Sister Nivedita: the friend of all

The mother’s heart, the hero’s will
The sweetness of the southern breeze,
The sacred charm and strength that dwell,
On Aryan altars, flaming, free;
All these be yours and many more,
No ancient soul could dream before-
Be thou to India’s future son,
                                     The mistress,

servant, friend in one -Swami Vivekananda (The complete Works of SV /Volume6)    In a poem written for Sister Nivedita, Swami Vivekananda regarded her as the mistress, servant, but overall a  friend in one. Consistent with the meaning of her name Sister,she dedicated, offered, and surrendered her life with selfless service and gave her all to the India. Born as Margaret Elizabeth Nobel on 28thOctober 1867 in Ireland, she became a teacher at the age of just seventeen. It was in 1892 when she established her own school at Wimbledon after successfully completing her education and workings as a teacher in different schools around Ireland and England. Soon she registered her name in leading writers and intellectuals of London. According toMata Pravrajika Atmapran’s work Sister Nivedita of Ramakrishna-Vivekananda  she joined the ‘ Sesame Club’ in London where some of the most learned and influential people were associated like George Bernard ShawThomas Huxley, Lady Ripon and Lady Isabel Margesson among others. At the Club discussions were held here on literature, ethics, politics, and kindred subjects.

Her life took a turn when she met Swami Vivekananda in London on November 1895.  A vivid description of her first meeting with Swami Vivekananda is given in her book ‘’The Master as I saw him.’’It was a cold afternoon, Swami Vivekananda was explaining Vedanta philosophy in the drawing-room of an aristocratic family in London. In 1904 Sister Nivedita wrote to a friend about her meeting and following Swami Vivekananda after her meeting with him in England in November 1895: ‘‘Suppose he had not come to London that time! Life would have been a headless dream, for I always knew that I was waiting for something. I always said that a call would come. And it did. But if I had known more of life, I doubt whether, when the time came, I should certainly have recognized it.’’[i]

On Swami Vivekananda’’s call ,she came to India on 28th January 1898 leaving behind her motherland, family and friends, and established a  life to serve the people of India in the field of women education, health, and taking up the task of nation-building which she continued till her last breath. On 25 March 1898, she took monastic orders. Swami Vivekananda initiated her into the vow of Brahmacharya and renamed her ‘Nivedita’.

 Sister Nivedita worked and inspired many Indians from different fields.

Sir Jagadish Chandra Bose- In the year 1898 for the first time Sister Nivedita came to Know about Dr. Bose. 

At that time Dr. Bose had a good status in science in Western Countries. She once said “Men of the inventor and discoverer type —men like Marconi, Tesla, Machine, and so on—rank in the world of science far below the investigator, the man of Sannyasin mind like Dr. Bose, who pursued knowledge for its own sake”.

She was horrified to find that the way in which a great worker could be subjected to such ordeal  and petty difficulties because of people who had earnest desire to end his distinction. He even faced racial discrimination to the extent that his college-routine was made as arduous as possible for him so that he could not have the time he needed for his research. And every little thing that happened was made an excuse for irritating correspondence and flagrant misrepresentation. At this stage, Sister Nivedita came and showed the light to Dr. JC Bose. In the year 1911 on his birth anniversary, Bose said “This day 17 years ago I resolved to put all my strength for science. For five years I worked all by Myself, struggling hard. And when my strength was nearly gone then she came to help me.” She knew very well the need of Scientific Growth in the Growth of Bharat, and Importance of Bose work in the Growth of Scientific activities in Bharat. She used to regard Dr. Bose as a National asset. 

In 1901 when everyone stopped publishing Bose Research papers, then she motivated him to write his own book and assisted him in writing his scientific papers and books. Being 10 years younger than her,  She used to treat him like his child, in many of his letters she referred to him as ‘Bairin’ (Child), served him as if she were his mother , struggled all the time between work for the country and the national longing.Rabindranath Tagore, Common friend of Sister Nivedita and Dr. JC Bose ,after the Death of JC Bose said “On the day of his success Jagdish gained an invaluable energizer in Sister Nivedita and in any of his life work, she must be given a place of honor”. It was Nivedita’s wish to have a Vigyaan Mandir which Dr. Bose completed later on an established ‘Bose Vigyaan Mandir’ on 30 November 1917. At the entrance to the building is a marble relief of Sister Nivedita by the renowned sculptor, Padmasri Vinayak Pandurang Karmakar. This was done on the lines of Nandalal Bose’s famous painting of Nivedita, named “The lady with the lamp”. Institute symbol is Vajra( Thunderbolt) which is the symbol of Rishi Dadachi’s sacrifice, which is also the wish of Sister Nivedita. Nivedita wanted to make this our National symbol.

Rabindranath Tagore – Sister Nivedita was well introduced to the Tagore family who had a deep respect for hereven though they had few differences regarding certain issues. Nivedita also had become a guest in the house of the Tagore family. She denied Rabindranath Tagore when he asked her to teach her younger daughter English by saying “‘What is the good in imposing foreign ideals and standards? I think the proper education is to draw out that which lies latent as one’s individual potentiality, as also the national skill.’  Later he founded Santiniketan Ashram,  an education institute working on the path of ancient Indian tradition and culture. For her service towards India, Rabindranath Tagore  gave her the title “Lokmata” and said  “The life Sister Nivedita gave for us was a very great life. There was no defrauding of us on her part — that is, she gave herself up fully for the service of India; she did not keep anything back for her own use.”[ii]

With Aurobindo Ghose– Sister Nivedita first met Sri Aurobindo  at Baroda in 1902 when he was a professor in Baroda College at the age of thirty and was not part of active politics. For Sister Nivedita Sri Aurobindo  was a leader for the future and she informed him about the political developments in Bengal. She asked him to join the Indian Independence movement at Calcutta as both of them were supporters of ‘’aggressive nationalism ’’.  According to the Biography of Sister Nivedita written by Lizelle Reymond  Sister Nivedita was  among the five members of the political committee which Aurobindo Ghosh Appointed to unite in a single organization, the small and scattered groups of rebels which had sprung into existence and were acting without reference to one another.”The other members were P. Mitra, a lawyer, and revolutionary leader, Jotin Banerje, C. R- Das, and Surendranath Tagore.[iii]She also wrote editorials for Yugantar  Bande Mataram , Dharma and Karmayogin started or co- founded by Sri Aurobindo . 

Abanindra Nath Tagore and Nandalal Bose – Sister Nivedita was fond of art and for her art was not just for entertainment purpose but an important tool for awakening of nation conciseness. She was very much impressed by Ajanta frescoes and Ellora caves as according to her they celebrated the unity of India. When she met Indian artists like Abanindranath TagoreAnanda Coomaraswamy  and Surendranath Gangopadhyay, and Nandalal Bose, she  inspired them to develop a pure Indian school of art. She always inspired and guided the talented students of the Calcutta Art School to move along the forgotten tracks of ancient Indian art. She is also seen as an inspiration behind Abanindra Nath Tagore’s iconic work of ‘Bharat Mata’. Abanindra Nath Tagore’s love and respect towards Sister  Nivedita can be understood by his own words ‘ amongst the foreigners who really loved India, Nivedita’s place is the highest’.[iv]

Other eminent leaders whom Nivedita worked and inspired includes scientist  Basiswar Sen, artists educationist  Brajendra Nath Sil, Ramananda Chattopadhyay, and  Kumud Bandhu Sen, poet Subramanya Bharati, historian Sir Jadunath Sarkar and also  freedom fighters like Mahatma Gandhi, Rasbihari Ghosh, Gopal Krishna Gokhale, Barin Chandra Ghosh, Bipin Chandra Pal among others. [v] Freedom fighters and Indian nationalist Netaji Subhash  Chandra Bose once said “ I learned to love India by reading Vivekananda and I came to Understand Vivekananda through Nivedita’s  writings. ”[vi]

Writers –Nikhil Yadav is a State Youth Head at Vivekananda Kendra, Uttar Prant and Maitri Rautela she is District Youth Head of East Delhi, Vivekananda Kendra, Uttar Prant .

[i]http://www.vivekananda.net/PPlHeKnew/SVDisciples/Nivedita.html

[ii]Nivedita of India published by the Ramakrishna Mission Institute of Culture ,Kolkata ,2016 ,Pg87

[iii]Reymond, Lizelle (1953). The Dedicated, A Biography of Nivedita. New York: John Day Company,Pg 296

[iv]Das Shilpi ,How Sister Nivedita’s contribution to Indian art history shaped the National Movement ,2019 https://www.theheritagelab.in/sister-nivedita-indian-art-history-national-movement/

[v] http://www.rkmdarjeeling.org/sisternivedita.html

[vi]Nivedita of India published by the Ramakrishna Mission Institute of Culture ,Kolkata ,2016 ,Pg 88