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Quintessentially Indian

Gangeya Mukherji

By Amiya P. Sen
Primus Books, New Delhi, 2016, 225, 1450


The book under review, a representative selection of the writings of Sister Nivedita along with a detailed and perceptive Introduction by its editor, demonstrates Nivedita’s engagement with the idea as also what then posited as the contemporary reality of India. The value of the writings is further enhanced by the discussion that the editor brings to bear on them in the form of annotated comments and references. Sister Nivedita was arguably the most famous disciple of Swami Vivekananda who is himself a historically influential figure of modern India. Amiya P. Sen, is a reputed historian who has for the last many years, and over many books, been very competently writing on the intellectual and religious history of colonial Bengal, and the present work is no exception. As evident from the title of the book, Sen has regarded Sister Nivedita’s involvement with India as being genuinely motivated by idealism. She also deeply cherished the aspiration for the uplift of the society of the country she came to adopt as her own. Many of her illustrious Indian contemporaries, particularly Rabindranath Tagore, have paid homage to her self-denial and her devotion to the cause of education and to community building. Born to English parents, Margaret Noble had developed an abiding interest in civic issues early in life and earned the intellectual respect of a wide variety of peers. The combination of a heightened sense of the metaphysical and an affinity for the religious traditions of the East may have possibly contributed to her immediate inclination towards Vivekananda. Soon after her initial contact with him, she became his follower and adopted a Hindu religious outlook. To all intents and purposes, she converted to the Hindu faith and became a sanyasin or renunciant. Renunciatory custom obligated giving her a new name, and Vivekananda very aptly named her Nivedita.The account of her years in India testifies to her integrity, austerity, hardship, and her unflinching commitment to the objectives that she recognized as defining the mission of her life. Published on the centennial of her birth, the book is, for its author, his ‘modest personal tribute to the memory of an individual who was quintessentially Indian despite not having been born as one’ (p. ix). The selection of Nivedita’s statements has, in this book, been divided into four thematic sections: Thoughts on Education; Indian Art and Aesthetics; Hindu Mythology, Religion and Philosophy; and ...

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