Nivedita, Sister (1867-1911)—Illustrious disciple of Swamiji, dedicated by him to the service of India. Born Margaret Elizabeth Noble on 28.10.1867 in a Catholic family at Dunganon in North Ireland, eldest child of Samuel Richmond Noble, a Scottish parson and Mary Isabel Hamilton, an Irish woman. Brought up by grandmother till 4 years old, joined her parents at Oldham in England. Lost her father when 10 years old and family taken charge of by maternal grandfather, Hamilton, prominent leader of Irish Freedom movement from whom she inherited a fiery spirit, passionate love of freedom. From parents inherited predilection for spirituality and uncompromising love of truth. Brilliant student of Halifax College with special aptitude for literature, physics, botany, art and music. Taught at various schools and founded one at Wimbledon where her original teaching methods brought her fame. Contributed articles to various newspapers and journals, being soon recognized as a powerful writer by the London intelligentsia. One of the organizers and later Secretary of the noted Sesame Club of London.
Spiritual inclinations led her to join the Broad Church School with its liberal outlook, under the Church of England. On 10.11.1895 first saw Swami Vivekananda at a private gathering at London’s West End and heard him expound Vedanta. One of a select group of skeptical intellectuals, left the meeting unimpressed but gradually realized that she had met with “a thinker who in one short hour had been able to express all that I had hitherto regarded as highest and best” (The Master as I Saw Him, 9th ed., p. 8). Attended Swamiji’s remaining two lectures in London and convinced of the truth of Vedantic thought, received initiation from Swamiji (1896) and was addressing him as “Master” before he left England (Ibid., p. 10). Struck by her outstanding qualities—love of truth, strength of character, resolute perseverance and, above all, humanitarianism, Swamiji chose her as the noble instrument he needed for his work among Indian women. Upon her Master’s summons, came to India (January 1898) and dedicated her life to the service of his motherland, which she adopted as her own, leaving her mark in all spheres of activity —education, art, science, social life, politics and national awakening in general. Introducing her at a meeting on 11.3.1898 at the Star Theatre Swamiji referred to her as a gift from England to India, saying, “She is the finest flower of my work in England.” She won all hearts by her first public address. On 17.3.1898 met the Holy Mother and noted it as “the day of days”. On 25.3.1898 Swamiji initiated her into the vows of brahmacharya naming her Nivedita, followed by formal initiation on the same day a year later. From May to October 1898 travelled with her guru in North India, Kashmir, going up to the shrine of Amarnath. To equip her for the mission entrusted to her, at this time, and also other times, Swamiji took pains to teach her India’s history and ancient culture, philosophy, literature, art, social customs, spiritual traditions, in particular about India’s great past and her great men. In the process he transmitted to her his own passionate love of his motherland and her peoples. Returning to Calcutta, on 13.11.1898 she founded Ramakrishna Mission School for Girls at her Bosepara Lane residence, in the presence of Holy Mother, Swamiji and Swamis Brahmananda, Saradananda and others. The school, taken over by the Mission after her death and renamed “The Ramakrishna Mission Sister Nivedita Girls’ School”, is regarded as the forerunner of Sri Sarada Math at Dakshineswar. She went through untold privations to run the school but succeeded in freeing contemporary education for girls from blind following of Western ideals. Inspired the staff and students to aspire to the highest ideals. At this time rendered invaluable service during the plague epidemic in Calcutta along with Swami Sadananda, her lifelong friend. Lectured on “Kali Puja” at Albert Hall (13.2.1899) and at the Kali temple at Kalighat (28.5.1899). Sailed for the West with Swamiji and others to raise funds for her school. Visited Paris, in June 1900, coming in touch with renowned intellectuals and celebrities of the world of art, music and literature. Served Prof. Patrick Geddes for some time as Secretary. Visited Brittany and London, followed by a three-month sojourn at Norway as the guest of Mrs. Ole Bull. Back at Calcutta on 9.2.1902 resumed work at the School. Met Mr. Okakura, exponent of Japanese art; on 5.5.1902 left for Mayavati with the Boses and Okakura. Met Swamiji for the last time on 2.7.1902 and was treated by him with rare affection and gentleness.
After Swamiji’s passing plunged into political activity after formally severing links with the Order while maintaining cordial relations with the monks and clinging to Holy Mother as the sheet anchor in her turbulent life. Her lifelong warm relationship with the Holy Mother who called her “Khuki” (little girl) was treasured by her. Considering her to be the greatest woman in the world, regarded her with both love and reverence. Much of our knowledge about the Holy Mother gained through her keen observation. Said to have joined a revolutionary group, met Aurobindo Ghosh at Baroda and advised him to come to Calcutta to take charge of the revolutionary movement. Travelled all over India trying to rouse national consciousness in Indians. Visited Bodh Gaya (February 1904) with Rabindranath, J. C. Bose, Christine and others. Discovered the symbol of the “Vajra” (thunderbolt) which to her symbolized sacrifice. Participated in the flood and famine relief operations in Orissa and East Bengal. Lord Curzon having commented on the propensity of eastern people to lie at the convocation of Calcutta University, overnight an angry Nivedita arranged to have him quoted in a morning newspaper side by side with an extract from his book “Problems of the Far East” in which he had admitted lying about his age to a senior official in the Foreign Department of Korean Government. Joined the meeting at Town Hall on 7.8.1905 opposing the partition of Bengal. Addressed the Congress meeting at Varanasi in December. Knew and was known to all contemporary intellectuals and luminaries in every walk of life, highly regarded and admired by all. Closely associated with Modern Review and Prabuddha Bharata where she regularly contributed articles on current issues. Her influence on modern Indian art of incalculable value. At the heart of the movement for resurgence of Indian art initiated by E.B. Havell and joined by Abanindranath Tagore (himself benefitting from her guidance) and Ananda Coomaraswamy. Sent Nandalal Bose and Asit Kumar Haldar to Ajanta to study Indian art taking care of their expenses and upkeep. Maintained close contact with young artists of the Art School. Was inseparably associated with J.C. Bose’s work, revising and editing, even rewriting his manuscripts and fiercely protecting his interests overseas. Brief close association with the Tagores. Second visit abroad (1907-1909) when her mother died. Took charge of editing the Karmayogin (1910). Last visit abroad to be with the dying Mrs. Ole Bull (15.11.1910).Visited Darjeeling with the Boses in October 1911 and died there after brief illness (13.10.1911) having bequeathed her assets to the Belur Math by a will executed on 7.10.1911. One part of her ashes preserved in Vivekananda Smriti Mandir at Belur Math; one part at Basu Vijnan Mandir (93/2 A.P.C. Rd.) where J. C. Bose had her image carved in bas relief at the entrance calling it the “Lady of the Lamp”; one part kept in Boshishwar Sen’s Baghbazar residence and the rest interred beside the graves of her parents at Devonshire in England. “Sister Nivedita Vayan Mandir” established at Jhargram by the Boses. Swami Abhedananda put up a marble plaque at the site of her cremation at Darjeeling and the Vedanta Ashrama there has a building dedicated to her memory. There are several schools of the Mission named after her. Nivedita Brati Sangha set up a bust at Baghbazar and at Gol Park there is a tiny park named after her with her statue installed inside.
Works: Kali the Mother (London, 1900), The Web of Indian Life (London, 1904), Aggressive Hinduism (Madras, 1905), Glimpses of Famine and Flood in East Bengal in 1906 (Allahabad, 1907), Cradle Tales of Hinduism (London 1907), An Indian Study of Life and Death (London, 1908), The Master as I Saw Him (London, New York, Calcutta 1910), Civic and National Ideals (Calcutta 1911), Notes on Some Wanderings with the Swami Vivekananda (Calcutta, 1913), Studies from an Eastern Home (London, 1913), Myths of the Hindus and Buddhists (with A.K. Coomaraswamy, London 1913), Hints on National Education in India (Calcutta, 1914), Footfalls of Indian History (London, 1916), Religion and Dharma (London, 1915), Shiva and Buddha (Calcutta 1919), Lambs among Wolves: Missionaries in India (Calcutta, 1928), The Northern Tirtha, A Pilgrim’s Diary (Calcutta, 1911). On the occasion of her birth-centenary Sister Nivedita Girls’ School, Baghbazar, published The Complete Works of Sister Nivedita (1967-68) in 4 volumes and in 1975 Sister Nivedita’s Lectures and Writings (Hitherto Unpublished). All these books were later published by the Advaita Ashrama, Mayavati and Calcutta in 5 volumes. About 900 letters, edited by Sankari Prasad Basu, were published as Letters of Sister Nivedita in 2 volumes (Calcutta, 1982). Numerous biographies have been published, notable among them are those by Pravrajikas Muktiprana (in Bengali) and Atmaprana (in English), and the monumental work of Sankari Prasad Basu, Nivedita Lokamata running into several volumes.