Friday 29 December 2017

Sister Nivedita’s Interactions with Devotees and Prominent Westerners - 1

यतो धर्म: ततो जय:

Margaret noble, the future Sister Nivedita was born in Northern Ireland. As a young journalist and educationist, she first heard Swami Vivekananda speak at the residence of Lady Isabel Margesson on 10 November 1895 in London. Margesson's young son David (1890–1965) whom Swamiji blessed later became Winston Churchill's Secretary of State for War (1940–2). Her grand-son Francis (Frank) Margesson sold Ridgely Manor in New York State in the late 1990s, to a non-profit religious organisation affiliated with the Vedanta Society of Southern California. Nivedita later described the event this way: 'A majestic personage, clad in saffron gown and wearing a red-waist band, sat there on the floor, cross-legged. As he spoke to the company he recited Sanskrit verses in his deep, sonorous voice. His serene face, his dignified bearing and his divine voice cast a spell upon the listeners, who felt electrified by his frequent utterances of the name of "Shiva, Shiva!"' (259).

Thereafter she attended many of Swamiji's public lectures and talks in England during 1895–6 and 1899. On 12 May 1896, Sister Nivedita urged her two friends in their mid-forties, Eric Hammond and his wife Nell Hammond, to attend one of Swamiji's classes in London. Eric worked as a journalist and poet in Wimbledon, England. The Hammonds became devoted admirers of Vivekananda, attending many of his discussions, including Abhedananda's first speech in the West in October 1896. Nell Hammond received ten letters from Nivedita during 1898–1902. Eric Hammond kept up his interest in Vedanta by publishing in the Brahmavadin, contributing over thirty articles in the Prabuddha Bharata and Vedanta Kesari between 1902 and 1938. In these articles he narrated stories about Swamiji and Nivedita, and composed poems and hymns. Concerning Sister Nivedita's attitude towards Swamiji, in 1927 Hammond recalled, 'Everywhere she went she hailed him as the Prophet of the age. ... she spoke of him and about him unceasingly. ... There is no one like him, no one to equal him, no one at all!'

In a casual conversation Swamiji turned to her and said, 'I have plans for the women of my own country in which you, I think, could be of great help to me.' She revealed, 'I knew that I had heard a call which would change my life, what these plans were, I did not know' (ibid.). Nivedita recorded some of Swamiji's teachings given in London during 1895–6, which appear in the first two chapters of her book, The Master as I Saw Him.

Swamiji returned to India in January 1897. Nivedita remained active aiding Swami Abhedananda in his work in London. Learning of her sincerity, Swamiji sent eight encouraging letters to Nivedita in 1897 with inspiring statements like, '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.'

Sister Nivedita in India 1898–99

After much deliberation, she sailed to India and arrived in Calcutta on 28 January 1898 with Swamiji waiting at the dock to receive her. On 17 March 1898, Sister Nivedita, Sara Bull—Dhira Mata, and Josephine MacLeod—Tantine—first met Holy Mother (1853–1920) in Calcutta, and they ate a meal together. Speaking in Bengali, Holy Mother greeted each of them affectionately as 'my daughter.' In a letter of 22 May 1898 to Mrs Nell Hammond in London, Nivedita described the meeting: 'She has always been terribly orthodox, but all this melted away the instant she saw the first two Westerns—Mrs. Bull and Miss MacLeod, and she tasted food with them! Fruit is always presented to us  immediately, and this was naturally offered to her, and she to the surprise of everyone accepted. This gave us all a dignity and made my future work possible in a way nothing else could possibly have done.'  Nivedita maintained a life-long friendship with them, writing a large number of letters to Josephine and a fair number to Sara down to 1911.

Holy Mother wrote a letter to Nivedita dated 13 May 1900. It was in Bengali and translated into English by Swami Saradananda. The first paragraph read :  "May this letter carry all blessings! My dear love to you, Baby Daughter Nivedita! I am so glad to learn that you have prayed to the Lord for
my eternal peace. You are a manifestation of the ever-blissful Mother. I look at your photograph
which is with me, every now and then. And it seems as if you are present with me. I long for the day and the year when you shall return. May the prayers you have uttered for me from the heart of your pure virgin soul be answered! I am well and happy. I always pray to the Lord to help you in your efforts, and keep you strong and happy. I pray too for your quick return. May He fulfil your desires about the women's home in India, and may the would-be home fulfil its mission in teaching true dharma to all (1.412)"

The former Margaret Noble received initiation into brahmacharya from Swamiji on 25 March 1898. She received the new name of Sister Nivedita, which means 'the dedicated one.

On 11 May, she was part of a party headed by Swamiji that travelled from Howrah station to Almora in Northern India. It included four Western women—Nivedita, Sara Bull, Josephine MacLeod, and Marion Patterson, the wife of the American Consul General appointed by US President William McKinley. The party left Almora for Kashmir on 11 June, returning to Calcutta on 11 October ending the five month long journey. Her book Notes on Some Wanderings with the Swami Vivekananda (1913) gives an insightful account of the Swamis' conversations during that time. The fifth chapter in The Master as I Saw Him (1910) adds some descriptions of the trip. In the former book Nivedita mentions that Swamiji spoke of Genghis Khan (1142–1227), the conqueror of Central Asia. 'Yes, Napoleon [1769–1821] was cast in the same mould. And another Alexander [the Great, 356–23 bce]. Only those three, or perhaps one soul manifesting itself in three different conquests!'9 Here Swamiji does not state, but only suggests the possibility of reincarnation in the case of these three military leaders. Both Alexander and Napoleon desired to conquer India, invading from the West side.
Alexander's armies proceeded East beyond the Indus into the Punjab, but then his war-weary army revolted when they approached the Ganges River and that brought an end to the venture. During Napoleon's 1798 campaign in Egypt, he dreamt of an Indian conquest but things did not go well. In 1800, Napoleon signed a military and political alliance with the Russian Czar Paul I for the express purpose of conquering India with a joint army. The assassination of Paul in March 1801 brought an end to the venture.

In the same book Nivedita points out that when Swamiji was returning to India in January 1897, he was fifty miles from the Island of Crete and had a dream. An old and bearded man told him that at one time there was a Buddhist mission there which had an influence on early Christianity. The old man mentioned the word Therapeutae as being derived from sons of the Theras or Buddhist monks. He also pointed to a specific place on the Island stating 'The proofs are all here. Dig, and you will find' (1.188). Excavations have been performed on the small Island of Thera—35 square miles—68 miles north
of Crete, but nothing was identified as being Buddhistic. Crete is much larger at 3,219 square miles. A 3,500-year Minoan town was discovered in Eastern Crete, so a 2,000-year-old Buddhist mission is a possibility.

Nivedita became a great admirer of Holy Mother and some of her intimate disciples. On 13 November the auspicious day of the Kali Puja, the Mother performed the ceremony for the opening of Nivedita's new school in Calcutta and offered her blessings. In the future when Holy Mother came to Calcutta, she would visit Nivedita's school and she in return visited the Mother's house. Around that time, Sara Bull arranged to have three pictures taken of Holy Mother by the English photographer Harrington. She was reluctant, but Sara told her, 'I wish to take the photo to America and worship it.' One of the photos was of Mother and Nivedita.

Nivedita Returns to the West 1899–1901

On 20 June 1899, she accompanied Swamis Vivekananda and Turiyananda on a six-week voyage during his second visit to the West. When they stopped off at Colombo, Ceylon—Sri Lanka—they visited Marie Higgins' Buddhist Girls' School. Ms Higgins discussed with Nivedita about the possibility of her starting a Hindu girl's school in Colombo, which Nivedita seriously thought of establishing. In some significant ways she resembled Sister Nivedita. Marie Musaeus Higgins (Sudu Amma, 1855–1926), a German born Theosophist woman moved to the United States and then answered a magazine advertisement posted by Colonel Olcott (1832–1907). She became the Principle of the school that began with only twelve students from 1893 to 1926. By 1908, they were training teachers as headmistresses of Buddhist Sinhalese Girls' Schools. Higgins was held in high esteem due to her life-long devotion to the cause. She compiled books on Buddhism which were part of the curriculum. Musaeus College that bears her name is a private girls' school in Colombo, now with over 5,000 girls from ages three to eighteen managed by a Board of Trustees.

They arrived in London on 31st July and Nivedita remained in England for over a month. She reached New York City on 17 September 1899 and Ridgely Manor three days later accompanied by Josephine MacLeod. In November, Sister Nivedita temporarily resided in Hull-House in Chicago, of which Jane Addams (1860–1935) and Ellen Gates Starr (1859–1940) were the cofounders. Vivekananda and Nivedita lectured at Addams residence in Chicago, and consequently his photograph is presently located on the wall of the Hull-House. In a letter Nivedita mentions her association with Miss Jane Addams, who, she states, 'is doing a great deal for me.'13 In 1906, Nivedita sent a letter to Addams who in return mailed her response to Sara Bull. Concerning Miss Starr, Nivedita wrote to Mrs Belle Hale, 'I love her so much. She is full of the true something, and a new face is often as stimulating to Swami as to others' (ibid.). Ellen Starr, a physically small and somewhat frail woman, possessed eloquent manners and speech. For two decades she received newspaper attention for vigorously supporting labor picket lines. Jane Addams was a remarkable woman to say the least, in 1931 the first American woman to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, rated one of the top fifty sociologists of all time, a member of the illustrious National Women's Hall of Fame, and The Hall of Fame for Great Americans at New York University, a supporter of fellow peacemaker Mahatma Gandhi who praised each other's benevolent activities, a personal friend of Rabindranath Tagore, and an officer in the India Society of America.

In April 1900, Nivedita stayed with Lydia Coonley Ward (1845–1924) in Chicago for nearly a week. She wished to donate onehundred dollars to support Nivedita's school in India. Remembering her association with Swamiji seven years earlier, Mrs Ward described him as 'the most interesting human being she ever met.'14 During her lifetime, Lydia Coonley Ward composed several popular and charming books of poetry, including a three-volume collection edition in 1921, and was President of the Chicago Women's Club (1895–6).

Nivedita's school of thirty girls lacked a Permanent Fund or steady source of income. In order to procure funds for her proposed Widows' and Girls' Home and school in India, Nivedita formed The Ramakrishna Guild of Help in America. Mrs Betty Leggett was the President. Its officers included Sara Bull, Josephine MacLeod, Sister Christine, Lewis Janes, and Colonel Thomas Higginson, and others. In August 1894, Colonel Thomas Higginson (1823–1911) the President of the Free Religious Association invited Swamiji to speak before the group. Among other things during the Civil War, Colonel Higginson commanded the First South Carolina Volunteers, the first regiment of former slaves organised by the Union Army. From his wartime experience, he wrote Army Life in a Black Regiment (1870), which is now a classic text in African-American history. Mrs Leggett donated a contribution a thousand dollars to get the project underway.

On the 18 May Swamiji wrote to Nivedita, 'Enclosed find the letter of introduction to Mrs. Huntington. She can, if she likes, make your school a fact with one stroke of her pen. May Mother make her do it!'17 Inspired by Swamiji, Arabella Huntington met Nivedita in New York City and presented her with a gift of five thousand dollars—equivalent to about $145,000 in 2014—for her Girls' School in India. The immensely wealthy Arabella Huntington (1851–1924) of San Francisco was married to Collis Huntington (1821–1900) the President of the Southern Pacific Railroad. Her daughter-in-law Helen Huntington (d. 1950) later a Broadway playwright, greatly admired Swamiji and wrote two glaring tributes to him in the Brahmava-din—May, November 1896. Arabella aided her second husband Henry Huntington (1850–1927) in creating the renowned Huntington library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens in San Marino, which, upon his death he deeded to the State of California. It is now a public center that draws many visitors each day.

On 6 July 1900, Swamiji's Will was witnessed in New York City. His estate was divided among five executors: Swamis Brahmananda and Saradananda, Margaret Noble—Sister Nivedita,—Sara Bull, and Francis Leggett. Due to legal complications the Will was not admitted for probate until early 1906. Sister Nivedita lived in Calcutta at that time and empowered Sara Bull to act on her behalf (524–5)

Nivedita listened to the Scottish sociologist, biologist, educator, and town-planner Sir Patrick Geddes (1854–1932) speak in New York in March 1900, and became interested in his unique ideas. She became his assistant in Paris, but the experiment did not work and she eventually quit. From mid-May to the end of June 1901 she lived with the Geddes family in Dundee, Scotland. At that time he invited her to speak at the Indian section of the Glasgow Exhibition. In November they met again and remained admirers and good friends throughout their life. From Geddes she learned some basic sociological concepts that Nivedita applied to her study of Indian society. In the introduction to her book The Web of Indian Life (1904) which she dedicated to Geddes, Nivedita acknowledged, 'In sending this book out into the world, I desire to record my thanks ... to Prof. Patrick Geddes, who by teaching me to understand a little of Europe, indirectly gave me a method by which to read my Indian experiences.' Geddes later wrote: I found no one who so rapidly and ardently seized upon the principle and delighted in every application of it as Sister Nivedita. Eager to master these evolutionary methods, and to apply them to her own studies, to Indian problems therefore above all, she settled above our home into an attic cell, which suited at once her love of wide and lofty outlooks and her ascetic care of material simplicity; and there she worked, for strenuous weeks. ... For my part, I must no less recognize how her keener vision and more sympathetic and spiritual insight carried her discernment of the rich and varied embroidery of the Indian web far beyond that simple texture of the underlying canvas, of the material conditions of life, which it was my privilege at the outset of our many conversations to help her to lay hold upon.

(Prabuddha Bharata January 2017)

To be Continue

हमें कर्म की प्रतिष्ठा बढ़ानी होंगी। कर्म देवो भव: यह आज हमारा जीवन-सूत्र बनना चाहिए। - भगिनी निवेदिता {पथ और पाथेय : पृ. क्र.१९ }
Sister Nivedita 150th Birth Anniversary :
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