Sunday, July 21, 2013

The Swiss-born who crafted Param Vir Chakra, India's highest gallantry medal

The Param Vir Chakra, India's highest gallantry award, designed by Savitri Bai Khanolkar
Savitri Khanolkar, formerly Yvonne Maday de Maros, with her husband, (to be Major General) Vikram Khanolkar
Savitri Khanolkar was born in Switzerland on 20th July 1913. Today is her birth centenary
By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 20th July 13
On Nov 3, 1947, Major Som Nath Sharma, leading a hundred infantrymen, fought to the death in a heroic last-ditch battle near Srinagar airfield against 700 Pathan tribal invaders from Pakistan. Sharma and his battalion, 4 Kumaon, had flown in from New Delhi just in time to hold off the invaders who were closing in on the airfield, Kashmir’s lifeline. 

Sharma’s dogged resistance won the time to fly in more soldiers, save Srinagar, and eventually win back the Kashmir valley for India. He is famous as the winner of India’s first Param Vir Chakra (PVC), its highest gallantry award.
Less known is that the PVC did not exist when Sharma made his stirring last stand. It was instituted only on Jan 26, 1950, having been designed by a Hungarian-Russian woman who was born Yvonne Maday de Maros in Neuch√Ętel, Switzerland. In 1932, 19-year-old Yvonne ran away to India to marry an army officer, Vikram Khanolkar, who she had met and fallen in love with whilst he was training in the UK. In love also with the spirituality of India, Yvonne became an Indian, adopted the name of Savitri Bai, immersed herself in the Hindu scriptures and took a degree from Nalanda University. Soon after independence, the army’s Adjutant General, Major General Hiralal Atal, asked her to design the PVC medal.
Today is the birth centenary of Savitri Bai Khanolkar, who was born in Switzerland on July 20, 1913. It is also, by association, an anniversary for the PVC, an honour so rare that only 21 Indians have won it so far. Like Sharma, most of them gave up their lives, including legends like Major Shaitan Singh in Rezang La in 1962, 2nd Lieutenant Arun Khetarpal at Basantar in 1971 and Captain Vikram Batra in Kargil in 1999.
Faced with the challenge of creating an Indian version of the Victoria Cross --- the UK’s legendary gallantry award that was reputedly minted from Russian cannons captured during the Crimean War in 1855 --- Savitri turned to the Hindu scriptures. She chose the motif of Dadhichi, a Vedic rishi (sage) who made the ultimate sacrifice in the fight of good over evil. Asked by the Gods for help in overcoming a fearsome demon, Vrutrasur, Dadhichi gave up his body to let the Gods fashion a Vajra --- a deadly thunderbolt --- from his thighbone. Armed with this Vajra, Indra slew Vrutrasur.
Savitri designed for Major General Hiralal Atal a medal with a simple purple ribbon. Imprinted on the medal face are four replicas of Indra’s Vajra, reflecting Dadhichi’s sacrifice. Between the Vajras is embossed the Ashok lion state emblem. The medal is cast in bronze.
Major Som Nath Sharma, who won India’s first PVC, was Savitri Khanolkar’s daughter’s brother-in-law. He was awarded the medal retrospectively when it was instituted on India first Republic Day, along with the other four PVC awardees of the 1947-48 Kashmir war --- Lance Naik Karam Singh; 2nd Lieutenant RR Rane; Naik Jadunath Singh; and Havaldar Major Piru Singh Shekhawat.
Along with the PVC, Savitri Khanolkar also designed the Mahavir Chakra and the Vir Chakra, and the Ashok Chakra --- the highest peacetime gallantry award. In India’s official order of precedence, the PVC is second only to the Bharat Ratna.
Vikram Khanolkar eventually retired from the army as a major general. After his demise, Savitri became a nun of the Ramakrishna Mission, until her death in 1990.

1 comment:

  1. Strange as it may seem but we feel more proud to have things done by foreigner(white skin) than relying on our brother who actually are more qualified to do so. The mentality of still being slave still persists in our blood and till it is removed we will never be truly independent completely.