Sister Nivedita: An Irish lady Monk who became Indian Freedom Fighter

*Shailendra Kumar Pathak 
“… was Nivedita who captured the fire of patriotism set alight by Vivekananda. She not only caught that flame, she also scattered the sparks of Indian patriotism and nationalism far and wide, across the length and breadth of India. Wherever Nivedita went, in any city or province of India, her fiery speeches and heroic calls to the Indian people spread the message of Swamiji, his ideals, his patriotism. Side by side, she spread the ideals, the culture, the glory of India, too. To speak frankly, we got to know Swami Vivekananda better through coming in contact with Sister Nivedita. I was with Swamiji for a very short time. But I have been with Nivedita for a much longer period. Through Nivedita, we got to know Swamiji better and through her India also better. …What I feel about Nivedita is – Sister Nivedita played two important roles in spreading the message and deeds of Vivekananda – one was the role of Mahadeva, the other, that of Bhagiratha. She absorbed the terrific force and power of Vivekananda in her own person, and at the same time she carried the mighty current of that force and directed it along proper channels like Bhagiratha.” 

- Freedom fighter, Shri Hemachandra Ghosh (in “I am India” by Prof Kapila Chatterjee) 

When Swami Vivekananda visited the West, he had nothing except the great treasures of Hindu wisdom. His speech at World Parliament of Religions held at Chicago in 1893, led to many new disciples, friends, money and recognition to spread the march of Hindu culture, glory and ideals world-wide along with the awakening of heroism, nationalism and patriotism among common people of India. 

On cordial invitation from Mr. E. T. Sturdy, and Miss Henrietta Miiller whom he had met in America , he visited England. He succeeded in making a deep and lasting impression upon those whom he met. Among these was Miss Margaret Noble, who later on was known as Sister Nivedita. She met him first in November, 1895.His magnetic spiritual lectures aroused Margaret's dormant religious aspirations and desire to serve humanity under his guidance. Nivedita was an inquisitive and argumentative kind of lady and filled with intense desire to educate people, serve humanity and fulfill her spiritual quest. 

Swami Vivekananda’s lectures and personality made her deeply convinced about the wisdom of Vedanta and Bharatiya culture. She expressed her intention to join his mission. Swami Vivekananda, frankly put forward all possible difficulties if she joins his mission but he simultaneously highlighted her strengths also. In his reply to letter from her on July 1897 he wrote: 

“Let me tell you frankly that I am now convinced that you have a great future in the work for India. What was wanted was not a man, but a woman; a real lioness, to work for the Indians, women specially. 

''India cannot yet produce great women, she must borrow them from other nations. Your education, sincerity, purity, immense love, determination and above all, the Celtic blood make you just the woman wanted.” 

Margaret finally decided to dedicate herself at the feet of Swami Vivekananda and came to India in 1897. She was initiated into the order of brahmacharya by Swamiji on March 25, 1898 and conferred new monastic name ‘Nivedita’ which means ‘Dedicated’. The purpose behind adopting her to Swamiji’s mission was not merely to add just one more disciple but to transform her completely in to Indic tradition. She internalised the Vedantic vision and practiced Vedanta making contributions to all walks of life. 

She was born on October 28, 1867 in Dungannon County Tyrone, Ireland to Mary Isabel Hamilton and Samuel Richmond Noble. Her grandfather, John Noble, father, Samuel Richmond and her maternal grandfather, Hamilton, were revolutionaries and prominent figures of Irish freedom struggle. Therefore, she carried the legacy of revolutionary ideas. 

Swami Vivekananda toured Almora and Kashmir regions during May to October 1898, Sister Nivedita accompanied him. It was a lifetime learning experience for her to understand the vastness of India and to witness the plight of people under British rule in Bharat. This tour had a transformative impact on her mind. During this tour she observed that Maharaja of Kashmir wanted to donate a piece of land to her Guru to set up a Mutt and Sanskrit College but the British government refused to grant the permission for the same. This turned her into a revolutionary. She realized that Indians can’t lead a humane life without putting an end to British rule in India. 

She started a school for girls in Baghbazar area for which the holy mother Sri Sarada Devi performed the opening ceremony on November 13, 1898. 

Sister Nivedita organized a team of youths and engaged herself in relief operations, sanitation and scavenging during the epidemic of plague in Calcutta in March 1899. 

To raise funds for her school Nivedita went to England and America in mid-1899 on a lecture tour. During her visit to Boston, she met the great Indian patriot, Bipin Chandra Pal. 

She faced a lot of resistance from the British Imperialists and the Christian Missionaries. British Government blacklisted her name and censored her letters. 

After the death of Swamiji on 4th July 1902 she went on a nationwide tour in response to the invitation of her disciples and admirers. 

On Oct 20, 1902 in Baroda, she met Sri Aurobindo- the brain behind the nationalist movement in Bengal. Nivedita attracted thousands of young men and women during this tour. 

She was among the five members of the political committee appointed by Aurobindo Ghosh to unite the small and scattered groups of rebels in to a single organization. 

She used to organise sunday get-togethers of scientists, artists, journalists, nationalists and revolutionaries at her home and prominent among them was Barindra Ghosh, the younger brother of Aurobindo. 

Nivedita condemned the appointment of the ‘University Commission’ to strangulate the national education system in 1902. 

She spoke strongly in support of the resolution moved by the famous revolutionary, Anand Mohan Bose against British government’s decision to divide Bengal in 1905 in her public meetings. 

She was a prolific writer and used to contribute articles for Prabuddha Bharat, Sandhya, Dawn and New India. 

The plan for revolutionary newspaper “Yugantar” by Aurbindo, his brother Barindra Ghosh and Swami Vivekananda’s younger brother Bhupendra Nath Dutta was made at Nivedita’s house on March 12, 1906. 

She was also inspiration behind ‘Bande Matram’ by Bipin Chandra Pal and Bala Bharath by Tirumalachari. 

She ensured the uninterrupted publication of Yugantar when Bhupendra Nath Dutta was imprisoned and also helped in collection of funds for paying fine of Rs 10000/. 

She helped revolutionaries at home but also abroad. She went to England in 1907 and started publishing the reports of meetings and interviews with British parliamentarians. 

She helped number of revolutionaries like Bhupendra Nath Dutta, Tarak Dutta in exile and collected funds for uninterrupted publication of revolutionary journals from abroad and their distribution. 

Sister Nivedita was a multifaceted extra-ordinary lady. Swami Ji’s rigorous effort of her transformation process transformed her to a patriot .She merged her identity with spirit of Bharatiyata. 

She beautifully penned down her experiences in numerous literary works like ‘Master As I saw him, Kali the Mother, The Web of Indian life, Cradle tales of Hinduism, Footfalls of Indian history, Civic ideal and Indian nationality and Hints on national education in India etc. These works reflect her deeper journey in to glorious past of Hindu culture and ancinet knowledge and wisdom. 

Sister Nivedita had become deeply involved in Bharat’s freedom struggle. When she came to know about sacrifice of Damodar Chapekar and his brothers, she decided to go and meet the mother of these heroes. On arriving at the Chapekars’ home, she observed that their heroes was above and beyond the any grief and regrets. 

She realized that India was far ahead in terms of spirit of self respect and self-realisation than she could imagine. 

When she returned to India in 1909, she found that most of her fellow revolutionaries had been jailed. Aurobindo was pursued by the British too, so he went into exile. Thus, the responsibility of running two prominent revolutionary papers “Dharma” and “Karmayogin”, was shouldered by her. 

She worked for the people of Bharat tirelessly and this affected her health adversely. When she realised she would not live, she donated all the money that she had got.. On October 13, 1911, she took last breath and the dedicated daughter of Bharat Mata went to eternal sleep forever. 

Her memorial inscription in Darjeeling rightly describes her life and work: “Here Reposes Sister Nivedita Who Gave Her All to India.” 

(The writer is a senior fellow with Vichar Vinimay Trust)

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