Savarkar in Bhagur: the formative years
by Shreerang Godbole on 28 May 2010 5 Comments

Bhagur is an obscure village around 6 or 7 miles from Nashik in Western Maharashtra. It would have remained a mere speck on the map had it not been for the fact that it is the birthplace of Vinayak Damodar Savarkar (b 28 May 1883). Originally from Savarwadi, a small hamlet in Guhagar tehsil in Konkan (coastal Maharashtra), Savarkar’s ancestors migrated to Bhagur during the time of Peshwa Bajirao I. 


In recognition of their valour, Savarkar’s ancestors were rewarded with the Bhagur and Rahuri villages. On one occasion, Savarkar’s ancestors defeated a band of dacoits and brought home a 45 cm high copper image of the eight-armed Ashtabhuja Devi. This goddess thus became the family deity of the Savarkars. Bhagur was also the birthplace of Savarkar’s illustrious brothers, the elder Ganesh or Babarao, and the youngest Narayan or Balarao, and also that of his younger sister Maina or Mai. Thus, Bhagur has the distinction of being the birthplace of three heroic patriots.  


Savarkar spent the first fourteen years of his life in Bhagur. The self-sacrificing patriot, social reformer, scholar, organizer, poet, playwright and orator in Savarkar was born and nurtured here. His father Damodarpant (pant is a Marathi honorific) or Anna as he was called, was fond of English and Marathi poetry. Savarkar’s maternal uncle Govindpant Manohar was a poet and wrestler of sorts. Family meetings at dinnertime would be invariably marked by Damodarpant reciting tales from Ramayana and Mahabharata or poems of Marathi poets such as Waman Pandit and Moropant or passages from Homer and Pope. 


It was inevitable that the young Savarkar would soon start composing his own poems. At the tender age of twelve he composed his first-ever poem ‘Shrimant Sawai Madhavravaancha rang’ on the Peshwa Sawai Madhavrao. His poem ‘Swadeshicha phatka’ dealing with Swadeshi and composed when he was merely fifteen, was published in the Jagadhitechchu periodical from Pune. The young lad was already dreaming of writing a magnum opus called Durgadas Vijay. It was as a child that Savarkar would hungrily devour back issues of Tilak’s Kesari and Vishnushastri Chiplunkar’s Nibandhmala (garland of essays) and read them aloud to others. 


Being landholders, the Savarkar family commanded respect in the village. But young Vinayak knew no distinctions of rich and poor, high and low when it came to choosing friends. His friends were drawn from all castes; they would stage mock fights between Shivaji’s Marathas and the Mughals. In 1893-94, Muslim riots erupted in parts of Maharashtra. Enraged by this, Savarkar and his teenaged friends attacked a mosque. In retaliation, students from the Urdu school attacked Savarkar’s friends but were roundly beaten up. The Muslim students vowed to corrupt the Hindu teenagers by forcing them to eat meat; this never happened. Later, Savarkar would go on to demolish the theory that a man’s religion is corrupted by his diet. Savarkar organized a public Ganeshotsav and delivered a public speech while still fourteen. 


Vinayak lost his mother Radhabai when he was only nine. His brother Babarao was married to Yashoda Phadke of Trimbakeshwar when Vinayak was eleven. Yashoda or Yesuvahini as she was called, took the place of Radhabai. To Vinayak, Yesuvahini was his dear friend and colleague in revolution. Indeed, she became his mother and source of inspiration. The unlettered Yesuvahini was fond of poetry. Soon Vinayak and Yesuvahini would recite poems in tandem and try to best each other. Vinayak taught his sister-in-law and her friends to read and write. 


In 1897, plague struck India and claimed millions of lives. The British used the pretext of plague to inflict atrocities on the people. To avenge these atrocities, the Chapekar brothers, Damodar Hari and Balkrishna Hari killed Special Plague Committee Chairman Rand and his military escort Lt. Ayerst on 22 June 1897 as they were returning from the Diamond Jubilee celebrations of the coronation of Queen Victoria at Government House, Pune. The two brothers embraced the gallows in 1899. Their brother Vasudeo Hari and his friend Mahadev Ranade were also hanged for killing an informant. 


These hangings stirred Maharashtra. The young Vinayak was moved to write a play on Tilak and Chapekar brothers, but it was considered too inflammable by the village elders to be enacted publicly. When all the other family members went to sleep, Vinayak would get up in the dead of the night and write a ballad on the Chapekars and Ranade under the light of a lantern. Disturbed by the light, Damodarpant once woke up to find his son single-mindedly composing this ballad. “You are too young for all this. Forget it. All this can wait till you grow up” said the anxious father to Vinayak. The ballad was so inflammable that it could not be published even in its watered down version. It saw the light of day only in 1946.


“If Chapekar’s work needs to be carried forward, why should’nt I be the one to do it?” thought the teenaged Vinayak. In the dead of the night, he approached the deity Ashtabhuja Devi and pledged: “For the sake of my country’s freedom, I shall embrace death while killing the enemy in armed revolution like the Chapekars or become victorious like Shivaji and place the crown of freedom on my motherland’s forehead. I shall unfurl the flag of armed revolution and fight unto the last”. In later years, Savarkar narrated that this pledge had a lasting impact on him. Its effect never dimmed in his darkest hours.


Savarkar did the first four standards of primary school in a school in Bhagur. He completed the next two academic years at home. In 1897, Savarkar left Bhagur for Nashik for his middle school education. While there, the plague claimed the lives of Savarkar’s father and uncle in 1899. 


Savarkar retained his affection for Bhagur till the end. In 1953, he went to Nashik to inaugurate the Abhinav Bharat Mandir. From there, he travelled to Bhagur and spent some time in his ancestral house which now belonged to someone else. He remained silent for some time. The streets were too narrow to allow a vehicle. Savarkar’s legs were aching. But he insisted on walking through the streets of Bhagur and visiting the homes of the ex-untouchables.


Places such as the Cellular Jail, Andamans, and Patitpavan Mandir, the first pan-Hindu temple in Ratnagiri which are associated with Savarkar’s life, have become places of pilgrimage. Likewise, his birth-place Bhagur shall be always remembered as the place which made the man.


Today, on 28 May, Savarkar’s birth anniversary, we remember the man and his mission.


(The author is a Pune-based endocrinologist and author; he is associated with the development of

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