“When we think we know, we cease to learn.”
The First Vice President of India, the Second President of India, an educationist, a statesman and a philosopher. Would you be surprised if we told you these were all one man? Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan was one of the most brilliant Indian scholars of all time, on whose birthday India celebrates Teachers’ Day.
A man whose international authority preceded his political career, S. Radhakrishnan was born on 5th September in 1988 to a wealthy family in Thiruttani, Madras part of the British Presidency. Radhakrishnan’s father was a subordinate revenue official in the service of a local zamindar and Radhakrishnan’s primary education was at Primary Board High School at Thiruttani, with him moving to the Hermansburg Evangelical Lutheran Mission School in Tirupati. His years spent reading at Christian and missionary schools would strongly influence his life till the very end.
Radhakrishnan moved on to get his Master’s in Philosophy in 1906 from the Madras Christian College and remains one of its most distinguished alumni. It was Radhakrishnan’s drive to study more deeply the nature of religion which compelled him to write his thesis on the ‘The Ethics of the Vedanta and its Metaphysical Presuppositions’ . Though initially fearful of hurting religious sentiments, Radhkrishnan was relived to receive positive reviews for the these wherein he questions the criticism of Hogg and other Christian teachers of Indian culture. He said of his decision to base his thesis on this topic as the professors understanding, “disturbed my faith and shook the traditional props on which I leaned.”
He describes how, as a student, “The challenge of Christian critics impelled me to make a study of Hinduism and find out what is living and what is dead in it. My pride as a Hindu, roused by the enterprise and eloquence of Swami Vivekananda, was deeply hurt by the treatment accorded to Hinduism in missionary institutions.” He dedicated most of his life understanding, studying and explaining the defense for Hinduism to the western uninformed critics. He would later teach comparative religion to Oxford students and spread the theories such as, “The Vedanta is not a religion, but religion itself in its most universal and deepest significance.”
His contribution to Indian education is exemplary in more way than one. From being an ambassador for Indian education the world, he was also a perfect example of how bright, intelligent and intellectually sound people of this British Colony were. Radhakrishnan was well read on western philosophies and theories but stated that Western philosophers, despite all claims to objectivity, were influenced by theological influences of their own culture.
People from all over the world have brilliant things to say for the scholar, with Paul Artur Schillp saying that it would not, ” . . . be possible to find a more excellent example of a living “bridge” between the East and the West than Professor Radhakrishnan. Steeped, as Radhakrishnan has been since his childhood, in the life, traditions, and philosophical heritage of his native India, he has also struck deep roots in Western philosophy, which he has been studying tirelessly ever since his undergraduate college-days in Madras Christian College, and in which he is as thoroughly at home as any Western philosopher.”
This Teachers’ Day we salut this Indian academician, one of India’s best and most influential twentieth-century scholars of comparative religion and philosophy, for inspiring the course Indian education has taken upon today.