Few know that Param Vir Chakra, India’s highest military decoration, was designed by a woman. Lost in the pages of history, Eve Yvonne Maday de Maros (who changed her name to Savitribai Khanolkar) was just 19 when she ran away to India.
The bronze disc of the Param Vir Chakra shines as bright as the valour of its recipient. The circular medal is suspended from a twirling suspension bar held by a 32 mm long purple ribbon.
The design of the medallion, considered the highest military decoration, encapsulates the ethos of India’s defense and patriotic forces.
Interestingly, the patriotic symbol was designed by a woman of a faraway land.
The Designer of the Param Vir Chakra
Eve Yvonne Maday de Maros was born in 1913 in Neuchatel, Switzerland. It is believed that she was a woman who came to understand India and its ways better than many natives of the time.
A holistic education introduced her to the spiritual and cultural wealth of India at an early age. This interest was complemented by a chance meeting with a Maharashtrian, who she fell in love with as a teenager. Vikram Khanolkar was a young army officer who was undergoing training at the Royal Military Academy in the UK.
Marrying the officer, who would later become a Major General, Eve Yvonne shifted to Maharashtra and acquired the name Savitribai Khanolkar in 1932.
She immediately identified with the history of the country and immersed herself in the study of its mythology, traditions, and religious scriptures. Alongside, she was known to immerse herself in the art, music, dance and linguistics of India as well.
Such devoted education came to bear fruit soon, as, at that time, India’s learned class was drawing on knowledge to re-establish the country’s identity. Newfound independence was being celebrated, and focus was being established on replacing British legacies with what the homeland had to offer.
When Adjutant General Hira Lal Atal was entrusted with the task of creating the Indian equivalent of the British Victoria Cross, he took Savitribai in confidence for her in-depth knowledge of the nation.
Thus began the process of designing India’s prestigious medal of valour. This design was to represent the power and sacrifice demonstrated by the soldiers that protected people at the cost of their lives.
According to Savitribai, nothing could represent this as well as the great warrior Chhatrapati Shivaji. The ruler was known for his courage and strategic defence. This is why his sword Bhavani found a place on the disc, enclosed within the Indian mythical weapon ‘Vajra’ from both sides. According to mythology, the weapon made of a sage’s bone was created to kill evil enemies in the name of goodness.
The first Param Vir Chakra was awarded on India’s first Republic Day celebrated in 1950. Its recipient was Savitri Khanolkar’s son-in-law’s brother, Major Somnath Sharma. Since then, each of its recipients has been recognised for their possession of the values thus demonstrated by the decoration.
Read the story of the Param Vir Chakra here.
Edited by Yoshita Rao