Sunday 31 December 2017

Sister Nivedita’s Interactions with Devotees and Prominent Westerners - 3

यतो धर्म: ततो जय:

At the Sister Nivedita Memorial Meeting at Calcutta on 23 March 1912, Blair added: "We are gathered to do honour to the memory of one of the noblest women God ever made a woman who gave up a most precious life in India and for India—a woman who by her record of courage, self-sacrifice and love, no less than by her radiant personality and her intellectual power, broke down for us the barriers of time and space, and took us back to the spacious days of the Mahabharata and Ramayana.... Her great book The Web of Indian Life represents the highest point yet reached by any Western writer in the study and interpretation of the East. If there were time one might go on for hours expatiating upon the wondrous diversity of her gifts—her eloquence, the acuteness of her perceptions, the firmness of her intellectual grasp, the dazzling purity of her mind, the whole-souled devotion which she was ever ready to pour out upon the cause and the friends she had made her own."

Nivedita contributed to the London based Review of Reviews founded and edited by William T Stead. He became a personal friend and invited her to become his Indian correspondent in London. Because of her commitment to India she could not accept his offer. He sent a letter to her on 1st January 1903 and she to him on 20 September 1904. William T Stead (1849–1912) who died on the Titanic was one of the most influential journalists of his day. He supported world peace, child welfare, social reform legislation, and was an ardent spiritualist.

As a patriot Nivedita actively supported the Indian nationalist movement in many ways, such as going on a lecture tour throughout India to rouse the national consciousness of the people. She established friendship with Indian political and social leaders like Rabindranath Tagore, Mahatma Gandhi, Sri Aurobindo, Bal Gangadhar Tilak, G K Gokhale, and others; and through her writings she authored a number of books that are still well read.While in India she made some contact with prominent Westerners including Annie Besant around the beginning of 1906. She held a cordial relationship with Annie Besant greatly approving of her support for the Indian political and social cause, but had little if any interest in Theosophy. n an 11 April 1906 letter to Josephine MacLeod, Nivedita made her famous prophecy, 'You see, when we who understood Swamiji and remembered him are dead, there will come a long period of obscurity and silence, for the work that He did. It will seem to be forgotten, until, suddenly, in 150 or 200 years,
it will be found to have transformed the West.

During the winter of 1907, Swami Abhedananda sent a letter to William Jennings Bryan (1860–1925) mentioning among other things, 'Our friend Sister Nivedita spoke to me about your visit to her girls' school in Calcutta.' She had 'a particularly joyous breakfast' with Bryan and his wife at the Bagh Bazaar. Bryan a three-time United States Presidential candidate and Secretary of State under Woodrow Wilson, in 1899 wrote an article criticizing 'British Rule in India.' In 1906, he decided to go to India and check things out for himself. At Allahabad he made an earnest appeal for free education for all classes of Indians. Upon his return to the United States, Bryan published the pamphlet 'British Rule in India' (1906) favoring Indian independence (ibid.).

Back to the West 1907–09

On 6 September 1907, Nivedita returned to England where she would meet with her old friends, and make new contacts among the intellectual class. The English cleric, Thomas Kelly Cheyne (1841–1915) was the Oriel Professor of the Interpretation of Christian Scripture at Oxford University between 1885 and 1908. Being the initiator of the 'higher criticism' of the Bible theological movement in England, he published over twenty books dealing with his interpretation of the Biblical Old Testament. T K Cheyne and J Sutherland Black edited the esteemed four volume, 2800-plus-page Encyclopaedia Biblica (1899–1903). Sister Nivedita sent twenty-two letters to her good friend T K Cheyne, from 25 November 1907 up until the time of her passing away in 1911. During her visit to England in 1908 and in 1911, she conversed with Cheyne and her other friends. He later wrote of her, 'The beautiful character of Sister Nivedita is well known to her friends, but needs to be brought before outsiders, especially those of the younger generation. She was like a star, if we should not rather say, like a sun, and it would be sad if this sun should altogether set.' In January 1911, in the Hibbert Journal, T K Cheyne came out with a review of Nivedita's work on Vivekananda, The Master as I Saw Him (1910). This article might have been the first attempt by a Western scholar to interpret and explain the teachings of Vivekananda.

In the Modern Review, Calcutta (February 1912) T. K. Cheyne disclosed : It was The Web of Indian Life which brought us spiritually together. The book fascinated me. I had never before seen India described from the inside. I wrote to her as warmly as I felt, at the same time drawing her attention to the criticisms which some dryasdust professor had brought against her views of history. She replied in glowing terms, at the same time answering my inquiry as to the best sources of information for Hindu religion in its noblest form. She pointed me to the Bhagavad Gita and the lectures of the Swami Vivekananda. This produced a revolution in my view of the capacity of Hindu religion for adapting itself progressively to the spiritual needs of Indians, and for contributing elements of enormous value to the purification, enrichment, and reinterpretation of Christianity ... Sister Nivedita was well aware that I looked for help to the Aryan East, and especially to her and her Master, and this may have been the chief reason why she paid me in the dazzling coin of affection, reverence, and gratitude for the sympathy which I delighted to express to her."

During this time Nivedita made the acquaintance of Sir Henry John Stedman Cotton (1845–1915), who had been the Chief Commissioner of Assam (1896–1902) and a friend of Vivekananda. He served as President of the Indian National Congress (1904) since he favoured Indian Home Rule, and later was a Liberal party member of the British Parliament (1906–10). Her friends in England also included: V H Rutherford later the author of Commonwealth or Empire? (1917) and Modern India (1927); Kier Hardie (1856–1915) a Scottish socialist, the first Labour member of the British Parliament, and a campaigner for Self-Rule for India; Swift MacNeill (1849–1926), an Irish Protestant Nationalist who served in the House of Commons (1887–1918) and a Professor of Constitutional and Criminal Law at the King's Inns, Dublin, Ireland; and a young William Redmond (1886–1932) an Irish nationalist politician who was a member of the House of Commons.

Nivedita also conversed with an old friend Henry Nevinson (1856–1941). In the 1880s, Nevinson became a socialist and befriended Peter Kropotkin and Edward Carpenter. He was a British newspaper war correspondent during the Greco-Turkish War (1897), Spanish-American War (1898), Second Boer War (1899–1902), Russian revolution (1905), and World War I being wounded at Gallipoli. A campaigning journalist and political commentator he uncovered and exposed the practice of extremely harsh slavery by Europeans in Angola, West Africa (1904–05). He was a cofounder of the Men's League for Women's Suffrage (1907). During 1907 Nevinson spent four months traveling throughout India to 'discover the causes of the present discontent and to report, without prejudice, the opinion of leading Indians as well as officials' following the Partition of Bengal in 1905. He was impressed by Tilak, Gokhale, and R Tagore; and described Sri Aurobindo in glowing terms.

Henry Nevinson wrote of Nivedita: "There was, indeed, something flame-like about her, and not only her language but her whole vital personality often reminded me of fire. ...But of all nobly sympathetic natures she was among the finest. She identified herself with the Indians among whom she lived as barely half a dozen men or women from these islands have done before. I do not mean merely by her adoption of Hindu symbolism for thought, nor by her purified form of Hindu worship. ... But her readiness to accept and interpret what was clearest and highest in Hindu thought, her capacity not merely for understanding Indian life, but for discovering and so intensifying the ideal in its customs, and the indignant revolt kindled in her
by the insolence, degradation, and maiming restriction to which every subject race is necessarily exposed–from such imaginative sympathy, I think, arose the extraordinary power which she exercised over the more thoughtful and active of the Indian patriots around her. ... Her greatest book, The Web of Indian Life, reveals the ideal of the Indian spirit with great beauty, and in it there is a passage which seems to illustrate the contrast between the ordinary Anglo-Indian woman's aspect of India and her own."

Sister Nivedita decided to return to the US arriving in Boston on 5 October 1908. She took up residence with Sara Bull and met old acquaintances like Sarah Farmer, Emma Thursby, and Madam Calve. That year Frank J Alexander (d. 1917) had an interview with Sister Nivedita in 1908, at Grand Central Station in New York City. They conversed for about three quarters of an hour and Frank's reaction was: 'During my journalistic experience of five or six years, during which time I have interviewed all types of people from United States Senators to interesting hodcarriers and from famous artists to turbulent leaders of labour, I have never met a personality which impressed me in less than an hour's time with being possessed of such a synthetic mind and cyclonic personal energy.' Inspired by the writing of Vivekananda, Alexander set sail for India and arrived at the Belur Math in 1911. He offered an invaluable service in bringing out the four-volume, The Life of Swami Vivekananda by His Eastern and Western Disciples (1912–18), but since it was a joint venture the extent of his contribution is not known. Later editions of this work proved to be an invaluable source for Marie Louise Burke and others as a foundation for their historical research. In addition, between 1911 and 1913, Frank authored at least twenty-seven articles for the Prabuddha Bharata.

Reverend Jabez Sunderland (1842–1936) became acquainted with Sister Nivedita during her visit to the United States. He came to India in 1895–96 and again in 1913–14, being the first American to speak at a meeting of the Indian National Congress in Poona. For decades Sun derland was the leading American spokesman supporting the freedom of India. His 529-page India in Bondage, Her Right to Freedom and a Place among Nations (1928), was referred to by the patriots as the 'Bible of Indian Struggle for Freedom.

Nivedita left America for England in January 1909 to be with her mother during her last days.

Nivedita's Final Two Years 1909–11

Nivedita returned to India reaching Bombay on 16 July 1909. Henry Nevinson presented Ramsay MacDonald (1866–1937) with a letter of introduction for Nivedita when he came to Calcutta in November 1909. After meeting her on more than one occasion, he was impressed with her intelligence and personality when she explained to him about Indian ideals and philosophy.At a later date MacDonald was Great Britain's first Labor Party Prime Minister (1929–35).

Lady Minto was the wife of the Earl of Minto (1845–1914), the Viceroy and Governor-General of India (1905–10). On 2 March 1910, the day before Lady Minto held a discussion with Swami Shivananda at the Belur Math, she paid a visit to Sister Nivedita and her girls' school. Lady Minto commented, 'I told her I was the Viceroy's wife, which surprised her greatly. She has a charming face, with a very intelligent expression, and we made friends.' A few days later, at Nivedita's request, Lady Minto accompanied her to the Dakshineswar Temple, where Sri Ramakrishna had lived for many years. She toured the grounds and was taken to the Master's bedroom. Before leaving Lady Minto advised Nivedita to continue writing, and invited her to tea privately at the Government House on 18 March. The following year after Nivedita's sudden passing away, Lady Minto wrote a letter of consolation to Sister Christine, saying:"It is with very real regret that I read in the news papers of the sad loss that has been sustained in the death of Sister Nivedita. I cannot resist sending you a few lines of very deep sympathy, and not only for yourself but for all the Indian community for whom she was working. Sister Nivedita had a wonderful personality, and as I look back to the few meetings I had with her with pleasure, and with real admiration for her enthusiasm and single-minded desire to assist others. The world is the poorer for her loss, and for you her constant companion and helper the
blank she leaves must be irreparable."

Sara Bull's health was failing and she requested Nivedita to be at her bedside. So Nivedita returned to America reaching Cambridge in Boston on 15 November 1910. Sara passed away on 18 January 1911 and in her will she bequeath thirty-thousand dollars, equivalent to $770,000 in 2015, to Sister Nivedita.

The daughter of the famous American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807–82), Miss Alice Mary Longfellow (1850–1928) corresponded with Nivedita. They first met in 1900 at the Free Religious Association meetings in Boston where Nivedita delivered a lecture. After Sara Bull's passing in January 1911, Nivedita went to stay with Alice Longfellow in Cambridge, Massachusetts. When Nivedita passed away, she contributed a eulogy to the Boston Evening Transcript of 29 June 1911 praising her. She wrote in part: 'Her bright, intelligent face, her earnest manner and attractive personality, enhanced by the simple white habit of her order, made a strong impression on the audience.' In a 1911 letter written to Josephine MacLeod, Miss
Longfellow indicated, 'I love to think of Margot's [Nivedita's] alert, alive face, and the way she grappled with conversation. It made all the rest of us seem only half alive—and now she must be more alive than then' (2.1254). Alice was one of the founders of Radcliffe College, where on May 8, 1894 Vivekananda spoke on 'Hinduism.' At Radcliffe, she held the position of manager, treasurer, and a member of the Executive Committee.

On 7 April 1911, Nivedita was back in India and soon spoke to Holy Mother. In the fall, Nivedita had an attack of blood dysentery and passed away on 13th October. At the end, Nivedita chanted from the Upanishads, 'Lead us from the unreal to the Real. Lead us from darkness to light. Lead us from death to Immortality,' and breathed her last.

Nivedita's funeral procession was the largest that Darjeeling ever witnessed. Her cremation ceremony was attended by an Anglo-Indian lady, Miss Mary Henrietta Pigot (b. 1837). She had previously witnessed Sri Ramakrishna in samadhi, while on a steam launch up the river to Dakshineswar on 23 February 1882. In 1870, Miss Pigot became the lady Superintendent of the Female Mission of the Scottish Ladies' Association in Calcutta. It was under the control of the Foreign Mission of the Presbyterian Church of Scotland, with headquarters in Edinburgh. After 1884, she was the headmistress of Victoria College, a girls' school.

(Prabuddha Bharata January 2017)

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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