Nivedita, Sister

Nivedita, Sister
(Margaret Noble)
   supporter of women’s education in India
   Sister Nivedita, an Irish-born convert to VEDANTA, became a social activist and supporter of women’s education in India.
   Margaret Noble was born on October 28, 1867, to Samuel Noble and Mary Hamilton in Dunganon, Northern Ireland, in county Tyrone. Before Margaret was a year old, Samuel moved to Manchester, England, where he enrolled as a theological student of the Wesleyan church. The young baby was left with her maternal grandmother in Northern Ireland, where she enjoyed a happy childhood while her father stud-ied and became ordained. At four years of age, she returned to live with her father, unhappy to leave her grandmother’s home.
   With her sister, she attended Halifax College, run by the Congregationalist Church. She learned personal sacrifice from the headmistress of Hali-fax, a member of the Plymouth Brethren. After her father was appointed minister of a church, she liked to listen to him preach and to imitate his expressions.
   Margaret was a thoughtful girl who asked many questions. She had learned about the char-acter of a nation from her paternal grandfather in his fight for home rule for Ireland. At age 18, in 1884, she received a post as teacher and became engaged in the movement to foster child-centered learning in schools. In 1885, she opened the Ruskin School in Wimbledon, for adults as well as children who wished to study modern educa-tional methods. She was a cofounder of the Con-gress of Modern Pedagogy, centered on the child’s experience of school. She also served as a welfare worker, while championing the underprivileged by writing pamphlets in London.
   After Swami VIVEKANANDA’s famous appear-ance at the WORLD PARLIAMENT OF RELIGIONS in Chicago in 1893, he stayed for three months in London; in 1885, Margaret met him and declared herself his disciple, calling him “Mas-ter.” Through Vivekananda, she found a religion whose elements could be discussed scientifically and whose goal was expressed in terms of spiri-tual freedom rather than, as she thought, sin-defined slavery. While the swami was in England she followed his teaching assiduously, attending lectures four times a week. When Vivekananda left England in November 1895, Margaret began to study the swami’s philosophical ideas in prep-aration for meeting him again, declaring herself a “monk.”
   In 1898 Margaret traveled to India to start her new life of service to education and women. In March of that year, she was initiated by Vive-kananda and given the name Nivedita (she who had been dedicated). He asked her to live in an orthodox Hindu way. She opened a school for Indian girls in 1898 in a single room of her house in a poor section of Calcutta (Kolkata). While a plague raged in Calcutta, she nursed the sick and dying. She lectured on KALI, goddess of destruc-tion and plagues, to audiences of thousands. She met and worked with Sri RAMAKRISHNA’s widow, Sri SARADA DEVI (1853–1920), who was revered by the Ramakrishna monks as the embodiment of the Holy Mother.
   In 1902 she left the Ramakrishna Order, after Vivekananda’s death, because her political activi-ties for Indian independence were declared incom-patible with her status as a Hindu renunciant (brahmacharini). The remainder of her life was spent in India working on behalf of Indian women. She died on October 13, 1911, in Calcutta.
   Further reading: Atmaprana, Sister Nivedita of Ramak-rishna-Vivekananda (Calcutta: Ramakrishna Math, 1999); Barbara Foxe, Long Journey Home: A Biogra-phy of Margaret Noble (London: Rider, 1975); Swami Ghambhirananda, History of the Ramakrishna Math and Mission (Calcutta: advaita Ashrama, 1957); Nivedita, My Master As I Saw Him, 10th ed. (Calcutta: Udbod-han Office, 1966); ———, The Complete Works of Sister Nivedita (Calcutta: Ramakrishna Sarada Mission, 1967); Lizelle Reymond, The Dedicated: A Biography of Nivedita (Madras: Samata, 1985).

Encyclopedia of Hinduism. . 2007.

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