If you just look back to a 100 years ago, all your smiling faces will go blue. You get anger. Your blood goes violent. A tiny drop happens at the edge of your eye. You feel bad for your ancestors. Yes, it was British Raj! It was a systematic mechanism that operated throughout this Nation whose primary aim was to destroy, suppress and loot the wealth spread out all over here. India and its profound religion ‘Hinduism’ were subjected to continuous attacks by a hell lot of foreign powers from centuries now. All these brutal attacks had destroyed the social organization of this civilization. Once the richest country, the most advanced Nation, was now demoted itself to a third world nation, full of poverty and misery. There was hunger throughout the country. There was illiteracy, superstitions, discriminations dwelling in this country. Then during the 19th century, there was one of the greatest sages of the times, Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa. Under the holiness of Guru, a disciple turned out to be a revolutionary saint who instilled the courage and confidence which were depleted miserably among Indians, at those times. The saint was Swami Vivekananda. Under his holiness, one more spirit came out and this time it was a foreigner. Yeah, Margaret Elizabeth Nobel or Sister Nivedita, who came to and served India in her every breath till end. Today is her 151st birthday! So, let us try to go through her divine journey.
She was born in to a Scot-Irish family at Dungannon of Ireland on 28th October 1867. As she grew up, her father and college professors instilled the thought of ‘service to mankind’ is nothing but ‘service to God’. Her father passed away when she was 10 years old. Then she was brought up by her grandfather Hamilton, who was one of the prominent Irish freedom fighters. She was educated at the Church boarding school, London and Halifax College. Physics, arts, music, and literature were her fields of study. “Teaching” was one of her passions. She became a teacher at the age of 17. She established her own school where she tried to impart unique techniques for effective learning.
It happened to be, the man who she was engaged to marry with, unfortunately, died soon after engagement. So, her thoughts about marriage fainted, and degree of her thought process was intensified. She was quite religious who used to visit Church regularly. She started writing on things, orating and so on. Now, she was a well-known name among intellectuals of the city. She used to interpret things about Religion and philosophy and hence used to read a lot of books regarding them. But, she used to incur doubt on everything. Her mindset was not to agree on anything without questioning. Many a time, the Church could not solve her doubts. Around this time, Swami Vivekananda came to London where he stayed for three months. He used to explain Vedanta in a well-known family there. This happened to be known by Margaret when her colleague told her about. She who loved to seek knowledge about religion went to be ears to this famous Hindu Saint. When she heard Swamiji speaking, she did not feel anything special about the content. But she was impressed by the very personality and the depth of knowledge, this Hindu saint had. His authenticity on philosophy and the sonorous voice were indeed captive. She attended his lectures regularly. She, as her practice, raised a lot of questions. But Swamiji explained and almost convinced each of her doubts about religion. She came to know about India and its culture, the people and the ongoing miseries. Her heart melted for Indians. She expressed her desire to come and serve in India, with Swamiji.
But Swamiji had incurred in mind, the future unacceptability she would face in India because Indians were either afraid of whites or they hated them. But Margaret’s wish was so intense that Swamiji finally agreed and she landed at Calcutta port on 28th Jan 1898. She had stayed with two more foreign disciples of Swamiji in a house at Calcutta. She eventually began to understand the flow of Indian Society. Then she expressed her will to establish a school for Girls, before Swamiji. Swamiji could not but give her ‘Deeksha’, a holy process in which she sacrifices all things of past, even memories, and fully dedicate herself to Service of God, after seeing her intense desire and vigor to serve people here. Thus on 25th March 1898 she became “Bhagini Nivedita”. Swamiji was deeply saddened by the plight of women in India under British rule. There wasn’t any education nor any upliftment. So, she was chosen for the task of educating Indian Women.
Her dream of establishing a school for girls came into realization at Bagbazar. She raised funds from England and America where she convinced people of the importance of help to India. It was an auspicious occasion in the presence of Her Holiness Sarada Devi and Swamiji and many other dignitaries, in which the school was inaugurated. It was 13th Nov 1898. But bringing children to school was another Herculean task. She went from home to home asking people to send their girl children to her school. She got refusals, male members of the family strongly opposed. But she was the one who never gave up. Her strenuous efforts could bring many students and it included even widows and adult women. She taught nursing, sewing and elementary rules of hygiene along with regular education. She had to run her school by money gained through her writings and lectures. It was difficult, but it did not matter.
There was an outbreak of plague epidemic in Calcutta, in 1899. The diseases had spread out like hell. The city was not hygienic and this supported the faster transmission of microbes. The people were dying on street and no one even bothered to clean their surroundings. Sodari Nivedita asked youth and they said it was lower caste’s business to clean city. Nivedita took broomstick in hands and started cleaning on her own. Youth embarrassed by this now came voluntarily. She even nursed patients like her children.
She being Western origin and disciple of Swamiji was a great combination and hence could do a lot many things which any Indian could have hardly done. She supported any Indian advancement, in any of the fields wholeheartedly. During Swadeshi movement, she literally went from house to house selling Indian Products. JC Bose, one of the most prominent radio scientist and botanist of India was suppressed by British supremacy. She helped him all the way, even economically, and to get recognition for his researches in prestigious institutions of England and America. She was also closely associated with Rabindranath Tagore, Sri Aurobindo and many prominent artists of Bengal. She traveled extensively throughout India as a way to understand the zeal of this Nation. She gave lectures and motivated youth towards National Duties. She contributed a lot even in the Freedom struggle of India. She had connections with freedom fighters. It is because of this Nationalism, she had to publicly dissociate herself from Ramakrishna Mission activities though she maintained close relations with brother disciples of the Ashram.
She has written many books on Indian Culture and Society, on Mythologies and Scriptures. Collection of her books is also available as “Complete Works of Sister Nivedita” in Five volumes. The key purpose in each of these activities was to promote Nationalism and Pride among Indians.
When Swamiji’s soul left his body in July 1904, she was sitting and fanning his body for hours. She wanted to keep a piece of saffron cloth with which his body was wrapped, but did not take it thinking whether it was proper to do so. During cremation, after the flames were about to vanish, a piece of cloth came flying to her sitting a bit away. She preserved it with care as blessings from Swamiji.
On 13th October in 1911, she was at Darjeeling. She was meditating as usual. Her body and mind were extremely strained after huge series of works. In the middle of meditation, she uttered words which meant ‘the yacht is sinking, but I can see the Sun raising’ and those were her last words. She lived for almost 44 years, serving her beloved Nation. The line on her Samadhi reads, “Here reposes Sister Nivedita, who gave her all to India”. Thus she left the best example for how to dedicate ourselves for the noble virtue of Service and Nation. The youth of this Country should inculcate the values laid down by noble souls like Swamiji and Sister and bring prosperity to this Nation. Because the future of this nation lies in people’s hands. It is the people who should make it great. So, on this great occasion of the 151st Birth anniversary of Sister Nivedita, let us all decide to be good citizens and serve our best for the betterment of humanity.