By Swami Harshananda
‘Great things can be done by great sacrifices only!’ averred Vivekānanda. Niveditā, his dedicated illustrious disciple, did exactly that. She sacrificed her people, her country and her culture, to devote every breath of her life for the cause she loved:
At the command of her guru, her mentor by serving the country and its people.
She made the people feel a few inches taller by her overflowing love and admiration for the religion which she vigorously propagated. Her original name was Margaret Elizabeth Noble. She was born at Dungannon in Ireland on October 28, 1867. Her parents were Rev. Samuel Richmond Noble and Mary Isabel. After being ordained as a Protestant preacher, Samuel started living at Great Torrington in Devonshire in England along with his family. However, when he died at the young age of thirty-four, Mary Noble shifted back to her father’s place in Ireland where Margaret continued her education. She completed her education at the age of seventeen and became a teacher in a school at Keswick in England. Later she shifted to Wimbledon and started her own school using the newly discovered Froebel method. She spent ten years as a teacher from A. D. 1884-1894.
Though she was deeply religious by nature and loved Jesus with all her heart, the Christian doctrines of the Church did not satisfy her spiritual hunger. Though the life and teachings of the Buddha, which she happened to read at that time, brought some solace to her troubled soul, the inner turbulence continued, leaving many a question unanswered. At this critical juncture of her life she learnt of the arrival of a ‘Hindu Yogi’ whose discourses and personality had started casting a spell as it were, on the people of London. Vivekānanda visited England twice, the second visit being a much longer one. By listening to his talks and getting her doubts cleared through searching questions, for which she got scintillating answers, Margaret was now fully convinced of Vivekānanda’s greatness and accepted him as her spiritual Master.
One day, when he was talking of his plan of work which included the upliftment of women through proper education and training, and hinted that she could be of great help in the same, she felt an inner urge to accept the call. It needed her quite some time to make up her mind. Vivekānanda wrote her a long letter explaining the various problems and difficulties she would have to face in India if she decided to take the plunge. However, the great assurance that the Svāmi gave to her, that he will stand by her unto death irrespective of her decision, settled the issue.
Margaret arrived at Calcutta on the 28th January 1898 and was received by Svāmi Vivekānanda himself. She was first accommodated in a hotel for a few days and later shifted to a cottage in Belur at the site newly bought by her guru for establishing the future monastery of the Ramakrishna Order. Mrs. Sara Bull and Miss Josephine Macleod, two well-known American disciples of the Svāmi, joined her at this time.
The teacher, to assist in whose mission she had come, started training her in right earnest by narrating to her and the other ladies regarding the tales and history of the Indian people, about their courage, heroism, faith, and also the purity and sacrifices of its noble women. He introduced her to the people of Calcutta in a big public meetings where she also spoke about the influence of Indian spiritual thought on England.
The most memorable day in her life was her meeting Śrī Śāradā Devī better known as the Holy Mother, on the 17th March, for the first time. The Mother greeted her very affectionately which made a tremendous impression on her mind. Margaret had started very earnestly to cast off her arrogance and superiority complex and mix herself by hard tapas or austerity, like an Indian lady. When Vivekānanda was convinced that she was ready for the great work he had in mind, he performed a simple religious ceremony, administered some lifelong vows and dedicated her to the service of God. He gave her a new name, ‘Niveditā’.
Travelling with her guru through the various places of pilgrimage and of historical interest, she learnt a lot, not only about India and her people but also about her guru himself, the various facets of his fascinating personality. After returning, she lived for some time in the house of the Holy Mother, getting a first-hand knowledge and taste of a household. As per the directions of her teacher, she started in her newly acquired house in the same area, a school for girls. It was inaugurated by the Holy Mother herself on the auspicious Kālīpujā day, Vivekānanda and other members of the Ramakriṣṇa Order also being present.
Though ignorance and wrong understanding prevented the orthodox and high-caste religious people to send their girls to Niveditā’s school at first, her earnestness and entreaties quickly won them over. The school soon became full of pupils, bubbling with various activities. Niveditā taught them the three R’s, painting, sewing and clay-modelling and told inspiring stories.
A severe epidemic of plague broke out in Calcutta in March 1899. As per the directions of Svāmi Vivekānanda, Niveditā, with the help of some Svāmis and volunteers, organised relief work excellently, thereby earning the gratitude of the people of the city. This was the maiden relief work of the Ramakrishna Mission. To raise funds for her school which was growing at a fast pace, she traveled widely, both in England and in America. She returned to India in February 1902. She then re-opened the school on the sacred Vasanta Pañcami day, considered as specially auspicious for the worship of Sarasvatī, the goddess of learning. As the school flourished, a section for educating the women also was added. Since 1963, The school, now known as “Sister Niveditā Girls’ School,” is under the management of the Ramakrishna Śarada Mission.
Inscrutable are the ways of the unseen hand. Niveditā had met the Svāmi on the 2nd July 1902. On the 4th he was gone. Though this was a terrible blow to her, it also steeled her to rededicate herself for the work he had entrusted to her. Hereafter, India became her object of love, adoration and commitment. Having grown up in her younger days in an atmosphere of Irish rebellion for freedom from the shackles of England, Niveditā could easily understand and appreciate the struggle for political freedom launched by the Indian people. She now plunged into this movement after resigning from the Ramakrishna Order which could not associate itself with any political movement and became a source of inspiration, not only to the youth but also to the great leaders of the movement itself. Her whirlwind tour of the country and also fiery speeches and an uncompromising attitude helped to rouse many youth.
She introduced the singing of the famous ‘Vande Mātaram’ which was an anathema to the British rulers in her school. She encouraged the Indian artists to revive the ancient art of their motherland. She inspired Indian scientists like Jagadish Chandra Bose in their research work. She vigorously propagated the need for good education on national lines, the upliftment of women and unity among all the peoples of the country irrespective of race, religion or local culture. Niveditā was fortunate in getting the love, affection and blessings of the Holy Mother Śāradā Devī in an abundant measure. She cherished this till her last breath. Continuous travelling and hard work told upon her frail health. She fell seriously ill, once in 1905 and again in 1911. She passed away peacefully on the 13th October 1911, at Darjeeling. The place where her mortal remains were cremated, has a memorial with this inscription:
HERE REPOSE THE ASHES OF SISTER NIVEDITĀ (MARGARET E. NOBLE) OF THE RAMAKRISHNA VIVEKANANDA, WHO GAVE HER ALL TO INDIA. 13, OCTOBER 1911.
Niveditā was a prolific writer. There are fifteen books penned by her which have been brought out as a set of volumes under the general title "The Complete Works of Sister Niveditā Vol. I to IV", during her centenary year. Out of them, the two books give us a fascinating picture of the great Svāmi. They are:
- The Master as I saw Him
- Notes on Some Wanderings with the Swami Vivekananda
If India is free today, a lot of credit for inspiring her national leaders of the freedom movement goes as much to Niveditā and her guru, Svāmi Vivekānanda.
- ↑ He lived in A. D. 1863-1902.
- ↑ She was the divine consort of Śrī Rāmakṛṣṇa who lived in A. D. 1853-1920.
- ↑ Niveditā is the one who is offered to or dedicated to God.
- ↑ It was on 13th November 1898.
- ↑ He lived in A. D. 1858-1937.
- ↑ It's publication: Ramakrishna Śarada Mission Sister Niveditā Girls’ School, Calcutta 1967-1968.
- ↑ It was 1967.
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore