Friday, 8 December 2017

Agnishikha Bhagini Nivedita - 1

यतो धर्म: ततो जय:

Shivo Bhutva Shivam Yajet

When Swami Vivekananda went to the west, he was there without friends, without money and without recognition. Only the knowledge and experience of Hindu Dharma was with him. After his exposition of Hindu Dharma in the Parliament of Religions held in September 1983 at Chicago, he was revered in the West for his knowledge and help came from all quarters, the disciples gathered from all directions. Thus when he returned to India, he was a world-famous Swami Vivekananda; the western disciples were with him. This visual had a great psychological impact on people of India. They could feel and their confidence grew in the greatness and relevance of Hindu Dharma. Epitome of this efficacy and relevance of Hindu Dharma and of the work of Swami Vivekananda in the West was Sister Nivedita.

Margaret Noble as Nivedita was called before was from the very race, which had robbed India of her wealth as well as of her confidence. But Nivedita came to India to live like us, to serve us and also to practice all that was higher and noble in our spiritual tradition. She could see beauty and wisdom in all walks of Indian life.

How could a proud and an accomplished British woman see the beauty of Indian life? She had to undergo a painful process of transformation. Margaret Noble came to India to serve Indians after she was totally convinced about the Vedantic Truth of Oneness. After the Consecration ceremony, she was given the name 'Nivedita' – 'the dedicated'.  But just a new name was not going to erase all the assumptions and biases that she had cherished till then as Margaret Noble. Swami Vivekananda in his classes attacked mercilessly her deep rooted perceptions and misconceptions.

Imagine! Swamiji was the only person who was known to her in this vast and strange land and he appeared so harsh. The anguish that Nivedita felt was very great. But not once a thought of returning back or doubting the wisdom of her decision of accepting Swami Vivekananda as her guru came to her mind. Her only concern was 'whether ever I shall understand what my master is trying to tell me'. Her sincerity of purpose and utmost efforts ultimately transformed her completely. She became one with India to serve in total surrender. It is said that to truly offer worship to Siva you have to be Siva. 'Sivo Bhutva Sivam Yajet'. Nivedita so to say became one with Mother India. She understood India in all her dimensions and loved Indians with all their faults.

Not only all modes of worship, but equally all modes of work, struggle, creation, become paths of realization

It is this total transformation of Nivedita which is a great example for Macaulay Educated Indians. If a proud and accomplished British woman can burn to ashes all her prejudices, misconceptions and her western mind-set and if with total paradigm shift she could become a true Indian, a great admirer, worshiper and servant of Mother India, then why not we? We the Macaulay educated can also burn to ashes completely all our preconceptions and ignorance and become true Indians. When she could get insight into the depths of Indian wisdom why not we? When one wants to serve Motherland one has to change oneself so as to become the right instrument in the hands of God.  Sister Nivedita is thus an inspiration for all those who want to serve our society.

Nivedita was so one with the people, their aspirations that her life, her actions, her words reflected that oneness which she experienced. She always said our people, our country. We see many a times that those who go to 'serve' the people in villages and in tribal areas with the sense that they are going to 'civilise' and to 'develop' these people use words like 'this society', 'these people'. They force their ideas and world-views on those simple people. This is what Swami Vivekananda did not want to happen with his foreign disciples. He wanted them to accept India as she was; he wanted them to learn from India. Sister Nivedita internalized it so fully that Bipin Chandra Pal said, "Nivedita came to us not as a teacher but as a learner, not as an adept but as a novice and she loved India more than even we Indians love her." 

She inculcated and internalized the Vedantic vision so well that she wrote, 'If the many and the One be indeed the same Reality, then it is not all modes of worship alone, but equally all modes of work, all modes of struggle, all modes of creation, which are paths of realisation. No distinction, henceforth, between sacred and secular. To labour is to pray. To conquer is to renounce. Life is itself religion. To have and to hold is as stern a trust as to quit and to avoid.'

That is what she imbibed from Swami Vivekananda. Thus she wrote about him, "This is the realisation which makes Vivekananda the great preacher of Karma, not as divorced from, but as expressing Jnana and Bhakti. To him, the workshop, the study, the farmyard, and the field are as true and fit scenes for the meeting of God with man as the cell of the monk or the door of the temple. To him, there is no difference between service of man and worship of God, between manliness and faith, between true righteousness and spirituality. All his words, from one point of view, read as a commentary upon this central conviction. "Art, science, and religion", he said once, "are but three different ways of expressing a single truth. But in order to understand this we must have the theory of Advaita." (Volume I Page xiv to xvi) For Nivedita Vedanta became practical. Her spirituality thus expressed in her contributions to all walks of life.

It appears that the legacy of fire that was within Swami Vivekananda was given to Sister Nivedita. The flames of burning love for India in Sister Nivedita were so great that Sri Aurobindo called her Agnishikha – the flames of fire. No field of national life was left untouched by her fire. Her topmost concern was the well-being of India and the awakening of Indian national consciousness whatever may be the field of action. 


Nivedita Raghunath Bhide
Vice-President, Vivekananda Kendra

(Editorial Yuva Bharati August 2017)


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