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Sister Nivedita: A gift unrevealed to India

Today on October 13th, we are commemorating the death anniversary of a spiritual nationalist, Sister Nivedita. Though she was not born in India she was born only in India. Rabindranath Tagore had described Nivedita as “Lokamata” for her immense love, unflinching determination of service and sacrifice of everything. Margaret Noble as Nivedita was called before, was from that very race, which had robbed India of her wealth as well as of her confidence. But Nivedita came to India not to rob but to sacrifice everything including her family and her own country.

Margaret Noble was born on Oct 28th, 1867 to Samuel and Izabole Noble in Ireland. Her mother for a safe delivery before Margaret’s birth bowed her to the service of god and humanity. Indeed, the mother’s prayer held that her child did an unparalleled and unprecedented contribution to the nation which she loved by heart. 

What made her to came India?

At the age of 17 years, she completed her studies and became an English teacher. Thereafter she opened her school. She was a wonderful writer and orator and by that time, Margaret emerged as a powerful and influential person in the intellectual circle of London. Amidst a pleasureful life, there was something which was making her restless. Some questions were there in her mind, what is the purpose of life? She realized that religion is not just limited to faith in a book or ideology but it is beyond that which she wanted to know eagerly. Her soul was in search of peace and for that, she studied Buddhism but left disappointed. She too lost interest in going to Church.

The Swami entered 

Then in 1895, a phenomenon happened which had changed the direction of her life. Through her friend, she met with the Indian Yogi, Swami Vivekananda, in a lecture. She was electrified by Swamiji’s teachings and personality and afterwards, attended his lectures. After so many queries and questions, she accepted Swamiji as her master. It was Sanatana Dharma and the Indian conception of “religion is realization”, which cleared all her doubts and misunderstandings about religion. She decided to work for Indians, for a noble cause, for Bharatmata. Swami Vivekananda wrote to Margaret, “Let me tell you frankly that I am now convinced that you have a great future in the work for India. What was needed was not a man, but a woman- a real lioness- to work for Indians, especially women.”

Nivedita of India 

With her unflinching commitment and rock-solid conviction to serve Indians, Margaret Noble reached Calcutta on Jan 28th, 1898. She had worked in challenging conditions where everything from the opposite climate to an orthodox conservative society, was not in her favour. Soon Margret met the holy mother Sharda Devi and became very intimate with her. On March 25th, 1898, her guru Swami Vivekananda formally initiated Margaret in the vow of Bharamcharya and gave her the name “Nivedita” which means “dedicated to god”. Swami Vivekananda introduced her to India’s history, philosophy and it’s rich cultural heritage. 

On the auspicious day of Kalipooja, Nivedita started one school for women which was inaugurated by Holy mother Shri Sharda Devi on Nov 13, 1898. In 1899, when Plague hit Calcutta, it was Nivedita who took a broom and start cleaning the streets. She served the people in their tough times without any fear of being infected with the disease. 

Her real test started when Swamiji took Mahasamadhi in July 1902 but she was unstoppable to serve. Nivedita knew that national freedom was the need of the hour and she was playing an active role in the freedom struggle. She was able to influence and inspire many important personalities like Abanindranath Thakur, Nandlal Bose, Subramanyam Bharti and Yogi Aurobindo. She even helped scientist Jagdish Chandra Bose in his indigenous research work.  

Nivedita converted every challenge into an opportunity and worked till her last breath. She had made a vital contribution to Indian education. Nivedita wanted “Indian educators to extend and fulfill the vision of Swami Vivekananda.” She explained, “This thought that education is not only good for the child herself but should be more so for Jana-Desh-Dharma should always present in the minds of educators. Today education in India has to be not only national but Nation-making. It is a mistake that heroes are born. There is nothing of that sort. “They are made not born; made by the pressure of heroic thought.”

Today when issues like women empowerment are imported to India, Nivedita’s view was that “How will you empower a woman when the woman herself is Shakti.”

Despite so much sacrifice and service, Nivedita is a gift unrevealed by Indians. Being Irish, she worked in India for the sake of India and died in India after leaving her own birthplace. Mother Teresa, a Christian missionary, worked in India for her own religion and got the highest award “Bharat Ratna” but Nivedita who served only for the sake of selfless service is not much remembered as compared to what she deserved. 

“I don’t know if any Indian loved India as Nivedita,” said Bipin Chandra Bose. She has been described as “Lokamata” by Rabindranath Tagore, “Lioness” by Swami Vivekananda, “Agnishika” or flame of fire by Sri Aurobindo, “Champion of India” in England and “Sister” by all the people of India. 

In her life of 44 years, she devoted the rest of 13 years to India and due to bad health, she passed away on Oct 13th, 1911. Her 13 years of relentless and unparalleled contribution to India will be remembered till time immemorial. On her death anniversary, we should revisit her ideas and take inspiration from her to serve Mother India. 

About the Author – Satish Kumar is the Vibhag Youth Head at Vivekananda Kendra and a postgraduate in commerce from the Delhi School of Economics.

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