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.

FACE

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 lulu.com, bookdepository.com, amazon, Kindle, and can be ordered from bookshops.

 

NOTES IN THE EXCERPTS

[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: http://www.bhanushalisamaj.in/ , accessed 22 March 2019

[4] See:  http://www.indianchildnames.com , 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: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bhanushali, accessed 23 March 2019

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

[8] See: https://www.krantiteerth.org/about-shyamji-krishna-verma.html, 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

[18] http://www.oxfordhistory.org.uk/broad/buildings/east/old_indian_institute/index.html

[19] See: Bose, AC

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

[21] DNB

From Mandvi to Highgate

Pandit Shyamji Krishnavarma (1857-1930) was born in Mandvi in Kutch. He earned his title of ‘Pandit’ because of his very great knowledge of Sanskrit. In the 1880s, he travelled to England where he became an assistant to Professor Monier Williams at the University of Oxford. Krishnavarma’s studies of Sanskrit at Oxford earned him great fame amongst the Indologists all over the world. He also became a barrister. On hisreturn to India, Krishnavarma served as ‘Diwan’ in various princely states, before returning to England in 1897.

FACE

By 1905, Krishnavarma had become deeply involved in the movement to free India from the grips of the British Empire. That year, he purchased a house in the north London suburb of Highgate. He named it ‘India House’ and it served as both a hostel for Indian students and a centre for plotting the liberation of India from the British.

Between 1905 and 1910, when India House was closed and sold, this place became known as a ‘centre of sedition’ and the ‘most dangerous organisation in the British Empire’. I have almost finished writing a book, to be called “IDEAS, BOMBS, and BULLETS” about Highgate’s India House and the people associated with it. 

Here is a brief introduction to my forthcoming book:

This is about a little known part of the history of India’s struggle for independence. It concerns events centred on a house in Edwardian London. It is a tale of bombs, guns, lawyers, patriots, philosophers, revolutionaries, and scholars.

A large Victorian house stands in a residential street in the north London suburb of Highgate. Between 1905 and 1910, it was known as ‘India House’, and was a meeting place and hostel for Indian students, many of whom wished to help liberate India from centuries of British domination.

In the 19th and 20th centuries before India’s independence, many young Indians came to England to be educated. This is the story of  a few of them, who came to Britain in the early 20th century, and then risked sacrificing their freedom, prospects, and lives by becoming involved in India’s freedom struggle. 

This book describes the true adventurous exploits of members of Highgate’s India House (including VD Savarkar, Madan Lal Dhingra, and VVS Aiyar) and its history.

I will give you more news about my book soon, I hope!

Fishermen at Mandvi and entering Pakistan

Mandvi

 

The picture shows dogs resting in the shade provided by a beached fishing vessel in the estuary of the River Rukmavati at the town of Mandvi in the former Kingdom of Kutch, now part of Gujarat.

 

Nearby, there were many similar fishing boats, all manned by Muslim seamen. These boats sail into the Gulf of Kutch, a piece of water that separates most of Kutch from another part of Gujarat, Saurashtra (or Kathiawad). 

 

The vessels are allowed to sail as far west as Okha, but no further as they would then stray into Pakistani water. We were told that there is quite a good deal of smuggling between the Indian and Pakistani fishermen. The Indians have to be careful because they might be arrested in Pakistani waters, as a recent newspaper report  reveals:

“A group of 100 Indian fishermen Monday crossed over to the Indian side through 

Attari-Wagah border after the Pakistan government released them from jail as a goodwill gesture.

The fishermen crossed over to India this evening on the basis of ’emergency travel certificates’ issued by the Indian High Commission in Islamabad, officials said.

Immediately after the repatriation, a medical examination of all the fishermen was conducted, they said.

The neighbouring country had released the first batch of 100 Indian fishermen on April 7.

The fishermen were arrested for fishing illegally in Pakistani waters during various operations.

Both the countries frequently arrest fishermen as there is no clear demarcation of the maritime border in the Arabian Sea and these fishermen do not have boats equipped with the technology to know their precise location.”

Quoted from: https://www.business-standard.com/article/pti-stories/pakistan-releases-100-indian-fishermen-119041501180_1.html

 

A palace in Kutch

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Varsha Bhatia, whose family originated in Kutch, trained as an architect in Bombay. Now, she has become a painter, specialising in water colours. Her delicately executed, finely detailed works display her appreciation of the asethetics of architectural masterpieces.

Following a recent visit to Kutch Mandvi, she has painted a pavilion that is perched on the roof of the Vijay Vilas Palace built by the Maharao of Kutch in a traditional Rajput style during the 1920s . 

My wife and I visited this lovely palace during 2018. This extract from my book Travels through Gujarat, Daman, and Diu describes what we found:

A notice on a wall near the main entrance reads: “Tides come and go but the legend here of sheer enchantment continues unabated”.  On entering the palace, we saw a large banner which exclaimed: “Welcome to palace and experience history which is housed within.” The walls of the pleasant rooms, filled with ageing furniture, are lined with photographs of the royal family, their guests including Indian and British hunters with their servants, alongside the spoils of the regular hunting parties, which used to be held in the palace’s extensive grounds.

Amongst the framed items hanging on the walls, we spotted a 500 Kori banknote issued by the Government of Kutch. It was printed with words both in Gujarati and English scripts. When the Emperor Jehangir (reigned 1605-27) met his vassal, Kutch’s ruler Rao Bharmal (reigned 1585-1631) in Ahmedabad in 1617, Jehangir gave Rao Bharmal the right to strike his own coinage. Thus, the Kori was born. It remained in continuous use in Kutch until 1948, when Kutch became part of the Republic of India.

The windows at the back of the palace look out over formal gardens with dried up water features including a slender stone-lined channel running between bare rectangular patches of ground and fountains. We climbed a spiral staircase to reach the roof of the palace and wandered amongst the domed pavilions with jali screens covering their windows. Another spiral staircase, made of cast-iron, leads to an elevated viewing platform covered with a large domed ceiling supported by pillars. From here, we had a wonderful view of the countryside surrounding the palace and the Arabian Sea.

It is this ‘viewing platform’ that is illustrated in Varsha Bhatia’s lovely water colour work.

 

TRAVELS THROUGH GUJARAT, DAMAN, AND DIUby Adam Yamey

is available as a paperback from lulu.com, Amazon sites, and bookdepository.com.

There is also a Kindle edition.

 

 

Camels on the beach

CAMELS

Somnath beach

 

When we visited the beaches at Daman, Kutch Mandvi, and the temple town of Somnath, we saw camels on the beach. Their owners offer rides to holidaymakers, who have come to enjoy the sun, sea, and sand.

However, camels are not only kept for pleasure. All over Gujarat, we spotted camels drawing carts and wagons in towns, villages, and in the open countryside. Apart from being picturesque to my western eyes, they are much valued beasts of burden.

Gujarat and Kutch are areas with a semi-desert terrain and almost desert weather conditions. The camel is ideaaly suited to this environment. Most of the camels used in Gujarat State are bred in Kutch and are highly priced.

 

Read much more about this fascinating part of  western India in “TRAVELS THROUGH GUJARAT, DAMAN, AND DIU” by Adam Yamey. The paperback is available from lulu.com, bookdepository.com, and Amazon, which also supplies the Kindle version.

A freedom fighter from Kutch

VARMA HOUSE

Shyamji Krishna Varma (1857-1930) was born in Mandvi in Kutch (now part of Gujarat State). A Sanskrit scholar of world reknown and a barrister, he was also an important, but now not so well-known, activist in the fight for India’s Independence from the British. 

He settled in London in the late 1890s and lived there in the northern suburb of Highgate until he moved to France before 1910. This house, number 60 Muswell Hill Road, was his home between 1900 and 1907. A circular plaque commemorates his short stay here.

Boat building in western India

 

Get to know Gujarat better: boat-building in Kutch Mandvi

MANBOAT 7

Gujarat has long been an important maritime interface between India and the rest of the world, especially Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. Many of its folk have been, and continue to be, involved in mercantile activities, sailing, and boat-building.

KUTCH 1920

Mandvi in Kutch, which until 1947 was an independent princely state and is now part of Gujarat, used to be an important sea port. It is famed for its boat-building, which continues briskly even today. The wooden dhows constructed in Mandvi are now mostly built for customers in Dubai. They are built alongside the River Rukmavati that runs through Mandvi.

The timber used is ‘sal’ wood (Shorea robusta) that grows in Malaysia. This wood is both extremely durable and water-resistant.

With the exception of electrical saws, much of the construction employs age old techniques as can be seen in these pictures taken by Adam Yamey in early 2018.

MANBOAT 6

MANBOAT 4b

MANBOAT 6

MANBOAT 4

MANBOAT 1

MANBOAT 3

MANBOAT 5

MANBOAT 2

 

Discover much more about Kutch and the rest of Gujarat in “Travels Through Gujarat, Daman, and Diu” by Adam Yamey, available in paperback by clicking HERE

The same book is available on Kindle by searching Amazon for “Travelling through Gujarat, Daman, and Diu

 

Beaches, camels, dhows, and …

pal mandvi

A view from Vijay Vilas Palace near Mandvi

 

Mandvi is a small but significant seaport on the coast of Kutch. Formerly an independent kingdom, Kutch is now part of Gujarat State.

GUJ KIND COVER SMALL

Here are some brief excerpts about Mandvi from Adam Yamey’s  paperback book “Travels through Gujarat, Daman, and Diu” (click here: NOW! )

ALSO available on KINDLE as “Travelling through Gujarat, Daman, and Diu” ( click here: HERE ! )

 

“After traversing a long multi-arched bridge across the wide mouth of the River Rukmavathi, we entered Mandvi.  It has a population slightly over fifty thousand. It is no larger than many villages elsewhere in India but is an important centre with a seaport. We passed a circular stone bastion and a stretch of the old city walls attached to it before entering the old city through a lovely, old, narrow stone archway. Cowpats, to be used as fuel, were drying on its walls. Much of the rest of Mandvi’s once extensive fortifications have been destroyed in recent years.”

mandvi 3

Cow dung drying on the remains of the city walls of Mandvi

 

“The bazaar is a tangled warren of narrow, smooth-surfaced lanes lined with shops and some venerable, picturesque buildings. The older buildings are embellished with verandas and upper-storey terraces and much nicely carved woodwork.”

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“Numerous motorbikes and scooters wove their way through the crowds of pedestrians, who ambled along paying little or no heed to the motorised two-wheelers, whose owners sounded their horns unceasingly.”

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“During our subsequent travels in Gujarat, we began to get used to mingling with vehicles that moved through bazaars, getting so close to us that we were almost hit by them. That we were never harmed by them is a testament to the skill of their drivers.”

mandvi 1

“I managed to become detached from my companions and became quite lost in this picturesque environment because I was too busy taking photographs…”

mandvi 5

“…Luckily, I knew the name of the shop, to which the others were heading. A kindly shop owner sent his shop assistant to lead me to the shop, where I was supposed to be.”

 

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“I noticed a plastic building shaped like a dome. Standing on the shore, it reminded me of the hemispherical concrete bunkers that the Stalinist dictator Enver Hoxha built all over Albania. This one had no defensive purpose. It was the fishermen’s office. Across the almost dried up mouth of the river on the opposite bank, we could see the large wooden boats being constructed in Mandvi’s ship yards.”

 

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“Mandvi is well-known for its production of wooden dhows, which are sold to, and used in, the Arabian Gulf, mainly Dubai. The owner of one of the yards, whom we saw seated in a deck-chair, informed us that the timber for the boats is imported from Malaysia. It is not teak, but the highly durable and water-resistant sal wood (Shorea robusta).”

 

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“After our shopping expedition, we drove to the nearby sandy Mandvi Beach by the Arabian Sea. We walked passed many flimsy-looking stalls and huts selling snacks and knick-knacks. Near these, there were horses and tattooed camels available for hire to visitors.”

 

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“J  drove us to the Shri Ambe Dham Mandir … Next to the mandir (temple), there is an alcove containing a greater than life-size model depicting Mother India wearing a gold-coloured crown and a robe (coloured orange, white and green) holding the National Flag of India. Behind her, there is a large map of India showing all of India’s states labelled in Gujarati script. Models of nine men wearing various Indian national costumes (including Sikh and Muslim) stand around the female figure.”

 

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If you have enjoyed these excerpts, then read much more about Gujarat, Daman, and Diu  by clicking:

  HERE (for paperback)   

HERE (for KINDLE)

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