Radhakrishnan, Sarvepalli
(1888–1975)
   philosopher and political figure
   Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan was one of the great phi-losophers and thinkers of modern India. He wrote prolifically and held distinguished academic posi-tions in both the East and the West. As was the case for many of his compatriots, he participated in the movement for India’s independence and held several distinguished positions in the new government of independent India, including the post of president of India.
   Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan was born on Sep-tember 5, 1888, at Tiruttani, near Madras (Chen-nai), in South India. His early years were spent there and in Tirupati, both famous as pilgrimage centers. As was the custom, he married young, at the age of 16; he and his wife, Sivakamuamma, had five daughters and one son. He graduated with a master’s degree in arts from Madras Chris-tian College in 1908. In partial fulfillment of his M.A. degree, Radhakrishnan wrote a thesis, The Ethics of the Vedanta and Its Metaphysical Presup-positions, which was a reply to the charge that the Vedanta system had no room for ethics. This thesis was immediately published as a book, when he was still only 20 years old.
   In 1909, Radhakrishnan took a position in the Department of Philosophy at the Madras Presi-dency College. In 1918, he was appointed profes-sor of philosophy in the University of Mysore. Three years later, he was appointed to the most important philosophy chair in India, King George V Chair of Mental and Moral Science in the Uni-versity of Calcutta (Kolkata).
   Radhakrishnan represented the University of Calcutta at the Congress of the Universities of the British Empire in June 1926 and the International Congress of Philosophy at Harvard University. In 1929, he took a post at Manchester College, Oxford, and from 1936 to 1939 served as Spald-ing Professor of Eastern Religions and Ethics at Oxford. In 1939, he was elected fellow of the Brit-ish Academy. From 1939 to 1948, he was the vice chancellor of Banaras Hindu University.
   S. Radhakrishnan later held distinguished positions in government. He was the leader of the Indian delegation to UNESCO during 1946–52 and served as ambassador to the Soviet Union in 1949–52. He was the vice president of India from 1952 to 1962 and the president of the General Conference of UNESCO from 1952 to 1954. He held the office of the chancellor at the University of Delhi from 1953 to 1962. From May 1962 to May 1967, he was the president of India. Sarve-palli Radhakrishnan passed away on April 17, 1975. In India, September 5 (his birthday) is cel-ebrated as Teacher’s Day in his honor.
   Radhakrishnan devoted his life to making India’s philosophical and religious riches known to the world. As had the great ACHARYAS of VEDANTA before him, he translated and commented on the UPANISHADS, VEDANTA SUTRA, and BHAGAVAD GITA; all of those works remain in print.
   Radhakrishnan, by training, was the rare phi-losopher who could genuinely appreciate and compare Eastern and Western philosophy. In nearly every book he wrote he included detailed comparisons of various philosophical views, with the understanding that all spiritual paths have cer-tain commonalities at their core. Part of his mis-sion was to assess and evaluate both traditions on their own terms. He always remained, however, a true student of the Vedanta and saw the limits of approaches that do not at some point transcend the rational.
   As did his compatriot MOHANDAS KARAMCHAND GANDHI, Radhakrishnan believed in an India that was spiritually aware and grounded in its ancient spirituality, but not bound by inherited social conventions destructive of freedom and justice. As others did, he criticized Indian traditions such as the caste system and customs that degraded women, and he fought to establish a pluralistic and democratic society that would fulfill the high-est ideals of Indian tradition.
   Further reading: Sudarshan Agarwal, ed., Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan: A Commemorative Volume, 1888–1988 (New Delhi: Prentice Hall of India, 1988); Anjan Kumar Banerji, ed., Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan: A Centenary Tribute (Varanasi: Banaras Hindu University, 1991–92); S. S. Rama Rao Pappu, ed., New Essays in the Philosophy of Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan (Delhi: Sri Satguru, 1995); Glyn Richards, ed., A Source-Book of Modern Hinduism (London: Curzon Press, 1985); Paul Arthur Schilpp, ed., The Philosophy of Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan (LaSalle, Ill.: Open Court, 1991).

Encyclopedia of Hinduism. . 2007.

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