East represents the Soul-power. West represents the power of Matter. The absolute surrender of Miss Margaret Noble at the feet of an Indian sannyasin stands as a glorious proof of the submission of the West before the spiritual Light of India. This truth finds its significant corroboration in the very name Nivedita given her by her Master. Truly, Nivedita was an emblem of true offering. She successfully utilised the power that she received from her Master in the cause of uplifting Indian womanhood and of freeing the Indian Nation from foreign yoke. This again proves that as the East is endowed with the power of imparting spirituality, even so the West possesses the power of receiving it.
The sincerity of Nivedita’s devotion to her Master expressed itself more in her life than in anything else. She lived the truths which she heard from the Swami’s soul-awakening lips. And in this connection, it will be quite apposite on our part to remember the fiery and intoxicating words that she received from Vivekananda on the eve of her departure for India: “I will stand by you unto death, whether you work for India or not, whether you give up Vedanta or remain in it. The tusks of the elephant come out, but they never go back. Even so are the words of a man.” Needless to say, her Master’s words echoed and re-echoed in the innermost recesses of her heart during her historic voyage — nay, to the end of her life.
Margaret’s father was quite aware of her bright future even in her childhood. He found that his daughter was not of the common run. Therefore, before breathing his last, Samuel, who was a parson, spoke to his wife in a low tone, almost a whisper, about Margaret:
“When God calls her, let her go. She will spread her wings...She will do great things.”
On January 28, 1898, Margaret landed in India. She was one of the most precious jewels that the West could offer to India. It may also be said that she was an unknown schoolteacher who would later stand in the glare of wide publicity.
“The Mother’s heart, the hero’s will,
The sweetness of the southern breeze,
The sacred charm and strength that dwell
On Aryan altars, flaming free
All these be yours and many more,
No ancient soul could dream before,
Be thou to India’s future son,
The mistress, servant, friend in one.”
The chief disciple received from her Master this unique benediction while she was being initiated into the vow of Brahmacharya (celibacy) and the name Nivedita was given to her. A man treading the path of spirituality must never forget that, as opportunity never knocks at one’s door twice, even so benediction, a true benediction, rarely repeats itself. But the power of that benediction can easily fight out the stupendous odds of centuries that eclipse the Knowledge-Sun of the disciple.
It will be worth while to pay more attention to the word ‘benediction,’ the touchstone in the life of Nivedita. It happened that during their stay at Almora, Vivekananda for some time assumed altogether a different aspect in his relation to Nivedita. He was unbelievably severe to her. He neglected her much more than one could believe possible. “My relation,” says the disciple, “to our Master at this time can only be described as one of clash and conflict.” But the red-letter day at last dawned to save her life from the deepest pangs. To cite her once again: “And then a time came when one of the older ladies of our party, thinking perhaps that such intensity of pain inflicted might easily go too far, interceded kindly and gravely with the Swami. He listened silently and went away. At evening, however, he returned and finding us together in the verandah, he turned to her and said with the simplicity of a child, ‘You are right. There must be a change. I am going into the forests to be alone and when I come back I shall bring peace.’ Then he turned and saw that above us the moon was new and a sudden exaltation came into his voice as he said, ‘See! the Mohammedans think much of the new moon. Let us also with the new moon begin a new life!’ As the words ended he lifted his hands and blessed with silent depths of blessing his most rebellious disciple, by this time kneeling before him... I was assuredly a moment of wonderful sweetness of reconciliation...Long, long ago Sri Ramakrishna had told his disciples that the day would come when his beloved ‘Naren’ would manifest his own great gift of bestowing knowledge with a touch. That evening at Almora I proved the truth of his prophecy.”
A rare combination of sweet devotion and lofty intellect was Nivedita. No Indian will ever deny the important role that she played after entering into the Indian political fray. With a fearless heart she associated herself with the activities of Sri Aurobindo, Tilak, and other political leaders of the front rank. In those days she was surcharged within and without with her Master’s indomitable spirit. She had fully learned the meaning of suffering. To our joy her mighty sacrifice was crowned with success.
“Nivedita,” says Tagore, “was the universal mother. We have seldom come across such motherly love which can embrace the whole of a country outside the bounds of its family circle... When Nivedita used to say ‘our people,’ one could easily detect the tone of intense familiarity in that; it was so sincere and yet so spontaneous!... Nivedita had the natural power to endear herself to the people of India, irrespective of caste, creed and religion. She could mix with them intimately and freely. She looked at them with respect and not with compassion.”
In this connection let us cite here an incident that actually took place in her life. The milk-man who would daily supply her with milk asked her one day to give him some advice on religion. On hearing it her eyes widened with surprise. “You! you are an Indian. You need to have a piece of advice from me? Is there anything that you people do not know? You are the descendant of Sri Krishna. Accept my salutation.”
The following lines appeared in the Karmayogin, edited by Nivedita in the absence of Sri Aurobindo, who had then retired to Chandernagore on receiving a divine Command from above. We shall observe here how Nivedita identified herself with India and expressed her high hopes that India would occupy the highest rank of leadership in the domain of intellectual activities:
“The whole history of the world shows that the Indian intellect is second to none. This must be proved by the performance of a task beyond the power of others, the seizing of the first place in the intellectual advance of the world. Is there any inherent weakness that would make it impossible for us to do this? Are the countrymen of Bhaskaracharya and Shankaracharya inferior to the countrymen of Newton and Darwin? We trust not. It is for us, by the power of our thought, to break down the iron walls of opposition that confront us, and to seize and enjoy the intellectual sovereignty of the world.”
“Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some to be chewed and digested. ”
The Master as I saw him, by Nivedita, inevitably has its place with those books that are to be ‘chewed and digested.’ According to Sri Aurobindo this book was written with the blood of her heart. Also it was Sri Aurobindo who, many years ago, addressed her as the flame-spirit.
The life and teaching of Sister Nivedita can easily claim to form an imperishable part of the recent history of Indian womanhood. Her wonderful sacrifice lives in spirit in spite of her departure from human existence, through the ever-expanding activities of the followers and admirers of Ramakrishna-Vivekananda. Nivedita’s was a heart of supreme selflessness. Her devotion pined to dive into the sea of Hindu Religion to discover ‘full many a gem of purest ray serene.’ And she got them. She, with her superb intellect, ceaselessly helped Indian education, art, science, and politics. Her multifarious activities transcend human understanding, culminating in direct contact with the Olympian spirit of her Guru. Her humility remained throughout as an innate characteristic, notwithstanding the ceaseless outpouring of respect and veneration she received from the hearts of those who knew her and closely studied her life.
Napoleon’s dictionary did not house the word ‘impossibility’. and hers had no room for ‘despair’. Even the last words she uttered under her breath amply show that her life, which was a true replica of her Master’s heroic spirit, would not give way to despair: “The boat is sinking, but I shall see the sunrise.”