In order to truly offer worship to Shiva you have to be Shiva. Shivo Bhutva Shivam Yajet. Sister Nivedita, so to say, became one with Mother India. She understood India in all her dimensions
Dr Nivedita Raghunath Bhide
When Swami Vivekananda went to West, he was there without friends, without money and without recognition. Only the knowledge and experience of Hindu Dharma was with him. After his exposition of Hindu Dharma in the Parliament of Religions held in September 1893 at Chicago, he was revered in the West for his knowledge and help came from all quarters, the disciples gathered from all directions. Thus when he returned to India, he was a world-famous Swami Vivekananda; the western disciples were with him. This visual had a great psychological impact on people of India. They could feel and their confidence grew in the greatness and relevance of Hindu Dharma. An epitome of this efficacy and relevance of Hindu Dharma and of the work of Swami Vivekananda in the West was Sister Nivedita.
Margaret Noble as Nivedita was called before, was from the very race, which had robbed India of her wealth as well as of her confidence. But Nivedita came to India to live like us, to serve us and also to practice all that was higher and noble in our spiritual tradition. She could see beauty and wisdom in all walks of Indian life.
How could a proud and an accomplished British woman see the beauty of Indian life? She had to undergo a painful process of transformation. Margaret Noble came to India to serve Indians after she was totally convinced about the Vedantic Truth of Oneness. After the consecration ceremony, she was given the name ‘Nivedita’ – ‘the dedicated’. But just a new name was not going to erase all the assumptions and biases that she had harboured till then as Margaret Noble. Swami Vivekananda, in his classes attacked mercilessly on her deep rooted perceptions and misconceptions. Imagine! Swamiji was the only person who was known to her in this vast and strange land and he appeared so harsh. The anguish that Nivedita felt was very great. But not once a thought of returning back or doubting the wisdom of her decision of accepting Swami Vivekananda as her guru came to her mind. Her only concern was “whether I shall understand what my master is trying to tell me”. Her sincerity of purpose and utmost efforts ultimately transformed her completely. She became one with India to serve in total surrender. It is said that to truly offer worship to Shiva you have to be Shiva. Shivo Bhutva Shivam Yajet. Nivedita so to say became one with Mother India. She understood India in all her dimensions and loved Indians with all their faults.
It is this total transformation of Nivedita which is a great example for Macaulay Educated Indians. If a proud and accomplished British woman can burn to ashes all her prejudices, misconceptions and her western mind-set and if with total paradigm shift she could become a true Indian, a great admirer, worshiper and servant of Mother India, then why not we? We the Macaulay educated can also burn to ashes completely all our preconceptions and ignorance and become true Indians. When she could get insight into the depths of Indian wisdom why can’t we? When one wants to serve Motherland one has to change oneself so as to become the right instrument in the hands of God. Sister Nivedita is thus an inspiration for all those who want to serve our society.
Nivedita was one with the people, their aspirations that her life, her actions, her words reflected that oneness which she experienced. She always said our people, our country. We see many a times that those who go to ‘serve’ the people in villages and in tribal areas with the sense that they are going to ‘civilise’ and to ‘develop’ these people use words like ‘this society’, ‘these people’. They force their ideas and world-views on those simple people. This is what Swami Vivekananda did not want to happen with his foreign disciples. He wanted them to accept India as she was; he wanted them to learn from India. Sister Nivedita internalised it so fully that Bipin Chandra Pal said, “Nivedita came to us not as a teacher but as a learner, not as an adept but as a novice and she loved India more than even we Indians love her.”
She inculcated and internalised the Vedantic vision so well that she wrote, “If the many and the One be indeed the same Reality, then it is not all modes of worship alone, but equally all modes of work, all modes of struggle, all modes of creation, which are paths of realisation. No distinction, henceforth, between sacred and secular. To labour is to pray. To conquer is to renounce. Life is itself religion. To have and to hold is as stern a trust as to quit and to avoid.”
That is what she imbibed from Swami Vivekananda. Thus she wrote about him, “This is the realisation which makes Vivekananda the great preacher of Karma, not as divorced from, but as expressing Jnana and Bhakti. To him, the workshop, the study, the farmyard, and the field are as true and fit scenes for the meeting of God with man as the cell of the monk or the door of the temple. To him, there is no difference between service of man and worship of God, between manliness and faith, between true righteousness and spirituality. All his words, from one point of view, read as a commentary upon this central conviction.” “Art, science, and religion,” he said once, “are but three different ways of expressing a single truth. But in order to understand this we must have the theory of Advaita.” For Nivedita Vedanta became practical. Her spirituality thus expressed in her contributions to all walks of life.
It appears that the legacy of fire that was in Swami Vivekananda was given to Sister Nivedita. The flames of burning love for India in Sister Nivedita were so great that Sri Aurobindo called her Agnishikha – the flames of fire! No field of national life was left untouched by her fire. Her top most concern was the well-being of India and the awakening of Indian national consciousness whatever may be the field of action.
New Education Vision
In the field of Education, Nivedita wanted, “Indian educators to extend and fulfill the vision of Swami Vivekananda”. How would it be done? She explained, “This thought that education is not only good for child himself but should be more so for Jana-Desh-Dharma should always be present in the minds of educators. There is no fear of weakness and selfishness for one whose whole training has been formed round this nucleus. Each day should begin with some conscious act of reference to it. Education in India today has to be not only national but Nation-making. We must surround our children with the thought of their nation and their country. …The centre of gravity must lie for them outside the family. We must demand their sacrifices for India; Bhakti for India; learning for India. The ideal for its own sake! India for the sake of India! This must be as the breath of life to them.
…It is a mistake to think that heroes are born. Nothing of the sort. They are made not born; made by the pressure of heroic thought. All human beings long at bottom of their heart for self sacrifice. No other thirst is so deep as this. Let us recognise this, direct this towards single thought i.e. love for the country. …The universe is the creation of mind not matter. And can any force in the world resist a single thought held with intensity by 700 million of people? …How to do that? A national education then must be made up of familiar elements. Our Imagination must be based upon our heroic literature. Geographical ideals must be built up first through the ideals of India. Same is for history. All other histories should run around the Indian History.” The school that Nivedita run for the girls enshrined all these thoughts so well that when Rabindranath Tagore wanted to start Shantiniketan, most of the lady teachers were the former students of Nivedita’s school.
Womanhood of India
Sister Nivedita was so charmed by the womanhood of India among whom she lived in the lanes of Calcutta that her description about them are the best tribute. She says, “What differentiates the Indian training from others? I find one answer which outweighs all others in my estimate. It is this. The special greatness of Indian life and character depends more than on any other feature, on the place that is given to Woman in the social scheme. They say that Indian women are ignorant and oppressed. To all who make this statement we may answer that Indian women are certainly not oppressed. The crimes of ill-treating women is at once less common and less brutal in form here than in younger countries. And the happiness, the social importance, and may I say, the lofty character of Indian women are amongst the grandest possessions of the national life. When we come to the charge that Indian women are ignorant, we meet with a far deeper fallacy. They are ignorant in the modern form, that is to say, few can write, and not very many can read. Are they then illiterate? If so, the Mahabharata and the Ramayana and the Puranas and stories every mother and every grandmother tells to the babies, are no literature. But European novels and Strand Magazine by the same token are? Can any of us accept this paradox? The fact is, writing is not culture though it is an occasional result of culture. The greatest literature occurs at the beginning of a literary age and so, to those who know Indian life, it is easy to see that an Indian woman who has the education of the Indian home, the dignity, the gentleness, the cleanliness, the thrift, the religious training, the culture of mind and heart, which that home life entails, though she cannot perhaps read a word of her own language, much less sign her name, may be infinitely better educated in every true sense, and in the literary sense also, than her glib critic.”
Guide in the Task of Nation-building
Writings of Sister Nivedita were a symphony of her insight in Indian wisdom and tradition, her intense love for India, her sharp intellect and her mastery over language. So beautiful, deep and moving were her writings that it is really difficult to translate those in other languages. May be that is the reason that most of her literature even today remains un-translated. Her literature has not only historical and literary value but are good guide in the task of nation-building too.
For example: while comparing with other nations she sums up in few words the journey and contribution of Hindu nation from antiquity to till now. She writes, “Let it be said that to every people who possess the elements of truly national existence, with the responsibility of facing the problems of a nation, this question sooner or later comes to be faced. Have we in the past dreamt dreams great enough, thought thoughts noble enough, willed with a will clear enough, to enable us to strike out new paths into the untried, without error and without defeat? And perhaps of all the peoples of the world only the Hindu people, to this searching enquiry can answer yes.” She was a regular contributor to over 20 magazines and the topic was always ‘India’. Therefore, not just because Sister Nivedita was a great example of transformation but we have to study her life and works also because, even today she can give insight to us i.e. the English educated about our own nation and its significance.
Why Imitate Europeans?
While she helped the country bent under the burden of sorrow whether during plagues or floods or freedom struggle, she lived completely merged in the essence of its freedom one day to come. Thus, she wanted the cultural assertion, the national expression in all walks of life. She stated, “The birth of the National Art of India is my dearest dream.” She disliked the art students imitating the European subjects in their art. When India has such rich culture and history of art she felt why should Indian artists imitate Europeans styles and subjects. She exhorted and inspired the young artists like Abanindranath Tagore and Nandalal Bose to choose India as their topic for expression. She would perceive the beauty of old houses of Bagh Bazar, and ruined temples but detested the modern utilitarian buildings built in India.
In the field of science, she felt Indians have great ability to contribute. When the British scientists tried to sideline Dr Jagadish Chandra Bose, she realised that Indians were not incapable but were incapacitated by British to achieve great heights. She came forward to help Dr Jagadish Chandra Bose. To make his work known to the world she worked along with him on his six books. Even though, she herself would be suffering for want of money; she saw to it that the work of Dr Jagadish Chandra Bose would not suffer monetarily.
When the revolutionaries would go to jail or in exile to other countries, she would take care of their families. Not a field of national life was left untouched by her.
Bitterness Had no Place in Her Heart
As it was required, Sister Nivedita resigned from Ramakrishna Mission and actively participated and promoted the freedom movement. Ramakrishna Mission—the fledgling organisation to propagate the message of Sri Ramakrishna and Vivekananda was needed for India. And participation of Sister Nivedita in Freedom Movement and her active role in awakening national consciousness also was equally the need of the hour in the interest of India. Thus to protect Ramakrishna Mission and to promote the work of freedom of India, she resigned from Ramakrishna Mission. But, their relationships remained very cordial till end.
Nivedita considered herself as part of the Ramakrishna-Vivekananda thought movement. Whenever she was sick, she was immediately attended to by Ramakrishna Math. In her work too the help was given by Ramakrishna Math and Mission in all possible ways. When she realised she would not live, in her will she donated all the money that she had got from Mrs. Bull just some time before her own death or from her books to Ramakrishna Mission as an endowment for the use of Sister Christine Greenstidel to run the school; though Christine had left her. Bitterness had no place in her heart. She associated with persons whom she thought would be useful in India’s interest. But she would also disassociate herself from them if she found it otherwise. For anything and everything in her life, the deciding touchstone was India and her well-being.
One of the foremost revolutionary Freedom fighter, Shri Hemachandra Ghosh’s reminiscence about Swami Vivekananda and Sister Nivedita narrated to Swami Purnatmananda were later translated from Bengali to English by Prof Kapila Chatterjee and brought out as a book titled as I am India. In that he says, “It is very true that it was Nivedita who captured the fire of patriotism set alight by Vivekananda. She not only caught that flame, she also scattered the sparks of Indian patriotism and nationalism far and wide, across the length and breadth of India. Wherever Nivedita went, in any city or province of India, her flaming speeches and heroic calls to the Indian people spread the message of Swamiji, his ideals, his patriotism. Side by side, she spread the ideals, the culture, the glory of India, too. To speak frankly, we got to know Swami Vivekananda better through coming in contact with Sister Nivedita. I was with Swamiji for a very short time. But, I have been with Nivedita for a much longer period. Through Nivedita, we got to know Swamiji better and through her India also better. …What I feel about Nivedita is – Sister Nivedita played two important roles in spreading the message and deeds of Vivekananda – one was the role of Mahadeva, the other, that of Bhagiratha. She absorbed the terrific force and power of Vivekananda in her own person, and at the same time she carried the mighty current of that force and directed it along proper channels like Bhagiratha.”
Deep Love for India
Her deep love for India was expressed in all walks of life –politics, education, art, literature, sociology, spirituality etc. A spiritual person in all dimensional. That is how Sister Nivedita was. She was a revolutionary, she was a Yogini too. She was an educationist and she was an art critic too. She was a writer and she was involved in rendering service to the people also, be at flood time or plague time. She was at once a child at the feet of Holy Mother Sharada Devi and also a Lokmata to all as she was called by Rabindranath Tagore and above all she was Sister of all.
Swami Vivekananda had said, “O you of great fortune! I too believe that India will awake again if anyone could love with all his heart the people of the country—bereft of the grace of affluence, of blasted fortune, their discretion totally lost, downtrodden, ever—starved, quarrelsome, and envious.” Sister Nivedita was a person of that great fortune! She loved India and Indians with all their faults. 150th Birth Anniversary of Sister Nivedita is a good occasion to study and understand her life and work. May her life make us love our motherland and our people. May her life give us an insight in our own country and inspiration to work for Mother India.
( The writer is Vice President of Vivekananda Kendra and
a Padam Shri Awardee )
(Courtesy : Yuva Bharati, Chennai)