“Throughout the world the women are the guardians of humanity’s ethical ideals.” From Sister Nivedita’s time in 1867-1911 to Oprah Winfrey’s speech in the Golden Globes in 2018, has much changed? A new day was and is still on the horizon! Both talk about “And when that new day finally dawns, it will be because of a lot of magnificent women, and some pretty phenomenal men, fighting hard to make sure that they become the leaders who take us to the time when nobody ever has to say “Me too” again.’
These women who give their all not just for themselves, but towards bringing that change; how many of them can we actually name?
Sister Nivedita; the Irish educationist and Vivekananda disciple who became one of colonial India’s towering personalities was once again remembered on her 150th Birth anniversary on 28th Oct, 2017.
Born as Margaret Elizabeth Noble, in Northern Ireland, the teacher, social worker and thinker came to be known throughout India as Sister Nivedita. She was famously inspired after hearing Swami Vivekananda lecture in London, and at the age of 30 she decided to make India her home.
She renounced her motherland, and all the mores that she was accustomed to, for the cause of India. Her greatness manifested in myriad dimensions. Her dedication, her spirituality and her renunciation is well appreciated. However, it is her multifaceted character and intense love for India and its people which springs her to life even today.
Nivedita traveled to many places in India, including Kashmir, with Swami Vivekananda, Josephine McLeod, and Sara Bull. This helped her in connecting to Indian masses, Indian culture, and its history. She also went to the United States to raise awareness and get help for her cause. She wrote about this experience, “A mind must be brought to change its center of gravity… again the open and disinterested state of mind welcomes truth.”
In her short life of just 43 years she worked for educating girls and opened schools, plague epidemic in Calcutta and she even took an active interest in promoting Indian history, culture, and science. Her identity as both a westerner by birth and a disciple of Swami Vivekananda enabled her to do several things that might have been difficult for Indians. Such as promoting pan-Indian nationalism. The list of her works not only ends here; Nivedita was a prolific writer and extensively toured India to deliver lectures, especially on India’s culture and religion. She appealed to the Indian youth to work selflessly for the cause of the motherland along the ideals of Swami Vivekananda. She sincerely contributed towards Indian nationalism.
Sister Nivedita remains one of the most influential female figures of India. Her book Kali, the Mother influenced Abanindranath Tagore who painted Bharat Mata. In 2010, the office of the board of West Bengal Board of Secondary Education in Salt Lake City, Kolkata was named after Sister Nivedita. The Sister Nivedita Academy, an institution dedicated to her memory has been established in Chennai, Tamil Nadu. Several other schools and colleges have been named after her. In 1968, the Indian Government issued a postal stamp in her memory. The Nivedita bridge near Dakhineswer, Kolkata is named in her honour.
In 2015, a new Government Degree College at Hastings House, Alipur, Kolkata was named after Sister Nivedita.Sister Nivedita was one of the important influential force on Jagadish Chandra Bose. She supported him by organizing the financial support and editing his manuscripts, she made sure that Bose was able to continue with and share his work.
Swami Vivekananda wrote a poem to Sister Nivedita, A benediction to Sister Nivedita. In this poem Vivekananda regarded Nivedita as The mistress, servant, friend in one–
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.
Sister strongly believed that India is one, indissoluble, indivisible. National unity is built on the common home, the common interest and common love.
For our generation that knows nothing about her, it’s a shame we are unaware of her thoughts:
“Throw yourselves, children of India, into the worship of these (the ancient chronicles) and your whole past. Strive passionately for knowledge. Yours are the spades and mattocks of this excavation. For with you and not with the foreigner are the thought and language that will make it easy to unearth the old significance. India’s whole hope lies in a deeper research, a more rigid investigation of facts. With her, encouragement and not despair, is on the side of truth!”
Today, her memorial is located below the Railway station on the way to the Victoria Falls with these words inscribed in her epitaph – “Here reposes Sister Nivedita who gave her all to India”.
(This article is by Architi Batra)