An Indian patriot from Kutch

My new book “IDEAS, BOMBS, and BULLETS” explores the brave exploits of Indian patriots living at India House in London between 1905 and 1910. They dedicated their efforts towards gaining independence for India – complete liberation from British imperialist rule. India House, which was in north London, was purchased by Shamji Krishnavarma, a barrister and leading scholar of Sanskrit. If his origins in Mandvi (Kutch, now Gujarat) were humble, his academic acheivements were quite the opposite as these excerpts from my book explain:

Shyamji Krishnavarma[1] (‘Shyamji’) was born in Mandvi, an estuarine seaport in Kutch, in 1857. Until June 1948[2], Kutch, a largely arid desert area, was one of the semi-autonomous Indian Princely States controlled by the British Government in India. Sandwiched between Sindh (now in Pakistan) and the Saurashtra peninsula, Kutch is now part of the State of Gujarat.


Mandvi was an important trading centre. It was surrounded by a long wall, constructed in the 16th century and now mostly demolished. The old heart of the town and its bustling bazaar area remains picturesque with many houses displaying intricately carved wooden structural and decorative features. One bank of the mouth of the River Rukmavati continues to be a thriving centre for the construction of traditional wooden dhows, which are favoured for transporting goods mainly between the Arabian Gulf and East Africa. Fishermen mend their nets and maintain their colourfully decorated small vessels on the opposite bank. Mandvi is probably best known for the Vijay Vilas, a Maharao’s palace built in the 1920s in a Rajput architectural style. It was used to film some of the scenes in the highly popular Bollywood movie Lagaan, which was released in 2001 and depicts the struugle between the Indians and the British.

Shyamji was born into a poor Bhanasali family. The Bhanasali community comprises mainly poorer farmers and traders, who are Vaishnavite Hindus, worshippers of Vishnu (an avatar of Krishna) [3]. Krishnavarma’s first name, Shyamji, can mean: ‘dark complexioned’, ‘dark blue’ (as Krishna is often portrayed), and ‘Krishna’[4]. It was an obvious choice for a son’s name by worshippers of this god. The ‘Varma’ suffix on his surname was questioned by members of the Indian police in British India, who became very interested in Shyamji’s activities after 1905. A police report dated 27th September 1905 suggested Shyamji:

“… added the title “Varma” to his name in order to pass himself off as a Kshatriya[5]…”

This might have been a defamatory act of the authorities against someone they feared. If this was really the case, it might have been added because the Kshatriya (warrior) caste is believed to be superior in status to that of the Bhanasali people and some members of Shyamji’s family’s caste claim to be of Kshatriya descent[6]. Fischer-Tiné wrote that despite his name Shymaji was not a Kshatriya[7]. Regardless of whether he was a Kshatriya, Shyamji’s educational successes allowed him to mix with men from backgrounds more prosperous than his.

Young Shyamji attended the local primary school in Mandvi from 1870 onwards[8], and continued his education in the Alfred High School in Bhuj (60 kilometres northeast of Mandvi). The language of tuition in Bhuj was English. He was an excellent student and topped the school in academic achievement. His father, who had a small business in Bombay where he lived, may have given news of Shyamji’s prowess to members of a group of reformers based in Bombay[9], with whom he had business relations. Some of them had family members in Kutch, who might have also heard about the child prodigy. In any case, news of Shyamji’s scholastic excellence reached the ears of men who were prepared to help bright young Hindu men.

The reformers in Bombay were followers of the Arya Samaj movement (see below). Led by men such as Vishnu Parsaram Shastri, Madhavdas Raghunathdas, Karsandas Mulji (sometimes called an ‘Indian Luther’[10]), and others, the Arya Samaj reformers fought against pillars of Hindu Brahminical tradition such as: untouchability, child marriage, enforced widowhood, sati (widows’ self-immolation by burning), and worship of idols. One of these gentlemen, a Bhatia merchant and philanthropist from Kutch called Mathuradas Lavaji[11], paid for Shyamji to enter the Wilson High School in Bombay to continue his studies…

… As in Bhuj, Shyamji became a first-class student in Bombay. His academic ability and knowledge of Sanskrit won him the Seth Gokuldas Kahandas Parekh[12] scholarship, which paid for him to study at Elphinstone High School, a much more expensive and prestigious establishment than Wilson High School. His great knowledge of Sanskrit allowed him to use the title ‘Pandit[13]’.  Elphinstone’s pupils were mainly the sons of Bombay’s wealthy elite. It was here that Shyamji became a friend of a pupil Ramdas, son of Chhabildas Lallubhai, a wealthy Bhanasali merchant of Bombay. Chhabildas was impressed by Shyamji. He asked Shyamji, then aged eighteen, to marry his daughter Bhanumati with her approval[14] (possibly unusually for the period), then aged thirteen. They married in 1875.

The year before his marriage, Shyamji met Swami Dayanand Saraswati (‘Dayanand’; 1824-83), who became important in his life. The Swami had come to Bombay to meet members of the reforming movement, with which Shyamji had become associated.

Dayanand[15] was an influential reformer of Hinduism and the founder of the Arya Samaj movement. He was born in Tankara, which is now in the Morbi district of the State of Gujarat…

… While visiting Bombay, Dayanand met Shyamji, who then received private lessons in Sanskrit from him. Shyamji and Dayanand rapidly became friends and corresponded with each other. Their friendship might have been enhanced by the fact that Dayanand’s mother came from Kutch, as had Shyamji[16].  Shyamji provided valuable assistance in the editing and distribution of Dayanand’s Vedic publications…

… The arrival in Bombay of a scholar from Oxford in 1876 was a turning point in Shyamji’s life. The scholar was the orientalist Monier Monier-Williams[17] (1819-99), an Englishman who was born in Bombay. He had become Professor of Sanskrit at the University of Oxford in late 1860. In 1876, Monier-Williams had come India to elicit donations from Indian princes to help finance his project to create an institute dedicated to furthering studies of Indian culture at Oxford. His Indian Institute was established in 1883, and finally opened in 1896[18].

During his visit to India in 1876, Monier-Williams wanted to find a man who could read and write Sanskrit in the Devanagari script[19], in which, for example, the Vedas were originally recorded in writing (after having been transmitted from one generation to the next orally and learnt by rote). Judge Gopal Rao Hari Deshmukh (1823-92), a social reformer belonging to the Chitpavan[20] community of Maharashtra, introduced Monier-Williams to Shyamji, the brilliant young scholar of Sanskrit…

… Shyamji travelled to England on the SS India. He was admitted to Balliol College, Oxford, in April 1879 and was awarded a BA in 1882[21].


A house cover

IDEAS, BOMBS, and BULLETS (ISBN: 9780244203870)

is available on,, amazon, Kindle, and can be ordered from bookshops.



[1] For a readable, informative biography, see: GL Varma: Shyamji Krishna Varma The Unknown Patriot, publ. by Ministry of information and Broadcasting Government of India, New Delhi: 1993

[2] Rushbrook Williams, LF: The Black Hills, publ. by Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London: 1958

[3] See: , accessed 22 March 2019

[4] See: , accessed 22 March 2019

[5] Bose, AC: Indian Revolutionaries Abroad: 1905-1927, publ. by Northern Book Centre, New Delhi: 2002, first publ. 1998

[6] See:, accessed 23 March 2019

[7] Fischer-Tiné, H: Shyamji Krishnavarma: Sanskrit, Sociology and Anti-Imperialism, publ. by Routledge, New Delhi: 2014

[8] See:, accessed 22 March 2019

[9] Yajnik, I: Shyamaji Krishnavarma, publ. by Lakshmi Publications, Bombay: 1950

[10] See: Barton Scott, J: Journal of the American Academy of Religion, March 2015, Vol. 83, No. 1, pp. 181–209, and Motiwala, BN: Karsondas Mulji: A Biographical Study, publ. by Parbhudas Ladabhai Mody, Bombay: 1935

[11] Yajnik, I

[12]He was Gujarati. See Fischer-Tiné; Yajnik, I adds the ‘Parekh’ to his name

[13] Pandit: ‘learned’ or ‘wise’. See: Johnson, WJ

[14] Yajnik, I

[15] For a succinct biography of Dayanand, see Johnson, WJ

[16] Varma, GL

[17] DNB: Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, online edition, accessed 24 March 2019


[19] See: Bose, AC

[20] Many Indian freedom fighters and reformers of note belonged to the Chitpavan community.

[21] DNB

Gandhi in Bhavnagar


MK (‘Mahatma’) Gandhi matriculated (gained the qualifications for entering university) in 1887. He enrolled at Samaldas College in Bhavnagar in Saurashtra. This is a photo of the room in which Gandhi studied at Samaldas College. It is now use as a gymnasium by a girl’s school (Majiraj Girls High School).

Gandhi wrote of his time in Bhavnagar in his book The Law and the Lawyers:

There was a college in Bhavnagar as well as in Bombay, and as the former was cheaper, I decided to go there and join the Samaldas College. I went, but found myself entirely at sea. Everything was difficult. I could not follow, let alone taking interest in, the professors’ lectures. It was no fault of theirs. The professors in that college were regarded as first-rate. But I was so raw. At the end of the first term, I returned home.”

Art school in Baroda



This lovely old building surrounded by trees and other luxuriant vegetation stands on the campus of the Faculty of Fine Arts of the Sayajirao University of Baroda (Vadodara).

Here is an excerpt about this place from my book “Travels through Gujarat, Daman, and Diu”:

In 1935 to celebrate the diamond anniversary of his reign, Maharajah Sayajirao III Gaekwad set aside huge funds, both the state’s and his own, to create a university in Baroda. The Faculty of Fine arts, set in park-like grounds with many trees, is a part of this. The campus contains several buildings. The most attractive of these is an almost octagonal building surrounded by deep verandas with wooden balustrades at both ground floor and first floor levels. This building, which contains some studios, was constructed in the 1930s. Other buildings on the campus are newer, having been built after the Fine Arts Faculty was founded in 1951.

One of the joys of art schools in India, and that in Baroda is no exception, is watching students creating artworks in the open air, and seeing their completed creations exhibited outside. Many of the works on display demonstrate the great technical skills and lively imaginations of their creators. We saw many youngsters sitting in the shade of the trees, at work in their sketchbooks. There were plenty of great sculptures in the gardens of the Baroda art school, but no one was working on them outside. Maybe, it was too warm.


Travels through Gujarat, Daman, and Diu” by Adam Yamey

is available from Amazon,,, and on Kindle



Gandhi in Bhavnagar … briefly

BHAVNAGAR is a fascinating city in the south of the Saurashtra region of Gujarat…

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Front of Neelambagh Palace  (now a hotel), Bhavnagar

MK Gandhi, the future ‘Mahatma’, wrote in his autobiography: “I passed the matriculation examination in 1887… My elders wanted me to pursue my studies at college after the matriculation. There was a college in Bhavnagar as well as in Bombay, and as the former was cheaper, I decided to go there and join the Samaldas College. I went, but found myself entirely at sea. Everything was difficult. I could not follow, let alone take interest in, the professors’ lectures. It was no fault of theirs. The professors in that College were regarded as first rate. But I was so raw. At the end of the first term, I returned home.

Having read this, we wanted to see the college. We took an autorickshaw to Samaldas Arts College, which is away from the city centre just over three kilometres southwest of the Gandhi Smrti. The college is laid out in a huge campus. Lopa waited in the shade whilst I walked along a busy private road linking the university’s well spaced buildings. There were many students going along it on foot and on two-wheelers. I reached an imposing stone building at the end of a short driveway. Outside its entrance, I saw an old school bell hanging from a wooden post. It looked Victorian in style and was topped with a metal model of a royal crown. I wondered if this was a memento from the days when the college was founded.  There was nobody in the building except a security guard, who only spoke Gujarati. I tried to ask him whether this was where Gandhi had studied, but he could not understand me.  Then I returned to the road, and asked a couple of passers-by, who did speak English, about Gandhi and Samaldas College. Their vague answers were uninformative.


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Former Samaldas College, Where Gandhi studied

We had a rest in our hotel next to the Neelambagh Palace after having had a delicious lunch at a brand-new restaurant called Sugar and Spice, which is near the Samaldas College. While I was relaxing, two things worried me about the campus that I had just visited. First, none of it looks old enough to have been present in 1887, when Gandhi attended it. Secondly, the place is too far from the what would have been the city’s boundary in Gandhi’s day. A little research on the Internet revealed that in Gandhi’s day, Samaldas College was nowhere near its present location, but in the centre of Bhavnagar.

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Classroom where Gandhi studied in Samaldas College

Having located the site of Gandhi’s college, we took an ‘auto’ to the Majirav Girls School on High Court Road. The bulk of the school is a two-storey building arranged around three sides of a large rectangular courtyard. As it was a Saturday afternoon, there were few pupils around. The security guards asked us our business. We told them that we wanted to see the college where Gandhi had studied. Someone went off to find the school’s Director, who kindly agreed to show us what we wanted to see. This lady, who has several degrees and a PhD in education, is a high-flyer in the education department of the State of Gujarat. She escorted us to a neo-gothic building attached to the rear of the school, and then asked us to wait beside a locked door.


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Detail of gateway into the old Royal Palace (‘Darbagadh’) of Bhavnagar

Eventually, somebody found the keys to the door and the Director unlocked it. We entered a large hall, two storeys in height, with a wooden ceiling. It is filled with gymnastic equipment because it is now used as the girls’ gymnasium. A small inscribed stone plaque on one wall below an old coloured photograph of the Mahatma reads (both in Gujarati and English): “The Samaldas College was founded in 1874 in this building. Mahatma Gandhi studied in this class room as a first-year student from January to June 1888”. The Director of the girls’ school told us that the class room where Gandhi had studied had once been the primary school of the Majirav School, but for a brief while it had been lent to Samaldas College, and that was when Gandhi attended it.


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An afternoon in Bhavnagar