So far, 21 bravehearts of India have been awarded the Param Vir Chakra (PVC), the country’s highest gallantry award for their acts of extraordinary and selfless bravery in combat.
But the person who designed this prestigious medal of valour was a Swiss-born woman, Eve Yvonne Maday de Maros, who later changed her name to Savitri Bai Khanolkar. Her story is very interesting.
She was born in Switzerland to a Hungarian father and Russian mother on 20th July, 1913. As a teenager in 1929, she met Vikram Khanolkar and fell in love, while Vikram undergoing training at the Royal Military Academy in the UK was visiting Switzerland during a term break. Despite resistance from her parents, she came to India later and married Vikram in 1932.
She quickly immersed herself in the study of Indian culture, history, legends, mythology and traditions and learned to speak fluently Hindi, Marathi and Sanskrit. She mastered Indian music, dance, art and painting.
Looking to her deep knowledge of Indian culture and Hindu religious scriptures including Vedas, she was given the responsibilty of designing the PVC to replace the Victoria Cross. The great Hindu warrior, Chhatrapati Shivaji’s sword ‘Bhavani’ found a place on the disc enclosed within Indra’s mythological weapon ‘Vajra’ from both sides that truly symbolise the highest bravery.
This was introduced on 26th January, 1950, the first Republic Day of India. Incidentally, the first recipient was Major Somnath Sharma, a distant relative of Savitribai Khanolkar.
She also designed other bravery medals too like The Mahavir Chakra, Vir Chakra, Ashok Chakra, Kirti Chakra and Shaurya Chakra. She got herself involved in a lot of social activities like helping the families of martyrs and refugees.
Savitribai also wrote a book on the “Saints of Maharashtra“, which is still popular in Maharashtra.
After her husband’s demise in 1952, she found refuge in spirituality and joined the Ramakrishna Math. This noble lady breathed her last on 26th November, 1990 after leading a remarkable journey.