In 2003, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was the then Chief Minister of Gujarat, had brought back the ashes of Indian freedom fighter Shyamji Krishna Varma and his wife Bhanumati from Geneva, Switzerland. The Prime Minister highlighted this fact through a social media post on October 4, 2021, as he paid homage to Varma, an indefatigable figure of India’s independence movement, on the latter’s birth anniversary. Varma has also been honoured as a part of the Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav celebrations.
Born on October 4, 1857, in Mandvi, Gujarat, Varma was about 11 years old when his mother passed away, after which he was raised by his nani (maternal grandmother). He completed his primary and secondary education in Gujarat before moving to Bombay’s (present-day Mumbai) Wilson High School to pursue higher education, where he also mastered Sanskrit. In 1875, he tied the knot with Bhanumati, the daughter of an affluent businessman. Soon after, he met philosopher and social leader Dayanand Saraswati, who was an expert of the ancient Vedas, and had also founded Ayra Samaj, a reform movement. Within a short period of time, Varma gained knowledge of the Vedas, became Saraswati’s disciple and began touring the country preaching the philosophy of the sacred texts. Such was Varma’s command over the text and Sanskrit that he was honoured with the distinguished title of ‘Pandit’ and caught the attention of Monier Williams, a professor of Sanskrit at Oxford University, the UK. Williams invited Varma to join him as his assistant, and on April 25, 1879, Varma joined the Oxford University’s Balliol College as an assistant professor of Sanskrit. Varma completed his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1883 and presented a paper on the subject of “The origin of writing in India” at the Royal Asiatic Society. The paper received great appreciation and Varma was elected a non-resident member of the society.
Return to India
Varma returned to India in 1885 and signed up as an advocate at the erstwhile Bombay High Court and began his practice. He was eventually appointed as ‘Dewan’ in the court of the then king of Ratlam. He held the position for some time before retiring due to failing health. He then settled in Ajmer and continued practicing law at the British Court in Ajmer, which garnered him much fame as an advocate. Between 1893 and 1895, he served as a council member for the then king of Udaipur and later, as Dewan of the former Junagarh state. Around 1897, Varma’s life changed, when he had a bitter encounter with a Britisher. The incident moved him to such an extent that he decided to dedicate his life to fighting the British rule in India.
Home Rule Society and India House
On February 18, 1905, Varma set up the Home Rule Society, an organisation that encouraged and inspired revolutionaries in India and the world over to fight for India’s independence. He also laid the foundations of India House at 65, Cromwell Avenue, Highgate, London. Inaugurated on July 1, 1905, by HM Hyndman (leader of Social Democratic Federation), India House was a safe haven for Indian students studying abroad. The inauguration of India House, which could accommodate 25 students, was attended by several Indian freedom fighters like Dadabhai Naoroji, Lala Lajpat Rai and Madam Cama, and by noted foreigners like Harry Quelch (editor of the Social Democratic Federation’s magazine Justice) and Charlotte Despard, a revolutionary suffragette. Varma envisioned that India House would instill in its residing students patriotism and create revolutionaries. And create patriotic revolutionaries it did – Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, Lala Har Dayal and many more.
The end of the road
By the time World War I broke out, Varma had shifted to Geneva, Switzerland, where he breathed his last on March 30, 1930. His last wish was that his ashes, along with his wife’s, be brought to an Independent India. Before his demise, he made arrangements for the safekeep of the ashes for 100 years, by which he was sure India would be free from British rule. His ashes were safely kept in Geneva’s Saint George Cemetery. When his wife Bhanumati died in 1933, her ashes were also kept in the same cemetery. India became Independent in 1947, around 17 years after Varma’s death but his wish was forgotten. It wasn’t around 55 years later in 2003, when the wish of this Gujarati revolutionary was fulfilled by PM Modi. The ashes were given state honours. In 2010, PM Modi dedicated Kranti Teerth, located in Mandvi, to the nation. In a social media post dated October 4, 2014, he said, “In 2010, we dedicated Kranti Teerth to the nation. Kranti Teerth is a memorial that celebrates Shyamji Krishna Varma’s life & contribution,” and urged everyone to visit this memorial and be inspired by his revolutionary spirit.