. There was great enthusiasm that a national leader of his stature was sharing the dais with them and guiding their activities. On this occasion, Aabaa Darekar (also known by then as the poet Govind) welcomed the eminent guest with a poetic address titled ‘Lokamanyanchi Bhupali’. Hari Anant Thatte, the head of the Nashik unit, gave an elaborate account of the secret society and its collection of arms. The same evening, a secret meeting of the core members of the Abhinav Bharat with Tilak was conducted by Babarao. Despite a thorough scrutiny of all the attending invitees, there was a mole among the attendees, Narendra Singh Pardeshi, who had pretended to be a dedicated member but was a spy serving the police. Babarao addressed the gathering and voiced his opinion that India would never achieve absolute independence by merely petitioning for it. The revolutionary movement, he opined, needed to adopt the Russian way of revolution to achieve this objective. Tilak gave the young men a patient hearing and then shared the following words of advice:

There is nothing wrong in the basic approach of Abhinav Bharat. But before decisive means for gaining independence are available to us, any hasty steps driven by mere emotions will defeat our purpose wholly. Nothing will be gained by ordinary means. We have gone through this process in our times. My experience tells me to advise you to be a little more patient and at the same time alert, till you are fully prepared. Once all the preparations are complete, then I will become your leader.36


It was a timely advice from an elderly statesman who had seen a lot of the revolutionary movement, its spirit, as well as its failures, and hence wanted it to succeed this time.

S.M. Paranjpe was invited for the Ganapati festival of 1905 by the Nashik branch. Over two days, he delivered six scholarly lectures and was felicitated by Vinayak. By then, news about the insidious plan of the British to partition Bengal had begun to trickle in. Vinayak proceeded to Kothur and then Poona where he condemned this move and forcefully advocated a bonfire of foreign goods as a mark of protest.

The years between 1905 and 1910 are considered an important watershed period in the evolution of anti-colonial political activity in the midst of seemingly contradictory application of colonial power—reforms and repression. The period saw tectonic shifts in the political scene in India. The move by the British government, particularly Viceroy Lord Curzon, to partition Bengal on communal lines, beginning with the release of the plan draft in 1903, under the pretext of it being too unwieldy and large to administer, proved to be one of the last nails in the coffin of internal schisms of the Indian National Congress.
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Re: Savarkar: Echoes from a Forgotten Past by Vikram Sampath

Postby admin » Thu May 13, 2021 2:27 am

Part 3 of 3

From the late 1890s onward, the INC had been comatose. While resigning from the post of joint secretary in 1900, Dinshaw Wacha bitterly complained to Dadabhai Naoroji: ‘Your big leaders nowadays don’t care to attend the Congress, so we have a minor crew—most of whom try to boss themselves without judgement and wisdom.’ 37 Curzon too saw the Congress as a failing organization that was ‘tottering to its fall’. 38 But the Bombay leaders, especially Gokhale, tried to infuse some enthusiasm in the rank and file and undertook whirlwind tours of Bengal, Madras, the Central Provinces and Berar. 39 The prospect of an imminent change in government in Britain and the Liberal Party coming to power gave them a sense of hope to bargain better. The Government of India however tried to create a wedge among the leaders of the presidencies of Bombay and Madras vis-à-vis those of Bengal through preferential treatment and official interference in every matter of governance in Bengal.

The final blow came in the form of Curzon’s Partition of Bengal plan that was implemented on 16 October 1905. The Muslim-dominated areas of East Bengal were carved out craftily to also undermine the influence of dominant castes of the Hindu minority, such as the Brahmins, Baidyas and Kayasthas, who played important roles in the Congress movement. This led to massive outrage across Bengal. The leadership of the Congress was placed in a confusing dilemma. On the one hand, they were negotiating reforms with the government and Gokhale himself was readying to visit London to present the case before the British public. On the other, their own colleagues were advocating massive boycotts and violent protests to condemn the partition plan. Young and new leaders such as Bipin Chandra Pal and Aurobindo Ghose, who had hitherto little or no influence in the politics of Bengal, were seizing the opportunity and becoming the mouthpiece of the agitation, sidelining old-time Congress veterans such as Surendranath Banerjea and Bhupendra Nath Bose.

Several Congress leaders in Bengal scrambled for clarity on the organization’s stand on the issue and even wrote to Gokhale that the ‘Congress should express its opinion in unmistakable terms as to whether or not boycott is a legitimate means of constitutional agitation and as such deserving of sympathy’. 40 The situation in Punjab too was not too comfortable for the Congress as provincial reforms suggested by the likes of Gokhale meant a larger share to the Muslim and Sikh representatives, with marginalization of the Hindus. Lala Lajpat Rai and other leaders there advocated a more strident approach than the one being adopted by the Bombay clique. ‘What Bengal has done,’ wrote Lajpat Rai, ‘should be done by every province in ventilating its grievances.’ 41 Despite regional differences of approach and localized problems, there was a slow emergence of a national pan-Indian political identity that made common cause with grievances in any part of the country and also drew from global experiences and ideas.

In all this, Tilak offered himself as a brilliant alternative who spoke out unabashedly for the interests of all these threatened factions, even as he consolidated his traditional base in Maharashtra. Aided by the support of young revolutionaries and secret societies like Vinayak and his Abhinav Bharat, the former having already opened channels of communication with similar societies across India, galvanizing a pan-India support was easier. The evolution from fledgling mass mobilizations to widespread revolutionary activities in different parts of India, and later abroad, was another feature of this period. In heralding this important phase of revolutionary activism in India and abroad, Vinayak Damodar Savarkar’s role is seldom discussed and scantily researched.

Also, around the same time, the Russo-Japanese war of 1904–05 and the defeat of a European force by an Asian country had a psychological impact on Indians. The director of criminal intelligence of India had cautioned: ‘It [the Japanese victory] not only thrilled the entire oriental world with new hope . . . but it inspired India to the realization that it would be only a matter of time when her people would also be able to hold their own as free people in their own country.’42

Vinayak who had kept a close watch on the happenings across India and also within the Congress decided that this would be the opportune moment to strengthen the hands of Tilak. Vinayak gave rousing speeches calling for action. In a meeting on 1 October 1905 held at the auditorium of the Sarvajanik Sabha in Poona, Vinayak floated the idea of creating a mass bonfire of foreign clothes. N.C. Kelkar and S.M. Paranjpe were present at this meeting. N.C. Kelkar, who was chairing the session, suggested to Vinayak that instead of setting clothes on fire, it might be more prudent to collect them all and distribute it to the poor and needy. Vinayak gently retorted that what they were setting fire to were not merely clothes, but the very roots of British imperialism and the sparks of the bonfire would be the first stepping stones towards freedom. ‘It is not the videshi [foreign] cloth that we burn,’ said Vinayak, ‘but the videshi itself—the treacherous attachment to foreigners and consequent betrayal of our Nation that we mean to burn here.’43

Interestingly, there was intense rivalry between Kelkar, then editor of Kesari , and Paranjpe of Kal . The Kesari of the following day promptly reported that clothes would be collected and distributed to the poor. Vinayak was disappointed that misleading information would completely beat the spirit of the idea. He visited different printing presses of the city, but they were all closed as it was a Sunday. He then rushed to Paranjpe’s house. The Manohar Press of the Kal was located within his house. The two men sat and personally prepared the typescript for the following day’s edition enumerating the real purpose of collecting clothes.44

On Tilak’s return to Poona from Bombay, Vinayak met him and suggested that a massive bonfire of foreign-made goods and clothes be lit in Poona. Tilak appreciated the suggestion but asked him to ensure that there needed to be at least a cartload of foreign clothes in the bonfire in order to make a shattering impact. Vinayak immediately mobilized the entire Abhinav Bharat cadre to collect foreign clothes in large numbers. The Bhopatkar brothers who ran the Maharashtra Vidyalaya supported him with student volunteers.

Inspired by Vinayak’s speeches, many groups in Poona came forward to express their solidarity. On 2 October 1905, the Brahmin priests of Poona arranged a meeting at the Omkareshwar temple, supporting the concept of swadeshi and boycotting foreign goods. On 6 October, the women of Poona held a meeting in the Mahadev temple of Sardar Natu and decided to boycott foreign-made bangles, kerosene, glassware and other domestic items.

By that year’s Dussehra festival, enough clothes had been gathered and they were taken in cartloads during the procession, which started at Maharashtra Vidyalaya near Panjarapol. 45 Paranjpe and Bhaskar Bhopatkar were a part of the procession and Tilak joined them midway near Chitrashala in Poona. The procession ended near Fergusson College. Tilak, Paranjpe, Vinayak and several others made speeches. Vinayak, V.M. Bhat, Hari Anant Thatte, Shankar B. Moghe, Haribhau Risbud, the famous poet V.G. Maydeo 46 and others were also present. 47 One of the students present at the occasion was Vishnu Ganesh Pingley, who later became famous for his involvement in the Ghadr movement. It was almost 9 p.m. when the meeting ended, with a massive bonfire of the clothes at Lakdi Pul. When people implored Paranjpe to speak, he merely picked up an unburned coat from the bonfire, pretended to check its empty pockets and threw it back into the fire. This action indicated that the British were pickpockets who were looting this country and the bonfire was an attempt to destroy their influence.

On Tilak’s advice, Vinayak and his associates kept a watch on the bonfire till all the clothes were burnt. Meanwhile, Babarao organized similar bonfires at Nashik on the same day. The Nashik Race Course grounds reverberated with slogans of ‘Goranna hya deshaatoon hakalle jayeel ’ (The British should be expelled from India immediately). 48 Thus, an issue related to distant Bengal suddenly unified nationalists across India and strengthened the hands of ‘extremist’ elements within the Congress. All this, while the moderates were still hopeful of securing a reversal of the partition through their prayers, petitions and peaceful negotiations. Reporting the bonfire, the Bombay Samachar of 10 October 1905 stated:

Mr Savarkar, a student of Fergusson College who took a prominent part in the movement and was the mover of the proposal brought forward at a previous meeting in Poona for banning foreign goods called upon the audience to cast away all foreign articles in their possession. This appeal was quickly responded and caps, hats and umbrellas, etc., began to pour in from all sides from the audience.49


The anti-British upsurge in the wake of the Partition of Bengal provided an impetus, even if temporarily, to swadeshi and a boycott of British goods. There was even talk of a passive resistance. Tilak presented as an alternative to the moderates’ version of constitutional reforms and legislative participation:

This is boycott and this is what we mean when we say boycott is a political weapon. We shall not give them assistance to collect revenue and keep peace. We shall not assist them in fighting beyond the frontiers or outside India with Indian blood and money. We shall not assist them in carrying on the administration and justice. We shall have our own courts, and when the time comes we shall not pay taxes. Can you do that by your united efforts? If you can, you are free from tomorrow.50


Tilak’s Kesari and Mahratta were exulting in the victory that the extremist camp managed during this occasion. They also highlighted the growing estrangement between Gokhale and Pherozeshah Mehta within the moderate faction as the latter felt increasingly marginalized. It was in such a politically turbulent situation that the Congress session was held in 1905 in Benares with Gokhale as the president. In a masterful balancing act, he denounced the Partition of Bengal as ‘a cruel wrong inflicted on our Bengali brethren, a complete illustration of the worst features of bureaucratic rule in India, its utter contempt for public opinion, its arrogant pretensions to superior wisdom, its reckless disregard of the most cherished feelings of the people and its cool preference of Service interests to those of the governed’. In none of this was the government or Curzon criticized and it was made to appear like a mere oversight of a bureaucratic decision. Much to the surprise of the extremist faction, Gokhale also commended the boycott movement, saying: ‘On an extreme occasion, of course a boycotting demonstration is perfectly legitimate, but that occasion must be one to drive all the classes, as in Bengal, to act with one impulse, and make all leaders sink their differences . . .’ Almost immediately, he added a note of caution to save his stand: ‘It is well to remember that the term boycott, owing to its origin, has got unsavoury associations and it conveys to the mind before everything else, a vindictive desire to injure another. Such a desire on our part as a normal feature of our relations with England, is of course out of the question.’ 51 He had cleverly posited himself and his ideology as the mainstream of the Congress, and those like the Lal-Bal-Pal trio (as Lala Lajpat Rai, Bal Gangadhar Tilak and Bipin Chandra Pal were called), the outliers or the extremists. The divorce between the two factions was almost nearly complete.

Even as the Congress’s internal squabbles intensified, Vinayak paid a price for leading the movement of organizing the bonfire of foreign clothes. The principal of Fergusson College, Sir Raghunath Purushottam Paranjpe, was an anglophile, and also the first Indian to achieve the coveted title of senior wrangler at the University of Cambridge. He was aghast that a student of his college had been found participating in such a movement. Vinayak was fined Rs 10 and expelled from the college residence. This earned Vinayak not only the distinct honour of being the first Indian leader to have organized a mass bonfire of foreign goods, but also the first student to be rusticated from a government-aided institution for political purposes. With no place to stay, Vinayak went to his friend, Ganpatrao Joglekar, who also offered to pay the fine. But the students had already collected vast amounts of money for the fine. Vinayak paid the fine from his own pocket and donated the rest for the nationalist cause. In a further vindictive act, Fergusson College rusticated Joglekar as well for supporting Vinayak. He then took shelter at his friend Haribhau Risbud’s house.

The actions of Fergusson College led to outrage from all quarters and support poured in for Vinayak from everywhere. Tilak wrote angry editorials stating, ‘These are not our gurus’, and attacked Sir Raghunath Paranjpe and the Fergusson College management. Under S.M. Paranjpe’s chairmanship, a meeting was held at Sarvajanik Sabha. Several eminent Poona citizens such as Bhalakar Bhopatkar, Harendranath Mitra and Ghamendabuva spoke out in support of Vinayak, and congratulated the students for collecting the money to pay his fine. In a stinging editorial in Kal , S.M. Paranjpe decried it as a national shame that one Indian citizen was being fined by another for the former’s love for his country. He rued that it was all the more abhorrent that such a thing was happening in the educational field. Terming it as shameful disease that was spreading to all sections of society, Paranjpe termed this ploy of pitting Indians against fellow Indians as an indication of the great success, shrewdness and power of the British.52

Nearly thirty-eight years later, presiding over the diamond jubilee celebrations of his student, Professor Wrangler Paranjpe continued to hold a bit of his grouse against him: ‘In his younger days as I know him, Savarkar was marked by a keen intellect, fervid eloquence, great fluency in writing and a magnetic personality. I remember his patriotism was intense, but as natural to young men it was based entirely on strong emotions, not much regulated by cold reason.’53

Amid these tumultuous times, the BA examinations were fast approaching. As was his nature, Vinayak closeted himself for a couple of months and dedicated his time to intense studies. The results were declared on 21 December 1905 and once again he emerged successful. A wave of happiness spread among his supporters, as well as his family back home in Nashik. A year earlier, he had already passed the first LLB examination as well. As 1906 dawned, Vinayak shifted to Bombay for his final law degree examination. Bhat too followed him there and enrolled at Wilson College. The two stayed together at Sukha Niwas Lodge off Girgaum Train Terminus.

As expected, even in Bombay, Vinayak was relentless in his work related to Abhinav Bharat. One of the members, Bhaskar Vishnu Phadke, was a publisher and had begun a new Marathi weekly, Vihari , along with Ramachandra Narayan Mandalik and Balakrishna Narayan Phatak. Vinayak made regular, firebrand contributions to Vihari that acted as a veritable mouthpiece of Abhinav Bharat. Vinayak acted as the de facto coeditor of the weekly. Its circulation increased by leaps and bounds, quite like the Yugantar in Bengal that was started in March 1906. New members were initiated in Bombay and the oath administered to them. Regular meetings were organized either at Sukha Niwas Lodge or in Shastri Hall or in the Chikhalawadi tenements.

Intensive propaganda soon began to win members from some of the city’s most prestigious and elite institutions of higher education such as the Elphinstone College, Wilson College, Victoria Technical Institute, Gujjur’s Laboratory, Art School, Law School, and other medical colleges. Vinayak believed that inducting members from the government services would help them keep a close watch on the internal activities of the government. With this in mind, they slowly began infiltrating the railways, post and telegraph departments, customs, the Bombay High Court, the secretariat, the weather bureau and so on. Abhinav Bharat had truly metamorphosed into a powerful force to reckon with. Bhat pithily quotes Vinayak’s observations on the strategy of the organization:

If our plan to rise in arms simultaneously all over India had not miscarried, we would have heralded the coming of that revolution by throwing bombs and by murdering British officers all at one time. We had collected enough arms to make life difficult for the British Government, especially the officials. The bomb factory at Vasai was a secret school where trustworthy revolutionaries were taught the art of bomb making.54


Unlike the revolutionaries of the past such as Wasudev Balwant Phadke or the Chapekar brothers, who were not wanting either in patriotism or courage but lacked in calculated strategy, Vinayak’s Abhinav Bharat was far from a bunch of misguided youth hurling bombs and assassinating random officers. It had a clear road map of how to instigate that ultimate pan-India revolution, taking inspiration from the seeds of 1857, and extinguish the Empire in its massive blaze. In Vinayak’s own words:

The strategies that Mazzini employed in Italy, or the revolutionaries did in Ireland or Russia and our own revolutionaries of 1857 can be re-employed in India again with a high probability of success. Infiltrating the army and police, creating a vast network of a secret armed force, establishing contacts with revolutionaries from Russia, Italy, Ireland and other countries, striking attacks on the main protagonists of British administration, having stocks of arms in the provinces and border areas for quick deployment in case of need, low intensity revolts all the time to keep the administration busy and diverted before a big blow can be dealt with, and most importantly, the will to die and inspire others to as well—these are what would be needed to craft a successful revolution in India. In the end if Britain gets embroiled in some international war back home, its strength would be further diminished and striking at that time would undoubtedly result in their overthrow. I never believed that just killing some random British officers here and there would make them scared and run away. We also know all the 30 crore Indians would not join us. But even if 2 lakh brave people come and join the movement, it would suffice. Those who called revolution as childish and mindless, and relied only on servile applications must realize that their means are flawed and that can never help us achieve the goal. At this stage of our existence in Abhinav Bharat, it is presumptuous and hilarious to assume we could shake the mighty British Empire. We are just a matchstick, but please know that if we light it, we can burn down the whole edifice of the palace. History is replete with several such matchsticks that have burnt down entire nations and empires. Our essential fodder is the disaffection towards the empire in the minds of 30 crore Indians and this was enough for the canon to explode. The first two years of our existence is for understanding, theorizing and strategizing this plan and for moulding and strengthening the minds, setting a road map and clear direction to our acts and not perpetrate random violent acts. We also need to take in the best ideas and practices of both the so-called Moderates and Nationalist Extremists as they were all patriotic people too, with good intent for the country and its freedom.55


While in Bombay, Vinayak was invited by students in Poona to meet a man named Agamya Guru who was known to make passionate speeches and who also made students collect funds to liberate the country. 56 Curious to know more, Vinayak interviewed him on 23 February 1906. Quite early in the conversation, Vinayak realized that the man was a quack as he kept talking about his mystical powers and the support of the Almighty in the efforts to free India. 57 Cutting him short, Vinayak asked him to clarify his political viewpoints. The baffled guru told him that he would first need some financial assistance from Vinayak and only thereafter would he reveal his political strategies. The interview was terminated in twenty-five minutes flat. Vinayak advised the students to ignore such imposters. His assessment proved right, because two years later, in 1908, the guru was found guilty of outraging the modesty of an English girl in London and was released after four months of imprisonment in a British jail. 58

What makes this insignificant event interesting is that it found its way into a confidential document called ‘The Sedition Committee Report’ of 1918. The Committee was presided by Justice Rowlatt, and it had the inputs of eminent judges, officials and intelligence agents. Vinayak Savarkar and his activities in Poona are elaborately covered here, indicating that by then he had come under the radar of the intelligence department of the British government. But how horribly wrong this Committee got its facts is indicated in the following extract from the report:

Before leaving India Vinayak Savarkar had been drawn into a movement initiated early in 1905 by a person styling himself Mahatma Sri Agamya Guru Paramhansa, who toured in India delivering lectures and speaking fearlessly against Government, telling his audiences not to fear Government. As part of the movement, a number of students early in 1906 started in Poona a society, which elected Vinayak Savarkar as their leader and invited him to Poona to meet the Mahatma. Savarkar attended a meeting on the 23rd February and suggested that a committee of nine should be appointed to carry out the objects of the movement. A committee was accordingly elected, of which most of the members had at one time or other belonged to the Fergusson College in Poona, where Vinayak had been educated. The Mahatma at this meeting advised the raising of funds by a contribution of one anna from every person for the purposes of the society and said he would advise how it should be utilised when a sufficient amount had been collected.59


Vinayak was conscious of detectives following him around. On 23 February 1906, when he was making a powerful speech in Poona’s Joshi Hall about the need to emulate the advice of Shivaji Maharaj’s guru, Saint Ramdas, he noticed suspicious-looking people in the audience. He was advising his audience to fill their hearts with the thought of freedom from foreigners but stopped short of saying the words lest the snoopers record his words. He said:

Detectives are here. I am glad that they have come here to hear and help us in the work we are doing. We have, so to say, indirectly the sympathy of these people and brought even the police to our side. Bear in mind the commands of Ramdas and follow them in the work you undertake. We have lost everything. We have no more faith in our own religion. Try to re-establish that in India. Shed no tears for what is lost. Shed drops of blood to regain what is lost.60


A secret file relating to the Savarkar brothers was opened in 1906 and the file was numbered 60 in 1908. 61 Alexander Montgomerie, ICS, who was then the first class magistrate of Nashik, had written a note in another confidential report that ‘Savarkar had already grown into an accomplished orator of an enviable rank’. 62 Interestingly, Montgomerie filed a secret report of this meeting at Joshi Hall where Vinayak spoke, the same evening as it was delivered:

His delivery is fast, he is extremely bold, is very impressive in style and at times when encouraged by cheers of his audience forgets that detectives are around him . . . in my humble opinion he has been ruining his own life for he is yet but a raw boy not fitted to preach opinions which he scarcely understands and in addition has been sporting (sic) the lives of youngsters by putting in very nasty ideas in their tender brains . . . this evening he convened a meeting of students of which he was the President . . . he addressed his audience like a general before leading his men to a desperate onset. He spoke for nearly 35 minutes . . . it would appear that a branch of the Indo-European movement will shortly be established in Poona.63


On his return to Bombay, Vinayak came across an announcement in the Indian Sociologist newsletter, edited by Pandit Shyamji Krishna Varma of England. A few scholarships had been announced by Shyamji for talented and nationalistic young Indians to study abroad.

Shyamji was born to poor parents, Krushnadas Bhanushali and Gomatibai, at Mandavi in Kutch on 4 October 1857. His father was settled in Bombay but was struggling to make ends meet. Since Shyamji had shown early signs of intelligence, his mother took him to Bhuj for education at the English school there. But after her early demise, his father brought him back to Bombay. As destiny would have it, Shyamji soon lost his father when he was barely ten. With the help of his relatives, he pursued his education at Wilson High School and later Elphinstone High School, graduating with flying colours. Alongside, he also learnt Sanskrit at the Sanskrit Pathashala run by Vishvanatha Shastri. Around 1874, he met the spiritual leader and social reformer, Swami Dayanand Saraswati, in Bombay, who founded the Arya Samaj in 1875 to fight several social evils that had crept into Hindu society and to rekindle the ancient Vedic faith. Shyamji was among the first to be formally initiated into the Arya Samaj and worked for it rigorously. On a whirlwind propaganda tour to different parts of India, he delivered stellar lectures in chaste Sanskrit on the need for social reforms and a fresh interpretation of Hindu scriptures.

In 1875, Shyamji was married to Bhanumati, the daughter of Sheth Chhabildas Lallubhai, a wealthy Bombay industrialist.

Shyamji’s erudition in Sanskrit caught the attention of Professor Monier Williams, a well-known Sanskrit scholar and then Boden professor of Sanskrit at the University of Oxford. He was so deeply impressed that he decided to take Shyamji along as his assistant at Oxford. Several eminent people such as Krishna Shastri Chiplunkar and Justice Ranade gave reference letters as testimonials of his brilliance to Professor Williams. Accordingly, Shyamji left for Oxford in 1879 and achieved great academic success over the next four years. Sir Richard Temple, the governor of Bombay, recommended his case to the Maharaja of Kutch for a scholarship that he eventually got. His lectures on Sanskrit and the Vedas earned him a membership at the prestigious Royal Asiatic Society in 1881. He was also sent by Marquis of Harlington, then Secretary of State for India, to represent the country at the fifth Oriental Congress in Berlin. Two years later, Shyamji was once again sent to London as India’s representative to the Oriental Congress by the Earl of Kimberley, then Secretary of State for India. With such erudition and contacts, by the time he completed his BA he became a member of the Empire Club that had as its members governors, Governor-Generals, and commanders-in-chief.

After becoming a barrister in 1885, Shyamji returned to India and over the next twelve years, held plum positions as dewan of states such as Ratlam, Udaipur and Junagarh. He also practised law in Ajmer for about three years. Around this time, he came in contact with Tilak and was deeply inspired by the latter’s nationalistic spirit. But being disillusioned and shattered with his stint at Junagarh, facing court intrigues and a bad conduct certificate slapped on him, he decided to resign and leave India for good with his wife in 1897. Given his sudden unpopularity in the British administration, Shyamji decided to maintain a low profile in England for about seven to eight years. He invested in stocks and shares and made a considerable fortune to live independently.

After the Partition of Bengal and its aftermath, Shyamji was convinced that he needed to play a more active role in the political movement back home. He was convinced of the imperative necessity to inculcate new doctrines of rationalism and freedom in the minds of Indians. To this end, he evolved a scheme of founding Indian lectureships for propagating the ideas of his icon, Herbert Spencer, in India. On Spencer’s death in 1903, he announced a personal grant of £1000 for establishing the Spencer lectureship at Oxford, to help arrange lectures by eminent scholars of philosophy for Indian students. Keenly observing revolutionary movements in his neighbourhood in Europe, Shyamji decided to begin publishing an English monthly called the Indian Sociologist as ‘An organ of Freedom and of Political, Social and Religious Reform’ on 1 January 1905. He also established contacts with Gaelic American, a prominent Irish-Catholic newspaper owned and published by John Davoy of the Irish Republican Party from New York. 64 Shyamji, however, repudiated violence and took a more conciliatory and non-combative approach towards the British public, writing articles and letters to British newspapers appealing on the basis of cold logic and justice. 65 In his maiden editorial in the Indian Sociologist , Shyamji set out his guiding principles and also his disdain for the moderate faction of the Congress:

Resistance to aggression is not simply justifiable but imperative. Non-resistance hurts both altruism and egoism . . . the political relations between England and India urgently require a genuine Indian interpreter in the United Kingdom to show on behalf of India how Indians really fare and feel under British rule. No systematic attempt has, so far as our knowledge goes, ever been made in the country by Indians themselves to enlighten the British public with regard to the grievances, demands and aspirations of the people of India. It will be our duty and privilege to plead the cause of India and its unrepresented millions before the Bar of Public Opinion in Great Britain and Ireland.66


A.M. Shah describes the Indian Sociologist as only ‘mild in its criticism of British rule’ and points to Shyamji’s statement that ‘India and England should severe their connection peaceably and part as friends’.67 It circulated widely in Great Britain, India, and even the United States of America, even after the British tried to prohibit its import from 1907 onward.

Soon after the publication of the second issue of the Indian Sociologist , Shyamji decided to back it up with an organization of and for Indians in London. Although inspired by the Irish revolutionary movement, his ‘Indian Home Rule Society’ adopted a fairly conciliatory stance. On 18 February 1905, about twenty Indians met at his house at Highgate 68 in London to inaugurate the society. Its principal objectives were securing Home Rule in India, carrying out propaganda in the United Kingdom by all practical means towards that end and to spread among the people of India knowledge of the advantages of freedom and national unity. Other than Shyamji, the members of this society included C. Muthu, J.M. Parikh, Dr D.E. Pereira, Parameshwar Lal, Dr U.K. Dutt, Sardarsingh Rana, Manchershah Barjorji Godrej and Abdullah Al-Mamun Suhrawardy.

There were associations like the London Indian Society and the East India Association that had Indians and former British governors, commissioners, members of parliament and prominent politicians. These were started by Dadabhai Naoroji but they had not achieved much traction. Shyamji was no votary of armed rebellion but instead advocated passive resistance and boycott, just like Tilak, Lajpat Rai and Bipin Chandra Pal. However, the moderates and extremists did not use the word ‘Home Rule’ as propounded by Shyamji as it conjured bad memories of the Irish Home Rule Movement for the British. Bipin Chandra’s ‘autonomy’ proposal or Dadabhai’s ‘self-government’ was similar to Shyamji’s Home Rule— internal freedom to rule within the British Empire, just like Canada and Australia. But using the dreaded word was anathema.

In May 1905, Shyamji made a new announcement:

It is proposed to open a house or hostel in London to be called ‘India House’ during (the) early part of July next for the accommodation of the gentlemen holding the Indian Travelling Fellowships, and of other Indians who may be deemed eligible to reside there . . . a freehold estate has been purchased at Highgate (London), a part of Hornsey which according to official statistics is the healthiest suburb of London and which has the lowest death rate in the United Kingdom. The property is situated close to trams, within easy reach of three railways stations, and also within a few minutes’ walk of Waterloo Park, Highgate woods and Queens [sic] woods.

The House . . . has at present accommodation for about twenty-five young men. Arrangements will ultimately be made to build and so take in fifty students. The Lecture Hall, Library and Reading Room are all on the same floor, thus presenting every facility for study and intercommunication. To provide recreation there is ample space for tennis courts, gymnasium etc.

The management of the establishment will be in the hands of Indians only . . . no alcoholic drinks will be allowed on the premises. Indian gentlemen holding Travelling Fellowships will be charged 16/- per week for board and residence, while others will be received on such terms and condition as may be specifically arranged . . . this is the first attempt ever made in this country for securing an attractive residential meeting place for students from all parts of India.


India House was inaugurated on 1 July 1905. Several eminent people, including Mr Henry Mayers Hyndman, the leader of the Social Democratic Party of England, Mr Sweeny of the Positivist Society, Mr Swelch, editor of Justice Paper , Indian leaders such as Dadabhai Naoroji, Lala Lajpat Rai, Madame Bhikaji Rustom Cama and others, were present. The tone of Henry Mayers Hyndman’s speech flummoxed many present on the occasion:

Loyalty to Great Britain means treachery to India. I have met many Indians and the loyalty to British rule, which the majority has professed, has been disgusting. Either they were insincere or ignorant . . . Indians have until now hugged their chains. From England itself there is nothing to be hoped. It is the immoderate men, the determined men, the fanatical men who will work out the salvation of India . . . this India House is a great step in that direction of Indian growth and Indian emancipation.69


In the years to come, India House at Highgate was to become the hotbed of many young Indian revolutionaries, including Vinayak.

It was in the December edition of the Indian Sociologist that Vinayak had seen the notice regarding the scholarships. These were additional fellowships sponsored by Shyamji’s comrade, Sardarsinhji Ravaji Rana (popularly known as S.R. Rana) of Kathiawar. Rana was in London for his barrister studies, from where he migrated to Paris where he started a business dealing with diamonds and precious stones. He was one of the founding members and the vice-president of the Indian Home Rule Society of Shyamji and had formed a Paris Indian Society in 1905, along with another revolutionary luminary, Madame Bhikaji Rustom Cama. Three fellowships of Rs 2000 each were offered in the name of Indian heroes— Maharana Rana Pratap of Mewar, Shivaji Maharaj and Mughal Emperor Akbar. Since he was educated at London by the help of fellow Indians, Rana told Shyamji that: ‘it is my bounden duty to help in turn at least two or three of my compatriots to visit self-governing countries and to appreciate the blessings of political freedom’.70

The young students receiving these scholarships had to pledge that they would not join the British government service, either in Britain or in India. Interestingly though, the scholarships had to be repaid at a rate of 4 per cent interest per annum within ten years of signing the agreement. In addition, a life insurance policy (of a minimum of Rs 5000) had to be purchased by the candidate prior to departing India. The premium was to be paid by the candidate and he had ‘to deliver punctually the premium receipts to the undersigned or his assigns, as a security for the money advanced, to the candidate’.71

While Vinayak toyed with the idea of applying for the scholarship, he realized that the amount would not be sufficient to live in England. His father-in-law however assured him that any deficit in this regard would be borne by him. With this assurance, he sent in his application to Shyamji. In his letter, he writes:

Independence and liberty I look upon as the very pulse and breath of a nation. From my boyhood, dear Sir, up to this moment of my youth, the loss of independence of my country and the possibility of regaining sit forms [sic] the only theme of which I have dreamt at night and on which I mused by day.72


Shyamji had received nearly 153 applications, but it was Vinayak’s application, buttressed by recommendation letters from both Tilak and S.M. Paranjpe, that caught his attention. Tilak wrote to Shyamji:

When there is such a rush like that, it is no use recommending any one particularly to your notice. But still, I may state, among the applicants, there is one Mr Savarkar from Bombay, who graduated last year and whom I know to be a spirited young man, very enthusiastic in the Swadeshi cause, so much so that he had to incur the displeasure of the Fergusson College authorities. He has no mind to take up Government service at any time and his moral character is very good.73


In his recommendation letter to Shyamji, dated 8 March 1906, S.M. Paranjpe wrote:

I have not as yet had the good fortune of being personally acquainted with you. But I hope you perhaps remember me as one of the members of the most honourable Home Rule Society that you started for the elevation of our mother country in the scale of nations. But I ardently wish that I should be on terms of intimacy with you and therefore eagerly take this opportunity of writing a private letter to you for the purpose of introducing a friend of mine to you. His name is Vinayak Damodar Savarkar. He has passed his B.A. examination this year and further intends to study law in London. But he is unable to bear the expenses and therefore is trying to get some help from outside. He will be highly obliged if he gets one of the scholarships that you have so generously offered in a notification in your paper. With regard to his qualifications I can safely say that he is an enthusiastic speaker and a sincere patriot. He is at present conducting a vernacular paper in a vigorous manner, but he has already done a still more vigorous [sic] in Ganpati and Shivaji festivals, and many other patriotic movements. He is sending a formal application to you separately and I shall deem it a great [sic] if you can see your way to giving one of the scholarships to him.74


Interestingly, Vinayak’s principal at Fergusson College, Wrangler Paranjpe, who had earlier rusticated him for participating in the 1905 bonfire of foreign goods, also sent in a recommendation letter.75

By early May 1906, Vinayak learned that he had been offered the Shivaji scholarship by Shyamji. The total amount of Rs 2000 was to be paid to him in five instalments of Rs 400 each. The applicant had to enter into an agreement with Shyamji and also declare that he would not take up any government posts after utilizing the scholarship. Vinayak made it clear to Shyamji that he wished to pursue law and that it should not be construed as government service. The rates of residence at India House was 16 shillings per week for fellowship holders and 18 shillings and 6 pence for others. On 20 May 1906, Vinayak signed the agreement in the presence of his friend Daji Nagesh Apte and the sub-editor of Kesari , Krishnaji Prabhakar Khadilkar, and received Rs 400 from Tilak as the first instalment. On 25 May, he sent a letter to Shyamji with his declaration:

I do hereby pledge my word of honour and solemnly declare that I will not accept either directly or indirectly any post or honorary office, title, favour or seat on any council (Municipality, District Board, etc.) or service under the British Government and that I will not advise anyone to serve the government in any capacity and also that I will not accept any emolument from them.76


Before his departure to England, Vinayak made several speeches in Nashik. On 1 January 1906, he spoke at the Brahmanand Theatre with about 200 to 300 people present. One of the members of Abhinav Bharat, Waman Narhar Dani, was a police constable who was taking down notes of what Vinayak was saying. The subject was on the practice of distributing til-gul (sesame seeds and jaggery) during the upcoming festival of Makar Sankranti. Exhorting the audiences, Vinayak told them:

I would ask you not to mix the seed with foreign sugar and if you like to do it better mix swadeshi sugar with the seed . . . do not even touch that boycotted foreign sugar . . . On the occasion of this holiday people say ‘Take til-gul and speak sweet words.’ We should rather say, ‘Take til-gul and do not speak sweet words.’ For to speak sweet words every heart must be happy. How will he whose heart or mind is not glad speak sweet words? . . . we are completely without arms. Although we are disarmed if we require any weapon we can procure it from somewhere. Does it mean we require a sword, which resembles a sword or a gun, which resembles a gun? No! If we make up our mind to lose (or acquire) a kingdom [overthrow the government] why is a weapon needed? Are there no weapons except arms and no other means? There are many. They need not be more fully explained here. Many have understood me. Hence you have to enter a good stage, i.e., you must first improve your condition. The reason why our country has reached the most wretched condition is that we have given up our religion, our industries and our trade, which has been taken up by others. They have completely monopolized our trade and hence their country is rich and ours is going down. Nay it has already gone down. Let us bear this fully in mind and fight with them with weapons, that is, we must abide by our religion and we carry on our trade, which has gone into the hands of others. It means we must use goods produced in our country, i.e. swadeshi sugar, cloth, and other swadeshi articles . . . hence instead of sweet words let there be fire in your heart, let it blaze there.77


On 21 and 22 April 1906, he delivered two speeches—one in front of the gymnasium of Rokdya Maruti near the Nao Darwaja at Nashik and another at the Sundar Narayan Temple. Once again, the police spy, Waman Narhar, dutifully noted down the contents of both speeches and promptly reported them to his superiors in the force. Vinayak implored the audience to train both their minds and bodies. He asked them to impress in their hearts the spirit of patriotism. Pointing to the idol of Maruti (Hanuman), he told them that the God held a mace in his hand and was crushing a demon under his feet. If they observed carefully, he stated, they would see the demon’s complexion to be white or red. The police deduced that this was a veiled reference to using physical power to vanquish the white-skinned foreigners.78

Private farewell parties were organized on 28 May 1906 in Aabaa Darekar’s house and on 31 May 1906 by Amar Singh Pardesi, another police spy. 79 After the party at Aabaa’s house, a photograph of Vinayak and his revolutionary comrades was taken. This was confiscated later and produced in court in the trial against Vinayak and his associates.80

A grand public reception to felicitate Vinayak was organized at Nashik’s Bhadrakali temple on 28 May 1906. Vedic scholar Harihar Shastri Garge presided over the programme that was attended by nearly 400 people. A son of the town had battled all odds, made a name for himself and was now sailing ashore to distant England for higher studies on a prestigious scholarship. Several citizens, family members and friends gathered and showered praises on him on this joyous occasion. A grateful Vinayak told them that he was proceeding to England with the singular intention of discharging the debt of obligation to his beloved motherland. His real intention to go to England was, however, to impress upon the people there about the atrocities faced by Indians and the need for revolution. He also wanted to procure arms for the revolution and learn the technique of manufacturing bombs, in addition to creating a worldwide network of revolutionaries in support of the Indian cause. 81 During this meeting, Vinayak quoted Shivaji’s guru in his speech: ‘Sakal lok ek karaave, ek vichaare bharaave, kashte karun ghasaraave, mlenchaanvari ’ (Gather and organize everyone, then inspire them and prepare them for the struggle to expel the foreigners).82 In his emotional speech, Vinayak said:

If dharma is observed, then this country which belongs to Hindus as well as Muhammadans would prosper. It belongs to whoever is born there, it belongs to those who are grown on the food it offers; whose children are to grow on the same. The last in the grade are the shudras and people think they are base born because they are born for service. But even if they are born for service whose service is that? It is not the service of slaves as we have all become now, but the service they are to render is to their country . . . everyone should, while sitting, talking, sleeping, nay even when winking, remember of ‘Swadesh Bhakti ’ that is the devotion to one’s own country.83


Little did Vinayak know that these five speeches—four in Nashik and one in Poona—that he made in 1906 would be held against him several years later to build a case of sedition against the emperor.

Vinayak then proceeded to Bombay to depart for England on 9 June 1906 on the ship S.S. Persia . He was given a tearful farewell by Babarao, his wife Yamuna and their eighteen-month-old son Prabhakar (born in September 1905, a month before the bonfire event that Vinayak organized in Poona). Fondly taking Prabhakar from Yamuna’s hands, he advised her: ‘Tyala deviche injection dyaa, nahitar to devakade jaee l ’ (Give him smallpox vaccination, 84 otherwise he will go to the goddess). 85 In his wildest dreams, Vinayak would not have dreamt that this alliterative slip of the tongue would unfortunately come true.

A new world of experiences and opportunities awaited Vinayak. Still, the grief of departing from his loved ones tugged at his heartstrings. He writes about this emotional experience in his memoirs:

The ship that was carrying me to England left the shores of Bombay and began to roll and pitch, as it sailed towards the open seas. Soon my relatives and friends who had gathered on the pier to bid me loving goodbye slowly went out of sight. As the shore receded, the picture of my friends and family that was cast on my mind began to dance before my eyes. Other passengers, who had also seen off their relatives, had already moved inside and were busy finding their rooms and arranging their bags. But I was steadily looking in the direction of the shore, and my mind, hurt by the separation began to ask itself piteously: ‘Will I safely come back to India at least after three years? Will I be able to meet them all again?’86
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Re: Savarkar: Echoes from a Forgotten Past by Vikram Sampath

Postby admin » Thu May 13, 2021 2:28 am

Part 1 of 2

4 Inside the Enemy Camp

Onboard the S.S. Persia, June–July 1906 Even as the S.S. Persia sailed away from Indian shores, Vinayak stood on the deck for a long time, ruminating. The laughter and cheer of many of his co-passengers on the deck, mostly Europeans, was in direct contrast to his own state of mind. He could perceive the contempt in their eyes for this ‘native’ amidst them. Since this was his maiden sea journey, Vinayak was unsure how to find his room, and any European passenger he asked for help contemptuously looked away. He finally found a cabin officer who assigned his Indian assistant to help him settle in. As he entered his cabin, Vinayak saw a young Sikh, some three years younger than him, arranging his bags. Fair, well built and good-looking, there was relief writ large on the Sikh’s face as he inquired if he was Mr Savarkar. Being his first journey by sea as well, the Sikh too was diffident and was looking for an Indian companion. A couple of Punjabi fellow-travellers had cabins further down the row.

The Sikh gentleman was Harnam Singh from Amritsar. Son of a district judge in Punjab, he had lost his father at a young age and had been brought up by his mother. He passed his BA examinations and was married at eighteen. The maharaja of the princely state of Nabha was impressed with his intelligence and had awarded him a scholarship to study agriculture at the Royal Agriculture College of Cirencester in England. 1 Being the only child, his mother was reluctant to let him go so far away, but finally acquiesced. It was common those days to be wary of sea travel and orthodox Hindus looked upon it as entailing a loss of caste. The Congress veteran, Surendranath Banerjea, had mentioned in his autobiography that when he had travelled to England in 1874, the matter was kept a strict secret from family and friends, as though some nefarious conspiracy was being plotted. None but his father knew about the plan and when his mother was told about it on the eve of the journey, she fainted in utter shock. People were alarmed by the anglicized habits of those who returned from England. Being from an upper-caste Brahmin family, Banerjea was virtually ostracized by the community, and he writes: ‘. . . those who used to eat and drink with us on ceremonial occasions stopped all social contacts and refused to invite us.’ 2 Things were not this bad when Vinayak and Harnam travelled, but apprehensions were still aplenty. The two young men struck up a conversation and found that they got along pretty well.

Sauntering around the deck, Vinayak made the acquaintance of the other Indians that Harnam had spoken about. There were about ten of them on board. Among them was a rich young man from Punjab whose name Vinayak does not reveal in his memoirs and instead cryptically calls him ‘Mr Etiquette’. Having travelled to Europe several times, he had adopted a Western way of life. He believed that Indian students going to England needed to adopt European manners and customs in matters of dressing, dining and take to smoking cigars or pipes and drinking wine. Only then would the Europeans accept them as one of them. Vinayak agreed partly with his suggestion to the extent that one is not humiliated by doing so and it also gives one a chance to compare our traditions with theirs. Given his departure to England was so sudden, Vinayak hardly had much time to get accustomed to the English ways. ‘Mr Etiquette’ offered to help him how to dress and wear a tie, and the difficult business of eating with forks, knives and spoons. A diehard vegetarian till then, Vinayak had no qualms about compromising on eating meat. But he made quite a mess of himself with the fork and knife by putting the knife that was in his right hand straight into his mouth, causing his lips to bleed. Eating fish and separating the bones from the flesh was another embarrassingly painful exercise. Most of the vegetarians on board virtually starved since the menu had very few options for them.

Harnam Singh, sporting his colourful turban, was a sight for the Europeans on the ship. Each time he went up to the deck to catch some fresh air, the white children pointed at him and laughed at what they considered a strange appearance. Their parents, instead of reprimanding their boorish behaviour, joined in the mockery. ‘Mr Etiquette’ felt embarrassed by this and told Vinayak to advise Harnam to stop wearing the turban. But Vinayak protested. He told him:

Some of our customs are surely outdated and I am ahead of you in proposing their abandonment. I am a reformist at heart. However I consider it sheer cowardice to eschew our culture and traditions merely because some ignorant and arrogant Europeans laugh at it. I feel our turbans look colorful and aesthetic, unlike their hats that seem to me like dustbins. It is a national insult to tell a Sikh for whom it is a matter of his faith to wear a turban to stop wearing it. Why don’t we all sport turbans so that seeing us in large numbers their ridicule would stop?3


Vinayak argued that being a subservient nation it was natural for Indians to feel inferior and odd in comparison to British customs. One had to only spare a thought for the early East India Company traders who might also have felt equally at sea in a strange, new land and whom our forefathers might have mocked for being unaware of Indian customs. He added, ‘But these English men and women do not laugh at us merely as a matter of fun. They mock us out of arrogance and truly despise us. They thereby imply that they are the rulers and we, the ruled and hence all their customs, traditions and culture are way superior to ours. Therein lies the problem.’ 4 Thus, even on board Vinayak managed to bring in political and cultural discussions around India, her slave status and the need for liberation among his fellow Indian passengers.

As the ship sailed on, many passengers suffered from both seasickness and homesickness. Vinayak missed his home. There were several occasions when he felt an intense longing to return home to his loving brothers, wife, son and sister-in-law. The tragedies of childhood had cemented ties among the Savarkars and they loved one another deeply. Meanwhile, Harnam fell ill, throwing up everything he ate. As Vinayak nursed him, he held Vinayak’s hand and cried that he had had enough and wanted to return to his family that very moment. He resolved to alight at Aden, buy a return ticket and go back to India. Vinayak counselled him about how sometimes we must be prepared to suffer for the sake of the very people we love for a higher purpose in life. To instil courage in Harnam, he narrated the story of Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth and last guru of the Sikhs. Fighting against the cruelty of the Mughal onslaught, he had lost his sons Ajit Singh and Jhujhar Singh, aged seventeen and thirteen respectively, on the battlefield. His younger sons were entombed alive for refusing to accept Islam. He himself was martyred. Vinayak argued that had Guru Gobind Singh or his sons felt the way Harnam did, none of them would have gathered the courage to fight for the larger cause.

It might take a month to receive a reply to a letter written to family members back in India. But in the earlier centuries, when the East India Company officers came to India it took them six months or more to communicate with their families as the ships travelled to England from India via a circuitous route through the Cape of Good Hope. But they persevered since their goal was to vanquish India and become its rulers. Shouldn’t young Indians similarly persevere to liberate their motherland? At the end of the discourse, Harnam was a transformed man. He cancelled the idea of alighting at Aden and instead asked Vinayak what he could do for his motherland. Such was the power of Vinayak’s logical reasoning.

Vinayak circulated an English biography of Italian revolutionary Mazzini that he had with him among the Indians on board. He wanted to assess their inclination and opinion about revolution. While several of them were inspired, they felt it was the work of national leaders like Tilak and Lala Lajpat Rai, or of the maharajas, to take up such a cause. At best, they could be mere foot soldiers. Vinayak told them that when Mazzini’s ‘Young Italy’ began, it was the work of a handful of unknown youngsters. He reminded them about Wasudev Phadke and the Chapekar brothers who were virtually unknown but had done their bit for the cause.

One of them, whom Vinayak again cryptically describes by a pseudonym ‘Keshavanand’, was thoroughly inspired. He said that if such a secret society existed in India, he would be more than happy to join it. It was then that Vinayak revealed the details about Abhinav Bharat and its activities across the country. While he was going to England to become a barrister, that was only an excuse. The real motivation was to carry on large-scale propaganda and draw eminent citizens of England to their side. He also wanted to learn how to manufacture cheap and effective hand bombs. Finally, creating an international network of revolutionaries and collectively raising a banner of revolt in India was part of his agenda. The fellow passengers were awestruck. The very next day, both Keshavanand and the fastidious ‘Mr Etiquette’ ended up taking the oath of Abhinav Bharat right there aboard the S.S. Persia. Thus, Vinayak’s passion for the revolution did not wait till he reached London.

These gentlemen helped Vinayak in his activities in London but requested anonymity as they feared police retribution. ‘Mr Etiquette’, for instance, helped Vinayak deliver many of his explosive writings back to India. He had a textile business and thus managed to craftily conceal the manuscripts among his cloth consignments and had them shipped to India. This attracted no attention from either the police or the spy agencies that were constantly on the watch.

The three-week-long journey not only gave Vinayak an opportunity to induct new members into Abhinav Bharat, it also gave the poet in him some much-desired solitude. He sat in the open air, bewitched, witnessing the vast and limitless sea and the countless stars above. He had read about astronomy and oceanography and this was an occasion to see all of it up close. In his memoirs, he writes about the thoughts that crossed his mind during this time:

What is the purpose of creation? The countless species that exist in the ocean and on land would all disappear, the stronger devouring the weaker. Are earthquakes, comets, snowstorms and other destructive phenomena an act of God or of the Devil? Where does Man fit into all of this, if everything is just a play of someone sitting up there and pulling strings? How is it that the creator never gets tired and manages to regenerate everything after destruction?5


He wrote several poems during this journey, including the delightful ‘Tarakans Pahun’ (After Looking at Stars). The poem begins with these evocative lines:

Sunil nabh he, sundar nabh he, nabh he atal aha!
Sunil sagar, sundar sagar, sagar atalachi ha!
Nakshatrahi tarankit he, nabh tarankit bhase P
ratibimbahi tasa sagarahi, tarankit bhase
Numje lage kuthe nabh kuthe jalaseema hoi
Nabhat jal he, jalat nabh te sangamuni jai

Deep blue, beautiful, boundless sky!
Deep blue, beautiful, deep and fathomless sea!
Adorned with stars and constellations, the sky smiles enchantingly,
The sea returns the same, as it is but a reflection of the sky.
Where does the sea end, where does the sky begin
In their vast intermingled union? 6


The contempt and indifference that Vinayak, Harnam and others felt aboard the S.S. Persia were not unique. The knighted correspondent of the Times of London , Sir Valentine Chirol, writes about the experiences that several Indian students like them might have felt during their stay in England:

It would be almost impossible for an Englishman who has never been in the East to realize the enormous difference between the life to which the student has been used and the life to which he has come . . . he may have been to some town to study in a Government or missionary school or college. But that has not given him an insight into English life . . . he comes to England feeling there is a gulf between the East and the West . . . he is by nature extremely sensitive. On board ship he and his brother Indians keep together. The English passengers, fatigued after a period of hard work in a hot climate, have no energy left for the effort of trying to draw out and know this batch of silent Orientals. So the gulf gapes wide . . . Some of them go to Oxford and Cambridge. They have heard in India, from some Indians who were up at these Universities from ten to fifteen years ago, how delightful the life is—how sociable the undergraduates, how hospitable the dorms . . . they go up only to find disappointment . . . colleges are reluctant to admit them. The English undergraduate accepts any man who is good at games and ready to enter into the university life, but leaves severely alone the man of any nationality who has had no opportunity of learning English games, and who is too shy and sensitive to show what he is worth.7


The ship sailed via Aden, crossed the Red Sea and entered the port of Suez, before reaching Marseilles in France. Marseilles had a special attraction for Vinayak as his Italian revolutionary hero, Mazzini, had sought refuge there when he was persecuted. With the help of a local travel guide, he tried to locate the place where Mazzini hid, but it was in vain as no one there had a clue about it. The narrow lanes of the old city had a striking resemblance to Nashik. But it was soon time for him to catch the train and he bid Marseilles goodbye. Little did he know that this French town was something he would revisit under dire circumstances just a few years later.

From Marseilles, Vinayak took a train to Paris and then Calais, crossed the English Channel by boat, arrived at Dover and then took a train to London’s Charing Cross. He finally reached London on 3 July 1906. Some residents of Shyamji Krishna Varma’s India House were at the station to receive him. On Vinayak’s advice, Harnam Singh too decided to join him at India House.

Interestingly, even as he was en route to England, the Special Crime Branch in Poona had sent a report about Vinayak’s proposed arrival to London. In a confidential letter dated 14 June 1906, S.W. Wyerley from India wrote to the R. Ritchie of the India Office Crime Branch in London. He added that while ‘he is not, of course of any personal importance but holds somewhat the same opinion as Damodar Hari Chapekar who was responsible for the murder of Mr Rand in 1897. In short, he promises to be a firebrand.’ 8 The detective agencies in India and England were keeping a keen watch on young Vinayak’s every move.

London, July 1906

Vinayak was admitted to The Honourable Society of Gray’s Inn, commonly known as Gray’s Inn, for his legal studies on 26 July 1906. It was one of the four Inns of Court, or professional associations for barristers and judges in London. By 1890, there were at least 200 Indian students in Great Britain, many of whom were studying at the Inns of Court. 9 Apart from Vinayak, Indian students, including Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, Muhammad Ali Jinnah and Jawaharlal Nehru travelled to Britain for higher studies. The motivations of Indian students were varied: the prestige that came with an education in Britain, the excitement of being abroad and away from home, and the hope of engaging with ‘an English gentleman of good birth and education’ 10 at the very heart of the Empire.

Most young men took the same route of sea to England and then trains to their respective university locations. It was most often their first experience outside their country and hence a deeply distressing and confusing one. Finding affordable accommodation and vegetarian food were other problems to grapple with, in addition to homesickness. Thrown into a culture completely alien to their own, many of them formed local associations to provide support to each other and to new incoming students. The Edinburgh Indian Association (EIA), which had nearly 200 members by 1900, and the Cambridge and Oxford Majlis were some such groups. In such a context, Shyamji’s initiative of India House as a boarding and community centre for Indian students was all the more important.

It also appears that becoming a barrister in Britain was relatively easy and this made it an attractive proposition for Indian students. As Gandhi writes about his experience of the process through which one earned a place as a barrister:

There were two conditions which had to be fulfilled before a student was formally called to the bar: ‘keeping terms’, twelve terms equivalent to about three years; and passing examinations. ‘Keeping terms’ meant eating one’s terms, i.e., attending at least six out of about twenty-four dinners in a term. Eating did not mean actually partaking of the dinner, it meant reporting oneself at the fixed hours and remaining present throughout the dinner.11


He also talks about two examinations—one on Roman law, and another on common law—that could be easily passed. The first by ‘scrambling through notes on Roman Law in a couple of weeks, and the Common Law examination by reading notes on the subject in two or three months’. 12 A leisurely schedule such as this was exactly what Vinayak would have sought to further his real intention of going to London.

Even before being admitted to the Inn, Vinayak wrote to the Secretary of State for India on 15 July 1906 about his great curiosity to hear the budget speech in British Parliament scheduled for 20 July and requested for entry passes to the House of Commons. On 18 July, he had to meet Sir William Hutt Curzon Wyllie, a distinguished British officer who was earlier the political aide-de-camp to the Secretary of State, Lord George Hamilton, to collect his passes. Wyllie recounts his meeting with Vinayak, describing him as ‘a small man with an intelligent face and a nervous manner . . . we agree in thinking that there is no objection to his being given the order he asks for’. Entering the heart of the British Empire and its seat of power and to see Parliament in action was a great learning experience for Vinayak.

In the first of many newsletters, known as Londonchee Batamipatre , that he sent to India on 17 August 1906, Vinayak talked about the Indian budget being discussed in the British Parliament as merely a documentation of how much money was looted in this financial year and the targets for the following one. ‘Our leaders,’ lamented Vinayak, ‘have been begging for concessions for the last decade. And what did they get yesterday apart from Mr Morley’s 13 crafty speech? Did he not say that the leaders of the Indian National Congress are opium eaters? You misguided folks, when are you going to come to your senses?’14

Through the rest of 1906, he wrote several such newsletters and articles on the need for a national Indian army, mocked the pusillanimity of Congress leaders such as Gokhale and Surendranath Banerjea with his sharp sarcasm, documented the various discussions related to India in British Parliament, and the need for revolution. Keeping himself abreast of the various political movements in London, he noted in his newsletter dated 28 September 1906:

Many people in India are demanding independence, so Sir Henry Cotton 15 calls them extremists. But in England too there is another political movement that can be called ‘Extremist.’ They recently had a huge meeting in Hyde Park. Large numbers of English women have joined this new movement. They want political rights at par with men (the Suffragette movement). Miss Emmeline Pankhurst spoke at the meeting at Hyde Park. She said, ‘We know that pitiable condition of women in England is a result of our political slavery. We want political freedom and men folk to co-operate with us for achieving it. But if they do not give us that freedom, we are quite capable of snatching it from their hands. If we wish we can bring England to a halt within a day and seize our political freedom.’ Listen fellow countrymen! An Englishwoman is saying this and we call ourselves moderate Indian men!! Never again should any country grind under slavery.16


There were innumerable people of great merit whom Vinayak met during his stay at India House and in London. These known and unknown heroes of the Indian freedom struggle played an important role in Vinayak’s life. Among them were Lala Har Dayal, Virendranath Chattopadhyay, Senapati Bapat, V.V.S. Aiyar, M.P.T. Acharya, J.C. Mukherjee, Madan Lal Dhingra, Gyanchand Verma, Bhai Parmanand, Sardar Singh Rana and Madame Bhikaji Cama. They all had a story of struggles and tribulations, and had traversed different journeys before destiny had brought them together in London for a brief while. Their stories and destinies became deeply intertwined with Vinayak’s in the years to come.

Lala Har Dayal (1884–1939) was about the same age as Vinayak. Born on 4 October 1884 to an upper-caste Kayastha family in Delhi, he was the youngest of four brothers. He attended Christian mission schools, completed his education at Cambridge Mission School and thereafter received a bachelor’s degree in Sanskrit from St Stephen’s College, Delhi. In his youth, he was also a member of the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA). He then went on to do his master’s degree in Sanskrit from Punjab University in Lahore in 1905. 17 He topped his batch at both levels. Even British official accounts stress his several academic achievements: ‘Throughout his academic career he has been a scholar of exceptional qualifications always being first in his examinations and scholarships.’ 18 As hostile an evaluator as the lieutenant governor of Punjab, Sir Michael O’Dwyer, who called Har Dayal ‘the most sinister figure in the revolutionary movement’, made references to his ‘brilliant academic career’. 19 His disenchantment with convent education came early and he was later to become one of the loudest voices that called for a Hinduized ‘national’ education and castigated the missionary attempts of proselytization of Hindu students in Christian institutions. 20 He was deeply influenced by Swami Dayanand Saraswati and the Arya Samaj. In his Lahore days, he became closely associated with both Bhai Parmanand (1874–1948) and Lala Lajpat Rai.

Parmanand was also pursuing his Master of Arts degree at the Punjab University and was teaching history and political science at the D.A.V. College. In London, during his stay at the India House, the quintessential historian that he was, under Vinayak’s guidance, Bhai Parmanand made an intensive research of over an year and a half at the British Museum Library and wrote a thesis on the ‘Rise of British Power in India’, as part of his MA degree from London University. While his guide at King’s College found the thesis compelling, government pressure due to the ‘libellous contents’ of the thesis resulted in it being rejected. Parmanand returned to Lahore in 1908 to resume teaching, writing and working for the Arya Samaj.

Meanwhile, during his teaching stint at St Stephens College, Har Dayal received a scholarship of £200 for three years and in 1905 joined St John’s College, London, to study history. On reaching London, he had to report to Sir Curzon Wyllie and present a choice of an institute of study. Like Shyamji, Har Dayal too became a Boden Scholar at Oxford by 1907. With

no intention to join government service, Har Dayal was committed to the cause of Indian independence, but not through the moderate means advocated by Gokhale and the Congress. Like Vinayak, Har Dayal too drew inspiration from Mazzini, while also admiring the philosophies of Karl Marx and the Russian revolutionary anarchist and founder of collectivist anarchism, Mikhail Bakunin. During his visits to London, Har Dayal stayed at India House and this was where he met Vinayak. About these two it is said:

Savarkar and Har Dayal—the twin souls of Pandit Shaymaji Krishnavarma . . . became the magnetic centre of attraction and activity in the years to come. It was, as it were, the manifestation of thunder and lightning, which, on the one hand, gave an alarming shock to the British Rule, and, on the other, startled the beholders with its brilliance. It may not be said that the two patriots of sterling worth were the products of Shyamaji Krishnavarma, though indeed they were his wards. Lala Lajpat Rai has very clearly stated in his biography. It is almost an affront to the born genius of these two patriots, who were themselves the born devotees of freedom, to say that they were the disciples of Pandit Shyamaji Krishnavarma.21


Har Dayal readily joined Abhinav Bharat and took its oath. Immediately after meeting Vinayak, his ‘studies were shelved’ and he ‘walked out of the Oxford University, abandoning English education of the hated race, whose power over India he had pledged to overthrow’, 22 and sacrificing ‘the last installment of his emoluments therefrom, stating that he disapproved of the English system of education in India’. 23 The Indian Sociologist ’s October 1907 issue commended his example and hoped that ‘the demoralizing effect of the Government of India scholarships, which are offered as a bait to our best men at the Universities, will be perceived by all who wish to see their country rise in the scale of nations’. 24 He returned to India and became renowned for his role as the founder of the Ghadr Party that carried out the task of Indian revolution in America and Canada.

Virendranath Chattopadhyay (1880–1937) was another early convert of Vinayak at India House. Second of eight children of renowned linguist, exprincipal and professor of science at Nizam’s College, Hyderabad, Dr Aghore Nath Chattopadhyay, Virendra graduated from Calcutta University in 1903. ‘Chatto’, as his comrades at India House lovingly called him, was the brother of the famous Indian poet and ‘nightingale’, Sarojini Naidu. He went to England in 1903 to study for the Indian Civil Services (ICS) examinations but failed twice. He then enrolled at Middle Temple Inn to study law. He was very clearly attracted by what could be called the ‘underground movement’ for the liberation of India. It does not seem like he continued his studies after he became closely associated with Vinayak and the activities at India House. From the library he left behind in Sweden, it is clear that he was a very well-read man, with a vast knowledge of several subjects and languages. To make a living, he worked as a freelance journalist and contributed several articles. Jawaharlal Nehru writes about him in his Autobiography:

He was a very able and a very delightful person. He was always hard up, his clothes very much the worse for wear and often he found it difficult to raise the wherewithal for a meal. But his humour and light-heartedness never left him. He had been some years senior to me during my educational days in England. He was at Oxford when I was at Harrow. Since those days he had not returned to India and sometimes a fit of homesickness came to him when he longed to be back. All his home-ties had long been severed and it is quite certain that if he came to India he would feel unhappy and out of joint . . . Chatto was not, I believe, a regular communist, but he was communistically inclined.25


Interestingly, it is said that the renowned British playwright and novelist Somerset Maugham fashioned the character and narrative of an Indian revolutionary in a chapter of his short-story collection, Ashenden: Or the British Agent , on Virendranath’s activities. 26 He made the acquaintance of an Irish girl whom he lived with for about five years at Notting Hill. A Bengali revolutionary, Chandra Chakraberty, who met him in Berlin in 1915 recounts:

Chatto was one of the ablest revolutionaries I have known. Not only he understood international politics, but he had also a good knowledge of food chemistry, which we discussed very often on the dinner table during my stay with him in Berlin. His relation with the German government was cordial and friendly. He never lowered the national dignity and self-respect as a representative of India.27


Panduranga Mahadev Bapat (1880–1967), better known as Senapati or Commander-in-Chief Bapat was born into a Chitpawan Brahmin family like Vinayak’s in the Ahmednagar district. After his primary education at his hometown, Parner, he went to study at New English School in Poona. Completing his matriculation in 1899, he secured the coveted Jagannath Shankersheth Scholarship for his proficiency in Sanskrit and joined Deccan College, Poona. Here, he met Damodar Balwant Bhide, who belonged to the Chapekar Club, and who initiated him into the revolutionary path. The politically surcharged atmosphere at Poona shaped young Bapat’s nationalist ideas and vision. After completing his BA, he secured the Mangaldas Nathubai Scholarship and proceeded to United Kingdom in 1904 to study at Herriot-Watt College, Edinburgh. He learnt shooting at Queen’s Rifles Club of the college. Being politically active and interested, he attended several political meetings of British leaders. During one such meeting he met socialist leader John Dingwall who was a leading member of the Labour Party that sympathized with India’s freedom struggle. Bapat made an in-depth study of India’s condition under the British and this moved Dingwall deeply.

Bapat began giving bold speeches on the depravity of India’s alien rule. In 1906, in his paper ‘What shall our Congress do?’, he appealed to the Congress leaders to give up their politics of petitions and prayers and resort to agitation politics. This paper cost him his scholarship. Left with no other option, Bapat moved to India House. This is where he met Vinayak in September 1906 and was deeply inspired by him. In 1907, his paper ‘India in the year 2007’, delivered at Edinburgh, advocated the use of violent means to secure justice and liberation. ‘To secure and preserve high ideals,’ explained Bapat, ‘human killing is perfectly justified.’28

Writing about Vinayak’s influence on him, Bapat states:

Before I met Savarkar, I had planned a revolutionary pamphleteer and lecturer’s life for myself. A few months after I met him, I cancelled my plan and took up the idea of going to Paris for learning bomb-making . . . One chief reason for change of mind was the impression that Savarkar made on me by his brilliant writing and speaking. Here was a born revolutionary, writer, and speaker. I said to myself, I may well leave writing and turn to revolutionary work.29


On Vinayak’s advice, Bapat, along with Hemchandra Das and Mirza Abbas, went to Paris to learn how to make bombs with the help of his Russian friends. Significantly though, despite his close ties with Vinayak and a perfect alignment of thoughts on the issue of armed revolution, Bapat never became a member of Abhinav Bharat despite several attempts by Vinayak. The reason for this is unclear.30

V.V.S. Aiyar (1881–1925), or Varahaneri Venkatesa Subramania Aiyar, was born in the hamlet of Varahaneri in Trichinopoly in the Madras Presidency. His Brahmin father, Venkatesa Aiyar, had a small banking business and a sales and credit society that specialized in the audit of accounts. He was deeply concerned about the virulent propaganda of Christian missionaries and their proselytization efforts and consequently undertook door-to-door canvassing to bring neo-converts back into the Hindu fold. He even approached the venerable Shankaracharya of the Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham for permission to reconvert them but failed. Disappointed, Venkatesa Aiyar continued his efforts by word of mouth and through printed leaflets. To combat the rapid loss of culture and reverence for one’s faith among Hindu children, he would take them on tours to the famous temples of Tamil Nadu and narrate fascinating tales of their history and mythology. Born into such a Hindu-conscious family, Subramania too was deeply religious. Passing his matriculation in 1895, he ranked fifth in the entire presidency. He attended St Joseph’s College at Trichinopoly and in 1899 passed his BA examination meritoriously, standing first in Latin.

After passing a pleader’s 31 examination in Madras in 1902, Subramania settled into a comfortable domestic life. That was when his wife’s cousin suggested that he take up legal practice in Rangoon (Yangon). Despite the taboo associated with ‘crossing the seas’, his father allowed young Subramania to leave for Rangoon. In Rangoon, his friend T.S.S. Rajan noticed Subramania’s talents and suggested that he go to London to study and become a barrister, and also offered to finance his travel. Accordingly, he left for London in late 1907. Aiyar’s search for a vegetarian mess in London took him to India House. It was here that Aiyar first met Vinayak. Vinayak describes their first meeting thus:

In 1907, one day the maidservant at the famous India House in London handed a visiting card to us as we came downstairs to dine and told us the gentleman was waiting in the drawing room. Presently, the door was flung open and a gentleman, neatly dressed in European costume and inclined to be fashionable, warmly shook hands with us. He told us he had been a pleader in Rangoon and had come over to England to qualify himself as a full-fledged barrister. He was past thirty and seemed a bit agreeably surprised to find us so young. He assured us of his intention to study English music and even assured us that he was keen to get a few lessons in dancing as well. We, as usual, entered our mild protest against thus dissipating the energy of our youth in light-hearted pastimes when momentous issues hung in the balance. The gentleman, unconvinced, though impressed took our leave promising to continue to call upon us every now and then. He was Shrijut V.V.S. Aiyar.32


Vinayak was wrong about Aiyar’s age; he was only twenty-six but looked older because of his sturdy build. Before joining India House, Aiyar was deeply suspicious and resentful of Vinayak and had even said to a few friends: ‘I will have nothing to do with that firebrand.’ 33 But at the Inns of Court, where both of them serendipitously worked together, Aiyar began to realize how wrong his assessment of Vinayak had been. They went on to become lifelong friends. Aiyar soon moved into India House as a permanent lodger and was Vinayak’s second-in-command and trusted confidant. A little later, T.S.S Rajan also left Rangoon for London and joined India House.

M.P. Tirumala Acharya was a Tamil scholar, journalist and patriot. Born in 1887 in Madras, his father M.P. Narasimha Ayyangar was a supervisor in the Public Works Department. His forefathers hailed from Mysore and had migrated to Madras. Coming from a family steeped in patriotic values, young Tirumala joined hands with the famous Tamil poet and nationalist, Subramania Bharati, to run a weekly journal titled India . The patriotic editorials and interesting cartoons—the first in any language in south India—made the newspaper very popular. It also attracted British ire. They decided to arrest Bharati, after which Tirumala Acharya fled to the French territory of Pondicherry. The British government began putting immense pressure on France to ban ‘seditious literature’ and hand over these ‘refugees’.

This marked a turning point in Acharya’s life. To hide his identity, he cut off the pigtail that orthodox Brahmins like him sported, bid an emotional farewell to his ailing father; and in the best interests of the country, decided to leave India. With a small suitcase and merely Rs 300 on him, Tirumala had no idea where to proceed. He first moved to Colombo and from there escaped to England. During the passage, since there was no vegetarian food on board, he kept a fast for twenty-two days. In Paris, he met Moniers Vinson, a professor of Tamil in Paris University who was recommended by a mutual acquaintance as someone who might help him earn a living in the city. But he was sadly mistaken and the professor refused to help. Desperate to find a way to survive in a new city, Acharya met a few Indian patriots whom he was in correspondence with while he co-edited the India weekly. They advised him to leave Paris and go to London to seek refuge at Shyamji’s hostel. At India House, Acharya too came under Vinayak’s spell, becoming an ardent follower. He reminisces about his association with Vinayak thus:

His personal charm was such that a mere shake hand could convert men as V.V.S. Aiyar and Har Dayal—not only convert but even bring out the best out of them. Sincere men always became attached to him whether they agreed with or differed from him. Not only men in ordinary walks of life but even those aspiring to high offices, recognized the purity of purpose in him, although they were poles apart from him, and deadly opponents as regards his political objectives. They even opened their purse for his propaganda. That means Savarkar had a rare tact in dealing with men of every variety. Savarkar’s austerity was itself a discipline to others, which easy-going people hated and shunned. England was a country for amusement and most people wanted to make the most of it.34


The Bengali ‘ Dada’ (elder brother) as he was called, J.C. Mukherjee was an elderly person and wrote regularly for Gandhi’s Indian Opinion. After meeting Vinayak, his political thoughts changed and he devoted himself to the revolutionary cause.

Among Vinayak’s closest aides at India House was Madan Lal Dhingra (1883–1909). Madan Lal was born on 18 September 1883 in Amritsar, the sixth of seven sons. His father was a renowned eye specialist and civil surgeon in Amritsar. Two of Madan Lal’s brothers were doctors, while two others were barristers. In 1906, Dhingra went to London to pursue his higher studies—a diploma in civil engineering at University College. Tall, well built and handsome, Dhingra was blithe and jovial and the centre of attraction of young men and women. His friends were as boisterous and often sang romantic songs. Matters of freedom or revolution were the last things on Dhingra’s mind. But he was transformed under Vinayak’s influence. One Sunday afternoon, when Vinayak was delivering a lecture at India House, Dhingra and his friends were creating a ruckus in the adjoining room. An incensed Vinayak barged into Dhingra’s room and gave him an earful about his irresponsible behaviour while millions in his country were dying of slavery. Those harsh words shamed Dhingra so much that he quietly left India House for several days thereafter. After mustering the courage, Dhingra returned to seek Vinayak’s pardon and was further embarrassed when he saw the latter behaving with him as normal as before. He vowed to dedicate himself to the cause of the revolution.

Famously known as the ‘Mother of Indian Revolutionaries’, Madame Bhikaji Rustom K.R. Cama (1861–1936) was one of the high priestesses of Indian nationalism. Her portrait appeared in French papers along with that of Joan of Arc. British intelligence reports state that she ‘was regarded by the Hindus as a reincarnation of some deity, presumably Kali’. 35 Born into a rich Parsi business family in Bombay, Bhikaji was educated at Alexandra Parsi Girls School. Right from her childhood, tales of heroism and the freedom struggle attracted her. Her orientation deeply offended her father, Sorabji Framji Patel, who decided that the best panacea to this was getting her married. So, he chose a handsome young man, Rustom Cama, a lawyer and a pro-British social worker and son of the famous Orientalist and social reformer, Professor Khurshidji Rostomji Cama. It seemed like the perfect, cultured household that could ‘cure’ the little girl of her madness for revolution and freedom. On 3 August 1885, their wedding was celebrated with much grandeur. However, Sorabji’s strategy failed.

In 1896, when plague broke out in Bombay, Bhikaji wilfully left the comforts of her home and went to slums to serve victims. She had not even been vaccinated and so was afflicted by plague herself. All of this and her frequent dabbling with thoughts of freedom and armed struggle created major rifts in the household. The marriage terminated in 1901 and a thoroughly frustrated Bhikaji decided to leave India for good. Her father wanted to send her to London to convalesce. But Bhikaji had other plans. She plunged into politics straightaway. She stayed in London from 1902 to 1907 and came in contact with Shyamji Krishna Varma. Initially, a proponent of the moderate faction of Congress, she served as Dadabhai Naoroji’s private secretary. But she was soon captivated by the story of Mazzini and other revolutionaries and decided to switch sides to support the Lal-Bal-Pal trio of extremists. She was a regular contributor in the Indian Sociologist. Her propaganda for the cause of Indian freedom took her to New York in 1907. Staying at Martha Washington Hotel there, Bhikaji, when questioned about her political aim, replied:

Swaraj, self-government. No one conceives how we are prosecuted. I could not return to India . . . the most hopeful thing is the enthusiasm that is spreading over our entire people. Starved and uneducated as many of us are, the past few years have shown an increase of millions of patriots. We shall have liberty, fraternity, and equality someday. We hope for freedom within ten years.36


Madame Cama became an active member of Abhinav Bharat. She justified her deep faith in armed struggle towards liberating India in these words:

I want to speak on the methods, as I cannot keep quiet. Since such tyranny is going on in our country, so many deportations are cabled everyday, and all peaceful methods are denied to us. Some of you may feel that as a woman I should object to violence. The price of liberty must be paid. Which nation has got it without paying for it? Hindustanis! Our Revolution is holy. May our country be emancipated speedily. My only hope in life is to see our country free and united. I beg of you young men to march on to the goal of swaraj in its right sense. Let the motto be: We are all for ‘India for Indians’.37


Others in Vinayak’s group in London included W.P. Phadke of Bombay who abandoned his plans to write the ICS examinations to join Abhinav Bharat, K.V.R. Swami, Niranjan Pal, Hemchandra Das, Sukhsagar Dutt, Bapu Joshi, M.C. Sinha, Harishchandra Krishnarao Koregaonkar, Hotilal Varma, Mirza Abbas, R.M. Khan of Nabha, Abdullah Suhrawardy who was vice-president of the Home Rule Society, and Sikandar Hayat Khan who later became the prime minister of Punjab.

As is evident from the descriptions of the various characters within and closely associated with India House, and their backgrounds, it was indeed a microcosm of India itself. They were young people from different parts of the country, all highly educated and intelligent, with bright prospective futures; yet they willingly gave up their careers, families and their very lives for the cause of liberating their motherland. And with Vinayak as the group’s leader, they were bracing themselves for creating a huge impact in the very heart of the mighty British Empire.

Although there were a few Muslim young men who were part of this group, there are indications that Shyamji and India House were viewed with suspicion in certain Islamic quarters. One of the inmates of India House, Abdullah Suhrawardy, repeatedly received letters from someone called Ziauddin, who was also studying in London, and who later went on to become the vice chancellor of Aligarh Muslim University:

I understand that Mr Krishnavarma has founded a society called ‘India Home Rule Society’ and you are also one of its vice presidents. Do you really believe that the Mohammedans will be profited if Home Rule be granted to India? . . . There is no doubt that this Home Rule is decidedly against the Aligarh Policy . . . what I call the Aligarh policy is really the policy of all the Mohammedans generally—of the Mohammedans of Upper India particularly.38


Despite these apprehensions from various quarters, Vinayak decided to create a version of Abhinav Bharat in England as well in order to organize these young men from different parts of India into a cogent force. The ‘Free India Society’ was thus formed within India House towards the end of 1906. It held regular meetings, celebrated Indian festivals such as Dussehra, birth and death anniversaries of great Indian leaders and spiritual masters such as Shivaji, Guru Nanak, Guru Gobind Singh and others, and held debates and discussions on the political situation in India and possible solutions. The society’s weekly Sunday meetings drew large crowds and were conducted openly. In these meetings, Vinayak delivered masterly speeches on the history of Italy, France and America and their revolutionary movements. He would often point out that ‘peaceful evolution had a meaning and a sense, peaceful revolution had neither’. 39 With forceful and erudite arguments he managed to convince even those who disagreed with him.

Many young men were influenced and would soon enrol into the society. Vinayak would carefully assess them and only those whom he found suitable were included in Abhinav Bharat’s core group. Several Indian students from ‘Cambridge, Oxford, Edinburg, Manchester and other centres of education were rapidly brought under the influence of the revolutionary tenets’. 40 Gyanchand Verma, a law student who came from a poor family background in India, became the secretary of the Free India Society. On 29 December 1908, Guru Gobind Singh’s anniversary celebration at Caxton Hall was a spectacular performance with numerous stalwarts such as Vinayak, Lala Lajpat Rai and Bipin Chandra Pal attending and delivering passionate speeches.

Right from childhood, the life and struggles of Italian revolutionary Giuseppe Mazzini (1805–72) had influenced Vinayak. Instead of positing his revolutionary thoughts within Marxist ideology, Vinayak made Mazzini his role model. It was Mazzini’s efforts that had created a unified Italy in 1861 from a conglomerate of disparate states ruled by the Austrian Empire. Mazzini’s interactions with fellow revolutionary Giuseppe Garibaldi (1807–82) were significant for Vinayak in his understanding of warfare. Returning from exile in Brazil and Uruguay, Garibaldi formed an alliance with Mazzini to fight with the kingdom of Sardinia against the Austrian Empire. Despite these efforts, the imperial rule did not end in Italy, till later wars finally led to its liberation and unification.

Vinayak’s Mitra Mela and Abhinav Bharat were modelled on Mazzini’s idea of ‘Young Italy’ and his modus operandi as perfect templates for the Indian struggle for liberation. Several Indian nationalists were influenced by Mazzini, including Lala Lajpat Rai, Bipin Chandra Pal, S.M. Paranjpe, Surendranath Banerjea and Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. 41 They had written critiques or given lectures on the Italian’s political philosophy. But many stopped short of incorporating his revolutionary or violent zeal. As Banerjea points out in his autobiography:

I lectured upon Mazzini but took care to tell the young men to abjure his revolutionary ideas and to adopt his spirit of sacrifice and devotion to the path of constitutional development . . . Mazzini’s tactics will be disastrous in our country. Our efforts must be legal, constitutional and absolutely peaceful.42
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