Savitri Khanolkar (1913-1990) was an Indian designer and painter. She is credited with the designing of independent India’s highest gallantry award, the Param Vir Chakra. Apart from designing the Param Vir Chakra, Savitri is also known to have designed the Maha Vir Chakra, Vir Chakra, Ashok Chakra, Kirti Chakra and the Shaurya Chakra. She died on 26 November 1990.
Savitri Khanolkar was born as Eve Yvonne Maday de Maros, on Sunday, 20 July 1913 (age 77 years; at the time of death) in Neuchâtel, Switzerland. Savitri Khanolkar spent the majority of her childhood in Geneva. She started her schooling there itself. She lost her mother at a very young age; she was looked after by her father. During her school’s summer holidays, Savitri read lots of books based on Indian culture and traditions. It made her more curious and enthusiastic about Indian culture. While on a vacation at a beach in Geneva, Savitri was introduced to a group of young Indian officer cadets. There, she met Vikram Ramji Khanolkar, who, at that time, was training in the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst, UK. Savitri immediately fell in love with him and insisted her father on getting Vikram’s address. After getting his address, Savitri wrote letters to him. A few years later, she visited Bombay, which was Vikram’s hometown, and the couple got married in 1932. She started learning more about Indian culture and soon became well-versed in the Indian culture. After getting married, she studied at Patna University, where she attained more information about Indian culture, the Hindu religion and the Vedas.
Savitri Khanolkar belonged to a Swiss family.
Her father’s name was André de Maday. He was a professor of Sociology at Geneva University. He was also the President of the Société de Sociologie de Genève. Her mother’s name was Marthe Hentzelt. She was a professor at Institut Jean-Jacques Rousseau (Rousseau Institute). Her mother was of Russian origin.
Husband & Children
Her husband’s name was Vikram Ramji Khanolkar. He was an officer, who was commissioned in the British Indian Army and served in the Indian Army after independence till the rank of a Major General. She got married to him in 1932 in Mumbai.
Her daughter’s name is Kumudini Khanolkar. She was married to Lt Gen Surinder Sharma (PVSM, AVSM), who became the Engineer-in-Chief of the Indian Army. He was the younger brother of Major Somnath Sharma, who became the first recipient of the nation’s highest gallantry award, the Param Vir Chakra.
She was in a relationship with Vikram Ramji Khanolkar for a brief period, before getting married to him in 1932.
Designing of the coveted Param Vir Chakra
After India attained its freedom from the British Raj, in 1947, the newly established Indian Army asked Major General Hira Lal Atal, who was back then the Adjutant General of the Indian Army and asked him to design new gallantry award medals for the Indian Army. Soon, Major General Atal was introduced to Savitri Khanolkar, by now, her husband, Vikram Ramji Khanolkar, had become a Major General. Hira Lal Atal was impressed by Savitri’s knowledge of Indian culture and traditions. He, without any hesitation, asked Savitri Khanolkar to help him with the design of the medals. Savitri, being a student of the Vedas, was greatly influenced by the story of Rishi Dadhichi, a saint, who donated his spine to the gods, so that they can make a weapon known as Vajra, to kill a very powerful demon. Savitri Khanolkar was greatly influenced by Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, whom she considered to be one of the greatest Indian warriors. Thus, she included his famous sword, Bhavani. The medal has a very peculiar design structure. It is cast in bronze and has a 32 mm purple ribbon attached to it at the top. The medal in between has a raised circle, which contains India’s national emblem, called the Lion Capital of Ashoka. The state emblem is surrounded by four Vajras, on the left, right, up and down. Each Vajra is flanked by two Shivaji Maharaj’s swords, Bhavani. On the other side of the medal, its name is written in both English and Hindi languages, separated by two Lotus flowers.
The medal has a diameter of 13/8 inch or 41.275 mm. The decoration is suspended from a straight swivelling suspension bar, held by the purple ribbon. On the back of the medal, its name is written in both English and Hindi; separated by a lotus flower.
Making other gallantry awards for India
The Maha Vir Chakra
Apart from designing the Param Vir Chakra. Savitri Khanolkar is also accredited with designing the nation’s second-highest gallantry award, the Maha Vir Chakra. The award is cast in silver and is round in shape. The medal has a five-point Heraldic star, and in the centre of the medal, there is a circle, which contains India’s national emblem. On the reverse of the medal, the word Maha Vir Chakra has been embossed in English and Hindi languages. The words on the reverse side of the medal are separated by India’s national flower, Lotus.
The medal is suspended from a suspension bar, which is held by a half orange and half white ribbon. The riband is around 3.2 cm in width.
The Vir Chakra
Savitri also designed India’s third-highest gallantry award, the Vir Chakra. The medal is a circular medal, cast in silver. Its diameter is 13/8 inch or 41.275 mm. The medal contains a five-point star with a dome in the centre. At the centre of the glided dome, the medal has the national emblem of India. On the other side of the medal, the name of the medal is written in both, English and Hindi. The names are separated by the Lotus flower.
It is suspended from a swivel, which is connected to a half dark blue and half saffron-coloured ribbon. The medal has a diameter of 13/8 inch or 41.275 mm, and the ribbon’s diameter is 32 mm.
Designing medals that are awarded during peacetime
The Ashoka Chakra
Ashoka Chakra is the highest gallantry award, awarded to a person during peacetime. It was also designed by Savitri Khanolkar. The award is made up of a gold gild. It is circular and has a diameter of 13/8 inch or 41.275 mm. The medal contains a lotus wreath, and inside the circular wreath, there is Ashoka Chakra. On the back of the medal, the words, Ashok Chakra, are written in both Hindi and English; with both being separated by a lotus.
The medal is also suspended from a swivel, which is attached to a 32mm dark green ribbon, with a 2mm saffron stripe in the middle.
The Kirti Chakra
The Kirti Chakra is made up of silver and is circular. The medal has a diameter of 13/8 inch or 41.275 mm. In the centre of a medal, there is an Ashok Chakra, which is surrounded by a circular wreath of Lotus. At the back of the medal; Kirti Chakra is written in Hindi and English, separated by two Lotuses.
The dark green ribbon, which holds on to the swivel, holding the medal, is 30mm in width. It is divided into two, 2mm saffron-coloured stripes.
The Shaurya Chakra
The Shaurya Chakra is made up of bronze and is circular. The medal in the centre has an Ashok Chakra, which is surrounded by a wreath of lotus flowers. On the back of the medal, Kirti Chakra is embossed in Hindi and English; separated by two lotuses.
It has a dark green ribbon which is equally divided into four halves by three saffron ribbons.
General Service Medal, 1947
Savitri Khanolkar designed this medal along with the other medals. This medal was discontinued from use in 1975. The medal was awarded to the soldiers for serving in different theatres of combat. The medal had a 31mm red ribbon with five equidistant, 1mm dark green stripes.
The front of the medal had Shivaji’s sword, Bhavani; surrounded by a halo. The back of the medal has a bud of a blooming lotus. General Service Medal is written at the back of the medal, around the edge. The medal was made up of nickel.
Savitri Khanolkar died on 26 November 1990 in New Delhi, India. She died because of natural causes.
- Savitri Khanolkar’s mother died, when she was very young. She often asked her father questions about her mother. In an interview, Lieutenant General Harbaksh Singh said,
“Born of Hungarian parents, Mrs. Khanolkar lost her mother at birth. Her father was then a librarian of the League of Nations in Geneva. She was brought up by him and put in a school at Riviera, which was near the sea-coast. She missed her mother from the very beginning, and would often question her father as to where was her mother, and why did he come alone to school to see her?”
- Savitri Khanolkar did a lot of social work. She used to help those, who were displaced from their homes, due to the partition of India and Pakistan.
- Savitri Khanolkar was a very simple lady. In 1952, After the death of her husband, she joined the Ramakrishna Math and began learning about Vedanta. In an interview, Lt Gen Harbaksh Singh told,
Mrs Khanolkar was truly an Indian wife. She dressed simply, in cotton saris, and wore no rouge, and had chappals to wear! I really liked Mrs Savitri Khanolkar and her ways immensely. She had become the follower of Ramakrishna Math, and started following the Vedants. And, by her ways, she inducted me into Vedanta.”
- Savitri Khanolkar was a polyglot. She was well-versed in a variety of languages, such as Hindi, English, Marathi, Konkani and French.
- Savitri Khanolkar used to passionately follow her hobbies in arts, music and dance.
- Savitri Khanolkar was a writer too. She authored, and published a book titled, “Saints of Maharashtra.”
- Savitri Khanolkar’s father objected to her decision of going to India and marrying Vikram Ramji Khanolkar.
- Savitri Khanolkar is also known by her other name Savitri Bai.
- Savitri Khanolkar’s marriage with Vikram Khanolkar was not easy, as Vikram’s parents objected to them getting married, and their marriage was also frowned upon by the higher ranking British officers because Vikram went against a rule; which prohibited any Indian origin officer from getting married before the age of 30. In an interview, Lt Gen Harbaksh Singh stated,
He brought her to Aurangabad as his newlywed bride, but this was not liked by the British Officers in the Battalion – firstly because she was a foreigner, and secondly because he had married against the unwritten law that as a British officer, you could not marry until you were 30.”
- Whenever anybody called Savitri Khanolkar, a foreigner, she used to say, that she was mistakenly born in Europe, instead of India.
- Many well-known personalities have met Savitri Khanolkar, for the contribution that she made, in the designing of independent India’s gallantry medals.