An attempt to understand the tenets of

V. D. Savarkar's Philosophy of History 

For the of studies in Indian History

The stature of Swatantryaveer Vinayak Damodar Savarkar as a revolutionary, thinker, philosopher of Hinduism, leader and a great literary gem of Mother India stands apart from all of his contemporaries. The position of V. D. Savarkar and his thought in the spacio-temporal evolution of Indian thought and way of life, Indian Polity and Philosophy has to be ascertained on a grander scale which can best be described as the task that is to be undertaken or rather introduced as an endeavour by this paper.

            The whole of human thought can best described as a reflection of his understanding as well as interpretation of the space and time that are presented to him through past, present and future. On an individual level as well as community and societal level, humanity has continuously been under and thoughtful and purposeful interaction with space and time. The thought and purpose behind this interaction defines the teleology of our own past, present and future endeavours as collective humanity.

The Nineteenth and twentieth century India saw the great upheavals in whole of her way of life and perspective towards its being and becoming. In this context a range of thinkers, philosophers, activists and leaders, mavericks and entrepreneurs rose to the moment who not only set the new trends but also turned the whole tide of Indian thought and vision towards the new world and times. The discourse these lot of thinkers and leaders of these specific times had with the newly found space and time as well as its interpretation, didn’t continue with the divorce from the traditional Indian way of life but it rose by way of a novel dialectic and interaction that emerged and set in motion between the ethnic Indian reflections and the western or the non-Indian reflections on space-time. This dialectic led to the greater synthesis of Indian thought and the western or the modern thought and ways of engagement with the space and time. Thus, the range of scholars these periods produced ambitiously tried to and grandly succeeded in the bringing forward the great synthesis between Indian and Western Thought and unpretentiously put forth that this kind of synthesis only build towards the core of India’s future identity and her future spacio-temporal realities.

            Thus, the thinkers like Savarkar although majorly shown as drawn by the core of Indian way of thinking or his whole thought process as a great reflection on the Indian way of life and thinking with his own enlightened reason; as well as his inclination towards the great activists and the leaders of the west like Giuseppe Mazzini, their life and thought, his rootedness in the Indian past, her glories and falls in all the activities of life, all realms of her being and becoming played a crucial role in his whole outlook and strivings towards India’s past, present and future, her being bound in contemporary space and surroundings, expounds V. D. Savarkar’s holistic thoughtful and active approach to many a questions he chose to address.

            This paper intends to throw a light on the Veer Savarkar’s philosophical reflections as in their whole posit in the contemporary spacio-temporal realities and his own novel way of reflections which can justly be expressed to be stemming from the vision of the non-ideal or non-utopia centric future towards which or towards the realization of which he dedicated his whole life.

            The schema or the prolegomena of historiography that was designed by V. D. Savarkar was not and cannot be plainly put in the category of nationalist history or the nationalist glorification decorated writing of History. The prolegomena adopted by Veer Savarkar for writing history, investigating the past and narrating the past can best be described in four crucial stages or the four core pivots of his history writing and narrating the same. These pivots were the Enlightenment-Objective Observations-Immersed Participation-Practice. This paper intends to and will try to design or rather unearth the prolegomena of Savarkar’s process of History writing and his own philosophical readings of History.

            The treatise by V. D. Savarkar on the war of Independence of 1857, another one on the six glorious epochs of Indian History and another one as the Hindu-Pad-Padshashi can be read, reread and thoroughly understood for derivation of his prolegomena towards the process of history writing and practising the same with gained wisdom. This paper will chart out a theoretical approach towards this grand reality hidden under the great efforts by V. D. Savarkar as an investigating historian; which is humbly presented by the student of Savarkar for the further works and discussions as well as rectifications.

            The history as a chronicle of our past or an elaborate account of our shared past lives and ways of great civilization becomes the foundation of Savarkar’s works on history of India. Yet, these accounts do not just stop at being the dry narratives or the detailed accounts in the positivist tradition of history writing.        

V. D. Savarkar’s approach towards the history starts from positivist account of past and goes or diverges towards a greater reality which has to be realized by us as the subjects or the individuals of this great civilization. His whole narrative of history is built on the solid investigations and evidences and thus no fissures can be found or shown in his handling of facts and presentations of the same. And basically, he himself delves deeper in the foundation of this objective analysis and interpretation of historical evidences for the building of cause and effect chain of events as well as intentions behind them.

 The solid ground prepared by the facts becomes the backdrop of his narration. And here, after the certain and objective analysis of the past V. D. Savarkar and his whole process of history writing emerges in the realms of the ethical and metaphysical presentations. Here in this realm, V. D. Savarkar presents to us the great dialogue between the past, present and future, the ideals of the past and the present and their intended destiny in the future, the emotions, intentions of the actions and their causes in the past and their culminations in the present scenarios and their abstract ascent in the future can be found in the whole of historiography of V. D. Savarkar. This way, history or the historiography becomes a great reflection on the times and spaces that are playing crucial role in the continuous narrative of our civilization.

Veer Savarkar’s approach here towards past-present and future is narratological. Yet, as in narrative, his accounts of the past and their connection with present-future does never deflect towards just imaginations and utopias. This position of V. D. Savarkar stems from his roots in the objective reasoning and their ascent towards subjective ideals as well as realities. Thus, built on the concrete analysis of the shared past of our great civilization as well as his wholesome understanding of the modern and traditional thought; his narration of history becomes the great synthesis of the reflections from traditional Indian as well as modern renaissance driven points of view. Thus, V. D. Savarkar herein emerges as a great commentator, interpreter and a prophet of history or the past, who redefines the spacio-temporal understandings of the world around India, Indians and her great civilization. The persona of India in a perpetual state of evolution is caught by V. D. Savarkar and he rightly narrates the voyage of this evolution from past to present to future. Rather, it is the great thinker and the author himself V. D. Savarkar as a commentator, interpreter and prophet becomes the preceptor of our times. It is a very interesting discourse or the interaction that we stumble upon in which the past-as-in-itself is seen to be true to its core yet shown and justified  in its great potential in establishing its unavoidable connection with the present and future of personality of India.

            Now when we think of Savarkar’s whole philosophy of history in terms of the four pivots or the crucial points as the paper has illustrated earlier, it becomes pertinent to hold the thesis that the philosophy of Veer Savarkar and his being as a historian and the being of History in itself stems from both the traditional Indian wisdom that percolates from the long way of historical narratives that have been held in great esteem by the Indians as well as the traditional philosophical perspectives like the greater philosophical systems and their relative outlooks towards the world, and on the other hand the western modern thought that reached India in the nineteenth and twentieth century by the means of academic as well as the organizational life that was introduced and imposed in India, on India. This way, V. D. Savarkar as a thinker and historian derives his fuel from both the systems of thought or rather his whole thinking and reasoning combines these both perspectives towards the spacio-temporal realities, and the world and that whole synthesis receives its grand representation in the historical narratives of the V. D. Savarkar.

The being of a historian and the history or the narrative as a being have their own existence and this existence is not in the past but in the present; and thus both beings in a journey towards their becoming have to adjust with the times and spaces of their genesis. Thus the historical narrative written by or presented by V. D. Savarkar has to be seen in this light of its being in that era which was the result of certain conditions as well as the certain past realities culminating in the present. The idealism that was becoming well-established after the works and adventures by our great thinkers like Swami Vivekananda, Lokamanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak etc. had its great effect on the upcoming activities and movements which sought their moral and spiritual inspiration in these novel schools of thoughts.  

The enlightenment which as term this paper refers here doesn’t mean the western understanding of the definition but an insight which occurs or emerges on the individual level when it digests the whole of the historical voyage of its own civilization or culture and at the same time in the Indian context this enlightenment can be deciphered as the three level wisdom derived from the knowledge of western way of thinking and reasoning, the Indian philosophical wisdom derived through the knowledge and understanding of our systems of thought and thirdly the wisdom derived from the symbiosis of these both systems and the acute understanding of our past, its pitfalls and elevations. This enlightenment gives a new vision to the thinkers like V D Savarkar who see the whole of our history as a nation-making process and can definitely bring from this past a concrete narrative which can play a significant role in the nation-making process of the future. The enlightened historian as V. D. Savarkar doesn’t see past with the eyes of historicism or the dogmas of the determinisms attached to it, but rather makes history come alive in front of the people as the live narrative which just derives the lessons from it as well as put forth the important or the core assets that turn in to the fulcrums for evolution of our civilization towards its own destiny which again is perpetual evolution. The concepts of republic, democracy, nationalism, sovereignty, liberty, equality and fraternity etc. that came to India by way of introduction to the western thought and at the same time an ethnic evolution of India’s own thought systems like Anubhuti driven Idealism, Karma centered Dharma principles and way of life etc, and on another level an offshoot of the encounter between these both systems like the encounter between British and Indian Idealism, Kantian understanding and the logical materialist and reasoned analysis prevalent in Indian systems created a new wave of intellectualism in all quarters of our nation. This synthesis of both the systems, the aspirations that rose among the intelligent populace of India can be seen to be incarnated in the generation of scholars and independent thinkers of these times. Thinkers like V. D. Savarkar were the diamonds that were created under this pressure, heat and fire. 

The next pivot is that of the being of historian as an objective observer of the History of his own civilization. V. D. Savarkar in his works has laid the foundation of all his further narrations through the great analysis of the available evidences and he rightly goes forward with the analysis of these evidences towards building the historical narrative. The reasoning that emerges out of the enlightenment that has been discussed earlier leads the presentation of history on a sound note and firm footing. The reason behind the narrative as well as the wisdom that has been derived from the enlightenment never leave the scenario of the narrative and thus everywhere the conclusions or the visions that have been enumerated by V. D. Savarkar have the spine of this reasoning arising out of his own individual and subjective critical thinking. At the same time the data collected by V. D. Savarkar for the analysis doesn’t fall in to the category of partisan collectivism or studies, yet as a thinker who is determined to elaborate the nature of spacio-temporal realities of the past, their relation to the present and their intended progress towards the future. The objective analysis done by V. D. Savarkar of the historical facts as well as evidences builds a concrete foundation to find or grasp the sentient and metaphysical drives of the people or the actors of those times and spaces. And in doing so, V. D. Savarkar again keeps his own critical reasoning capacities alive and awake for not to falter in establishing a truthful and scientific or positive analysis of the past through its cause-effect chains.  

The third pivot that we can come across in V. D. Savarkar’s narrative of the history is as an immersed participant. The historian here doesn’t just stops at being the reasoned and neutral observer and the reporter of the past, but he himself or his whole being gets bound in the history and the evolution of course of history. This is the immersed way of narrative makes the history come alive in front of the readers for whom the historian becomes a kind of witness of all the realities of the past. This way of historical narrative as adopted by V. D. Savarkar has many a similarities with the style and way of history writing adopted by Thomas Carlyle. The French Revolution not only established a new trend in the history writing as narrative building of the past, but most importantly it also became a great foundation in concretizing the position of the historian as an integral being to the past as well as present. The being of historian here becoming one with the evolution of the past or progress of history and thus the historian as an being-in-itself evolve along with the history towards becoming.

The wisdom driven from the historical narratives gradually develops along with the story of the history, but at the same time there is no climax at the end, yet the process of historical march of our people is opened in front of the people.  Participation in the narrative is a characteristic of many of the traditional forms of presentations of history that can be found in the folk traditions and folk cultures. Now as in Carlyle, V. D. Savarkar adopts this way of presentation of history without losing the grip of the objective analysis and evidential approach towards the studies in history. The historian as a being is completely immersed in the narrative, he lives it, and thus he only becomes the bridge between the reader or the student and the past itself. The discourse between the reader or the student of history and the history takes place by the means of live narrative by the historian, who not only gives minutest details but also identifies himself with the emotions, intentions, anticipations, pleasures and frustrations of the characters of the past. The historian as a narrator of the past becomes rightly the incarnation of the aspirations, emotions and reasons of the past and the people or the actors from the past.

This is where the history presented in such a way ascends towards the metaphysical realm of past realities. But, one thing is rather very much important to note here that V. D. Savarkar never ever reaches to historical narrative or presents the same with a preconceived intention of justifying the sides of some of the characters. It is actually the objective understanding of the history and its critical as well as minutest analysis that builds the historian’s being towards the subjective and immersed participation in the past with its presentation in a narrative form as the same.  

The earlier three of the pivots of V. D. Savarkar’s philosophy of history and historiography culminate in to the practice of history and all the knowledge and wisdom derived from the history. This way, the history truly leaves its space of dead past and becomes the truest phenomenology of the time where all the things that have been done in the past find their sequels with certain changes, amendments as well as rectifications in the present. V. D. Savarkar as a historian gets to the depth of the times to understand the course of evolution our people and civilization. This way as in by positing himself in the stream of time and one with the stream of time coming from past to the present and going towards future, V. D. Savarkar can visualize the course of action that can lead to the future as can be seen or ideally deciphered from the understanding of history. Here the big difference is that V. D. Savarkar doesn’t postulate ideals of his times and hammer them on the historical facts but rather he derives these ideals from the historical studies itself. And his whole of activities as a historian doesn’t stop just at understanding the past of our people and its culmination in the present and towards the future, but again he actively indulges himself in the active stream of happenings where he himself takes the active role. The historian with his historical being again immerses himself in the present and towards the building of future, as he had done for the past. This can aptly be said that, V. D. Savarkar had completely absorbed himself in the stream of spacio-temporal evolution of our nation and her national spirit. As a historian and leader he was one with this divine evolution of our national spirit. We can see the same through all of his activities from establishment of Mitramela and Abhinav Bharat up to his initiatives of Patit Pavan.

Once this basic premise of the pivotal development of V. D. Savarkar’s historiography and philosophy of History has been elaborated, this paper will further try to study the expanse and nature of V. D. Savarkar’s historical thought and teleology of that narration. Here we can take in to account the thesis by Hon. Dr. V. S. Sukthankar under whose able and erudite lead the Mahabharata project by Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute was brought to fruition. In his great treatise ‘On the meaning of Mahabharata’ he illustrates the whole nature of Mahabharata and its core meaning taking place or evolving on three levels and that are of physical plane, ethical plane and metaphysical plane. Thus the story of Mahabharata, and Mahabharata as history and history of those great people evolves on three levels or planes, occurs on three planes to which the common people, the carriers of water and hewers of wood can easily identify themselves and their lives, thus can derive direct similarities as well as the vision from the narrative. This whole scholarly analysis of Mahabharata by Dr. V. S. Sukthankar can directly be applied to treatise written by V. D. Savarkar on Indian war of Independence, on the glorious epochs of Indian History as well as his works on the history of the Maratha people and their Hindu-Pad-Padshahi. The historical accounts and narratives by V. D. Savarkar readily work on and evolve through the physical, ethical and metaphysical planes; or rather the whole narrative at the same time derives its origin from metaphysical genesis as well as physical causes and that too without losing the hand of ethical base of all the actions of the people involved in the play on the historical stage. This way V. D. Savarkar connects the three dimension of the spacio-temporal realities and interactions of our civilization with the world around and among itself, which are physical plane, ethical plane and metaphysical plane. The history as a stream of events works its way as a perpetual evolution by developing on all the three planes of our great civilization and not a single event or character or a mere record doesn’t lose its place from the grand scheme of evolution of our glorious civilization.

This approach of understanding the evolution of our civilization on these three planes that has been developed by V. D. Savarkar and that too occurring as in through its connection, interaction, getting under the siege of external challenges and its heroic struggle towards freedom and self-sovereign-expression or manifestation of its being all play a very important role in the evolution of our great civilization and the national spirit of India. Through these challenges and continued struggle against these challenges, its seizures, shackles and our civilization’s successful or triumphant voyage out of all the dire conditions defines the way through which the civilization evolves and progresses towards the greater and diviner realities. This way the six glorious epochs of Indian history that were selected by V. D. Savarkar were the grand historical instances when and where the prowess of our old and glorious civilization shone highest with brightest of the light and strength; and it made its way through all the challenges towards greater manifestation and kind of its own being. The history of Indian people and India’s great civilization as understood and presented by V. D. Savarkar as her continuous evolution via her stern and triumphant answers to all the challenges she met in her continued ascent as a historical being and becoming. This way V. D. Savarkar’s approach towards history of our civilization can best be shown as similar to that of Arnold J. Toynbee, who too works on the history of humanity as an account of evolution of civilizations happening by the means of challenges met by these very civilizations and their response to the same. The civilizations which meet these challenges and evolve certain reactions through which the creativity of the social and individual psych was invoked, emerge to a more evolved level of being. Six glorious epochs define the premises of these challenges and the successful overcoming of these by our national spirit through its religious and political activism. These premises have further to be explored and investigated to ascertain the creative reactions in all the domains of human life that were developed by our people.   

Now continuing with the stance of historical understanding that was taken up by V. D. Savarkar, we can also ascertain to a certain level some of his critical yet maverick postulates regarding the whole idea of idealism as a philosophy and approach to action. According to Idealist themes of historicism or the determinism that is derived from it, the expansion of spirit or the phenomenology of spirit occurs throughout ages and the spirit expands through an exploration of various possibilities. These possibilities of various manifestations are to be explored or practically experimented by the individuals and their individual or community venture. Now, if that way of exploration and manifestation isn’t developed up to the mark, the experiment fails and reigning system continues. This reigning system is also an expression of that uninhibited spirit, and when the time comes for the newer ideas, the spirit manifests itself in that form. Unfortunately, this way Western idealism becomes a kind of supporter to the reigning or working system and here the whole of Idealist phenomenology goes towards determinism; against which and for the support of which we know many a thinkers and philosophers as well as their works and initiatives can be demarcated as an intellectual history of western world.

This idealism by the way of British idealism also reached India, and here we see a maverick understanding and interpretation of the same by many of the thinkers of our own soil like Lokamany Tilak, Sri Aurobindo, Swami Vivekanada, Sarvapalli Radhakrishnan and V. D. Savarkar. V. D. Savarkar’s whole approach to the question of determinism stems from his understanding of eastern as well as western philosophies. Now according to V. D. Savarkar, divine spirit or the divinity itself is free in its essence and manifestations, and thus the physical, ethical and metaphysical manifestations of the same can never be shackled or put in to cages. And hence, if freedom is divinity, self-sovereign-expression is divinity, then the struggle for the freedom becomes a perpetual evolution towards the divinity. This seems to be the very intellectual subversion of Western Idealism, which completely gives a divine right of action by all means for the liberty and sovereignty of oneself and one’s people. It emerges from the original understanding of idealism as well as an evolved way of idealist interpretation of the world, man and his interaction with the same. The Swatantrya-Devi of Savarkar rises from this holy altar of novel understanding and application of idealism, which although remaining in the broad tenets of Indian as well as western idealism makes an independent room for itself and its confident manifestation in thought and action.  

Another important aspect of V. D. Savarkar’s philosophy of History can be put as its natural bond with the thoughts of Sri Auribindo in his Human Cycle and The Ideal of Human Unity. Sri Aurobindo prophesizes here with an eye and intellect of a visionary seer that the age of subjective thinking emerges after the infra-rational and rational phases of human community existence have been passed as well as surpassed by the human consciousness. This way the idealism by Sri Aurobindo takes the human consciousness on its great voyage of evolution towards ultimate or supra-ultimate existence; and for the same the supreme consciousness manifests itself in various forms and ideas. For which the fields of human activities and thinking become the channels or the byroads through which the consciousness as a whole evolves. The fields like philosophy, sociology, polity, economics etc. become these ways by which the human consciousness moves forwards from darkness to light, from infra-rational existence to rational and supra-rational being. Savarkar’s whole efforts in the fields of Indian Philosophy, Societal existence, political realities can be ascertained with this evolutionary engagements of the human life.  Savarkar’s emphasis on Scientific Materialism, Materialist idea of Hinduism, philosophical and political emphasis on human action and venture for the free expression of human individual and community life, the persona of our nation and national spirit, its evolution towards the rational and supra-rational realization all can be seen in the light of Sri Aurobindo’s views and theories. It can best be described as there exists a natural bond between the thoughts and philosophies of Sri Aurobindo and V. D. Savarkar. Again, according to Sri Aurobindo, the being that identifies itself with the aspirations of the people of certain ages and spaces become the heroes and historical beings of great potent who drive the course of our past, present and future. The historical analysis of the past of our nation by V. D. Savarkar aligns to this notion of historical being and becoming. The leaders of the past and present along with the historian as an enlightened-observer-participant-practitioner himself become the incarnations of the truest aspirations of the people and who thus become the trailblazers of subjective and supra-rational evolution of our national spirit in their chosen fields of activity.

And at the same time, there also exists an another kind of inspiration in the thoughts and philosophy of V. D. Savarkar that can be driven or shown to be driven from the materialist tradition of Indian philosophical systems. An expansive study of V. D. Savrkar’s thoughts and philosophies although not denying its core to the Indian Idealism makes a crucial claim for the materialist interpretation and way of thinking towards the future of India. The logical analysis of various questions of Indian society and community existence, individual life, thoughts and actions by V. D. Savarkar can best be described as putting huge emphasis on the materialist and rational base for future engagements and endeavours. But, most importantly this whole ecosystem of Savarkar’s philosophy rises from the idealist interpretation of the world and order.

This paper thus, has humbly tried to put forth various philosophical facets of V. D. Savarkar’s idea and philosophy of history, his whole stature and stance as a historian, the engagement of history and historiography on the three planes of human existence, his works and narrations becoming the trumpets of evolution of our national spirit and the bond of his thoughts to the eastern as well as western doctrines of thinking and actions. This paper with its content hopes to work in a greater details in the future on the lines that have been designed for approach to V. D. Savarkar’s thoughts and life and actions.       

  • Rajas A. Vaishampayan

Bibliography –

  1. Indian War of Independence, by Savarkar V. D. (1909)
  2. Six Glorious Epochs of Indian History, by Savarkar V. D. (1971, Bombay)
  3. Hindu-Pad-Padshahi, by Savarkar V. D.(1925, Bombay)
  4. On the meaning of Mahabharata, by Sukhthankar V. S., BORI (1942)
  5. The Human Cycle, by Sri Aurobindo (1949)
  6. A Study of History, 10 Volumes, by Toynbee A. J., (Abridged Edition 1960)