Yamunabai or Mai Savarkar was born as Yashoda on 04 Dec 1888 or Margashirsh shukla 1, Vikram Samvat 1945. She was the eldest of four sons and seven daughters of Ramchandra Trimbak (Bhaurao) and Lakshmibai (Manutai) Chiplunkar. Her maiden name was Yashoda but she was fondly called ‘Jiji’ by her younger siblings. Later, the name ‘Mai’ took its place. Bhaurao Chiplunkar was the Dewan in the Jawhar Principality in Thane district. As such, Mai spent her childhood in luxury. Despite the family wealth, Mai was unassuming in nature. As per prevalent custom, she had barely studied up to Class IV. Bhaurao did not need to make efforts to find a suitor for his well-built, dark-complexioned daughter. The Savarkars and Chiplunkars knew each other. Yashoda (wife of Savarkar’s elder brother Babarao) and Mai were friends. Tatya’s numerous qualities and in particular, his sharp intellect had drawn Bhaurao’s attention to him. Around that time, Savarkar’s maternal uncle and elder brother Babarao were also looking for a match for the young Vinayak (Tatya). The alliance was cemented by Savarkar’s maternal uncle. Bhaurao’s acceptance that he would bear Vinayak’s educational expenses greatly influenced the decision (in later life, Savarkar greatly appreciated Bhaurao’s contribution and respected Bhaurao as a father-figure). Mai and Vinayak (Tatya) Savarkar were married at Nashik in February 1901 or in Magh, Vikram Samvat 1957. Mai entered the Savarkar household and soon became one with the intense patriotism that pervaded the Savarkar family. Savarkar would compose patriotic poems and ballads and Yesuvahini who was fond of singing would sing them and make women friends and family members memorize them. She became member of Atmanishtha Yuvati Samaj (Marathi for Self-respecting Young Women’s’ Society), an organization of patriotic women started by Babarao Savarkar’s wife Yashoda (Yesuvahini). The organization aimed to imbibe nationalism in women and make them aware of the political situation in the country and the importance of the freedom movement. The group was 100-125 strong and included Godumai Khare and Laxmibai Datar. Their meetings would begin with the singing of Govind (Aba) Darekar’s patriotic songs. They would then invoke Sri Rama. The women would also collectively sing Savarkar’s poems and read anti-British articles that appeared in the Kesari. Each member was required to take an oath to the following effect: “In the name of the Motherland, Shivaji Raja who won freedom through war and Bhavani Mata who gives strength, I hereby give witness before Shivaji and Bhavani Durga Devi that I shall use swadeshi goods only, love my country more than my life, strive for my country’s freedom and help those who are doing so.” Member ladies would use glass bangles made in India; these were hard to come by in those days so they would tie a black string if no such bangles were available. They would use yellow impure sugar and wear rough hand-made cloth. When Lokmanya Tilak’s wife Satyabhamabai visited Nashik, she was felicitated and presented with a silver cup by members of the group. In 1908, the members collected donations for the fund raised to defend Tilak in his court case.
After the marriage of his daughter, Bhaurao Chiplunkar bore significant expenses towards the education of his son-in-law. It was due to this that Savarkar could seek admission to Fergusson College. During his holidays, Savarkar would come to Jawhar and meet with his wife. The depiction of the young Kamala in Savarkar’s epic poem ‘Kamala’ fits with Mai of those days. The Savarkars were blessed with a son (named Prabhakar) in December 1904 or early 1905 (He died of small pox between 10-15 February 1909 while Savarkar was in London). When Savarkar left for London in 1906, Mai was there with her father and brother-in-laws to see him off at the harbour. Mai and Bhaurao must have surely dreamt of a comfortable life what with Savarkar studying to become a Barrister. But that was not to be. The revolutionary activities of the Savarkar brothers meant that the British police were constantly watching the Savarkar family. Barely 15 days had passed since the death of her beloved Prabhakar when terrible news came that Babarao Savarkar had been sentenced to Transportation for Life in the Andamans. Savarkar’s arrest in London, extradition to India, his epic escape at Marseilles and re-arrest to stand trial in India were events that followed in quick succession. Savarkar was first brought to Nashik. Mai traveled from Trimbakeshwar on horseback with her brother to meet her husband. Fearing the wrath of the British, friends turned their back on her. It was raining heavily. With nowhere to go, brother and sister spent the night in a temple in Tambat Ali, Nashik. The two met Savarkar for about 45 minutes. When Savarkar was sentenced to Transportation for Life for two terms and seizure of property, Mai accepted her fate stoically. Before being taken to the Andamans, Mai went to the Dongri prison in Mumbai to meet her husband. There was a real possibility that the two would never meet again. Seeing her manacled husband in the garb of a prisoner, Mai become emotional. Savarkar addressed her with uncommon fortitude, “If the Almighty shows compassion, we shall meet again. Till then, if you are ever tempted by the thought of an ordinary family life, remember that if producing children and collecting a few twigs to build a home is to be called married life, then such a life is led by crows and sparrows as well. But if a nobler meaning is to be given to married life, then we are blessed to have lead a life fit for human beings. By breaking our hearth and utensils, golden smoke may ensue from thousands of homes in future. And did not plague render our homes desolate when we were building them? Face the odds bravely.” Mai replied, “We are trying to do just that. As far as we are concerned, we have each other. If you take care of yourself, we shall feel fulfilled.” To reassure the two that he could bear the weight of the manacles, Savarkar walked back about thirty steps with his arms raised.
Savarkar and Mai were united only when Savarkar was released from the Andamans and was incarcerated in Ratnagiri district. Mai gave her whole-hearted support to Savarkar in his campaign for social reform. When plague hit Ratnagiri in May 1924, Savarkar’s younger brother Narayanrao brought Babarao Savarkar and Mai to Mumbai. Savarkar himself could not leave Ratnagiri as the British Government did not give him permission to do so at that time (Savarkar received permission to leave Ratnagiri and go to Nashik on 14 June; he was in Nashik and Trimbakeshwar from 01 July to 14 November 1924; for a short period thereafter till 24 November, he was in Mumbai before returning to Ratnagiri). Later, when Savarkar stayed in Shirgaon near Ratnagiri, Mai did not accompany him. She was pregnant and was in Satara at her sister’s place. She delivered a baby girl (subsequently named Prabhat) on 07 January 1925. In 1926, the Savarkars were blessed with another daughter (named Shalini) but she died in infancy. On 01 March 1927, Gandhi and his wife Kasturba who were on a tour of Maharashtra came to Ratnagiri. At a public meeting in Ratnagiri, Gandhi expressed his desire to meet Savarkar. Due to fever, Savarkar was unable to call on Gandhi and so he invited Gandhi to come over to his house. Accordingly, Gandhi accompanied by Kasturba came over to meet Savarkar and Mai. This secret meeting lasted for 90 minutes. During this period, Kasturba and Mai shared pleasantries in the Savarkar kitchen. On 17 March 1928, the Savarkars were blessed with a baby boy. He was named Vishwas. On 26 July 1930, a public meeting of women was held at the Vithal Mandir, Ratnagiri under the Chairmanship of Mai to propagate the concept of Swadeshi among women. It was attended by ex-untouchable women too. On 09 September 1932, a community dining of women was organized on the occasion of Satyashodhak leader Madhavrao Bagal’s visit to Ratnagiri. It was attended by 150 women belonging to different castes. Mai along with Mrs. Bagal participated in this inter-community dining. An Akhil Hindu yagnya was organized on the following day with Savarkar and Mai serving as hosts. On 20 August 1936, a holy palanquin was taken out on the occasion of the Akhil Hindu Nama Saptah (chanting of the Divine Name by all Hindus). Mai Savarkar consecrated the palanquin. On 26 September 1936, a huge inter-community dining for women was held at the Patit Pavan Mandir, Ratnagiri. It was attended by 400 women including Mai, Mrs. Mundkur (wife of the Deputy Collector) and Mrs. Jagtap (wife of the Civil Surgeon). The women belonged to all castes and included ex-untouchables. After Savarkar’s unconditional release in 1937, Mai made occasional public appearances. On 19 April 1941, the ladies wing of the Chitpavan Brahmin Sangh felicitated Mai. The women were exhorted to encourage their children to enlist in the armed forces. On 30 January 1944, Mai participated in a Akhil Hindu Tilgul (sesame and jaggery ) function. She said, “The nation is my home and my home is my nation.” Mai also participated in the various public functions held to felicitate Savarkar on the occasion of his 61st birthday. In December 1950, a convention of the Hindu Mahasabha was held in Pune under the Chaimanship of Dr. N.B. Khare. Savarkar could not attend it due to the vitiated atmosphere following the Gandhi Murder. The ladies wing of the Sabha (Hindu Mahila Sabha) decided to honour Mai. The venue named as Veer Savarkar Nagar was packed with thousands of women. The function started at 9.30 am with welcome songs. Mai was given the traditional sari and other auspicious items together with a gold necklace and cash. M.S. Dikshit who had written a small biography of Mai was felicitated by her with a pen. Shantabai Gokhale (Pune), Godumai Khare (Nashik), Saraswatibai Kavanikar, Malatibai Agarkar, Lele, Sindhutai Godse spoke in glowing terms about Mai’s numerous qualities. After Mai thanked the assembled delegates, Sushilabai Gokhale read out Mai’s thanksgiving speech. The Marathi speech, purportedly written by Savarkar himself, was as follows: “Hindu sisters! In my childhood, the secret society ‘Abhinav Bharat’ had several ladies’ branches. In one of these branches and on the instructions of my late sister-in-law Yesuvahini, I took an oath to sacrifice everything for the glory of the Hindu Dharma and for the freedom of Hindusthan. Many of my relatives and friends who undertook this sacred mission (vrat) along with me had their homes and family life destroyed due to this. Many women who lost their husbands for the cause of Dharma in the prime of their youth laid down their lives pining in vain for their husbands. In the last 4-5 years, several thousands of our Hindu sisters have surpassed Chittod of yore and performed jauhars (self-immolation) in Kashmir, Sind and Bengal provinces. How can one mention their sacred names that run in thousands? If I mention only the names of those brave Hindu sisters whom I know without mentioning the names of those brave Hindu sisters, I shall be in a sense committing partiality. Hence, at the outset, I humbly and gratefully salute thousands of those brave Hindu women who laid down their lives to protect the Hindu Rashtra and Hindu Dharma. And then, all I say for myself is that the Almighty gave me courage to do my duty to the best of my ability. What is a Tulsi leaf? But when it is offered at the Divine feet and dries up, even the saints rub it on their foreheads. My own condition today is no different. I am but a bundle of dried flowers and leaves. I was fortunate enough to have fallen at the Divine feet. That is why great women like you are felicitating the dried flowers that my life is. But truly, this felicitation is not of the dried flowers but of the Master himself. To conclude, my message to the rising generations is that we should protect the freedom and self-rule that we gained through our valour.”
In 1949, her daughter Prabhat gave birth to a son. Her son Vishwas had a daughter in 1953. Mai’s family life was fulfilled. In 1956, Mai fell ill and was confined to bed. She was kept at Dr. AK Talwalkar’s Colony Nursing Home in Dadar. She was brought home in October 1956. In October 1963, Mai was diagnosed with lymphoma and shifted to Dr. Talwalkar’s Colony Nursing Home. Her only worry was Tatya’s health (he had suffered a fracture on 29 May 1963 and had become very feeble; he had also give up food and water on a couple of occasions). Mai passed away at 7.30 am on 08 November 1963 or Kartik 8, Vikram Samvat 2020. When Savarkar was informed about her death, he almost swooned. He had to be held to prevent him from falling. He exclaimed, “Mai has passed. Her life has been fulfilled.” As willed by Savarkar, her body was not brought to Savarkar Sadan but taken straight to the crematorium from the hospital. Savarkar did not desire any public emotion. He did not attend the cremation. When told by those present that it was time to go to the crematorium, he said, “I have already bid farewell to Mai. I do not feel up to it to go there.”
Mai was a simple woman who silently loved and worshipped Savarkar. She took care of his small needs, ensured that his clothes were always pristine and ensured that the family needs were met within their modest means. Mai spent time with Savarkar, watering plants in the garden just to be near him. She was a religious lady. She performed puja daily which Savarkar would merely observe from a distance. Savarkar himself did not believe in performing puja but never prevented Mai from performing it. In his own way, Savarkar ensured that his public engagements did not over-burden Mai in her household chores. He was conscious of the endless cups of tea that she had to make to numerous visitors. Mai supported Savarkar in his campaign of social reform. When Savarkar brought up an ex-untouchable girl in his modest house in Ratnagiri, surely it was Mai who looked after her. Mai could show courage when the occasion demanded. After the Gandhi Murder, a crowd descended on Savarkar Sadan to harm Savarkar physically. It was Mai who stood beside Savarkar with a stick in her hand.
Behind every great man, there is a woman. In Savarkar’s life, that woman was Mai.