Sister Nivedita

The Irish-born educationist, author, social activist and thinker, Margaret Elizabeth Noble (1867-1911), a.k.a Sister Nivedita, was a significant contributor to the field of women’s education and empowerment; promoted science and art, but most of all, she is remembered for awakening national consciousness amidst the people of India. To introduce her in a line, and highlight her contribution to India, it would be fair to use Abanindranath Tagore’s words:

“AMONGST THE FOREIGNERS WHO REALLY LOVED INDIA, NIVEDITA’S PLACE IS THE HIGHEST"





Sister Nivedita not only endorsed, encouraged and appreciated Indian Art but plunged herself into the whirlwind of discovering and reconstructing Indianness in Indian Art, thus making art an essential tool in awakening and invigorating the national consciousness of India.

In November 1895, when she was only 28 years old, Margaret Noble met Swami Vivekananda for the first time. While she, inspired by his speech, saw a ‘Guru’ in him; he in turn recognized her intellect, her universal mindset, and potential to be the bridge between people from different social pathways. She arrived in India in the late nineteenth century at the age of thirty, and under the guidance of Vivekananda, took on a new path with a new identity: Sister Nivedita, the dedicated one.
Art as a tool for building national consciousness

For Sister Nivedita, national consciousness was about awakening & pride in all spheres – science, history, art, religion, literature – promoting the finest minds across industry was her approach to nation building. She thus shaped the discourse on nationalism, through engaging with people, recognizing their potential and enabling them.

She felt deeply concerned about the western view that Indian art was influenced by Hellenic art, and thus not original. In a bid to challenge this prejudiced opinion, Nivedita, together with Ananda Coomaraswamy and E.B Havell, led the movement to revive Indian art.

The concept of Art as a signifier of national and civic identity appealed to Sister Nivedita as early as 1880. She was inspired by the art and craft movement in Britain that sought to preserve the traditional and indigenous artistry of the common people in the wake of industrialisation. When she arrived in India (which was a British colony), empathy for the culturally and intellectually colonised came naturally, and later reflected in her works and words.

NEVER LOWER YOUR FLAG TO A FOREIGNER. TRY TO BE THE GREATEST AUTHORITY IN THE PARTICULAR BRANCH OF RESEARCH THAT YOU HAVE CHOSEN FOR YOURSELF. INDIA MUST BE RECOGNISED AS THE FIRST HERE

Sister Nivedita to Sir Jadunath Sarcar (a prominent Indian historian)

She had learnt from Swami Vivekananda the inmost and intricate specialities of Indian art to which the Indian artists and art critics of the time were hardly aware. We may infer that Sister Nivedita made E. B. Havell, Abanindranath Tagore and Ananda Coomaraswamy understand her special vision of Indian aesthetics and the philosophy of art which she imbibed from her Master (Swami Vivekananda). She believed that the rebirth of “indianness” in art was essential for the reawakening of the motherland, and held prolonged discussions and active interactions with the young students about the same.

Contribution to Indian art history

Sister Nivedita’s role in Indian art history, has been understated & overlooked for the longest time. In a country “full, full, full of artistic talent” she tried to send a clear message to Indian art students to desist from the existing practice of aping the Western art and strived hard to elaborate and establish the idea of Indian art with its indigenous roots as the binding force.
Sister Nivedita’s contribution to other aspects of Nation-building

Sister Nivedita had a multi-dimensional personality. She worked hard for the welfare of Indian people and for the education and empowerment of women. She even introduced newer ideas on art, handicrafts and drawing in the academic curriculum.

She was pivotal in organizing the 1905 anti-partition movement and gave herself to the Swadeshi Movement completely. She even designed an Indian Flag to take to rallies – which was embroidered by her students.

She actively participated in the Indian Nationalist struggle. She did not believe that non-cooperation and passive resistance could be the sole means to achieve independence. Therefore, she supported Sri Aurobindo’s concept of aggressive nationalism. Bipin Chandra Pal, the extremist leader was her friend and she regularly contributed articles to his newspaper New India.
As part of her mission to promote the finest minds of India, she financially supported the research work of the well-known scientist Sir Jagdish Chandra Bose and helped take his work to a global audience.

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