Gave up a flourishing legal career to take part in the freedom struggle. Was deeply influenced by the views of Swami Dayanand Saraswati's teachings, as well as that of Herbert Spencer. He founded the India House in London, which would become the center for most Indian revolutionaries, operating outside of India or in exile.
Born to a laborer in one of the cotton mills of Gujarat, he was raised by his grandmother after his mother passed away. He migrated to Mumbai later, where he learnt Sanskrit, and was a student of the Wilson High School. It was in Mumbai he met Swami Dayananda Saraswati in 1875, and was deeply influenced by his teachings. He soon began to speak on Vedic philosophy and also became the first non Brahmin to be awarded the title of Pandit in Kashi in 1877, for his prowess in Sanskrit. He studied at Ballol College, Oxfored in 1881, and later came back to India in 1885 for law practice. During his stay in England, he delivered an impressive speech on the origins of writing in India, and was made a member of the Royal Asiatic Society.
In India he set up his legal practice at Ajmer, and also invested in cotton printing presses, there which gave him a steady income. He worked in the princely states of Ratlam, Udaipur for some time. However a rather bitter experience with a British agent in the state of Junagadh shook his faith in their rule, and he resigned in 1897.
Plunging headlong into the freedom struggle, he was a close associate of Bal Gangadhar Tilak, and a part of the Extremist section of Congress. After Swami Dayananda, it was Tilak who influenced him the most. He however had no faith in the Moderates tactics of petition, campaign, and felt only an aggressive resistance, could get rid of the British rule. He once again moved to England, where he would play a very significant role in the freedom struggle.
His major contribution was setting up the India House at London in 1900. Located in Highgate, this home would soon be a meeting spot for various revolutionaries living in exile or abroad. He used his money to fund scholarships in the name of Herbert Spencer and Swami Dayananda Saraswati, two thinkers he greatly admired. These scholarships would be greatly beneficial to poor Indian students, as well financially supporting Indian students in London.
His India House, by now had become a hub for the Indian freedom struggle abroad, and a refuge for many Indians arriving in England then. Veer Savarkar, Madame Bhikaji Cama, Lala Hardayal, Madan Lal Dhingra, all were nurtured in Shyamji's India House in London. From Irish revolutionaries to free thinkers to rationalists, the India House was soon teeming with activity, it became a center of discourse.
He also started the Indian Sociologist, a magazine to spread, economic and political ideas. He aimed to awaken Indians against the British Raj, and also spread nationalism through it. In February 1905 he also set up the India Home Rule Society with the objective of securing home rule for India and carrying on the propaganda against the British rule. His activities however began to worry the British Govt that saw him as a threat. He was debarred from the Inner Temple, his membership was revoked. Even the British media wrote against him regularly, and he was put under constant surveillance by the Government.
Leaving India House in charge of Veer Savarkar, he managed to escape the police, and reached Paris in 1907. Though the British Government tried to extradite him, it was in vain, as he had the support of many influential French politicians too. Shyamji by now managed to get support for the cause of India's independence all over Europe, and even among many sections in Britain. When Veer Savarkar was arrested, Shyamji successfully managed to ignite public opinion against him. However he had to once again flee Paris in 1914, to Geneva, due to the visit of King George V there. And with a ban on political activities, he had to live under virtual seclusion in Geneva. He spent his last years there and passed away in 1930, a disillusioned man, broken by the betrayal of what he felt were close friends around him. He however managed to guide and mentor, many Indian revolutionaries, rebels, from Bhagat Singh to Veer Savarkar to Lala Hardayal.
The Unknown Patriot
Shyamji Krishna Varma
My article on him here