Sister Nivedita or the Mother of Indian Reawakening

“Let me plough my furrow across India just as deep, deep, deep to the very centre of things, as it will go. Let it be either as a hidden voice sending out noiseless things from a cell or as a personality, romping and raging through all the big cities – I don’t care! But God and my own strong right hand grant that I do not have to waste my effervescence in Western futilities. I think I would rather commit suicide! India is the starting point, and the Goal, as far as I am concerned. Let her look after the West if she wishes – and if Sri Ramakrishna approves.”

Those words written in 1903 in a letter to another great woman of her time, Mrs. Josephine McLeod, present in the most precise manner, what Sister Nivedita thought of her role or her work in India. She didn’t live a long life. Born in 1867 and gone away too soon in 1911, much like her Guru Swami Vivekananda, her life, full of the kind of heroism that’s almost impossible to imagine, reads like a mythical lore. It’s not only the scarcity of time that she shared with her Master who was born in 1863 and passed away in 1902 but also a lot in temperament, the unyielding bias towards action, the capacity to devour knowledge with single-mindedness, a life seeped in Vedanta, and the burning love for India and Indians. Sister Nivedita was all the things Swami Vivekananda could have asked for in his spiritual heir as well as the expression of his ideas on the question of Indian freedom, sovereignty, and social reawakening.

One of the first works of importance on Sister Nivedita’s life (after Lizelle Reymond’s French biography) authored by Pravrajika Atmaprana when she was at Sister Nivedita’s Girls’ School in Calcutta in 1961 stands tall as the first book that should be read about Sister’s life and work before moving on to other works dealing with different aspects of her life. The book that has stood the test of time and is still in publication gives an authoritative and lucid account of Sister Nivedita’s life, her mission, and the makings of her mind. The book follows a linear path for most of its content and begins with her early life, her first body of work as a teacher, the meeting with Swami Vivekananda, her contributions to the Ramakrishna movement, wanderings in India, more of her work in India, her contributions for Indian sciences and art (including her support for Sir JC Bose and help in authoring and getting his books published when he was being banished and plagiarised by the academic hegemonies of England as well as her encouragement for Nandalal Bose, Abananindranath Tagore, Anand Coomaraswamy, and others (Sister Nivedita and Indian Art) to rejuvenate and develop the distinctive Indian style of art as opposed aping the west), her interactions with the political currents and figures of the time, partition of Bengal, more work, and her passing into eternity. The book is a simple and short read but packs in a lot of material related to Sister’s life. It helps that for most of the part, the author relies heavily on Sister’s Nivedita’s own speeches, letters, diaries instead of concluding from second-hand sources or interpretations.

It didn’t take me too long to finish reading the book. However, every time I think of the Sister through the pages of this book, the significance of her work keeps getting greater, so much so, that to write about her life and work in a 300 pager, would seem like an insurmountable task. It is then to the credit of the author who has not only been successful in presenting a comprehensive understanding of her life and work but also has provided a strong foundation for all the subsequent works on Sister Nivedita. Pravrajika Atmaprana of the Sri Sarada Math was also instrumental in getting the five volumes of Complete Works of Sister Nivedita published during her tenure as the Head Mistress of Sister Nivedita Girls’ School till 1970.

While the book talks about different realms of Sister’s life, it never flinches its focus from the unique relationship between Sister Nivedita and her Master – Swami Vivekananda. It details all the training and tribulations that Sister Nivedita went through to prepare herself for the work that was to be done by her. While Swami Vivekananda spoke on a range of subjects with Nivedita, he left her free to choose her work and the means to carry them out, with nothing more than an occasional nudge if he felt something needed to be addressed and tendered his whole hearted support for all her initiatives towards girl education and service of the poor or the diseased.

The book might also leave you a tad sad towards the end at the inevitable fact called ‘mortality of life’ and how it most often doesn’t let the whole magic unfold. While Swami Vivekananda left this world in 1902, much before he could see Sister Nivedita carry out his mission with every single bone of her body, Sister Nivedita too passed away at a tender age of 44 with an ocean of dreams in her mind waiting to reach the shores. I have always wondered how differently our nation’s destiny would have shaped, if one of her most dauntless and romantic lovers had lived a couple of more decades and had remained active on the national scene. The shortness of her life though, doesn’t blur the enormity of her work and the fact that she kindled the fire of sacrifice and deshprem in the hearts of millions of Indians. She keeps living then, much like her master, in our hearts, and it wouldn’t be a hyperbole to say that if Swami Vivekananda sowed the seeds of national and spiritual rejuvenation of our peoples, Sister Nivedita watered, nurtured, and made sure the seeds were cared for to grow into healthy saplings even after he was gone.

To Exist In Soul – Swami Atmasthananda Ji

The Advaita system is nondestructive. This is its glory, that it has the boldness to preach. “Do not disturb the faith of any, even of those who through ignorance have attached themselves to lower forms of worship.” That is what it says – do not disturb, but help everyone to get higher and higher; include all humanity. This philosophy preaches a God who is a sum total. If you seek universal religion which can apply to everyone, that religion must not be composed of only the parts, but it must always be their sum total and include all degrees of religious development.

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