She came, she lived, she loved, she served
And gave her all to India
Sister Nivedita’s original name was Margaret Elizabeth Noble. She was born on October 28, 1867 at Duncannon, co. Tyrone, in far off Ireland. She came from a family called noble who were of Scottish descent but had been settled in Ireland for about five centuries.
Margaret’s parents were Samuel Richmond Noble and Mary Isabel Noble. Rev. Samuel Richmond noble was well known as a preacher and a friend of the poor. Margaret inherited from her father his religious zeal and his passionate love of service to people. After his death Mary and her family shifted to her father’s house in Ireland. Margaret began her schooling there.
After finishing school education Margaret went to college in Halifax and stayed in the hostel. She went to England in 1884 and became a teacher in a school at Keswick. In 1892 she opened a school of her own in Wimbledon. She named it the Ruskin school. Within a short time she came to be known among the leaders of the intellectual society of London as a forward looking educationist.
Inspite of tremendous activities, Margaret’s search for truth was incessant. She understood that religion did not mean belief in doctrines alone; rather it meant search for divine light and eternal truth. She happened to read the life of Buddha with reverence. But it was not enough to dispel all her doubts and give her peace.
In 1895, swami Vivekananda, a Hindu monk arrived in London. One day the swami was invited to lady Isabel Margesson’s house. There Margaret met swami Vivekananda for the first time. Margaret attended all the spiritual discourses delivered by the swami. Gradually and silently light and lofty ideas penetrated into her heart that paved her way towards a greater mission of her future life.
Later swami Vivekananda wrote in a letter to Margaret: ‘the earth’s bravest and best will have to sacrifice themselves for the goal of many, for the welfare of all. Buddhas by hundred are necessary with eternal love and pity.’
Margaret felt that it was a call, a call for which she had been waiting all these years. She made up her mind to go to India and serve the people of India.
Margaret arrived in Calcutta on January 28, 1898. She was cordially welcome by the swami and others. She stayed in a hotel for first few days. After that two American disciples of the swami Sara Bull and miss Josephine Macleod came to India. A bond of love and friendship soon grew between Margaret and the ladies, and they stood by her and helped her till the end of her life.
The month of march, 1898 was very eventful for Margaret. She came to work for India, but was unknown to her people. So Swamiji arranged a public meeting and introduced her thus: ‘already England has given us some of her great intellects to help us in our mission….. And now England has sent us another gift in miss Margaret noble from whom we can expect much.’
The second important event took place on March 17. It was one of the most memorable days of her life. In her diary she called it a ‘day of days’. On that day she met Sri Sarada Moni Devi who was Sri Ramakrishna’s spiritual consort. Accompanied by her two American friends Margaret went to visit the holy mother. Mother greeted them affectionately and called them’ my daughters’. Margaret once wrote to holy mother “……. Surely you are the most wonderful thing of god—Sri Ramakrishna’s own chalice of love for the world—a token left with his children, …..”
The third and the most important event took place on March 25. It was a Friday. On that day her life was consecrated to the service of god. Her master gave her the beautiful name ‘Nivedita’ meaning one who is dedicated or offered to god. She thus became ‘chosen’ of god when she was thirty years old. Margaret – now Nivedita- felt blessed.
In the summer of 1898, the swami, Nivedita and the others left for Almora in the Himalayas. On the way they passed through various places. Nivedita was delighted to see the historical city of Patna, the great pilgrimage of Benaras, and the industrial city of Lucknow. Throughout the journey the swami pointed out and explained to them about the vast landmasses of India, her glorious history, the religion and eternal principles and all about her people with all diversities.
Nivedita’s most memorable visit was that to the cave of Amarnath high up in the Himalayas. She went with her guru. Nivedita entered the sacred cave and worshipped lord Shiva in the form of Shiva-Linga.
Since Nivedita had become a member of the Ramakrishna order, she had to strive to reach its twofold ideal: ‘ salvation for oneself and the welfare of the world.’ that means one should live a simple, pure, and holy life in order to realize god; and also humbly work for the welfare of all people, remembering that god dwelt in all. Nivedita not only learnt this lesson but she was soon to put it into practice.
Nivedita reached this ideal so perfectly and emerged as the ‘true daughter’ of mother India; ‘more Indian than Indians’. Our great national leader Bipin Chandra Paul wrote of her later: ‘Nivedita came to us, as no European has yet come, not as an adept, but as a novice; not as a teacher, but as a learner. She did not pose before us as a prophetess but always stood in sincere love and reverence as a worshipper.’
On her return to Calcutta Nivedita went to stay with the holy mother in her house at Baghbazar. After a week’s stay in mother’s house, Nivedita returned to her own house at 16, Bosepara lane, now she decided to start a school for girls there. Her school was founded on November 13, 1898. It was the auspicious day of Kalipuja. Holy mother Sri Sarada Devi herself performed the opening ceremony in presence of swami Vivekananda, swami Bramhananda and swami Saradananda of Ramakrishna order. At the end, the holy mother uttered a blessing: ‘may the divine mother shower her blessings upon the school, and the girls it trained should be ideal girls.’ Nivedita wrote later: ‘i cannot imagine a greater omen than her blessing, spoken over the educated Hindu womanhood of the future.’
The orthodox society of Bengal could not accept this European sister at once. She struggled hard to make them understand, how eager she was to serve them! She went door to door, knelt down at the feet of the guardians and requested them to send their girls to her school. Neighbors ill- treated her; but soon people realize that Nivedita was more Indian than Indians. So they started sending their girls, sister Nivedita and her school became the centre of shelter to the local girls, widows and married ladies.
The children loved their sister’s school and Nivedita herself was overjoyed.
The following march bubonic plague raged in Calcutta. Swami Vivekananda immediately set his monks and followers to work. They formed a plague service and Nivedita was in charge of it. The district medical officer wrote in his report: ‘during this calamity the compassionate figure of sister Nivedita was seen in every slum of the Baghbazar locality. She helped others with money without giving a thought to her own condition. At one time when her own diet consisted only of milk and fruits, she gave up milk to meet the medical expenses of a patient. ’
Soon after opening the school, Nivedita realized that , it was difficult to run the school without funds. Accompanied by swami Vivekananda she left for Europe and America in the middle of June 1899 with a mission to raise funds for her school. In New York she formed “the Ramakrishna guild of help in America”, and published a booklet called ‘the project of the Ramakrishna school for girls’.
Nivedita arrived back in India in February 1902. In this year sister Christine, a disciple of the swami, joined the school to help sister Nivedita. Their work progressed rapidly. The great historian Jadunath Sarkar wrote: ‘the Nivedita girls’ school became a centre of light and an example to us.’
Nivedita said: if the whole of India could agree to give, say, ten minutes every evening, at the oncoming of darkness to thinking a single thought, “we are one , we are one nothing can prevail against us to make us think we are divided. We are one, and all antagonisms amongst us are illusions”—the power that would be generated can hardly be measured”.
Now and again Nivedita fell ill. The climate of the country, her austere habits, and, above all, hard work told upon her health. She gave her all to India. Now she needed rest………………
On the morning of October 13 at about seven she entered into deep meditation uttering the verses from the Upanishads:
From the unreal lead us to the real
From darkness lead us to light
From death lead us to immortality.
Her last words were: ‘the frail boat is sinking, but I shall yet see the sunrise.’ the daughter of mother India went to sleep in her lap for eternity.
Her body was cremated on the Hindu cremation ground of Darjeeling. A memorial was raised on that holy spot. It is written on a marble tablet:
Repose the ashes
Of the Ramakrishna- Vivekananda
who gave her all to India