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Nivedita's call to the nation

Sister Nivedita endeavoured to fulfil her Master's visions of preserving the symbolic harmony of India.

Niveditas call to the nation

Margaret Elizabeth Noble, later Sister Nivedita, was born in a Scottish-Irish family on October 28, 1867, in North Ireland. Losing her father at the tender age of ten, her early life had been marked by considerable deprivation. She studied at a charity institution, and after her schooling, she took up a teacher's job – a vocation which was becoming quite common among the women in 19th century Britain. She was an innovative teacher who had been deeply influenced by the New Education Movement that was sweeping the West back then. Margaret's life changed after she met Vivekananda in England in 1895. Inspired to walk in his footsteps, Margaret arrived in India in January 1898 and was given the name 'Nivedita' by Vivekananda.

Re-gathering herself after the passing away of the Swami, she began to shape her future endeavours—translating her Master's ideas of 'Man-making' into 'Nation-building'. Throughout the years following 1902, Nivedita was formulating the different bases for Indian nationhood and eloquently expressing them in her writings. She knew this to be her chief task. In 1903 she wrote in a letter:
"The whole task now is to give the word 'nationality' to India, in all its breadth and meaning. The rest will do itself. India must be obsessed with this great conception…..It means new views of history, of customs, and it means the assimilation of the whole Ramakrishna-Vivekananda idea in religion, the synthesis of all religious ideas. It means a final understanding of the fact that the political process and the economic disaster are only secondary issues – that the one essential fact is the realisation of its own nationality by the Nation."
She relentlessly attacked the idea that it was the British who had united India: "If India had no unity herself, no unity could have been given to her. The unity which undoubtedly belonged to India was self-born and had its own destiny, its own functions and its own vast powers; it was a gift of no one."
She thoroughly believed that India was a synthesis of great strands of unity. She, in fact, thought that the British were quick to understand the underlying unity of the country and thus could knit it under a common administration.
Education for Nation-Building
For Nivedita, what India needed was an education established soundly on the basis of a 'national consciousness'. To her, any effective education had to boost the national self-consciousness, and invoke vigour and responsibility; once this was firmly in place, universal dimensions would follow, thus transcending to a new level of perfection.
Nivedita believed that training the mind and developing the power of concentration had been the chief emphasis of Hindu education, for ages. And therefore, it did not have anything substantial to learn from the West towards actualising this. She felt that the superiority of the West lay in her realisation of the value of efforts united to a given direction. She referred to this Western trait as 'organising of the popular mind.' It was here she felt India could learn from the West.
According to Nivedita, National Education is first an education in national idealism with the emancipation of sympathy and intellect as its chief aim. For achieving this, she wanted the ideals presented before the children and students to be informed by their own past. "Our own imagination must be first based on our own heroic literature. Our hope must be woven out of our own history. From the known to the unknown must be the motto of every teacher, the rule of every lesson." A true national education in India would awaken people towards a life of sacrifice, towards what she referred to as 'jana-desha-dharma'.
On his return to India, Swami Vivekananda had said in Madras: "For the next fifty years, this alone shall be our keynote – this, our great Mother India. Let all other vain gods disappear for the time from our minds. This is the only god that is awake, our own race – everywhere his hands, everywhere his feet, everywhere his ears, he covers everything." Echoing that, Nivedita said:
"This desire to serve, the longing to better conditions, to advance our fellows, to lift the whole, is the real religion of the present day. Everything else is doctrine, opinion, theory. Here is the fire of faith and action. Each day should begin with some conscious act of reference to it. A moment of silence, a hymn, a prayer, a salutation." She hoped minds and hearts will be trained to the service of the jana-desha-dharma, and that will act as the motive-spring of all the struggles. She thought of 'organised unselfishness' as the foundation of a national feeling.
On the foundation of 'family ideal', moving towards the larger ideal of 'nationality' is a constant refrain in Nivedita's writings. She wished the countrymen, particularly the youth would cultivate this ideal. "The centre of gravity must lie for them, outside the family. We must demand from them sacrifices for India, bhakti for India, learning for India." She was at her inspired best when giving a call, just like her Master, to her countrymen, for pledging their lives for sacrifice in the name of the nation. She urged and inspired the countrymen to immerse their little 'self' into the Virat of Bharatvarsha: "If the whole of India could agree to give, say, ten minutes every evening, at the oncoming of darkness to thinking a single thought, 'We are one. Nothing can prevail against us to make us think we are divided. For, we are one. We are one and all antagonisms amongst us are illusions' – the power that would be generated can hardly be measured."
Such an education, to Nivedita, was the perfect recipe for creating future heroes. She did not think heroes were born; she believed all human beings have an innate longing for self-sacrifice, and that the force of heroic thought impels them towards that direction. She thought that the challenge of educating the Indian masses could be best solved by dedicated and inspired educational missionaries emerging from within the country. It was her fervent desire to see a band of educational missionaries who would be present across the country educating the masses. She took the example of many Western countries where young men were required to serve for a few years in the military and hoped for a similar army of educational missionaries in India. But she believed that the best way to do this was by a voluntary selflessness of the nation's students and youth.
She knew that in modern times a strong Indian nation needs to have a thoroughly democratised society with flourishing careers; for this, education was the key. Her thoughts on equal opportunities and access to education were spelt out unambiguously: "The motherland must recognise no caste, for that would prevent her from availing the best possible services for herself. For this, the presence of a social formation representing democracy is absolutely necessary. Far from recognising caste, indeed education must be absolutely democratised, so that all the talents may be discovered, and the remaking of the Swadesh may proceed apace."
The central theme of Sister Nivedita's mission was to create a strong national consciousness among the Indian people. She repeatedly emphasised that each Indian should live for the country's sake and hold oneself as an offering to Mother India. On her beads, she was known to repeat 'Bharatvarsha' as the mantra. Steeped in the process of reaching Advaita through rejecting dualities, she urged everyone to imagine India is one - by imagining, thus, she would actually become one. To her, India was the great unity all Indian people had to arrive at.
When Swami Vivekananda was with Nivedita in France in 1900, he had blessed Nivedita's future work by presenting her with a poem:
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.
Nivedita spent her whole life as an attestation, as it were, of this faith her Master had reposed in her. She had carefully nurtured this trust and endeavoured to do justice to what he might have expected of her. She expressed this in a letter: "God grant me to speak brave true words in His Name before I die—words with His life flowing through them untainted, unimpaired— that I may see that last confidence shining in His face once more—and go away into eternity, feeling that I have not disappointed him."
Nivedita's life was truly an extension of Vivekananda's own life and mission. An inscription at her cremation-spot in Darjeeling says: Here Reposes Sister Nivedita Who Gave Her All To India. Few would ever deserve a description more honourable and befitting.
(The author is a humanitarian worker and founder of Parivaar.org. The views expressed are strictly personal.)

Vinayak Lohani

Vinayak Lohani

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