The Tribune - Spectrum

, June 16, 2002

She contributed to India’s social and cultural renaissance
Jaswant Singh

Footfalls of Indian History
by Sister Nivedita; Rupa and Company; New Delhi; Pages 264; Rs 70.

Footfalls of Indian HistoryMARGARET Elizabeth Nobel was born a Christian in Ireland but she died a Hindu in India. Daughter of a Christian priest, she heard the call of Swami Vivekanand and landed in Calcutta (now Kolkata) in 1898. She became an object of great regard for Vivekanand who inducted her into his monastic order and gave her the name, Nivedita. She became a favourite of the Holy Mother, Ma Sharda, and made a significant contribution to the social and cultural renaissance and spiritual awakening in India.

Footfalls of Indian History which has now been printed in paperback, is one of the books she wrote to acquaint Indians with their national heritage. She takes you on a voyage of discovery of India’s rich cultural legacy, from the seats of Buddhism to the caves of Ajanta. She recounts the rise of Buddhism and its relationship with Hinduism and draws greatly on the accounts of Chinese travellers Fa Hien and Hieun Tsang.

She maintains that Buddha did not found a church which would recognise social rites such as receiving the new born, solemnising marriages and giving benediction to the dead. His was a religious order the only function of which was to preach the Gospel and give individual souls the message of Nirwana. He spread among the masses the wisdom that had so far been restricted to the Brahmins and Kshatriyas. This process, she maintains, was completed by Asoka who attracted all races and classes as a loving and loved sovereign.


She describes Buddha as a teacher in the third century before Christ, no different from Ramakrishna in the present age and Ramdas of Maharashtra in the 17th century. The citizens, she points out, loved him, were influenced, even dominated by him, yet they were unable to adopt the life of a wanderer, leaving their worldly duties. To her, the aim of Buddha was not to propound a church but to give enlightenment to the common people.

You also get a perspective on the Ramayana and the Mahabharata by a person who had inspired scholars like Gopalkrishna Gokhale, R. C. Dutt, Bipin Chandra Pal and Aurobindo Ghosh. She throws scholarly light on the dates of final compilation of the epics.


Ramakrishna: His Life and Sayings
by F. Max Muller; Rupa and Company; Pages 200; Rs 95

Ramakrishna: His Life and SayingsRamakrishna Paramahansa appeared on the horizon of spirituality in the 19th century with a broad vision of Hinduism, and almost surprised the elite with his extraordinarily simple exposition of the ideas and ideals of Hindu theology. He lacked the aristocratic dignity of Maharshi Devendra Nath Tagore, the oratory and majestic personality of Keshub Chandra Sen and the polemical zeal of Swami Dayanand, yet he impressed all by telling his followers that service of God lay in serving fellow human beings who happen to be less fortunate than you.

Fredrich Max Muller wrote this account of Ramakrishna and his sayings late in the 19th century (he died in 1900), primarily to dispel the exaggerated notion in the western mind about the sages of India as men of ancient wisdom endowed with the power to perform miracles. First written in 1898, its first Indian edition appeared in 1951. This paperback edition is a reprint of that book and contains events in the life of Ramakrishna and his sayings besides pieces on Swami Dayanand, Pawari Baba and Debendra Nath Tagore.

Since most of the thoughts of Ramakrishna stem from the Vedantic philosophy, the author has sketched the characteristic doctrines of this philosophy to enable the reader to understand the ideals of Ramakrishna and his disciples.


C. V. Raman: The Scientist Extraordinary
by Dilip M. Salwi; Rupa and Company; Pages 63; Rs 95.

C. V. Raman: The Scientist ExtraordinaryThis is the story of a man who devoted his life to scientific research in India and received international acclaim with the award of the Nobel Prize for Physics. The nation honoured him with the Bharat Ratna in 1954, yet surprisingly Raman was cold-shouldered by his contemporary scientists in independent India. With childlike simplicity and the impatience of a genius he would say the right thing in a wrong way. No wonder, he was misunderstood and misinterpreted for his spontaneous outbursts.

The book relates how on his voyage from England to India he observed that the Mediterranean looked deep blue while the sky above was dull grey. This went against the accepted theory that the sea was blue because it reflected the blue light of the sky. This difference in the colour of the sea and the sky set him on a scientific hunt and his experiments in the next 17 years led to the discovery of what is known as the ‘Raman Effect’ and which earned him the Nobel Prize. The most remarkable fact about this discovery is that it was made using equipment that did not cost more than Rs 200.

In independent India Raman was irked to see his contemporary scientists not working on any original problems and simply following the ideas of western scientists. This also made him critical of the political leadership that encouraged this attitude. Over the years he made several enemies in the establishment who ensured that he was sidelined from the mainstream of scientific research in India.

The book tells the story of this remarkable man who refused to accept what he considered wrong. It is part of a number of biographies brought out by the publisher under the series ‘Charitravali’. It is a useful series for young readers curious to know about persons who have played a role in shaping the country’s history.