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Vinayak Damodar Saavarkar - Swatantryaveer, A fearless freedom fighter

Biography: Swatantryaveer Vinayak Damodar Savarkar (28 May 1883 to 26 Feb 1966) was a fearless freedom fighter, social reformer, writer...

Vinayak Damodar Saavarkar
Biography:
Swatantryaveer Vinayak Damodar Savarkar (28 May 1883 to 26 Feb 1966) was a fearless freedom fighter, social reformer, writer, dramatist, historian, political leader, and philosopher. Savarkar’s thoughts touch upon virtually every aspect of nation-building and are relevant even today. Unfortunately, Savarkar has been a victim of malice and misinformation. As a considerable part of his literature is in Marathi, his thoughts and achievements in several spheres are largely unknown outside Maharashtra.

Why was Savarkar named Vinayak?
The infant Savarkar used to cry incessantly. He would refuse his mother’s milk. In those days, people would ask the infant who he was in his previous life. They would the names of several ancestors and would tell the infant that they would give him the name of his choice to make him stop crying. The infant’s eldest uncle Mahadevrao (or Bapukaka as he was known) told him, “If you are Vinayak Dikshit (name of his ancestor) drink your mother’s milk and stop crying. We will name you so” and applied holy ash. The infant stopped crying instantly and started feeding. He was hence named Vinayak. This was also his grand father’s name (It is common practice to name a son after his grandfather, the underlying belief being that the soul of the dead ancestor has reincarnated).

To which community did Savarkar belong?
Savarkar was a Chitpavan Brahmin (All the Peshwas, Nana Phadnavis, Vasudeo Balwant Phadke, Vishnushastri Chiplunkar, Madhav Govind Ranade, Lokmanya Tilak, Gopal Krishna Gokhale, Gopal Ganesh Agarkar, Dhondo Keshav Karve were Chitpavan Brahmins).

The Chitpavan Brahmins are large of medium height, fair-complexioned with blue or green eyes. They consider Parshuram, the sixth reincarnation of Lord Vishnu as their ancestor. They hail from the Konkan region of Maharashtra. A common trait of the Chitpavan Brahmins was hatred towards foreign rule. The British called them the Poona Brahmins and singled them out as a community to be watched. In a secret letter dated 09 July 1879, the then Governor of Bombay Province Sir Richard Temple wrote to Viceroy Lord Lytton, “The Chitpavans imagine that someday, more or less remote, the British shall be made to retire, into that darkness where the Moguls retired. Any fine morning, an observant visitor may ride through the streets of Poona and mark the scowl with which so many persons regard this stranger. In his book Indian Unrest (p.39), Sir Valentine Chirol (who called Tilak “the father of Indian unrest”) wrote, “Among many others (Chitpavan Brahmins)…there has undoubtedly been preserved for the last hundred years…an unbroken tradition of hatred towards the British rule, an undying hope that it may someday be subverted and their own ascendancy restored."

Savarkar’s Ancestors:
Savarkar's clan belonged to the Vaashishta gotra (the rishi Vashishtha from whom the clan supposedly originated) and Hiranyakeshi sutra. Like other Chitpavan Brahmins, this clan hailed from Konkan, the coastal part of Western Maharashtra in Western India. Their place of origin was Savarwadi in Palshet village in Guhagar taluka (tehsil) of the Konkan region. Savarwadi was so named because of the plentiful Saanvari (Saavari pronounced nasally) trees that yield a type of soft cotton called shevari.

The original surname of the clan was Bapat but this was changed to Sanvarkar (Savarkar pronounced nasally; the pronounced as in Angkor Vat) from their place of origin. In his childhood, elderly women used to call Savarkar Bapat after his original surname. Some say the original surname of the Savarkar's was Oak. Be that as it may, in course of time the name Sanvarkar became Savarkar. The Savarkar family was particularly close to the Khare family from the neighboring village of Dhopave. Like other impoverished families, these two families migrated from Konkan and crossed the Sahyadri mountain range to try their luck in the Deccan plateau. This migration must have probably taken place at the time of the first Peshwa Balaji Vishwanath Bhat (1680-1719; Balaji Vishwanath Bhat had himself migrated from Konkan to Pune; the Peshwas were the hereditary Brahmin prime ministers of the Maratha rulers).

The Savarkars settled in Bhagur, a small village on the banks of the river Daarna, around 6-7 miles near Nashik in north-western Maharashtra. On the other bank of the Daarna river was the village of Rahuri. In 1756, in recognition of their intellectual exploits, the Peshwa Balaji Bajirao (1721-1761), son of Peshwa Balaji Vishwanath Bhat gave a grant of Rahuri village to Savarkar's ancestor Vedamurti Mahadev Dikshit Savarkar and Narayan Bhat Khare.

The Savarkars used to receive an annual sum of Rs. 1200 towards their grant. During the British rule, a commission was levied on this annual grant and the annual sum received by the Savarkars dwindled to a mere Rs. 29! In his autobiography, Savarkar mentions the name of his ancestor who first settled in Bhagur as 'Harbhat'. He was the father of Mahadev Dikshit Savarkar. This means that the Savarkars had settled in Bhagur before the time of Peshwa Balaji Bajirao. In Bhagur, the Savarkar's had two houses adjacent to each other. The grant of the Rahuri village included many orchards and fields. There was a large mango orchard in the grant. All in all, the income from the grant was considerable. The Savarkar family was well to do. In particular, two ancestors of Savarkar made their mark. In 1811, among those who gave the traditional gold coins to the Peshwa Bajirao II (1796-1851) on Vijayadashmi day was his chief clerk Balwant Ramchandra Savarkar. One Parshurampant Savarkar was part of a delegation that was commissioned by the Pune Peshwa on 05 September 1817 to negotiate and avert war with Elphinstone.

Savarkar's parents, uncles, and siblings?
Savarkar's eldest uncle Mahadevrao or Bapukaka as he was known, was born around 1835. He was tall, well built and had an athletic body. Though he had not learned English, he was well aware of the laws and conventions under the British. He was well respected in and around Bhagur. He used to do money lending. He married in 1851 but was childless. Bapukaka had got his sister to Dhonduanna Kanitkar of Kothur.

Bapukaka's youngest brother Damodar (Savarkar's father) was born around 1850. After he had completed his Marathi education in Bhagur, Bapukaka saw to it that Damodar got English education in the government school in Nashik. As Damodarpant (or Damuanna as he was popularly called) was perhaps the only person in Bhagur who knew English, he was respected by people in Bhagur. Damodarpant was fair complexioned, impressive and had developed an athletic body. He kept several weapons such as swords, guns, and spears in his house. He was adept at using these weapons. His skill in weaponry used to prove useful in combating dacoits who would raid the lonely houses in Bhagur. Damodarpant was not only a connoisseur of poetry but he himself composed poems. He used to read not only Marathi but Sanskrit and English poetry as well. His ready wit would instantly impress others. Damodarpant was a self-respecting, disciplined and occasionally quick-tempered person. Later, there arose a dispute between Bapukaka and Damodarpant. At times, this would result in physical altercations. Damodarpant was married around 1867 when he was doing his matriculation. His wife hailed from the Manohar family of Kothur. Her father was proficient in the Vedas and hence was called Manohar Dikshit. He died in her childhood. Manohar Dikshit had a son called Govind. He was a handsome and brilliant man. He was an extremely gifted poet. He was proficient in wrestling as well and had taught wrestling to the young Savarkar. Savarkar probably inherited his extraordinary poetic genius from his father and maternal uncle.

Savarkar's mother was named 'Radha' after her marriage. She was about 7-8 years younger than Damodarpant. She was fair complexioned, of medium height, pretty and enthusiastic. She was fond of cleanliness, cooked well and had a melodious voice. She had a religious bent of mind. In spite of numerous servants, she would do all the housework herself. The residents of Bhagur would say, "Radhabai is one in five thousand women." In Savarkar's epic poem Gomantak, the character of 'Ramaa' is modeled after Radhabai.

After Damodarpant and Radhabai lost two sons in their infancy, they were blessed on 13 June 1879 with a son. He was named 'Ganesh'. He was known as 'Baba'. Babarao Savarkar became a great revolutionary, philosopher, writer, and organizer of Hindus in his own right. A patriot of the first order, Babarao Savarkar is the epitome of heroism that is unknown and unsung! Next was born Vinayak (our hero) on 28 May 1883. Though he was later affectionately known as 'Tatya', Savarkar's father used to call him 'Balu'. Though Bapukaka and Damodarpant were at loggerheads, Bapukaka had great affection for Tatya and used to affectionately call him 'Balambhat'. Being childless, he wanted to adopt Tatya but that was not possible due to his strained relations with Damodarpant. After Vinayak, there was a girl called Maina (nickname Mai). She was later married into the Kale family. The last child of Damodarpant and Radhabai was Narayan who was born in 1888. He was affectionately called 'Bal'. A dentist by profession, he was also imprisoned for his revolutionary activities in his youth.

NEXT POST: How were Savarkar’s formative years at Bhagur?

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