Category Archives: Significant Figures

Annie Besant

Annie Besant was an English woman who would come to be an advocate for the Hindu religion and women’s educational rights in India. Born in 1847, Besant grew up in a home where her father valued science over religion and her mother was a devout Anglican. Her parents’ differing views on religion would come to impact Besant’s beliefs and work as she grew up. She came to associate England and India by gendered terms. England being male and paternal in its rationality and materialism, and India as female due to its spirituality and mysticism. Besant’s father died when she was only five years old, thus, she grew up mainly influenced by her mother’s Christian beliefs. She received a good education from a wealthy woman who agreed to privately tutor her because her mother could not afford public education. Besant married a clergyman, however, her marriage quickly became tumultuous as she began to denounce her Christian faith. Besant would refuse to take communion and unsurprisingly this angered her clergyman husband. This led to a fractious marriage and an eventual separation (Anderson 2002:28).

More and more Besant began to question the Christian faith. The illness of her young daughter Mabel was one such event which drew Besant towards an atheist mindset. She eventually joined the National Secular Society which was lead by Charles Bradlaugh. Besant and Bradlaugh formed a strong friendship and he helped foster her free-thinking ideas.  Besant also became acquainted with George Bernard Shaw at this time (Oppenheim 13). With her new secularist mindset, Besant did not deny the presence of God but rather attributed consequences to human action. Before, her Christian faith had led her to believe that the universe revolved around God as the one true deity. In contrast, secularism allowed humans to be accountable for evil and for the consequences, whether it be rewards or punishment (Oppenheim 14).

In the year 1874, Annie Besant went to London and there she became known as ‘Red Annie.’ She supported such issues as women’s suffrage, use of birth control, secularism and socialism. Besant made it very clear that she was against the imperialism of England. She became a rebel figure because she went against the Victorian ideals that existed at the time in England. A series of articles written by Besant in the 1870’s demonstrated her discontent over England’s control of India. At this time, Besant identified herself as an atheist socialist but in 1889 she turned to the religion of Theosophy (Anderson 1994: 565). This particular religion was new at the time Besant converted to it and was based on discovering the hidden meanings or mysteries behind divinity. It sought to explain the relationships or bonds between the universe, humans, and the divine. Her conversion to Theosophy was met with consternation from her fellow secularists and from Indian theosophists. She had been a woman who did not believe in God and wanted the separation of religion and the state, and now she was affiliating herself with a religion where “all major creeds are paths to God” (Anderson 2002:28). Oppenheim (1989) suggests that her conversion to Theosophy was not as surprising as many thought. She had been questioning the secularist and atheist thoughts for some time, and had found that they did not allow for brotherhoods to be formed, but rather pitted different groups against each other (15). Besant remained a follower of Theosophy for the rest of her life and based much of her work on its ideologies.

1907 was an important year for Besant as she became the president of the Theosophical Society.  By this time Besant had already become quite assimilated into Indian culture. The base for the Theosophical Society was in India and Besant tried to participate in Indian life as fully as possible. She moved to India permanently and wore a white sari, as widows do, because it demonstrated mourning over the wrongdoings Britain had committed in India (Anderson 2002:29). She explained her affinity for India by claiming that she felt she had been Indian in another lifetime [Ingalls (1965) mentions how Besant discovered that many of her incarnations took place in India]. Whilst in the Theosophical Society, Besant focussed much of her work on supporting the domesticity of Indian women. Besant believed that it was important that Indian customs be upheld and this included women carrying out their traditional roles in the home. She received some criticism for this viewpoint because she had been so against the Victorian idea of a private sphere for women in her native land of England. Indeed many ambiguities arose with Besant’s ideas. One such ambiguity or criticism Besant faced was her lack of political conviction. In the year 1885 the Indian National Congress, composed of British members, was attempting to include more Indians in the governance of India. Besant had long been known to be against the Imperial supremacy of Britain yet she did not seem to have any qualms with British involvement in India’s government. She was quoted once as saying that “an Indian does not resent being governed; for he thinks the duty of a ruler is to rule, but he does resent the insolence often shown by the very juvenile civilians” that Britain was sending to India (Anderson 2002:30). Rather, Besant chose to focus mainly on the spiritual nature of India as she believed that this was the most vital part of its essence. She was concerned that western ideologies were crippling to India’s traditional Hindu beliefs and practices.

Bust of Annie Besant in the Theosophical Society headquarters (Adyar, Tamil Nadu, India)
Bust of Annie Besant in the Theosophical Society headquarters (Adyar, Tamil Nadu, India)

In order to preserve India’s Hindu background, Besant turned her efforts towards education. She felt that it was important to educate the young males on the religion, and history of India in order that they may be proud citizens of India in the future. In this way, Besant was trying to ensure that the western ideals of the British did not permeate into India and eradicate its important history and spirituality. Besant tried to distance herself from social reforms, wanting to focus mainly on the preservation of India’s Hindu culture. However, in the early 1900s she did become involved in advocating against child marriages and the seclusion of women. It is important to note that her support of these issues in no way negated her belief that women should still be domestic. When she began a school for young girls, the goal was that their education would help them to be better wives, not to help them achieve independence (Anderson 2002: 31). Tradition held that the men dealt in public affairs outside of the home and that women were mothers and wives who concerned themselves with domestic affairs. It is clear that Besant did not believe Indian women to be suppressed because of this (Anderson 1994: 567). To her, they seemed quite content in their societal roles and thus no change needed to be made. In the Central Hindu School (Besant’s school for boys) and her school for girls, Besant ensured that Sanskrit was taught as vigorously as the English language. Just as in the schools run by the British, her schools also taught important morals. However, Besant had more success than the British run universities in India because she tailored her curriculums to Indian culture. Figures such as St. Paul would be replaced in a lesson with Sri Rama; King Alfred was replaced by Sivaji. Besant’s devotion to Hindu tradition and custom in the education of India’s youth won her over with her pupils and their parents (Ingalls 86).

The year 1913 was significant for Besant because it was then that she turned to political pursuits. Having been distant from involving herself in issues of a political nature, Besant was thrown into the realm of politics when she was taken to court by a man whose sons were under her guardianship.  Accusations about one of her colleagues were made and this cast a shadow on the Theosophical Society. As a result, Besant felt an increasing need, in her own words: “to enter more than I have hitherto done into the social life of Madras” (Stafford 62-63).  After her negative experience in court, she formed ‘The Brothers of India.’  This was a group committed to looking out for India’s best interests with a focus on Hinduism as the mode towards their means. The men in this group were from the Theosophical Society and they had seven guidelines, which they were to follow in order to serve India’s best interests. The first six guidelines reflected many of Besant’s early beliefs. For example, these men were to only have their daughters marry when they were seventeen years of age to promote the education of the masses and to not ostracize widows for remarrying. The seventh guideline was most significant which “committed all members to a combined programme of spiritual, educational, social and political reform, and the placing of the programme under the guidance and direction of the Indian National Congress” (Stafford 64). Before, there had been reforms for each of these areas individually, but Besant wanted to unite all of these areas and to place equal importance on all reforms together. The Indian National Congress was asked to take the programme under its direction but they felt that it was not their place to interfere in these reforms because they were focussed solely on political ventures. However, Annie Besant was not deterred. She sought to bring the different groups and movements into one strong voice.

Home Rule for India was brought forth by Besant. She believed that both India and Britain would be better off if India was permitted to be self-governing. Stafford (1983) suggests that Besant’s Irish background influenced her decision to have a Home Rule for India. Besant wrote many articles which stressed how India would be a much more valuable ally as a nation free from colonialism as opposed to being a colonial state. She discussed the many grievances that India had suffered under British rule. According to Besant, Britain continuously benefitted more from India than India did from itself. Britain prevented India’s capital from remaining within the nation. As well, in terms of education, missionaries wanted Indians to convert, and the British geared education towards their own means; the cultivation of more clerks and junior officials was often the British goal (Stafford 66-67).  With the approaching war (World War I), Besant asserted that it was important for India to recognize her own nationhood. In 1916 Besant was finally successful in achieving a Home Rule for India. A meeting between the Congress and the Moslem League occurred.  As Ingalls (1965) suggests, this was very significant because an agreement called the Lucknow Agreement determined that in the event of Indian self-government, “two-thirds majority of either religious community would hold a veto power” (87).  Unfortunately, the Congress did not honor this agreement. Being the strong-willed woman that she was, Besant continued to give speeches to gain support. She was then placed under house arrest by a governor of Madras [see Anderson (2002: 39) for more information on the Governor’s actions against Besant]. Much to the dismay of the Congress, Besant had many devout followers, and her house arrest only served to make her a martyr for her cause. Gandhi was amongst her supporters, as well as other male Indian nationalists. People were dismayed to hear of the treatment of Besant. She was called Mother Besant by many and had won over the hearts of the people with her passionate belief in Indian nationalism. Significantly, Besant’s internment brought forth many Indian women activists for women’s rights. Others who normally would not have supported an English woman as a nationalist leader also protested her internment. When she was released after three months, she became the President of the Indian National Congress in December of 1917 (Ingalls 87-88).

Now as president, Besant was able to induce change for women’s rights in India. As she had done in the past, Besant did not denounce the important role in the home of the women, but rather suggested that women had an ancient importance and that their emancipation was needed so that they could fulfill their ancient position. In this way, Besant appealed to the traditionalism of Indian women and men, while still implying that some changes needed to be made. In late 1917 Besant formed and presided over the first feminist organization in India. It was called the Women’s Indian Association (Anderson 2002:47). Many women looked up to Besant as someone who had defied the odds and demonstrated that women could have a voice and the power to affect change in a male-dominated world. After 1917, her influence began to decrease. Gandhi was at the forefront of India’s nationalism and many saw him as a more appropriate leader for the Indian cause because he was a swadeshi or home made nationalist. Besant disagreed with many of Gandhi’s ideas and she lost favor with many because of this. To many, it seemed that she had become pro-government despite her original Home Rule intentions for India, however, she had simply altered her views because the political climate of India had changed. Besant had once been deemed an incarnate goddess, but at this time she was being referred to as a demoness and some called her Putana [this is a demoness from the epic Ramayana. She is known to have put poison on her breasts and suckled the child Lord Krsna, thus killing him (Anderson 2002:50)]. Interestingly, Gandhi, though he had many qualms with Besant’s views, stood up for her against the harsh words she was receiving from those who once supported her.

The last years of Besant’s career were difficult times for her. She resigned from the Home Rule League she had founded and Gandhi took her place as president. Moreover, she also resigned from the Indian National Congress. Besant was embittered by the way in which she was disregarded, but she continued to persevere. She formed a new National Home Rule League and eventually rejoined the Indian National Congress, though not in a leading position. Besant died in the year 1933 at the age of eighty-six. Towards the end of her career she was marginalized, however, many still fondly remembered her as Mother Annie Besant. She was the English woman with the Indian soul who fought for a more free India (Anderson 2002:49-51).

 

 

 

REFERENCES AND FURTHER RECOMMENDED READING

 

Anderson, Nancy Fix (2002) “Mother Besant and Indian National Politics.” The Journal of        Imperial and Commonwealth History, Vol. 30, No. 3: p.27-54. London: Frank Cass

 

Anderson, Nancy Fix (1994) “Bridging Cross-cultural Feminisms: Annie Besant and women’s   rights in England and India, 1874-1933.” Women’s History Review, Vol. 3, No. 4: p.       563-580. New Orleans: Routledge Taylor and Francis Group.

 

Ingalls, Daniel H.H. (1965) “The Heritage of a Fallible Saint: Annie Besant’s Gifts to India.”         Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, Vol. 109, No. 2: p. 85-88.     Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society.

 

Mortimer, Joanne Stafford (1983) “Annie Besant and India 1913-1917.” Journal of      

            Contemporary History, Vol. 18, No. 1: p. 61-78. London: Sage Publications, Ltd.

 

Oppenheim, Janet (1989) “The Odyssey of Annie Besant.” History Today, Vol. 39, No. 9: p.        12-18. Bell & Howell Information and Learning Company.

 

 

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Atheism

Central Hindu School

Charles Bradlaugh

Commonweal (newspaper)

Home Rule League

Indian National Congress

Madame Blavatsky

Madras

nationalist movement (India)

National Reformer (newspaper)

New India (newspaper)

‘Red Annie’

Secularism

‘The Brothers of India’

Theosophical Society

 

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

 

http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/historic_figures/besant_annie.shtml

 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Annie_Besant

 

http://www.ts-adyar.org/content/annie-besant-1847-1933

http://spartacus-educational.com/Wbesant.htm

 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theosophical_Society

 

http://www.ts-adyar.org/

 

https://theosophical.org/the-society/history-of-the-society

 

http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/285841/Indian-National-Congress

 

Article written by: Haley Kleckner (March 2015) who is solely responsible for its content.

Bal Gangadhar Tilak

Bal Gangadhar Tilak (1856-1920)

Bal Gangadhar Tilak was a Hindu Indian independence activist, journalist, lawyer and social reformer. Tilak was often referred to as “The Father of Indian Unrest,” originally a derogatory term allotted to him by the British authorities, it is now considered a favorable title (Pati 52). Tilak was also given the honorary title of “Lokmanya,” meaning “accepted by the people.” Tilak greatly valued education and believed that by educating the people of India Indian independence could be achieved. [For a brief history of the Indian Independence Movement see Christopher (2002)]. Bal Gangadhar Tilak began his political career by engaging in various political debates. He eventually became the leader of the extremist wing of the Indian National Congress. Bal Gangadhar Tilak was a devout Hindu holding the distinct belief that Hinduism was the most superior religion on Earth. He believed that the Hindu religion held the key to achieving Indian Independence.

Born on July 23, 1856 in Ratnagiri, India as a Chitpawan Brahmin, Bal Gangadhar Tilak was among the first generation of Indians to receive a college education (Sharma 192). He graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in 1876, and received a Bachelor of Law in 1880 from Deccan College (Sharma 192). Tilak was greatly influenced by his grandfather who had borne witness to some of the atrocities and achievements that occurred during the Indian Mutiny (Sharma 193). This would come to influence his political ideologies later in life.

Bal Gangadhar Tilak was instrumental in advancing the education of the people of India. Tilak said “The salvation of our motherland lay in education and only education of the people” (Sharma 193). His first educational endeavor was in 1880 as a co-founder of Poona’s New English School (Brown 1961:76). Later in 1884, Tilak, along with several of his colleagues, founded the Deccan Education Society (Brown 1961:76). The following year the Deccan Education Society established Fergusson College in Poona. Tilak’s educational activism reflected his belief that educating the masses was the only way to achieve Indian independence.

Bal Gangadhar Tilak established two newspapers, the Mahratta, published in English, and the Kesari, published in Marathi (Brown 1961:77). Both newspapers were intended to promote education among the Hindus of Western India. The newspapers were also meant to promote mass agitation among Indians, a conscious effort to mobilize Indians against British rule (Brown 1961:77). Both newspapers were widely successful and managed to gain the attention of the British authorities. This attention, coupled with Tilak’s ambition of mobilizing the people of India to fight for independence, would cause Tilak legal difficulties in the future.

One of Bal Gangadhar Tilak’s first political experiences occurred as a result of the Age of Consent Bill of 1890, which proposed raising the minimum age of cohabitation for Hindu marriages from 10 to 12 years of age (Sharma 194). Tilak did not disagree with the content of the bill, but disagreed with the British government’s ability to establish and enforce the bill. He felt that legal decisions should be made by Indians upon the attainment of Indian self government, rather than by a foreign government (Brown 1961:77). Tilak often stated “Indian social problems must be solved by Indians” (Sharma 195).

During a three year period from 1905-1908 the British government decided to divide the province of Bengal into two separate provinces, which they claimed was for the purpose of “administrative convenience” (Sharma 195). Tilak and two of his colleagues, Lala Lajpat Rai and Binpin Chandra Pal, created the Lal-Bal-Pal political regime to protest what they believed was actually an attempt to “divide and rule” by the British government (Sharma 195). The Lal-Bal-Pal regime is often considered the first instance of Indian nationalism and spurred the Swadeshi (indigenous goods) Movement (Muralidharan 12). [For more information on the economic and social impact of the Swadeshi Movement see Biswas (1995)]. Their program of “swaraj, swadeshi and national education” provided the impetus required to mobilize the people of India (Nambodiripad 4).

Tilak played a fundamental role in the Swadeshi Movement. The aim of the Swadeshi Movement was to gain swaraj or “self rule” for India through the establishment of economic self sufficiency. Tilak often stated “swaraj is my birthright; and I will have it” (Nambodiripad 3). Tilak used the movement as an opportunity to extend his political influence to both the working class and the citizens of Bombay (Pati 61).

Bal Gangadhar Tilak became a member of the Indian National Congress in 1890. In 1907 diverging opinions within the Indian National Congress had reached an apex, which resulted in the “Surat Split,” dividing members of Congress into two camps; the “moderates” and the “extremists” (Guha 115).   Tilak came to represent the extremists, and his lifelong acquaintance, Gopal Krishna Gokhale, represented the moderates. [Guha (2010) provides an account of Gopal Krishna Gokhale’s life and political career]. As leader of the extremists, Tilak’s mandate included “self government, national education, and the use of boycott” and passive resistance (Brown 1961:78). Tilak never did become president of the Indian National Congress.

Bal Gangadhar Tilak was imprisoned twice in his lifetime. The first imprisonment in 1897 was for sedition and lasted eighteen months (Guha 117). Sedition in this instance was defined as “spreading disaffection against the British Indian government” (Karve 208). In 1908 Tilak was charged with sedition for the second time (Guha 117). His actions were seen as “intensifying racial animosity between Indians and the British” (Guha 117). He served his six year sentence in Burma. The news of Tilak’s imprisonment caused outrage in Bombay where textile workers in seventy mills went on strike and ultimately shut down production (Guha 117). This provides evidence of the widespread support and popularity that Tilak had gained among the Indian working class. He was tried for sedition a third time in 1916, however he was successfully acquitted of the charges (Guha 118).

The Hindu religion was very important to Bal Gangadhar Tilak, both as his practiced religion as well as for political purposes. He believed that Hinduism, and its various sects, ought to be united in order to form one ‘mighty Hindu nation’ (Harvery 321). Tilak believed that this unity could be achieved by simply adhering to the principles outlined in traditional Hindu texts such as the Bhagavad Gita and the Ramayana (Harvey 321). [Chaitanya (1987) provides modern insight into the contents of the Bhagavad Gita. For insight into the Ramayana see Hindery (1976)]. He outlined his philosophy in his book titled Gita Rahasya, meaning “The Secret of the Gita,” which he wrote during his six year imprisonment in Burma (Sharma 196). The principle that Tilak emphasized the most in his book was found in the Bhagavad Gita. It was the need for activism, or action, which he felt should be applied to religion and politics. This call for action is often referred to as Karma Yoga, a principle in Brahmanic theory insisting upon the warrior’s responsibility to fight (Brown 1958:197). He also advocated the superiority of the Hindu religion over the religions of the West in Gita Rahasya (Sharma 197). Ultimately Bal Gangadhar Tilak sought the use of principles found within the Bhagavad Gita to revitalize Hinduism, replace Western philosophy, and legitimize political action (Harvey 322).

In addition to the Gita Rahasya Tilak wrote two books on Vedic Studies. This included The Orion in 1893, and The Arctic Home Of The Vedas in 1903. In both books he attempted to use science to reveal the history of Hinduism in an attempt to reconstruct Hindu history (Sharma 197). His aim was to separate Hindu tradition from the work of Western academics. The “Aryan theory of race” characterized by Tilak in these books would become of crucial importance to Hindu revitalization (Muralidharan 16).

Tilak sought to strengthen the Hindu tradition and Indian consciousness through the revival of two Hindu festivals, one dedicated to the deity Ganapati, and the other to Sivaji (Brown 1961:78). Tilak managed to transform the Ganapati celebration from a private in-the-home affair into a mass celebration. He began the Sivaji festival to celebrate the achievements and memory of the medieval warrior chief by the same name (Guha 116). He ultimately used these festivals as a mode of political mobilization for the Indian Independence Movement.

Tilak joined together the Hindu religion and Indian politics in order to emphasize his policy of Hindu nationalism. He believed that religion played a very important role in nationality. Tilak’s historical interpretations led him to believe that Indian unity existed only during times when Hinduism’s predominance was secure, and chaos and disorder were prevalent when the Hindu religion reached a low point (Muralidharan 12). Tilak has often been credited with exercising a policy of exclusionary nationalism, emphasizing the distinctness of the Hindu religion rather than cultural tolerance. A great example of this religious intolerance was Tilak’s revival of the Hindu Ganapati festival, which often occurred during the same time as the Islamic Muharram observance. As such, the festival became an occasion for fighting between Muslims and Hindus (Muralidharan 13). Hinduism, being a class-based religion, excluded the lower classes of the religion in many instances. Therefore, in addition to alienating much of the Muslim Indian population, Hindu nationalism also alienated much of the lower caste Hindu population. Ultimately, Tilak’s policy of Hindu nationalism was unitary and intolerant of diversity, making him a controversial historical figure.

After his release from prison in 1914 Tilak was run down both physically and spiritually. He was willing to accept Dominion status within the British Empire as opposed to complete independence (Guha 117). He also called upon India to support England in World War One and began to praise some of the beneficial aspects of the British government (Pati 53). He remained active in politics and went back to being a Congressman in 1915 (Pati 52). However, the polarization that had resulted in the Moderates and Extremists was no longer relevant upon his return. In 1916 he went on to form the All India Home Rule League, which further voiced Indian demand for self government.

Bal Gangadhar Tilak died on August 1, 1920 at the age of 64. Tilak left an enduring legacy. After his death he became recognized as the first “father of the movement for the liberation of India,” a cause that would later be adopted by Mahatma Gandhi (Karve 208). [See Spear (1969) for a historical account of the independence activism of Mahatma Gandhi]. The Swadeshi Movement that Tilak helped initiate ultimately achieved its goal when Indian independence was achieved in 1947. Through his political activism, Hindu nationalism, and various modes of religious and political mobility Tilak was able to lay the groundwork for the future of the Indian Independence Movement.

 

 

References and Further Recommended Reading

Biswas, A. K. (1995) “Paradox of Anti-Partition Agitation and Swadeshi Movement in Bengal (1905).” Social Scientist, Vol. 23, No. 4/6:38-57.

Brown, Mackenzie (1961) Indian Political Thought: From Ranade to Bhave. Los Angeles: University of California Press.

_______ (1958) “The Philosophy of Bal Gangadhar Tilak: Karma vs. Jnana in the Gita Rahasya.” The Journal of Asian Studies, Vol. 17, No. 2:197- 206.

Chaitanya, Krishna (1987) “Rediscovering the Gita: The Gita for Modern Man.” India International Centre Quarterly, Vol. 14, No. 1:120-125.

Christopher, A. J. (2002) “Decolonisation Without Independence.” Geojournal, Vol. 56, No. 3:213- 224.

Guha, Ramachandra (2010) Makers of Modern India. New Delhi: Penguin Group.

Harvey, Mark (1986) “The Secular as Sacred?-The Religio-Political Rationalization of B.G. Tilak.” Modern Asian Studies, Vol. 20, No. 2: 321-331.

Hindery, Roderick (1976) “Hindu Ethics in the Ramayana .” The Journal of Religious Ethics, Vol. 4, No. 2:287-322.

Karve, D. D. (1961) “The Deccan Education Society.” The Journal of Asian Studies, Vol. 20, No.2:205-212.

Muralidharan, Sukumar (1994) “Patriotism Without People: Milestones in the Evolution of the Hindu Nationalist Ideology.” Social Scientist, Vol. 22, No. 5/6 :3-38.

Nambodiripad, E. M. S. (1986) “The Left in India’s Freedom Movement and in Free India.” Social Scientist , Vol. 14, No. 8/9:3-17.

Pati, Biswamoy (2007) “Nationalist Politics and the ‘Making’ of Bal Gangadhar Tilak.” Social Scientist, Vol. 35, No. 9/10:52-66.

Roy, Himanshu (1993) “Builders of Modern India.” Social Scientist, Vol. 21, No. 12:60-62.

Sharma, Arvind (2002) Modern Hindu Thought: The Essential Text. New York: Oxford University Press.

Spear, Percival (1969) “Mahatma Gandhi.” Modern Asian Studies. Vol. 3, No. 4:291- 304

Related Topics For Further Investigation

Bhagavad Gita

Gopal Krishna Gokhale

India Independence

Mahatma Ghandi

Ramayana

Swadeshi Movement

 

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/595729/Bal-Gangadhar-Tilak

http://www.princeton.edu/~achaney/tmve/wiki100k/docs/Bal_Gangadhar_Tilak.html

http://www.freeindia.org/biographies/freedomfighters/tilak/index.html

http://blogs.ulethbridge.ca/mahavidya/files/2010/05/Tiberg-Karma-Gandhi-Yes.pdf

http://www.princeton.edu/~achaney/tmve/wiki100k/docs/Bal_Gangadhar_Tilak.html

http://blogs.ulethbridge.ca/mahavidya/files/2008/06/hansen-christel-bhagavad-gita.pdf

 

Article written by Jessica Kelly (March 2013) who is solely responsible for its content.

Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan

Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan (1888 – 1975)

Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan was a philosopher, politician and academic and was considered one of the greatest Indian thinkers of the twentieth century.  He was born on September 5, 1888 and lived to age 86.  Throughout his adult life he was a well known public figure in his native India, serving as both Vice-President and President. In addition to his political career, he was also a renowned writer on Hindu philosophy. Radhakrishnan is known to some as a “bridge builder” between the East and the West for his efforts to expand Western society’s knowledge about India and their understanding of Hindu thought and religion. He showed that the philosophical systems of each tradition are comprehensible within the terms of the other (Behur 1-4). One is hard pressed to find Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan’s own words about his life story since he steadfastly refused to write an autobiography (Braue 1-2).

Early Life

Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan was born during a time when Hinduism was in the midst of being renewed and restored in the hearts of millions of Indians (Harris 2-3). He was the second of five sons and one daughter born to Sarvepalli Veeraswamy and Sitamma, poor Brahmins living in the town of Tirutani in Tamil Nadu state.  Tirutani had a population of about 170 000 and was considered a pilgrimage destination due to its major Subrahmanya temple (Minor 4). Radhakrishnan’s family kept the name Sarvepalli as an indication of their place of origin. In the middle of the 18th century the family moved from Sarvepalli to another village located in the Nellore district of Andhra Pradesh. All were devout Vaisnavaties and worshipped the well-known god Krsna (Minor 3-4).  Radhakrishnan’s early life was spent in the religious centers of the small towns of Tirutani and Tirupati.  His father was employed as a subordinate revenue official in the service of the local Zamindar [landlord] and with limited income the family lived in relative poverty.

Education

Radhakrishnan grew up in a traditional Hindu atmosphere (Harris 3). His parents were very orthodox and his father did not want his son to learn English [his mother tongue was Telugu] and pressed his boy to become a priest. However, despite their orthodox views, his parents sent him away to several Christian Missionary Institutions – the Lutheran Mission School in Tirupati (1896 – 1900), Voorhee’s college, Vellore (1900 – 1904) and Madras Christian College in Madras (1904 – 1908) (Kohli 38-39). Sarvepalli was an excellent student and was awarded multiple scholarships which helped sustain him throughout his academic career.

In 1906, he received a B.A. with honours in philosophy, and in 1909 obtained an M.A. and was a most distinguished alumni. He main interest was in the Vedas and Upanishads and spent much of his time specializing in these subjects as well as studying Hindi and the Sanskrit language. He wrote his thesis for his M.A. on the ‘Ethics of the Vedanta and its Metaphysical Presuppositions”. At only age 20 his thesis was recognized and published. Radhakrishnan’s passion for philosophy developed more by chance than choice. A cousin, recently graduated from the same college, was kind enough to pass on his textbooks in philosophy.  This generosity decidedly influenced his academic path (Kohli 40-41).

Marriage and Family

In 1903, at age 16, it was arranged by his family that Radhakrishnan was to be married to Siva Kumaramma, his 10 year old first cousin (Minor 4). The couple had their first daughter together in 1908, the first of six children over the proceeding fifteen years. Their family included four daughters and two sons, one of which died shortly after birth (Kohli 39). Their youngest son, Sarvepalli Gopal, would go on to become a distinguished and notable historian and biographer (Braue 4). Radhakrishnan’s devoted wife, Sivakamu, died on November 26, 1956 and their marriage was “the end of a long chapter”, as he put it.

Teaching Career

Sarvepalli’s education had shaped a most disciplined mind and strong individual, acquiring many qualities of a potentially great leader. Spanning from 1909 to 1952, his career had three notable phases, teacher of philosophy, leader in higher education and finally politician and statesman.

In 1909 he accepted a teaching position at the Madras Presidency College in the Philosophy department where he spent seven years teaching and researching in the area of Indian Philosophy and Religion.  In 1916, he advanced to a full professorship (Braue 4).  He impressed the senior professor of philosophy so much that his mentor actually ended up asking him to lecture his classes. Radhakrishnan was endowed with a great intellect and gifted with an amazing memory enabling him to employ a vast vocabulary and eloquent communication style, to great advantage (Kohli 38-40).

The Vice-Chancellor of the University of Calcutta took notice of this extraordinary academic mind and offered Sarvepalli the King George V Chair of Mental and Moral Science, a prestigious position which he occupied twice – from 1921 to 1931 and again from 1937 to 1941.  He was clearly honoured by this appointment and described the position as “the most important philosophy chair in India”.  As chair, he represented the University of Calcutta at the Congress of the Universities of the British Empire and the International Congress of Philosophy at Harvard in 1926.  Radhakrishnan also presented many lectures at numerous universities: Chicago, London, Manchester and Oxford.  He then accepted a position at Manchester College in Oxford in addition to teaching comparative religion at the University of Oxford (Braue 4).

In 1931, he was knighted by England for his great services to education and subsequently stepped down as the King George V Chair in order to accept the Sir Sayaji Rao  Gaekwad Chair at Banaras Hindu University. Later in his academic career he also occupied the Spalding Chair in England until 1952, when he was appointed Professor Emeritus at Oxford. (Braue 4-6).

The second key phase of Radhakrishnan’s life, as a leader in higher education, spanned from 1931 to 1962.  He was made the Vice-Chancellor of Andhra University and served as a member of the International Committee on Intellectual Cooperation of the League of Nations. Throughout this time he delivered many presentations at universities all over his native India.

During World War II he also toured and lectured in China (Braue 6-7), and from 1953 to 1962 he held the post of chancellor of Delhi University.  In 1940, he achieved a milestone by being the first Indian to be elected as Fellow of the British Academy. As a professor, he was always very popular with his students and was loved and respected as a remarkable teacher. The genesis of his popularity was his genuine empathy and his great ability to engage people of all ages. This combination of attributes and skills continued to win him respect throughout his long and memorable public life (Behura 3).

Rise in Politics and Political Career

After the end of the Second World War, Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan began a shift from his academic career with a view to apply his philosophy and religious studies toward political and social development.  He served as head of the Indian delegation to the UNSECO conferences held in Paris from 1946 – 1952 (Braue 7) and was later elected to the position of Chairman of UNESCO in 1948.

When India received independence from Great Britain in 1947, Sarvepalli was still India’s key representative at UNSECO. He would later also be awarded the titles and responsibilities of Ambassador-Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary of India to the Soviet Union from 1949 to 1952 (Kohli 44).  Radhakrishnan was widely thought to be one of the most respected and successful of all diplomats in Moscow at the time. He had met Stalin twice, as the Ambassador of India, with Stalin commenting, “ You are the first person to treat me as a human being and not as a monster. You are leaving us and I am sad. I want you to live long.” (Kohli 45). Dr. Radhakrishnan, the diplomat, was considered a very sympathetic and humane person, open to other viewpoints, and never considered to be an elitist intellectual.

After his return to India in 1952, Sarvepalli was elected as India’s first Vice-President, an inaugural position that had been created under the new constitution. He would be re-elected in 1957, not long after the death of his wife. During his many tours around the world his main objective was to impress upon foreign leaders India’s viewpoint on major international issues and increase his country’s role on the global stage.

In many of his books and dissertations, Radhakrishnan takes great pains to interpret Indian thought in a way that Westerners could relate to. (Kohli 45) Through his public life he remained steadfastly committed to high principles, dignity and moral authority. This integrity of purpose made him a highly revered figure in India and internationally he became one of the best-liked and respected public figures of all time.

In May of 1962, this well regarded philosopher and statesman was elected President of the State of India, succeeding Dr. Rajendra Prasad, becoming the second Head of State of a newly independent India. During his presidency, India was faced with war on two separate occasions, first with China and subsequently with Pakistan. In 1967,  Sarvepalli made an emotional farewell broadcast to the nation and told his loving country that he would not seek another term as President and would retire from public life.

After the death of Nehru in 1964, he described the former leader as “an earnest of the age to come, the age of the world men with world compassion.” And went on to say, “The best way to honour his memory is to get on with the work which he left unfinished, his work of peace, justice and freedom at home and abroad” (Dehruy 8).  Radhakrishnan’s dedication and efforts made a great contribution towards the realization of Nehru’s objectives.

Philosophical Beliefs

Sarvepalli often described philosophy as “ the attempt to think out the presuppositions of experience, to grasp. By means of reason, life or reality as a whole”(Braue 42). He attained prominence due to his eloquence in describing Indian philosophy according to Western academic standards, enabling non-Indo cultures to understand and consider Eastern philosophies and, most particularly, from India. He once stated his greatest challenge was that western philosophers, despite claiming to be objective, were inevitably influenced by the theological teachings of their own cultures.

Radhakrishnan’s philosophical work took two distinct directions. His philosophy is Indian idealism (Braue 44). First, his Indian Philosophy was defined as Radhakrishnan interpreted it. Originally what he presented was no different than the “Vedanta” which he had defined earlier.  Later, he changed its designation to “Hinduism” or the “Hindu View”. The second direction was the construction of a philosophical system from experimental grounds without relying on Indian thought (Minor 43).

Radhakrishnan tried to clarify for his western audiences that Hinduism is a progressive unity and that the history of Hinduism is of evolutionary advancement. He saw the method of “Hinduism’s” historical development as characterized by a critical attitude toward the traditions of the past in a modern sense, not just accepting past thoughts (Minor 45). Radhakrishnan was also an advocate of the class system of Hinduism. He believed that it was the only democratic solution to racial problems. Caste was a way to organize society and suggested that it is entirely functional, not a “mystery of divine appointment” (Minor 45-46). Thus, the foundation of the caste system are the ideas of free will, equality and democracy (Minor 45-46).

Radhakrishnan wrote many books on his philosophical beliefs and he was well known for his ideas on the Prasthana Trayi, the Bhagavadgita, the Upanishads and the Brahma Sutra.

Death

Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan died on April 17,1975 after a prolonged illness. At that time, Prime Minister Mrs. Indira Gandhi said, “As a teacher, he was deeply involved with the welfare of youth. As a statesman, he had deep understanding of the practical problems of nation building. He contributed significantly to the consolidation of our political parliamentary traditions. Now death has claimed him, but the memory of his commanding presence, the resonance of his voice and the radiance of his thought cannot fade and will remain a part of our legacy.” (Kohli 48)

Every year on September 5th, on Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan’s birthday, “Teachers Day” is celebrated all across India and the government gives national awards to teachers. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan will remain one of the greatest Indian philosophers of the 20th century and of all time (Kohli 48-49).

REFERENCES AND FURTHER RCOMMENDED READING

Braue, Donald A. (1985) Maya in Radhakrishnan’s Thought. New Delhi: Narendra Prakash Jain.

Dehury, Dinabandhu (2010) Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan as Statesman. Orissa: Orissa Government.

Gopal, Sarvepalli (1989) Radhakrishnan, a Biography. Delhi: Oxford University Press.

Harris, Ishwar C. (1982) Radhakrishnan: the Profile of a Universalist. Columbia: South Asian Books

Hawley, Michael (2003) “The Making of a Mahatma: Radhakrishnan’s Critique of Gandhi. Studies in Religion 32(1-2), 135-148.

Kohli, A.B. (2001) Presidents of India. New Delhi: Reliance Publishing House.

Kumar Behura, Dillip (2010) The Great Indian Philosopher: Dr. Radhakrishnan. Orissa: Orissa Government.

Michael, Aloysius (1979) Radhakrishnan on Hindu Moral Life and Action. Delhi: Concept Publishing Company.

Minor, Robert N. (1987) Radhakrishnan A Religious Biography. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Minor, Robert N. (1997) Radhakrishnan as Advocate of the Class/Caste System as a Universal Religio-Social. International Journal of Hindu Studies 1(2), 386 – 400.

Murty, K. Satchidananda and Vohra, Ashok (1990) Radhakrishnan: His Life and Ideas. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Schilpp, Paul A. (1992) The Philosophy of Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers

Sharma, Arvind (2002) Modern Hindu Thought. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.

 

Related Topics for Further Investigation

 

Indian political system

Rajendra Prasad

Sarvepalli Gopal

Comparative Religion

Maya

Vedanta

Jawaharlal Nehru

Rabindranath Tagore

 

 

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

 

Radhakrishnan, Sarvepalli

http://www.uramamurthy.com/srk_phil.html

http://www.preservearticles.com/201104306172/sarvepalli-radhakrishnan.html

http://pib.nic.in/feature/feyr98/fe0898/f2808981.html

Article written by Ryan Booth (Spring 2012), who is solely responsible for its content.