Monday, February 11, 2008
Sister Nivedita - (1867-1911)
Sister Nivedita, alias Margaret Elizabeth Noble, was born at Dunganon, County Tyrone, Ireland, on 28 October 1867. She was the eldest daughter of Samuel Richmond and Mary Isabel. The Nobles were of Scottish descent and had been settled in Ireland for about five centuries.
Margaret was educated at the Halifax College run by the Chapter of the Congregationalist Church. She took up teaching work in 1884 at Keswick, in 1886 at Wrexham and in 1889 at Chester. Greatly influenced by the `New Education' method of Pestalozzi and Froebel, she started in 1892 a school of her own called `Ruskin School' in Wunbkedib. Her remarkable intellectual gifts made her well-known in the high society of London. Since childhood Christian religious doctrines were instilled into her. But search for truth led her in 1895-96 to Swami Vivekananda's teachings of the Vedanta (`Complete Works of Sister Nivedita', II 471). Later in India she followed the teachings of Sri Ramakrishna, and was particularly devoted to Kali and Shiva of the Hindu deities.
She came to Calcutta on 28 January 1898, was initiated into Brahmacharya (a celibate yogic order) and was given the name `Nivedita' by Vivekananda on 25 March. SHe immediately became intensely active in her work of uplifting India. She opened a kindergarten school for Hindu girls in November 1989, joined plague relief works of the Ramakrishna Mission from March 1899, left for the West in July to collect funds for her school, formed "The Ramakrishna Guild of Help' in America, went to Paris in July 1900 (where Vivekananda attended the Congress of the History of Religions), left for England alone in September 1900, and returned to India in February 1902.
Nivedita's interest in the Indian political struggle for Independence led her to be disowned from the purely spiritual Ramakrishna Order after Vivekananda's death in July 1902, though in truth she maintained close relations with the Order and Sri Sarada Devi (the wife of Ramakrishna, the great yogi who the mission is named after). The Ramakrishna Mission's decision to publically disown themselves from Nivedita was the first in a long line of compromise with the principles which they had been set up for.
Nivedita's work, however, continued. She went on lecture tours throughout India from September 1902 to 1904 to rouse the national consciousness of the people. In 1905-06 she was actively associated with all public affairs in Bengal. The strain of relief work in the flood and famine-stricken areas of East Bengal in 1906 broke her health. In August 1907 she left for Europe and America, and returned to India in July 1909. She went to America again in October 1910, and returned in April 1911. In October 1911 she went to Darjeeling for a change. There she resided for a while, but her health failed under her intense work load, and she died on 13 October 1913.
Nivedita wrote extensively and has left behind a legacy of works which are worthy of study today. Her innumerable articles were published in journals like the Review of Reviews, the Prabuddha Bharata, the Modern Review, etc. Her first book was `Kali the Mother' (1900). Of her principal works the `Web of Indian Life' (1904) gives a more positive picture of India to the blindly critical West, and the `Master As I Saw Him' (1910) is an interpretation of Vivekananda's life and teachings.
The supreme goal towards which Nivedita worked was to see India emerge as a strong and powerful nation. Initially Nivedita stated that she desired to see England and India love each other (`Sister Nivedita' by Atmaprana, 1967, p. 59). But later she was embittered and disillusioned. From 1902 onwards she spoke and wrote against the British policy in India, and actively rallied revolutionary forces to fight the British with arms.
She attacked British polititians such as Lord Curzon for the Universities Act of 1904, for his insulting their shameless insults hurled at Indian culture and people, and for the clear attempts to encite Muslims in order to retard the Indian freedom movement. She was distressed by the disastrous condition of Indian economy and held British Imperialism responsible for it. Her politics became active and aggressive and she lost patience with moderate politics of the petitioner. Yet she was friendly with leaders of all schools of political thought like G. K. Gokhale and Bepin Chandra Pal, and young revolutionaries like Taraknath Das.
She encouarged and whole-heartedly supported the Swadeshi (self-reliance) Movement both in principle and in practice. She helped nationalist groups like the `Dawn Society' and the `Anusilan Samity'; was a member of the Central Council of Action formed by Sri Aurobindo Ghose and took up the editorship of the Karmayogin publication when he left British India. She wanted the whole nation to be educated on national lines (`Complete Works of Sister Navidita', IV, pp. 329-53). She encouraged the study of science, and helped Jagdish Chandra Bose in bringing to light his theories and discoveries. She believed that a rebirth of Indian Art was essential for the regeneration of India. She disproved the fiction of the Hellenic influence in Indian Art, inspired Rabindranath Tagore, who later won a Nobel Prize for his tremendous literature, as well as others to revive its glorious tradition.
Nivedita was one of the foremost in the galaxy of the twentieth century Hindu revivalists and her memory should be enshrined in the hearts of Hindus. Tall and fair, with deep blue eyes and brown hair, Nivedita was an image of purity and austerity in her simple white gown and with a rosary of rudraksha round her neck. A person of intense spirituality, force of character, strength of mind, intellectual power and wide range of studies, she could have achieved distinction in any sphere of life. Yet with unique self-effacement she lived a simple and austere life dedicated to the cause of India and Hinduism, on which the western world had systematically poured contempt.
She was described as `a real lioness' by Vivekananda, `Lokmata'(the mother of the people) by Rabindranath Tagore, and `Agnisikha' (the flame of fire) by Aurobindo Ghose. In England she was known as `The Champion for India', but who above all was a 'Sister' to the Indian people whom she loved. Her contribution to the promotion of national consciousness is immeasurable. "My task is to awaken the nation," she said once. Even today her book ‘Cradle Tales of Hinduism’ is read to children world wide, infusing them with the essence of Hindu consciousness. It was her dream to see in India the great re-establishment of Dharma, that is, national righteousness. The Indian people have immortalised her memory by creating a grand stone dedicated to her, in Calcutta.