“When we think we know, we cease to learn”. These words motivate us to seek higher learning in each phase of life since learning is a life-long process. The student in us would never fail if we have teacher-par excellence like Dr. S Radhakrishnan. He is undoubted, one of the most recognized and influential Indian thinkers in academic circles of the 20th century. He was a role model, an interminable source of inspiration, and a great statesman for all teachers and students of the country.
Radhakrishnan was born on 5th September 1888 in a middle-class Brahmin family in the small town of Tamil Nadu. His father’s name was Sarvepalli Veeraswami and was a revenue official with a local zamindar. His mother’s name was Sitamma. His father didn’t want him to study English and wished that he became a priest instead. On seeing his intelligence, Radhakrishnan was allowed to pursue school and higher education. Being from a financially weak family, he sustained his studies by borrowing second-hand books from a cousin. He got married at the age of 16 years with his distant cousin, named Sivakamu, the couple had five daughters and a son by the name of Sarvepalli Gopal. He graduated with a Master’s degree in Philosophy from Madras Christian college. During this time he was introduced to western thought. In 1918, he was selected as the Professor of Philosophy at the University of Mysore.
Dr. Radhakrishnan belongs to a poor family and thus had to complete his education with the help and support of scholarships and he completed his education from various missionary schools that were spreading across the country.
He got his primary education from a local school in his birth village named K. V. High School at Thiruttani. Later in 1896, he moved to a nearby temple town, named Tirupati, where he went to Hermannsburg Evangelical Lutheran Mission School and also visited the Government High Secondary School, Walajapet.
From the year 1900 to 1904, he attended the college, named Elizabeth Rodman Voorhees College in Vellore, which was run by an American Arcot Mission of the Reformed Church (of America). It was here, where dr. S. Radhakrishnan was introduced to the Dutch Reform Theology, which criticized the Hindu religion in more than one way by saying that Hinduism is intellectually incoherent and does not have any ethics. Dr. S. Radhakrishnan was proud of his Hindu religion and this criticism appeared to him as a crippling assault on his Hindu sensibilities (feelings). While living in Vellore, he married his distant cousin, named Sivakamu. They remained married for 50 years, till his wife died.
After completing his four years of study in Vellore, he completed his F.A. (First of Arts) course and shifted to the Madras Christian College at the age of 16 and graduated from there in 1907. He also completed his master’s degree from that same college. He studied philosophy in his college but he did so by chance, due to financial constraints, he borrowed philosophy books from his cousin who studied from there before, and that decided his academic subjects in the college.
In 1921, he was appointed as a Professor of Philosophy in the chair of Mental and Moral Science at the University of Calcutta.
In 1929, Radhakrishnan was invited to take up the job of a teacher at Manchester College, Oxford. This gave him the opportunity to give lectures on Comparative Religion.
In 1931, Radhakrishnan was invited to take up his second Vice-Chancellorship at Banaras Hindu University (BHU).
In 1946, Radhakrishnan represented India in UNESCO.
In 1948, under the chairmanship of Dr. Radhakrishnan, the Government appointed a University Education Commission.
In 1949, he was appointed Indian ambassador to USSR.
He served as a member of the Indian Constituent Assembly for two years immediately after India’s independence.
In 1952, he became the Vice President of India.
In 1962, he was finally elected as the second President of India. During his tenure, India fought wars with China and Pakistan.
Radhakrishnan was a man of great vision. He saw an increasing need for world unity and universal fellowship during his term in office. He believed in international peace and cooperation. He called for the promotion of creative internationalism based on the spiritual foundations of integral experience so that he could promote understanding and tolerance between people and nations. Though he did not have any active political background, he kept an impassioned guard for the Hindu culture against ‘uninformed Western criticism’. His philosophy was simple but effective.
His Work and Awards
Dr. Radhakrishnan was conferred with many awards and recognitions including the highest civilian award
Bharat Ratna in 1954. He was the first person to be conferred upon the Sahitya Akademi fellowship. He also received the Peace Prize of German Book Trade in 1961 and Templeton Prize in 1975. He donated the award money of the Templeton Prize to Oxford University.
Some of his written works include Indian Philosophy, The Philosophy of the Upanishads, Eastern Religions, and Western Thoughts. In his major work on the Idealist View of Life, he laid emphasis on the importance of instinctive thinking.
During the tenure of his presidency, his students and friends requested him to allow them to celebrate his birthday, 5th September. Radhakrishnan asked them to observe the day as Teacher’s Day instead of celebrating his birthday. Since then till today, 5th September is marked as Teacher’s Day.
Radhakrishnan breathed his last on 17th April 1975.
It is our privilege to have such a great philosopher, a great educationist, and a great humanist in our country. He will always remain in our hearts because of his unimaginable participation in the field of education.