Patriots > The Revolutionaries >Savarkar,Vinayak Damodar ( Veer )
Savarkar,Vinayak Damodar ( Veer ) (1883-1966)

Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, popularly known as Veer Savarkar, was born in 1883 in a middle-class Chitpavan Brahmin family in a village named Bhagur near Nasik. Seven generations before him, his ancestors had come to this village from Guhagar in Ratnagiri district. `Savar-wadi' was a place near Guhagar, from which came the surname.

Savarkar's ancestors had secured the Jagir of Rahuri near Bhagur. They had their orchards and two houses at Bhagur. Vinayak's father Damodarpant was educated up to Matriculation, and composed Marathi and Sanskrit verses. Vinayak's mother Radhabai came from the Manohar family of the nearby village Kothur.

Damodarpant lost his first two sons at an early age. The third, Ganesh, was born in 1879, Vinayak four years later, then a girl and thereafter the youngest, Narayan (1888). They distinguished themselves as "Savarkar Brothers" in later life. They had an uncle, older than their father, and an aunt married in the Kanitkar family of Kothur. Vinayak was married (1901) to Mai, the daughter of Chiplunkar, a minister in the small Jawhar State near Nasik.

Vinayak passed the Marathi fourth standard at the age of ten. For two years he could not be sent to Nasik for higher studies, but during this period he completed at home the course of the first two English standards. He joined the Shivaji High School at Nasik in 1895 and passed the Matriculation examination in 1901. From an early age Vinayak was a voracious reader of books and newspapers. He learnt by heart passages of Marathi prose and poetry.

He even began to compose poems at the age of ten. At Nasik one Barve encouraged him to write essays, one of which was published serially in the weekly, Nasik Vaibhav. At fourteen he got the first prize in an elocution competition. At eighteen he got the first prize in an essay competition on "Who was the best of the Peshwas?". At nineteen he got the first prize for his poem on "Woes of Child-Widows".
In 1897 plague-ravaged Poona, the oppressive plague officer Rand was murdered by the Chaphekar brothers who went to the gallows singing verses from the Gita. Young Savarkar was deeply impressed, and in front of the family goddess at Bhagur he took an oath to fight like the Chaphekars for India's freedom. This oath was later introduced in the secret societies formed by him. In 1898 the plague reached Nasik and Bhagur the next year. Vinayak lost his father and uncle. His two brothers, Narayan and Ganesh, were also attacked, but both survived.

In 1899 Vinayak formed his first secret society with a nucleus of three. The following year it expanded into the `Mitra Mela'. In 1902 Vinayak joined the Ferguson College, Poona, and lived in its residency. He gathered round him a band of young patriots. During vaccations he would visit places in Maharashtra and deliver patriotic speeches. In 1905 the partition of Bengal roused a countrywide political agitation.

Savarkar's group organized a big bonfire of foreign cloth at Poona. Tilak, Paranjpe and Savarkar addressed the gathering. Vinayak was fined Rs. 10/- and expelled from the College residency. After graduating in 1905 Vinayak toured extensively to strengthen the `Mitra Mela' branches. A conference of their delegates, numbering two hundred, was addressed by Savarkar. He gave the name `Abhinav Bharat' to the society.

In 1906, on Talik's recommendation, Vinayak secured Shyamji Krishnavarma's scholarship, and sailed for England. In London Savarkar gathered round him a number of Indian patriotic students. They procured a book on bomb-making and sent cyclostyled copies to India. Savarkar also wrote a Marathi translation of Mazzini's writings, with a long introduction. It was published in India and became popular.

In 1907 came the 50th anniversary of the Mutiny which Savarkar called the `War of Independence'. He and his associates celebrated it in the India House of Shyamji. Savarkar wrote his famous English treatise on this war. The Government proscribed it in its manuscript form, but copies were printed in Holland and widely distributed. Vinayak's leaflet, `Oh! Martyrs', on the heroes of 1857 was also printed and distributed. His articles in the Indian Sociologist, the talwar and other papers were also translated and reproduced in the Yugantar of Calcutta and the Vihari of Bombay.

The revolutionary movement soon spread to other countries. It was in London that Savarkar first met Hardayal before the latter went to America and founded his 'Ghadar' (revolt) party. Shyamji also left for Paris to carry on revolutionary activities, leaving the charge of the India House in London to Savarkar. In India also, the Abhinav Bharat was continuing its activities. In 1909 Vinayak's brother, Ganesh, was sentenced to life imprisonment for terrorist activities. This was followed by Madanlal Dhingra, of Savarkar's group, killing Curzon Wyllie with a bomb in London.

At a meeting of Indians held in London after this incident, Veer Savarkar alone stood up and opposed the condemnation of Dhingra. He was assaulted on the platform and his eye-glasses broken; blood trickled down from one of his eyes. Next morning the London Times published Savarkar's letter that nobody should be condemned unless legally found guilty. Dhingra was tried and sentenced to death. The written statement with him was taken away by the police. But Savarkar had a copy, and he printed and distributed it to the surprise of the authorities.

While in London Savarkar qualified himself for the bar. But his joining of Court demanded an undertaking that he would not participate in seditious activities, which Savarkar refused. As a result, he was not called to the Bar.

After the Dhingra incident Vinayak went to Brighton where he composed a poem invoking the sea to take him back home. In the meanwhile revolutionaries were very active in India. In 1910 Kanhere shot the collector of Nasik to avenge the life sentence of Ganesh. Vinayak was in France but came back to England after the Nasik murder-conspiracy trial was over. He was promptly arrested, put in Brixton jail, where he wrote his `will' in poetry, and was extradited to India.

From the steamer in which he was being taken he escaped through a porthole and landed on French soil near Marseilles, but he was captured by guards from the ship and brought back to India. He was tried by a special tribunal on charges of treason and for helping the Nasik murder. He refused to recognise the Court's authority on the ground that he was illegally captured from French soil. He was given to two consecutive life-sentences which meant fifty years. His property was confiscated. The university cancelled his B. A. degree. The Hague International Court was invoked but it refused to interfere.

During his ten years in the Andaman jail, from 1911 to 1921, Vinayak composed poems, worked for literacy amongst prisoners and dispelled the superstitions of many of the Hindu convicts, reconverting them to the Hindu fold. In the Andamans he composed his poem `Kamala' in a special blank verse which he named `Vinayak Vritta'. The poem was learnt by heart by prisoners who were to be released early and was later reduced to writing. It was printed under the pseudonym `Vinanavasi'. He also composed the poem `Saptarshi' on the first night in jail and `Virahocchvasa', a yearning for the motherland. After release he published the story of life in the Andamans in `Mazi Janmathep' (My Transportation).

He was brought back to India in 1921 and for three years kept in Yervada, Nasik and Ratnagiri jails. He was released in 1924 under conditions that he should not go out of Ratnagiri district and should not take part in politics. In Ratnagiri jail he wrote his thesis of 'Hindutva', maintaining that every one whose fatherland and holy land was India is a Hindu. It was smuggled out of jail and published under the pseudonym `Maratha'. His long poem on Gomantak was also smuggled out of jail and published under the pseudonym 'Maharashtra Bhat'.

During his stay at Ratnagiri from 1924 to 1937 he carried on the movement of social reform against casteism and untouchability. He published essays against the old Hindu taboos regarding food, inter-caste marriages, sea-crossing and reconversion. He also started a Hindu Mahasabha branch at Ratnagiri.
After the restrictions on him were removed in 1937, he was elected President of the Hindu Mahasabha Session at Ahmedabad. For five successive years thereafter he presided over the Mahasabha Sessions - 1938 (Nagpur), 1939 (Calcutta), 1940 (Madura), 1941 (Bhagalpur) and 1942 (Kanpur). Although elected in 1943 also to preside over the Amritsar Session, he could not go owing to illness, and Dr. Shyama Prasad Mookerji presided.

The Hindu Mahasabha, founded in 1915, was mainly a social organization. But in Savarkar's time the Muslim League made demands of separate electorates, reserved seats and weightages, and as the Congress was prone to accept some of them, Savarkar opposed the demands; and in every speech he insisted that the constitution of free India should be based on pure democracy, universal adult suffrage and territorial constituencies. He held that by history Hindusthan was a Hindu `Rashtra'. But he never demanded Hindu `Rajya'.

Through the Hindu Mahasabha Savarkar conducted a satyagraha movement in the Nizam's State in 1939 for a fair representation of the Hindus in the legislature. Nearly 15,000 satyagrahis went from outside into the Nizam's dominions and were jailed. The Nizam ultimately yielded and announced reforms giving fifty percent representation to the Hindus in the legislature, while earlier there was none. The satyagraha was withdrawn and all were released. The Bhagalpur session (1941) of the Hindu Mahasabha was banned by the Bihar Government. Yet all the leaders went there and were arrested. Savarkar's printed address was read in the jail and the session was technically held. After the scheduled days of the session, all were released.

After 1943 Savarkar led a retired life in his home, ` Savarkar Sadan', in Dadar, Bombay. In 1948 he was accused of complicity in the Gandhi murder but was acquitted by the Court.

While at Ratnagiri Savarkar wrote two novels, `Kale Pani' and `Mopla Rebellion', and three dramas, `Sanyasta Khadga', `Usshap' and `Uttarkria', all in Marathi. They were published afterwards. He carried on the movement of Bhasha Shuddhi and improvement in the Devnagari script. He presided over the Marathi Literary Conference at Poona in 1938. His last work in Marathi was on his experiences in England called `Shatruchya Shibirat' (In the Enemy's Camp).

The great patriot died in 1966, leaving behind his son Vishwas and daughter Prabha.

Author : G. V. Ketkar