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Nivedita (Sister) Margaret E. Noble bio

Nivedita (Sister) Margaret E. Noble

(1867-1911)

biography

Nivedita (Sister) Margaret E. Noble
sister nivedita
         Sister Nivedita was born at Dunganon, a small place in Tyrone County, Ireland. Her original name was Margaret E. Noble. She was the eldest daughter of Samuel Richmond and Mary Isabel.
She had a younger sister, May and a brother, Richmond. Her father had studied theology and was working as a priest in Great Torrington, Devonshire County in England. He was a friend of the poor and was loved by his parishioners. Margaret seems to have inherited from him, her religious zeal and her passion to serve people. Unfortunately, Samuel died at the young age of thirty-four. Mary, her mother, returned t0 Ireland with her three children. Margaret went to school there. After finishing her school, she went to Halifax College, run by the Congregational Church. She studied music, art and natural sciences. She completed her college education in 1884 at the age of Seventeen and started teaching in a school at Keswick in England and then in 1886 at Wrexham and in 1889 at Chester. She was influenced by the educational theory of German educationist Friedrich Froebel, founder of the kindergarten System. Mrs. De Leeuw invited her in 1890 to open a similar school in Wimbledon, a suburb of London, using the Froebel method of teaching. In 1892, she opened her own school in Wimbledon and named it Ruskin School. Due to her enthusiasm and intellectual gifts, she came to be known in the high society of London which met at the Sesame Club. She was a keen student of literature and religion. Since childhood, Christian doctrines were instilled in her mind as both her Father and grandfather were priests. But by this time she had developed a rationalist way of thinking, resulting in her doubting the validity of Christian doctrines and dogmas. She set out in Search of ‘Truth’. Christianity did not provide her satisfactory answers to allay her doubts. She studied Buddhism for three years and found that those doctrines were ‘decidedly more consistent with the Truth than the preachings of Christianity’. But her search for Truth did not end. Then something happened that changed her life; she met Vivekananda in London in a small group in 1895. She discussed with him several aspects of religion and the purpose of' life. When Vivekananda returned from America in 1896, she attended many of his lectures and was impressed by what Vivekananda preached. It took her two years to make the final decision to follow him. She came to India, reaching Calcutta on 28 January 1898. Vivekananda was at the dock to receive her. After ascertaining that Margaret was serious in her Search for Truth, and that she was willing to stay in India, Vivekananda initiated her into the Ramakrishna Order and gave her the name ‘Nivedita’, the dedicated one. While still in London, she had promised the Swami that she would start a school in India desired by him, whom she regarded as her guru. The time had come to redeem her promise. She started a kindergarten school for girls in her house at 17 Bosepara Lane, Baghbazar on 17 November 1898. Besides reading and writing, she taught the girls painting, clay work and sewing. Sister Christine, an American lady, helped her in this venture. At a time when singing Bande Matram in public was banned, she introduced it in her schools daily prayer. For voluntary teaching work, Nivedita succeeded in enlisting the honorary services of many ladies of position in Calcutta including Labanya Basu, sister of Sir J.C. Bose, and Amiya Devi, daughter of Bipin Chandra Pal. An adult section was also opened, and many widows joined in and began to earn their livelihood after receiving training from the school. The school still exists. Sister Nivedita’s birth centenary was celebrated by the school by the publication of Complete Works of Sister Nivedita in 1967 in four volumes.
                   As an ordained member of the Ramakrishna Order, she started taking part in their welfare activities. In 1899, plague threatened once again to take the proportion of an epidemic in Calcutta. The Ramakrishna Mission began its relief work and Sister Nivedita joined the team of Workers. ‘About Sister Nivedita’s part in the work, we have it on the authority of Sir Jadunath Sarkar, an eye-Witness, that when the sweepers had fled away, he chanced about a white woman one day cleaning the streets with broom and basket in hand. This was none other than Nivedita, whose courage and sense of civic duty spurred the local youths to take up the cleaning of the lanes and streets following her example, and make their quarters free from the threat of pestilence’.
After running the school for six months, Nivedita realized that she would need money to make it a success. She left for England and America to raise funds for the school. She returned to India in February 1902, and restarted her school in February 1902. ‘The 17 Bosepara Lane was her home, her school and a meeting place of many great people of that time’. It was the house where Sister Nivedita lived till the end of her life. In 1963, the management of the school was taken over by Ramakrishna Mission and is now called, “The Ramakrishna Mission Sister Nivedita Girl’s School”.
Vivekananda died on 4july 1902, and on 18july she dissociated herself from the Ramakrishna Order. The reason was that she wanted to work in a much broader sphere than was possible while remaining in the Ramakrishna Mission which prohibited members from taking part in political activities. By now she had developed an interest in the political struggle for independence which was going on, especially in Bengal. She had completely identified herself with India and considered herself a Hindu. Her mission now was to rejuvenate her adopted country. ‘With that purpose in mind, she went on a lecture tour during 1902-1904 to Indian states ‘to reuse the national consciousness of the people’. She addressed women most of the time. In one of her lectures on 2 October 1902 at the Hindu Ladies Social Club in Bombay she spoke on ‘Why I became a Hindu’. She said, ‘I love India as the birthplace of the highest and the best of all religions; as the country that has the grandest mountains, the Himalayas; as the place where the sublimate of mountains are located. The country where the homes are simple; Where domestic happiness is found most, where the woman unselfishly, unobtrusively, ungrudgingly serves the dear one from early morn to dewy eve; where the mother and the grandmother study, foresees and contribute to the comfort of their children regardless of their own happiness, and in the unselfishness raises womanhood to its highest status." She never criticized or questioned even a bad custom in Hinduism but rather looked below the surface to find out the original idea of which it had become a parody. The genuine love and sympathy shown by her for India and the Indians, won the hearts of many, and even great men like Rabindra Nath Tagore, Aurobindo, B.C. Paul, Sir J.C. Bose and many others, became her friends and admirers. Several others: artists, scientists, historians, literary men, politicians and patriots were helped and inspired by her. When the great artist Abanindranath Tagore saw Nivedita for the first time in a white gown and rudraksha beads she appeared to him to be a tapasvini carved in marble, a meditating Uma.
It did not take much time for her to realize that India would have to win political freedom before making advances in other spheres. She befriended political leaders of all shades of opinion like Gokhale, B.C. Pal, Surendra Nath Banerjee, Aurobindo Ghose, B.G. Tilak and others. In her native land Ireland, the Home Rule movement had gathered some force while she was there and she could be inferred to be instinctively predisposed to try those methods in India to oust the British. She worked in close collaboration with P. Mitra, Aurobindo Ghose, C.R. Das and Surendranath Tagore, as member of the first Executive Committee of the Anushilan Samiti, the revolutionary society of Bengal. But whether Nivedita was an active member of the group who indulged in revolutionary activities, besides giving general advice and encouragement, it is difficult to say." Besides politics, she devoted herself to the cultural regeneration of India. Through her personal contacts as well as through her writings and speeches, she proved to be a source of great inspiration to writers, artists, scientists and historians. She was a friend of Rabindranath Tagore and both had great admiration for each other. Tagore wrote a beautiful character sketch of Nivedita in his book Parichaya in which he said; she is to be respected not because she was Hindu, but because she was great. She is to be honoured not because she was like us, but because she was greater than us." In turn, she admired Tagore whom she met for the first time in 1898 Rabindranath’s appearance, bearing, his sonorous voice and his intellectual ho prowess impressed her. This was before Tagore had won the Nobel Prize. She also encouraged and blessed the young Subramania Bharati during of his days of struggle. In gratitude, he dedicated his first two books of poems to her.
She had harbored many dreams about India and about her regeneration and glorious future. One such dream was the revival of Indian art. In one of her letters she wrote: This birth of national art is my dearest dream. She felt that Indian artists followed the Western style her of painting though they were so gifted. She exhorted them to depict Indian themes in their paintings in Indian style. Great artists like Abanindranath Tagore, and his pupils Nandlal Bose, Asit Haldar and others got inspiration from her. Her other dream was to encourage Indians in the pursuit of science. She saw in Jagdish Chandra Bose, a great bet scientist, and helped him to publish his important work Plant Response and some other works. She believed that J.C. Bose was a unique scientist who had a rare blend of philosophical outlook with scientific precision.  She not only proved to be a trouble shooter for Bose, but even tried to understand his scientific researches, which is evident from her letter to Rabindranath Tagore dated 18 April 1903, in which she had explained in simple language, various research works of Bose at Tagore’s request. She had become a true friend and a constant companion of Bose and his wife Abala, and shared many joys and sorrows with them. Boses tribute to her memory is enshrined at the entrance of the Bose Research Institute which reads: Entering the Institute, the visitor finds to his left the lotus fountain with a bas-relief of a Woman Carrying Light to the Temple. Without her no light can be kindled in the sanctuary. She is the true light-bearer, and no plaything of man.
Unfortunately for India and for her, the sultry climate of Calcutta did not suit her. She fell dangerously ill in 1905, and suffered repeatedly from malaria during the next year too, which permanently impaired her health. Again and again, she went to England and America to recuperate. The last three years of her life were mostly spent outside India. She returned to India in 1911 and went to Darjeeling for a change and had an attack of acute blood dysentery and died on 13 October 1911 at the house of Jagdish Chandra Bose, her dear friend. She had made her will and left all her possessions and writings in the hands of the trustees Belur Math, to be used for her school to give national education of women of the country.


    Nivedita was a versatile genius; a forceful writer, a persuasive speaker and a charming conversationalist. Nivedita’s prose had the naturalness and freshness of poetry. She threw new light even on a hackneyed topic. She wrote several books during her less than ten years stay in India (excluding her foreign sojourns). Some of her books are: The Master as I Saw Him depict (about Vivekananda); The Cradle Tales of HinduismMyths of the Hindus and BuddhistsThe Web of Indian LifeStudies From an Eastern HomeAn Indian Study of Love and Death; Footfalls of Indian History; Hints on National Education in India; Religion and Dharma; Lambs Among . ShewasbornaChristian, became a Hindu and left her mark on her adopted country. Rash Bihari Ghose said about her after her death, ‘On one thing I can speak with confidence and that is this, if we are conscious of a budding national life at the present day, it is in no small measure due to the teachings of Sister Nivedita." And Bipin Chandra Pal said, I doubt whether any Indian loved India the way Nivedita loved her."

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