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India@75: Shyamji Krishna Varma, the illustrious expatriate who fought for freedom

A disciple of Dayananda Saraswati of Aryasamaj and a Sanskrit scholar, Varma turned to revolutionary nationalism.

Jul 5, 2022, 12:45 PM IST

Shyamji Krishna Varma was one of the most illustrious expatriate Indians who fought lifelong for India’s freedom from abroad. A disciple of Dayananda Saraswati of Aryasamaj and a Sanskrit scholar, Varma turned to revolutionary nationalism.

Varma was born in Mandvi, Gujarat, in 1857. He was the first non-Brahmin Sanskrit scholar to win the title of Pandit from Kashi Vidya Peet. In 1879 Varma joined Balliol College, Oxford, with the help of the famous Sanskrit Prof Monier Willams. Following graduation, Varma returned to India and became the Diwan of the rajah of Junagadh.

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Sometime later, Varma returned to London and became a barrister from the famed Inner Temple. By then, Varma was caught by the nationalist urge and set up a hotel named India House for the Indian students in London. This was intended to help Indians who faced difficulty finding accommodation and financial problems.

Soon India House became the hub of militant nationalist Indian students. Among the inmates were those who became well-known nationalists like V D Savarkar, Bhikaji Cama, Lala Hardayal, Veerendranath Chatterjee, etc. Later one section among these India House radicals turned to Communism while the other to militant Hindu politics.    

Following the assassination of British official Sir William Wylie in 1909 by Madanlal Dhingra, a student revolutionary attached to India House, British police unleashed repressive measures like arrests, raids etc. The journal “Indian Sociologist” was banned. This led to the eclipse of the India House.

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Before he was arrested, Varma escaped to Paris and moved later to Geneva. He continued his militant nationalist activities in European countries and was the leader of the India Independence League of the nationalist expatriates. Varma was a great admirer of Herbert Spencer and his Social Darwinist philosophy. 

Before he died in 1930 at Geneva, Varma asked the authorities at St George cemetery to send his ashes to India only after she became free. Fifty-six years after independence, Varma’s ashes were received by Gujarat’s Chief Minister Narendra Modi in 2003.

In 2010 the mortal remains were placed at Varma’s memorial named Kranti Theerth, built at Mandvi, his native place. Varma’s barristership, which the Inner Temple annulled on account of his seditious activities in 1909, was reinstated in 2015, 85 years after the revolutionary passed away.

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