Param Vir Chakra: Story of India’s Highest Gallantry Award

01 Sep 2020 14:24:44

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The Evolution of Gallantry Awards in india

Awards for gallantry are synonymous with honour, and from the earliest times societies have piven a place of eminence to those who displayed bravery and courage on the battlefield.  Soldiers, the world over, also place courage on the battlefield high on their priorities and these who win such awards do appreciate the acknowledgement of their deeds of valour by the same symbol that gives them recognition in the eyes of their peers. The system for awards for bravery on the battlefield has an interesting history and it is worthwhile knowing how it developed. And in today’s article, we shall look ate India’s highest Gallantry Award - Param Vir Chakra.

In ancient India, the emphasis was on heavenly rewards, and the merit of dying as a martyr in the cause of dharad (troth) was long acknowledged as a sure won't be heaven, Death on the battlefield was considered gloricers, anc the attainment of Searga (heaven) through death in battle very praiseworthy,  Memorials came into being around the 26 century and are mentioned in Sangam literature. When a brave soldier died in battle his compatriots marked the spot by placing a large stone bearing his name with an account of his act of courage. The custom survived in Tarnil Nadu and Karnataka till the 10° century,

The pleasures of the earth provided an equally great incentive to the gallant. Sn Krishna in his exhortation to Anjuna the fight, points out the hand that in the event of success, the enjoyments of the earth would accrue to him. 

In the Bnitatsenhita of Varahamihira, there is reference to a band or fillet of geld granted by the King to his brave subjects. It was an inch-broad strap worn around the head in the form of a crown, In the art of Ajanta many men-in-anns are exhibited as wearing these bands. The Hoysala records note the grant of rent-free lands called dalead to the families of soldiers who died in battle. 

The Medieval Period

During the Mughal role, medals, badges of decorations as we conceive them today, were given. Indeed. for the common soldier there was rarely any reward at all, regardless of his valour or achievement—survival and plunder were probably encurgh. However, for the officers and nobles there were tiles, robes of honour, gifts, kettledrums, standards and ensigns. A tithe generally denoted either the quality of a person or the office held by him. Khan was the most commonly used tithe during the Mughal period: “atar Khan (Lord of Victory), Shujiat Khan (Lord of Bravery) etc. The Afghan Bing, Sher Shah Suni had earlier been awarded the tithe of Sher Khan for having killed a tiger.

The British East India Company.

The history of present day medals & traceable to the days of the Company rule in India. For rewards of intrinsic value, the Company reverted to English practice and began as early as 1668 to reward first European and then Indian officers, for services to the Company, with the issue of specially struck unique gold medals. 

Modern india (British Period)

During World War, the practice of award of decorations, based on English traditions, began to become class-based with the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) being awarded to senior officers, the Military Cross (MC), to junior officers, and Later on in 144, the Military Medal (MIM) to enlisted men. The Indian Order of Merit waa progressively sidelined, reduced to two classes in 1911, and to a single class in 1944, A write-up on the Indian Order of Merit is provided in Annexure IV.

Independent India

As Independence approached, problems seemed to loom for Indian military awards. British rule came to an end on 14 August 1947 and with it also ended the old institution of British honours and awards. Constitutional problems now arose that became difficult to resolve. During the dominion 1947-1950, the British king remained, in theory, the Head of State. Yet, as the self-governing dominions of India and Pakistan initiated their independence by armed conflict, the issue of awards became a problem. 

Prime Minister jawaharlal Nehru realised that. if they were to have maximum value, gallantry awards for the conflict in Jammu and Kashmir had to be given as close as possible to the time of action. And, yet. there were no available awards. In theory, the pre-1947 awards could have been awarded, but the idea of awarding personnel of opposing forces with the same award for bravery against each other seemed quite ridiculous and was rejected bath by New Delhi and London.

New awards had to be instituted. On the basis of proposals already finalised by early May 1948, the new awards, known as the Param Vir Chakra, Mahavir Chakra, and Vir Chakra were finalised in June 1948, The Governor General of India could not institute the awards as long as India remained a dominion, A draft of the Royal warrant was therefore forwarded in accordance with the prescribed procedure to London for approval of the Crown.

Although our High Commissioner, Mr Krishna Menon, pursued the matter from time to time, it became clear by the middle of 1948 that the king's approval was not likely to be forthcoming. The problems were genuine, How could the king sanction awards for a war between two members of the Commonwealth? Also, the king would have not even a symbolic presence on these medals. With the ceasefire in Jammu and Kashmir having come into force from 1st January 1949 time was running out to honour the war heroes of 1947 —1948. Detailed regulations concerning the award as laid down by a Government of India Gazette Notification are provided in Annexure I.

The Design

The Param Vir Chakra, as its name implies, ts India's highest award for valour in combat, Only an act of the most conspicuous bravery, daring, valour or self-sacrifice in the face of the enemy merits the award, Since tts institution by the President of India, on 26 January 1950, only 21 defence personnel have so far have been given this award. The decoration is also awarded posthumously. Strict adherence to the above criteria has ensured that the Param Vir Chakra is awarded only to the “bravest of the brave’. The criteria for this award are so high that of the 21 awards conferred so far, 14 have been posthumous.

The award is presented by the President of India to the recipient, or his widow or a member of his family, if he is deceased. Officers, men and women of all ranks of the armed forces are eligible for the award. 

The medal is of bronze and is circular in shape. Om its obverse are four replicas of the God Indra’s Vajra (thunderbolt) with the State emblem including the motte embossed in the centre. On its reverse, the words “Param Vir Chakra” are embossed both in Hindi and in English with two lotus flowers between the words. 

The medal is required to be suspended from the left breast by a plain purple-celoured ribbon, one and a quarter inch in width. Should a recipient be awarded the Param Vir Chakra a second time, a bar will be attached to the ribbon by which the Chakra is suspended. When the ribbon is worn alone, a replica of Indra’s Vajra in miniature shall be added to the ribbon for every bar awarded.

The choice of Varna to serve as the motif for the Param Vir Chakra was an appropriate one. It was the Amoga Astra (unfurling weapon) used by Indra to kill Vitra, the demon of drought, to release life-giving waters for the benefit of mankind. In Puranic literature, it is said, that this Vajira was made of the Asthis (bones) of Dadhich, a sage of high attainments, for the benefit of the world, The Ashokan lions (the State symbol) in the centre of the four replicas of Indra's Vaya face the four directions and are Buddhist im significance. They symbolise the universal application of the Dharma comprehending all the four directions Le. east, west, north and south.

Colours of ribbons have their own significance. Colour and design could have a relation to the country, campaign/war, act of courage for which it is given. To illustrate the penicit, the purple ribbon all the PWC even when worn without the medal would indicate that the wearer has carned India’s highest award for most conspicuous bravery in the presence of the enemy. Ribbons are worn on the left breast in a specified sequence. First come awards and decorations in their own specified sequence. These are followed by ribbons that denote wars and campaigns, and last of all come ribbons that celebrate an event or an occasion, or length of service.

The choice of purple as the colour for the ribbon for the Param Vir Chakra alse: has its significance, The Victoria Cross, Britain's highest military decoration also has a purple ribbon. Purple is a combination of Army (red), Navy (blue), and Air Force (blue). It is alse the coleair of the heart.

The Designer

The Param Vir Chakra, India’s highest award for valour in battle was designed by a wenn! Savitri Rhanolkar, later known as Savitri Bai, was asked soon after Independence by the Adjutant General, Major General Hira Lal Atal, to design India’s highest award for bravery in combat. Major General Atal was given the responsibility for creating and naming independent India’s new military decorations. 

His reasons for choosing Mrs Khanolkar were her deep and intimate knowledge of Indian mythology, Sanskrit, and Vedanta which he hoped would give the design a truly Indian ethos. She was a painter and an artist, and the wife of Major General Khanolkar, a serving officer. In his opinion, Mrs Khanolkar's military association, her passion for Indian mythology, and her talent as an artist made her the ideal choice, What she designed was truly remarkable.

What is more remarkable is that Savitri Bai was not an Indian by birth, She was born Eva Yvonne Linda Maday-de-Maros in Switzerland on 20 July 1913, to a Russian mother and a Hungarian father. From early childhood Eva was fascinated by India and all things Indian. She was an attractive outdoor girl with a love for winter sports. In the winter of 1929 while on a skiing holiday at Chamonix she met Vikram Khanolkar, a handsome young Indian cadet from Sandhurst. 

They fell in love but it took them more than two years to overcome parental opposition, Eva came to India in 1932, converted to Hinduism, and married Vikram Khanolkar, by now a smart young Captain of the Sikh Regiment, Fascinated as she was by all things Indian, she quickly absorbed Indian customs and traditions, and the way of life of an Indian army officer's wife, She learnt Hindi and Sanskrit at Patna University and also studied Hindustani music and Kathakali dance which became her absorbing interests.


She soon learnt to speak fluent Hindi, Sanskrit and Marathi, She was also a talented artist and made a series of paintings which depicted the basic principles of Hindu philosophy and the ideals of Vedanta, She immersed herself in social work with the Ramakrishna Mission and in the welfare of army jawans and their families. She led a full life, was the first lady to join the North India Flying Club, and learnt Indian classical dance from Uday Shankar. Hindu philosophy became a full blown passion and she delved deep into its intricacies and meanings, She also started writing. Her books include a Sanskrit Dictionary of Names, Saints of Maharashtra, and two volumes of her as yet unpublished autobiography,

The request to design India's highest award for valour found in her a very whole-hearted response, She took inspiration from the sage Dadhici, the rishi who gave up his body to enable the gods to fashion the deadliest weapon, the Vajra, out of his thigh bone which was used by them to vanquish their enemies. She used the design of the double Veira, and on either side put Shivaji's sword “Bhavani’, Her design was accepted and so was born the 

Little did Savitri Bai ever dream that the first Param Vir Chakra would be awarded to her daughter's brother-in-law, Mapor Somnath Sharma from the Kumaon Regiment for valour during the 1947-48 Indo-Pakistan war in Kashmir. Savitei Bai passed away on 26 November 1990.

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