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
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
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
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
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.
: G. V. Ketkar