“I doubt whether any Indian loved India the way Nivedita loved her”, said Bipin Chandra Pal, the great freedom fighter. Tagore called her the “Lok Mata’, for her self-sacrificing services to India. Miss Margaret Elizabeth Noble, was rechristened as Nivedita, “the dedicated”
by- Swami Vivekananda.
Inspired by Swamiji’s fervent call for upliftment of Indian women, Nivedita reached the shores of India, her “Karmabhumi” on January 28, 1898, and thus began her pursuit of knowing the real India.
Nivedita discovered the intrinsic Indian values as a nation and the great virtues of Indianness. Her book “The web of Indian life”, numerous essays, articles, letters and her lectures abroad between 1899-1901 and in 1908, all of them bear testimony to the depth of her knowledge about India.
Nivedita, a great upholder of Indian values and tradition, espoused the causes of “true education”….”national education”, and aspired to turn Indians into “sons and daughters of Bharatvarsha” and “not poor copies of Europe”. She wanted Indian women never to discard the “old-time grace and sweetness, the gentleness and piety”, ….. “in favour of ……. Western information and social aggressiveness”. She believed education should bestow on the people of India an “Indian mind” to solve an “Indian problem”.
Nivedita opened her experimental school in an orthodox locality in the Northern part of Kolkata, not in the European-inhabited Central part of the city, in 1898. She had to literally move from door to door to beg for students from the neighbourhood. She had the grand vision of her school producing modern day “Maitreyis”and “Gàrgis”, and creating it as the nucleus of a ‘grand educational movement’.
The school activities were seeped in true nationalistic fervour. When singing of ‘Vande Mataram’ was banned in the country, it was the opening prayer song in her school. The release of freedom fighters from the jails used to be an occasion for celebration. Nivedita used to take her senior students out to listen to the speeches of great leaders of freedom movement to imbibe in them the values of freedom struggle.
Nivedita, way back in 1904, designed a prototype of the first Indian national flag with the Vajra at the centre, on the ideals of self-sacrificing great sage Dadhichi. Her students embroidered the words “Bonde Matoram” in Bengali, The flag was displayed in the exhibition organised by the Indian Congress in 1906.
Education to her was an empowering tool. Nivedita introduced handicrafts and vocational training along with conventional learning, to make her students capable of earning a livelihood from their homes. She brought the adult and young widows to the fold of education and skill development. Timing was made flexible for them in the afternoons. Skills and handi-works were chosen according to their suitability in the Indian condition. Nivedita had in her mind the larger picture of revival of the old Indian industries and to establish an Industry and Education linkage.
Nivedita played a great role in igniting the flames nationalism in Indian minds. Swamiji’s idea of ‘man-making’, amounted to her ‘nation-making’ as well. She called upon men and women of India to foster a love for their motherland as a “bounden duty”, “to protect her interests as a “responsibility” and respond to the call of “Mother India” for any sacrifice.
Integration of India was uppermost in her mind, she urged upon the people of India to cherish the “Mantra” of unity that “India is one, and she is one and shall be one“, in the heart and mind and commit themselves to be nationalists “with a note of joy and strength”.
Nivedita whole-heartedly hailed the Swadeshi Movement in 1905, and considered it not a sheer movement for boycott of foreign goods or a matter of politics or economics only, but a ‘Tapasya’ for Indians, having a deep spiritual and national significance.
Nivedita, was a prolific writer on varied subjects. Her writings in prominent Indian dailies and journals on the burning topics, were catalytic to rouse the patriotic feelings of the people and inspire them into action, be it freedom movement, be it for the revival of art and culture or the pursuit in the world of modern sciences or education.
Nivedita pursued the causes for building of institutions for scientific research and development in colonial India. The Bose Institute in Kolkata is a living testimony of her such a desire and persistence.
Nivedita’s services to the poor and needy, be it during the Plague epidemic in Calcutta or floods in Bengal, speak volume about her selfless work.
Nivedita became a reckoning force in any progressive movement in India. Her small house in Baghbazar, in the northern part of Calcutta, veritably turned into a meeting point for all the contemporary leading public figures. It was no wonder that the great freedom fighter Rashbehari Ghosh, said in her memory , “….If we are conscious of a budding national life at the present day, it is in no measure due to the teaching of Sister Nivedita,”
Indeed, at this juncture of celebrating her 150th birth anniversary, the nation needs to re-evaluate the contribution of this multi-faceted personality. Her pragmatic view of India producing new types of “Sita, Savitri, Draupadi, Gandhari, Damayanti…”, according to the demands of modern age, has made her a great visionary in the history of India.
Nivedita defined “efficient education” and “true emancipation” for women in India as, “To work, to suffer, and to love, in the higher spheres; to transcend limits; to be sensitive to great causes; to stand transfigured by the national righteousness.” This is a great inspiration for women in today’s India, who are honing their skills in the the battlefield of life, fighting against social prejudices, taboos and cultural stereotypes. PIB features