Savarkar: The Unsung Poet

by Vikrant Pande - Mar 19, 2015 12:30 PM +05:30 IST
Savarkar: The Unsung Poet

Outside Maharashtra and Marathi-speaking people, the revolutionary got little or no recognition either in the form of state honours or in society’s appreciation of his literary talent.

Most Indians know Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, popularly known as Veer Savarkar, as a freedom fighter who is often demonized for his supposed involvement in the assassination of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. The Indian government after independence deliberately ignored him and did not honour him as should have been his due. As an American author said, “Sometimes your light shines so bright that it blinds people from seeing who you really are.”

It is unfortunate that very few knew that Savarkar was a poet, novelist, writer of short stories, playwright, historian and a champion of ‘purification’ of language. Savarkar’s poetry is a lasting legacy, which is known to almost each Maharashtrian. As Allen Ginsberg says, “Poetry is not an expression of the party line. It’s that time of night, lying in bed, thinking what you really think, making the private world public, that’s what the poet does.” And that is what makes Savarkar’s poems so timeless; they speak the language of the heart.

Savarkar composed his first poem “Swadeshichaphatka” at the tender age of 11 and continued writing in school and as a student in London. Some of his best works were written when he was in the Cellular Jail at the Andamans. The torture and the treatment meted out to the political prisoners – there is a story for some other day. The cruel jailor David Barry’s actions would make one wonder how someone could have conceived such ingenious ways of torture.

Savarkar wrote many books like Joseph Mazini (biography of an Italian revolutionary), 1857 Che Swantantra Samar (the first Independence struggle of India of 1857), Shikhancha Itihas (History of the Sikhs), Mazi Janmathep (a narration of his jail term in the Andamans), Sanyast Khadga (a play), Kale Pani (Black Water), Mala Kay Tyache (What is it to me), Hindutva: Who is a Hindu? and Gomantak. Savarkar’s three plays Usshaap, Sanyastakhadga and Uttarkriya are notable for their dialogues and dramatic content.

Savarkar wrote three books on history: The Indian War of Independence 1857, Hindupadpaadshaahi and Six Glorious Epochs. These books reveal his deep study of, and insight into, history, penchant for detail and inspirational but well-researched content.

Savarkar has many firsts to his credit, as far as Marathi literature goes. He was the first to compose powadas (ballads) in modern times and was the first to use modern imagery in the powadas. He was the first Marathi journalist to contribute newsletters to Marathi periodicals Londonchi baatmipatre (Newsletters from London) from foreign countries. His taarakaaspahun (gazing at the stars) is the first Marathi poem composed outside Indian shores. His Joseph Mazzini is the first Marathi book written outside India.

One of Savarkar’s songs, known to almost all Maharashtrians, is “Saagarapraantalamala” (My heart is tormented, O Ocean), written after his close associate Madan Lal Dhingra was sent to the gallows in London. The British police were keenly shadowing Savarkar, aware of his friendship with Dhingra. Dhingra’s martyrdom and the subsequent repression by British authorities took its toll on Savarkar’s health. He went to Brighton, around 50 miles south of London, to recuperate his health and remained there for 10-12 days.  His associate Niranjan Pal would visit him to give him moral support. The two would frequently walk on the shores of Brighton.

On one such occasion, both of them were sitting on the seashore surrounded by dozens of mirthful English men and women.  In the midst of this mirth, Savarkar was immensely sad.  Sitting in front of the vast ocean, his mind was grieving at the thought of his beloved motherland.  Pal described that momentous occasion 29 years later in an article, “Reminiscences of Savarkar,” dated 27 May 1938 in The Mahratta, Pune.  Pal wrote, “Presently, he (Savarkar) commenced to hum a song.  He sang as he composed.  It was a Marathi song, describing the pitiable serfdom of India.  Forgetful of all else, Savarkar went on singing.  Presently, tears began to roll down his cheeks.  His voice became choked.  The song remained unfinished; Savarkar began to weep like a child.”

Dennis Gabor, Nobel Laureate and scientist, said, “Poetry is plucking at the heartstrings and making music with them.” Savarkar’s poetry, coming from the depths of his tormented soul, purified by the fire of patriotism, and tortured in the cells of Cellular Jail, had no option but to touch anyone who reads it even today, decades after the events have passed. It is the sheer intensity of the words that wouldn’t allow one to hum them without being affected.

Here are a few stanzas from “Saagara”:

 नेमजसीनेपरतमातृभूमीला। सागरा, प्राणतळमळला

भूमातेच्याचरणतलातुजधूतां। मीनित्यपाहिलाहोता

मजवदलासीअन्यदेशिं चलजाऊं। सृष्टिचीविविधतापाहूं

तइंजननी-हृद्  विरहशंकितहिझालें। परितुवां वचनतिजदिधलें

मार्गज्ञस्वयें मीचपृष्ठिं वाहीन। त्वरितयापरतआणीन

विश्वसलों यातववचनीं। मी

जगदनुभव-योगें बनुनी। मी

तवअधिकशक्त उध्दरणीं। मी

येईन त्वरेंकथुन सोडिलें तिजला।

सागरा, प्राणतळमळला

 शुकपंजरिं वाहरिणशिरावापाशीं। हीफसगतझालीतैशी

भूविरहकसासततसाहुं यापुढती। दशदिशातमोमयहोती

गुण-सुमनेंमीं वेचियलीं ह्याभावें। कीं तिनें सुगंधाध्यावें

जरि  उध्दरणीं व्ययनतिच्या हो साचा। हाव्यर्थ भारविद्येचा

सागरा, प्राणतळमळला

 O Ocean, take me back to my motherland; My soul is tormented.

I had always seen you,

Washing the feet of my motherland.

You led me to a different country,

To experience the diversity of nature there.

Knowing that my mother’s heart was full of anguish,

You promised her that you would take me back;

I was reassured.

I believed that my experience of the world,

Would help me to serve her better.

Saying that I would return soon,

I took leave of her.

Oh, Ocean, I am now pining for my motherland


Like a doe caught in a snare,

The promise you made was deceptive!

I cannot suffer the separation anymore,

Darkness envelops me everywhere.

I had accumulated flowers of virtues,

In the hope that my mother will be rendered fragrant with their smell.

What use, this burden of knowledge and virtues

If my mother cannot prosper from it?

I miss the love of the mango tree, the flowers in my garden back home the blossoming creepers and the blooming rose… I feel desolate…

 Oh Ocean, I am pining for her… Take me back to my motherland

Oh Ocean, I am pining for her… 

 In Cellular Jail, Savarkar wrote another poem “Jayostute” (Victory to you!), which too has been made popular by Hridaynath’s music. The song is a sort of ‘national song’ in Marathi, similar to Vande Mataram. The listener is bound to have his hairs stand on end as the beats and the words propels one to get enveloped in its beauty.

Savarkar sings paeans to the goddess of freedom.

 ज्योस्तु तेश्रीमहन्मंगले। शिवास्पदे शुभदे

स्वतंत्रते भगवति। त्वामहं यशोयुतां वंदे

राष्ट्राचेचैतन्य मूर्त तूं नीतिसंपदांची

स्वतंत्रते भगवति। श्रीमतीराज्ञीतूत्यांची

परवशतेच्यानभांत तूंचीआकाशीहोशी

स्वतंत्रते भगवती। चांदणी चमचम लखलखशी।।


स्वतंत्रते भगवती। तूचजीविलसतसे लाली

तूं सूर्याचेतेजउदधिचेगांभीर्यहि तूंची

स्वतंत्रते भगवती। अन्यथा ग्रहण नष्ट  तेंची।।


मोक्ष मुक्तिहीतुझीच रूपें तुलाच वेदांती

स्वतंत्रते भगवतीIयोगिजनपरब्रह्म वदती

जेजेउत्तमउदात्तउन्नतमहन्मधुर तेंतें

स्वतंत्रते भगवती। सर्व तवसहचारी होते।।


हे अधम रक्त रंजिते। सुजन-पुजिते! श्रीस्वतंत्रते

तुजसाठिं मरण तें जनन



स्वतंत्रते भगवतीIत्वामहं  यशोयुतांवंदे।।

 Victory to you, O Auspicious One, the Munificent and Holy!

O Goddess of Freedom, I seek you blessings for success

 You are the embodiment of our national spirit, our morality and our accomplishments

O glorious Goddess of Freedom, you are the Queen of righteousness

 In the dark skies of enslavement

O Goddess of Freedom, you are the shining star of hope.

 Whether on flowers as soft as cheeks, or on cheeks as soft as flowers!

O Goddess of Freedom, You are that blush of confidence!

 You are the radiance of the Sun, the majesty of the Ocean

O Goddess of Freedom, but for you the Sun of Freedom is eclipsed.


O Goddess of Freedom, you are the face of eternal happiness and liberation,

That is why the scriptures hail you as the supreme soul.

All that is ideal, magnificent and sweet,

O Goddess of Freedom, is associated with you


You are the destroyer of evil (stained with their blood), O Goddess of Freedom

Life is to die for you,

Death is to live without you.

All creation surrenders unto you!


Victory to you, O Auspicious One, the Munificent and Holy!

O Goddess of Freedom, I seek you blessings for success

 A stanza of another poem written by Savarkar:





म्हणुनीचविमल हृदयात—

हृदय त्यावाहुद्या!

Let me see my God in his temple

Let my eyes have their fill of Him

My hands have been defiled

Cleaning filth day and night

To cleanse them in the pure heart

Allow me; I pray


On his deathbed, Savarkar welcomes death saying

येमृत्यो! येतूंये, यावयाप्रती

निघालाचि असशिलजरि येतरीसुखें!



भ्यावेंतेंकाम्हणुनीतुजसिपरी मी?

Come, Death, come! Having set forth

To get me, come gladly

Let these flowers fear to wither and die,

Let these juicy grapes dread to shrivel and die,

But me! Why pray should I fear you?

It is a sad reality that India today has forgotten Veer Savarkar. It is time we honoured his contribution. But whether the government does anything or not, his lasting legacy in form of some of his poems will continue to touch and inspire generations to come.

A graduate of IIM Bangalore, Vikrant Pande’s day job is spearheading the TeamLease Skills University at Baroda. His keen desire to see his favourite Marathi books being read by a larger audience saw him translate Raja Ravi Varma by Ranjit Desai (Harper Perennial). He has since translated Shala by Milind Bokil, and is currently working on several other books. He is fluent in many languages including Marathi, Gujarati, Bangla, and a smattering of Tamil and Kannada.
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