Swami Vivekananda had composed a poem ‘A Benediction to Sister Nivedita’—”The mother’s heart, the hero’s will/The sweetness of the southern breeze/The sacred charm and strength that dwell/On Aryan altars, flaming, free./All these are yours and many more./No ancient soul could dream before. Be thou to India’s future son/The mistress, servant, a friend in one.”
Early Life: Margaret Elizabeth Noble was born to Mary Isabel and Samuel Richmond Noble on 28 October 1867 in the town of Dungannon in Ireland. The Nobles were of Scottish origin and settled in Ireland for about five centuries. Her father who was a priest gave her daughter the valuable lesson that service to mankind is the true service to God. He died in 1877 when she was only ten years old. Then she was brought up by Hamilton, her maternal grandfather, who was one of the first-ranking leaders of the freedom movement of Ireland. Margaret got her early education from Church Boarding School in London. Then she and her sister attended Halifax College. After that, she embraced teaching in a children’s school at the age of seventeen. She also took part in Church-sponsored activities, being religious in nature. She was engaged to be married to a Welsh youth who died soon after engagement.
Meeting with Swami Vivekananda: In November 1895 she met Swami Vivekananda when he came from America to visit London and stayed there for three months. Vivekananda’s personality, principles and teachings influenced her so much that she felt a new birth in herself. Seeing the fire and passion in her, Vivekananda could foresee her future role in India. He narrated to her the pitiable condition of the women in India prevailing at that time, and returning to India, he wrote to her in a letter, “Let me tell you frankly that I am now convinced that you have a great future in the work for India. What was wanted to be not a man, but a woman—a real lioness—to work for Indians, women especially? India cannot yet produce great women, she must borrow them from other nations. Your education, sincerity, purity, immense love, determination, and above all, the Celtic blood make you just the women wanted.”
Swami Vivekananda felt extreme pain for the misery of the people of India under the British rule, and his opinion was that education was the panacea for all evils plaguing the contemporary Indian society, especially that of Indian women. Margaret was chosen for the role of educating Indian women.
Travel to India: Responding to the call of Swami Vivekananda, Margaret decided to travel to India, leaving behind her family and friends. She reached Calcutta (now Kolkata) by sea-voyage on 28 January 1898. On 11 March 1898, Vivekananda organised a public meeting at the Star Theatre to introduce Margaret to the people of Calcutta. In his speach, he said, “England has sent us another gift in Miss Margaret Noble.” In this meeting, Margaret expressed her desire to serve India and her people. On 25 March 1898 Swami Vivekananda formally initiated Margaret in the vow of Brahmacharya or lifelong celibacy and gave her the name of ‘Nivedita’, the dedicated one.
Relationship with Sarada Devi: Before that, on 17 March Margaret met Sarada Devi, the spiritual consort of Shri Ramakrishna. Surpassing all language and cultural barriers, Sarada Devi embraced her as ‘Khooki’ or ‘little girl’. This meeting was recounted by Nivedita as “a day of days”. Till her death in 1911, Nivedita remained one of the closest associates of Sarada Devi. On 13 November 1898, the Holy Mother Sarada Devi came to open the school of Nivedita. She said at last, “The inner soul feels for a sincere devotee.” The first photograph of Sarada Devi was taken at Nivedita’s house.
Death of Swami Vivekananda: Swami Vivekananda, master of Nivedita, died at 10.15 pm on 4 July 1902. At that night Nivedita dreamed Ramakrishna leaving his body a second time. On the next morning, hearing the unexpected sad news from a monk sent from Belur Math. She rushed to the Math and reached there at 7 am. She sat near Vivekananda’s head and started to fan his body with a handful. Till 1 pm she continued fanning when his body was taken for cremation.
Works of Sister Nivedita: Collecting money for Nivedita’s school was not an easy task. She had to earn money from her writings and giving lectures and later she spent all to meet the expenses of the school. She worked immensely to improve the lives of Indian women of all castes. During the outbreak of the plague epidemic in Calcutta in 1899 Nivedita nursed and took care of the patients, cleaned rubbish from the area, and inspired and motivated many youths to render voluntary service.
Cultivation of Indian culture: She took an active interest in promoting Indian history, culture and science. She actively encouraged Jagadish Chandra Bose, the epoch-making Indian scientist. She was a friend to many intellectuals and artists in the Bengali community, including Rabindranath Tagore, Abala Bose, Abanindranath Tagore, Nandalal Bose and others. Nivedita tried her utmost to inculcate the nationalist spirit in the minds of her students through all their daily activities. She introduced the song Vande Mataram in her school as a prayer. When she witnessed the brutal side of the British rule, the repression and oppression and the division between the ruling elite and the ruled plebians, she decided that it was necessary for India to gain independence to prosper. She provided guarded support to Annie Besant, and Aurobindo Ghosh, one of the major contributors towards the early nationalist movement. Her notable books are The Web of Indian life, Kali the Mother, The Master as I saw Him, etc.
Death: Nivedita died at the dawn of 13 October 1911 at the age of 43 in Roy Villa, Darjeeling. In her deathbed, she said, “The boat is sinking, but I’ll see the sunrise”. Now her memorial is located below the railway station on the way to the Victoria Falls of Darjeeling with these words inscribed in her epitaph—”Here repose Sister Nivedita who gave her all to India.”