Sister Nivedita

“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.”

-A benediction to Sister Nivedita

by Swami Vivekananda

In a sylvan shrine ensconced in the lap of the Himalayas where silence reigns supreme, stands a memorial which proclaims, “Here reposes Sister Nivedita who gave her all to India”.

Margaret Elizabeth Noble was born on October 28, 1867 in Dungannon County Tyrone, Ireland to Mary Isabel Hamilton and Samuel Richmond Noble. The Nobles were of Scottish descent who settled in Ireland some five centuries before.

Margaret’s grandfather was a Methodist Minister and her father was a Congregational Minister who always taught her that, service to mankind is the true service to God. His words made an impression on her mind. From the very beginning, Margaret was a very zealous child, who was always full of energy and enthusiasm. While she spent her early years with her grandmother in Dungannon, she moved to England to be with her family when her father was employed as a minister there.

Even at the age of eight, Margaret had the realization that religion is not about having belief in the doctrines, but it is about searching for the divine light that will bring enlightenment. Additionally, because she was brought up in a family where politics and religion were inextricably mixed, Margaret’s inherent qualities were nurtured and blossomed forth in the intellectual climate of the European culture of the nineteenth century. This later paved the way for her study of India and its society. 
After completing her schooling Margaret graduated as a school teacher and actively participated in literary pursuits, journalism and lectures and was particularly fond of music and art. She took up the job of a teacher for a long period of eight consecutive years from 1884 to 1892 until, at the tender age of 25, she opened her own school in Wimbledon. She always had the calibre to impart education and inspire others.
But neither her profession nor her social and political friendships could satiate the spiritual abyss within and in the year 1895, Margaret met her lifelong spiritual guide and teacher, the renowned Hindu monk Swami Vivekananda in London. It was the Swami, who called her by the name “Nivedita”, which means someone who is highly dedicated to the God. Even before this encounter, Margaret began taking an interest in Buddhist principles. Swami Vivekananda stressed that it is the ignorance, selfishness and greed that pave way for our sufferings. His principles and teachings made a profound imprint on her mind and this brought about a major change in the way she lived her life. After meeting the Swami, a transformation occurred in Margaret’s personality, character and ideals and she became his disciple. His bold utterances of all that was noblest and best in mankind, spoken to her with a sense of conviction born out of realisation, impressed her, although the matter was intellectually new and difficult to comprehend. Above all, he inspired her to do something for the welfare of the women of India.
Swami Vivekananda saw the fire and passion in her to transform the society and could foresee her futuristic role in Mother India. What he wanted was ‘not a man, but a woman, a real lioness’ to work for the upliftment and education of Indian women. For Margaret, no sacrifice was adequate for the life of dedication she envisaged. So undeterred was she that she resolved to proceed to India with Swami Vivekananda’s assurance, “I promise you I will be by you unto death.” The transformation of Margaret Noble into Sister Nivedita ‘the dedicated’ was a painstaking and heart-rending task. She began practicing meditation and Swami Vivekananda initiated Nivedita in the vow of Brahmacharya on March 25, 1898.There were basically two things in her mind that she sincerely followed; one being the search for enlightenment by realizing the eternal truth and the other was the welfare of the world. She left all the things that she could have boasted of and decided to lead a very simplistic life.

She arrived in India in 1898 and lived there until her death in 1911. She took up her residence in the narrow winding by lanes of Baghbazar, where she established a school for girls, who were deprived of even basic education. started a school under the auspices of Holy Mother, Sarada Devi. Nivedita never held back anything for herself. She was a woman of immense dignity and great compassion. Her entire thought and consciousness, dream and waking, her intelligence, indeed her entire being was immersed in only one object-India and India alone. She was instrumental in various altruistic activities with her central aim of bringing about an improvement in the lives of Indian women belonging to various social classes and castes where she tried to bridge the gap and put an end to the caste distinctions. During the outbreak of plague, Nivedita actively participated in cleaning the rotting garbage dumps, nursing the sick and dying and consoling and comforting the bereaved. Sister Nivedita has the distinction of being the first Western woman to be received into an Indian monastic order.

In 1905, the beginning of the Indian struggle for freedom began and Sister Nivedita’s life and works were of great importance to this, for she leaves behind a lasting mark, as one single individual, whose multidimensional personality was helpful in guiding and inspiring some of the progressive movements of the nineteenth and the twentieth century that led to India’s freedom. She was friend to many intellectuals and artists in the Bengali community, including Rabindranath Tagore, the famous Nobel laureate writer, Jagadish Chandra Bose, Abala Bose, and Abanindranath Tagore. Later she took up the cause of Indian independence. Sri Aurobindo was one of her friends as well. During the later years of her life, she engaged in activities that promoted and brought forth the cause of India’s Independence. Her writings expressed her views and promoted pan-Indian nationalism. In this her identity as both a westerner by birth and a disciple of Swami Vivekananda enabled her to do several things that might have been difficult for other Indians.

She was a motivating force for people in all walks of life. Her lectures and various discourses gave people, direction on how to lead their lives. Throughout her life, she worked hard in serving the people and society at large. This started having adverse effects on her health. Finally, this great soul left for her heavenly abode on October 13, 1911.In 1911, at the young age of 44 years, Nivedita attained eternal rest amidst the snowy peaks of Darjeeling.
Sister Nivedita’s literary contribution was immense as indicated by the publications below:

From the Pen of Sister Nivedita

  1. Kali the Mother. Swan Sonnenschein & Co.,. 1900.
  2. The Web of Indian Life. W. Heinemann. 1904.
  3. Cradle Tales of Hinduism. Longmans,. 1907.
  4. An Indian study of love and death. Longmans, Green & Co.,. 1908.
  5. The master as I saw Him. Longmans, Green & Co.,. 1910.
  6. Select essays of Sister Nivedita. Ganesh & Co.,. 1911.
  7. Studies from an Eastern Home. 1913.
  8. Myths of Hindus and Buddhists.. London : George G. Harrap & Co., 1913.
  9. Footfalls of Indian history. Longmans, Green & Co.,. 1915
  10. Religion and Dharma. Longmans, Green, and Co.,. 1915
  11. Civic & national ideals.. Udbodhan Office. 1929

A newly annotated edition of The Ancient Abbey of Ajanta, that was serialized in The Modern Review during 1910 and 1911, has recently been published by Lalmati, Kolkata, with annotations, additions and photographs by Prasenjit Dasgupta and Soumen Paul

Complete Works of Sister Nivedita

Volume 1: The Master as I Saw Him; Notes of Some Wanderings; Kedar Nath and Bhadri Narayan; Kali the Mother. ISBN AOE005-1

Volume 2: The Web of Indian Life; An Indian Study of Love and Death; Studies from an Eastern Home; Lectures and Articles. ISBN AOE005-2

Volume 3: Indian Art; Cradle Tales of Hinduism; Religion and Dharma; Aggressive Hinduism. ISBN AOE005-3

Volume 4: Footfalls of Indian History; Civic Ideal and Indian Nationality; Hints on National Education in India; Lambs Among Wolves. ISBN AOE005-4

Volume 5: On Education; On Hindu Life, Thought and Religion; On Political, Economic and Social Problems; Biographical Sketches and Reviews. ISBN AOE005-5

Originally Published: THURSDAY, MAY 26, 2011