Saturday 30 December 2017

Sister Nivedita’s Interactions with Devotees and Prominent Westerners - 2

यतो धर्म: ततो जय:

Swamiji and Geddes had formerly met in Chicago. They became well acquainted in August 1900, and each morning Swamiji would walk and converse with Geddes on their way to the Paris Exposition. In September, they came together again at a party thrown by the Leggett's in Paris. According to Geddes' biographer Philip Boardman, as a result of his encounter with Swamiji, 'The eastern discipline of body and mind made such a lasting impression on both Anna [Geddes' wife] and Patrick that they later handed on to their young children the simple Raja Yoga exercises for control of the inner nature.' These experiences deepened Geddes' interest in the land and soul of India. Among other things, Geddes wrote a Preface to the French translation of Swamiji's Raja Yoga in 1910. In 1914, he undertook a diagnosis-and-treatment survey of fifty Indian urban areas. He concluded that the traditional strategy of British planners in slum clearance disrupted community neighborhood life and destroyed indigenous customs. The May 1917 issue of the Prabuddha Bharata praised Geddes' efforts stating, 'He has distinguished himself not only by his expert knowledge in town-planning, but also by his profound learning in all subjects connected with the betterment of human life on earth, and his selfless devotion to that cause.'20 He was the first Professor of Sociology and Civics at the University of Bombay (1919–24). In cooperation with his friend Rabindranath Tagore, he worked on plans for an international university in India. Geddes authored The Life and Work of Sir Jagadis C. Bose (1920), the famous physicist, and also made contact with Mahatma Gandhi and Annie Besant.

Swamiji left for Paris in August 1900, where he spoke at the Paris Congress of the History of Religions. He was introduced to the Russian anarchist Peter Kropotkin (1842–1921), as was Sister Nivedita. She held long discussions with him at that time and again in London in 1908. Nivedita liked his emphasis on peaceful methods to bring about political-social change and opposition to centralised government. After escaping from Russia for his opposition to the czarist government, Kropotkin was expelled from Switzerland, jailed in France, and finally settled in England in 1886.

Jamsetji Tata (1839–1904) offered a gift of 200,000 pound sterling to promote higher education in India desiring to obtain advice on the subject from learned people. So Nivedita mailed out a 'statement of opinion' that she wanted to be signed, stating among other things that the project would be 'guided by the best educated Natives as distinguished from European opinion.' One respondent was the famous Harvard psychologist and philosopher William James (1842–1910). He signed her statement and on 3 January 1901, dispatched a letter to Nivedita, as Miss Noble, stating on this issue he favored Native education over the Anglo-Saxon. He also referred to her and Mrs Bull, implying that he was with them in Paris back in August 1900. In 1901, Nivedita and Sara Bull again met William James, this time on a train from London to Edinburgh. In a letter of 15 May, James described Sister Nivedita as possessing 'an extraordinary fine character and mind,' to be 'a most deliberate and balanced person,' 'who has Hinduized herself (converted by Vivekananda to his philosophy) and lives now for the Hindu people.

Nivedita in India 1902–07

Accompanied by Sara Bull and R C Dutt, Nivedita reached Madras on 3 February 1902. There attending a public celebration before a large audience she gave a forceful speech advocating that in social matters Indians should decide what kind of society they desire and not be under foreign domination, while praising the lofty character of Indian women. In order to properly instruct her students at Nivedita Girls' School, she learned the Bengali language. German born consecrated a Bishop in the Church of England at Haiti and the Dominican Republic (1939–42) and then at Nassau (1942–62).

In 1902, Nivedita first visited the Government School of Art, Calcutta, a group of Indian pupils under the direction of the British Principal Ernest Binfield Havell (1861–1934) from 1896 to 1905. They met again in England after she returned in 1907. The two held long discussions and she explained to Havell the basic principles of Indian ascetics and philosophy of art. Their goal along with Abanindranath Tagore and Ananda Coomaraswamy was to revitalize Indian art rather than copy Western methods, which later led to the foundation of the Bengal School of Art. Havell sought to propagate a truer picture in the West of Indian cultural heritage and to discourage young Indians from appreciating the immoral and uninspiring aspects of Western art. Havell authored thirteen books on Indian art and history. Nivedita became the art critic for the Calcutta based Modern Review from its beginning in 1907. In time, Sister Nivedita was introduced by the artist Abanindranath Tagore (1871–1951) to Sir John Woodroffe (1865–1936) at a party of the Art Society held at Justice Homewood's house. Woodroffe gave full support to Abanindranath's School of Art. Woodroffe authored fortyfive articles in the Prabuddha Bharata and Vedanta Kesari (1915–29), was the President of the Vivekananda Society of Calcutta (1917–18), initiated by Shivkali Bhattacharya, was the leading Western authority on Tantra and Kundalini yoga—sometimes writing under the pseudonym Arthur Avalon—served as the Chief Justice of Bengal's High Court (after 1915), and a Reader in Indian law at Oxford University (1923–30).

During the 1902–07 period, Samuel Kerkham Ratcliffe (1868–1958), a journalist and lecturer, was the assistant and then the acting editor of the Statesman, the foremost English newspaper in Calcutta. He edited the Sociological Review during the period 1910–17, and, in 1915, received appointment to be a Lecturer at the South Place Ethical Society in London, later writing a history of that organization. A prolific lecturer in India and England, he favored the cause of Indian self-government. When he lived in Calcutta, Ratcliffe held great admiration for the work Sister Nivedita was doing, and they met again in England. From her he gained a far better understanding of the Indian culture and psyche. Nivedita wrote a number of letters to him and his wife from 25 September 1902 down to the time of her passing. In the Sociological Review of 1913, he composed a two-page tribute of Swami Vivekananda (553–4).

Ratcliffe wrote a twenty-four page 'In Memoriam' concerning Nivedita found in the Preface of Studies From an Eastern Home (1913) where he stated in part: "She was then entirely accepted by her Hindu neighbours. All their doors were open to her. In the bazaars and lanes and by the riverside every-body knew her, and she would be saluted as she passed with an affectionate reverence which was beautiful and touching to see. ... Her house was a wonderful rendezvous. Not often did one meet a Western visitor, save at those times when an English or American friend would be making a stay in Calcutta; but nowhere else, so far as my experience went, was there an opportunity of making acquaintance with so many interesting types of the Indian world. There would come members of Council and leaders in the public affairs of Bengal; Indian artists, men of letters, men of science; orators, teachers, journalists, students; frequently a travelled member of the Order of Ramakrishna, occasionally a wandering scholar, not seldom a public man or leader of religion from a far province. The experience was beyond expression delightful, and its influence, you knew, was to be felt along many lines. ..."

I heard her speak: to groups of students, or in the Calcutta Town Hall before a great audience, on her one absorbing theme–the religion of Nationalism; to English gatherings in hall or church or drawing-room. And I have thought, and still think, that her gift of speech was something which, when fully exercised, I have never known surpassed—so fine and sure was it in form, so deeply impassioned, of such flashing and undaunted sincerity. ... Her dominant notes were clarity and sincerity and an incomparable vitality. She was, of all the men and women one has known, the most vividly alive. ... At all times she toiled with an absolute concentration; her inner life was intense, austere, and deeply controlled. Yet never was anyone more wholly and exquisitely human, more lovely and spontaneous in the sharing of daily services and joys. ...

And those to whom she gave the ennobling gift of her friendship knew her as the most perfect of comrades, while they hold the memory of that gift as this world's highest benediction. They think of her years of sustained and intense endeavour, of her open-eyed and impassioned search for truth, of the courage that never quailed, the noble compassionate heart; they think of her tending the victims of famine and plague, or ministering day by day among the humble folk with whom her lot was cast: putting heart into the helpless and defeated, showing to the young and perplexed the star of a glowing faith and purpose, royally spending all the powers of a rich intelligence and an overflowing humanity for all who called upon her in their need. And some among them count it an honour beyond all price that they were permitted to share, in however imperfect a measure, the mind and confidence of this radiant child of God.

Scottish born Andrew James Fraser Blair (1872–1935) is listed as the editor of the Englishman newspaper (1898–1906), then the editor and managing director of The Empire Commerce and The Empire Gazette, and then the assistant editor of the Statesman, all published in Calcutta. As a book writer he authored three novels under the pen name Hamish Blair. He first came face to face with Nivedita on Christmas day 1902 in Calcutta as a guest of Mr and Mrs Ratcliffe. A couple of years later he heard her lecture at the Town Hall of Calcutta. After her passing Blair described Nivedita in the Empire: "A vehement champion of the East in all its aspects against the West ... a tall, robust woman in the very prime of life. Her face in repose was almost plain. The cheek bones were high and the jaws were square. The face at the first glance expressed energy and determination, but you would hardly have looked at it again but for the forehead and the eyes. The eyes were a calm, deepblue, and literally lit up the whole countenance. The forehead was broad rather than high, and was surmounted by a semi-Indian Sari, fastened to the abundant brown hair. In animation the face and its expression were transfigured, in sympathy with the rich, musical voice. ... To be admitted to her friendship was to establish a claim upon an inexhaustible gold mine. She gave herself without reserve. She lived for her friends and her work. For them she would pour out all her wondrous eloquence, and her vast and curious knowledge, she would travel any distance and would incur any labour and anxiety. Whatever she did, she did with all her might, and she never did anything for herself. ... No kinder-hearted woman ever breathed. Her influence over Young Bengal was greater than most people have ever suspected. ... To those who loved her it is difficult to realise that this vivid, brave, and gifted personality has vanished from our sphere."

(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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