Read this comprehensive essay on Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan (1888 A.D. – 1975 A.D.)

Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan: Essay on Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan

Read this comprehensive essay on Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan (1888 A.D. – 1975 A.D.)

There has been a long tradition of great saints, seers, philosophers, teachers and intellectuals since hoary past in India. The whole world has benefited immensely from their wisdom, learning, teaching and philosophy. Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan has been one of these great master philosophers.


He has been an illustrious philosopher, teacher, statesman, speaker, author and administrator. In recognition of his outstanding qualities of head and heart he was awarded many prestigious honours including Bharat Ratna in 1954.

He was invited in Europe and America to deliver lectures on Indian philosophy, culture and civilization by several famous universities. He was the first Indian teacher and scholar to teach at Oxford University. Wherever he went to deliver his message of peace, spiritual reawakening and Indian wisdom, he was heard with great respect and standing ovation.

Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan was born on September 5, 1888 in Tirutani, Tamil Nadu to orthodox Brahman parents. Sarvepalli Veeraswami was the name of his father and Sitamma that of her mother. Sarvepalli is the name of the village in Andhra Pradesh from where Radhakrishnan’s ancestors had migrated to Tamil Nadu long back. Veeraswami earned a meagre salary and had a large family of about 8 members to support and sustain. It was not possible for him to provide good education to young Radhakrisnnan.

Therefore, Radhakrishan had to depend largely on scholarships and his own talents which were soon recognised. He was at first in Tirutani School and then sent to Lutheran Mission School at Tirupati. Later he went to Voorhee’s College in Vellore for further studies.

When he was 17 years of age, he joined Madras Christian College in Chennai and studied philosophy and obtained B.A and M.A. degrees in the subject. He was very much enthusiastic about Hinduism, Vendanta and Hindu philosophy.

He was very much influenced by the teachings of Swami Vivekananda and his message to the people of India. Consequently, he decided to reveal the wisdom of Indian thought and philosophy to the world in its true perspective.

His sense of nationalism also inspired him to take up the cause of Indian philosophy, therefore, he chose for his M.A. thesis the subject of the Ethics of Vedanta. It was a befitting reply to the charge leveled by many westerners that Vedanta was not based on ethics.

This thesis very finely shows his outstanding skills as a deep thinker and analysis’s of a such a complex subject. It also revealed his great capacity and ability to master the language of English. This scholarly piece of writing was amply appreciated by Dr. A.G. Hogg, the professor of Philosophy at the missionary college. Later this thesis was published as a book and it gave young Radhakrishnan a lot of satisfaction. Then he was 20 years old. Earlier at the age of 16 he was married to Sivakamuamma, a girl of ten only.

After his M.A. degree in philosophy he undertook the job of teaching as an assistant lecturer at the Madras Presidency College in 1909. There he taught philosophy. Five years later he became professor of philosophy in the same college.

He was a voracious reader and very serious thinker and continued his studies in world philosophies. He also took keen interest in the study of English literature. He also developed into an influential speaker and his exposition of the subject before the audience was ever brilliant, absorbing and remarkable and so very soon he became very popular among students and his fellow-teachers.

It was then that he published his first book entitled “The Essentials of Psychology” which proved quite a success. He also contributed scholarly articles to various periodicals and magazines.In 1918, Radhakrishnan came to the University of Mysore as a professor of philosophy.

Here he published his book the Philosophy of Rabindranath Tagore. Two years later came his “The Reign of Religion in Contemporary Philosophy”. These publications earned him further recognition and fame and he was established as a major philosopher and thinker. It was then that Sir Ashutosh Mukherjee, the well-known Vice- Chancellor of Calcutta University invited him there as Professor.

Here he completed the first volume of his so famous work “Indian Philosophy” in 1923, his magnum opens. The volume was hailed and appreciated as a classic. There were many favorable reviews by eminent writers and Indian thought and philosophy came to be recognized as a serious subject of research and study


Following the publication of his first volume of Indian Philosophy, he was invited to deliver lectures on Indian philosophy in the western universities and audiences. In 1926 he spoke at the Oxford University, England under “Upton Lectures”. The theme of his lecture was “The Hindu View of Life.” Later professorship was created for him at Oxford to teach Eastern Religions and Ethics.

It was for the first time that an Indian was chosen as a teacher here. He continued occupying the chair at the University of Calcutta as well. Soon he became a very distinguished scholar, teacher and orator on Indian philosophy and many great personalities like Harold Macmillan, Aldous Huxlay, Sir Francis Younghusband etc. became his admirers. They found his discourses always so interesting, new, enlightening and absorbing and moreover he delivered his discourses without any notes, almost spontaneously.

He spoke on Vendanta, Hinduism and Buddhism with equal mastery and command. Thus, Radhakrishnan built an intellectual bridge between the West and the East resulting in better understanding and appreciation of Indian culture, civilization, philosophy and way of life.

As an interpreter of Indian thought to the western minds, he did a marvelous job. He also very remarkably underlined the importance and valuable contribution of the western religions to the development of human civilization and culture. He stressed in no uncertain terms the universality of truth found in all religions.

In 1931 he became the Vice-Chancellor of the Andhra University. Here too his charismatic personality worked wonders and the University achieved new heights of achievements. Later in 1939 he became Vice-Chancellor of Banaras Hindu University. Two years later he occupied the Sir Sayaji Rao Chair of Indian Culture and Civilization at Banaras.

His association with Oxford University as Professor of Eastern Religions and Ethics was a long one which lasted for 16 years beginning from 1936. There he was conferred an honorary degree of Doctor of Civil Law in appreciation and recognition of his vast learning, wisdom and understanding of various schools of philosophy both Oriental and Western. In 1938 he was also invited by the British Academy to deliver its Master Mind Lectures. He was also made the Fellow of the Academy later.

His lectures were published in a book form entitled Eastern Religion and Western Thought. Another series of lectures were published in 1944 entitled as India and China. During 1948—1954 he remained the Chairman of the UNESCO.

Later he became the chairman of the University Education Commission. In 1949 at the age of 61, Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan was selected as India’s ambassador to the USSR. He served in Moscow as India’s envoy from 1949 to 1952 and left a deep impression on Stalin as a master philosopher and thinker.

This laid a firm foundation for a long, firm and friendly relationship between the two great nations. In 1952 he was made Vice-President of the Indian Union. And he was again elected Vice-President in 1957. As an ex-office chairman of the Rajya Sabha he presided over its debates and sessions and guided this august house with great distinction and personal charm. In this capacity he became very popular among all the political parties and his sane voice and advice were listened to with great respect.

In 1954, he was selected as the Chancellor of the University of Delhi. Here again he served this great institution of learning with much distinction. During all these years he also worked as a cultural ambassador of the country and travelled all over the world carrying India’s message of peace and friendship.

He was awarded many national and international honours including German Order of Merit (1954), the Goethe Plaquette (1959) and Bharat Ratna (1954). The book entitled Philosophy of Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan was published in the USA.

It contained 883 page compilations of brilliant articles and essays on this great philosopher- statesman. His popularity as a statesman was no less than of cultural ambassador of India. In the field of religion and philosophy his towering personality was awe-inspiring.

He followed the principle of “Do your best” in every field of life and served the country and the entire humanity in an exemplary way. Unfortunately his wife expired in 1956 and it grieved him a lot. They had five children.

He succeeded Dr. Rajendra Prasad as President of India in 1962. Earlier during the illness of Dr. Rajendra Prasad, he had acted as President of the Indian Union. His appointment as President was widely welcomed by many world personalities like Bertrand Russell who he said represented the ideal of the philosopher-king.

He paid a State visit to the USA in 1963 and delivered lectures urging the people to remove poverty, illiteracy and exploitation from the world. His voice was taken as the voice of the conscience and that of the downtrodden and deprived. Later he paid a State visit to England.

There too he highlighted the urgent need of spiritual regeneration and economical development to improve the quality of life in Asian-African countries. His constructive views and liberal thinking impressed all. He was an ideal philosopher-king of Plato’s conception.

He believed in freedom, democracy, accommodation, tolerance and the wisdom of our ancient saints and teachers. He added new dignity, dimension and brilliance to the high office of the President of India by his so deep and wide knowledge, wisdom and towering personality.

He laid down this high and dignified office in 1967 at the age of 79. Dr. Zakir Hussain succeeded him as the President. In May, 1967 he returned to Madras (Chennai), his home town amidst roaring welcome and cheers. Finally, he passed away on April 17, 1975 and the whole of India was drowned in a sea of gloom and mourning. He was a light-house of Indian wisdom and personified our great ancient culture.

In his death we lost a towering personality that dominated the world scene for such a long time. As a tribute to his loving memory and great achievements, today his birthday is celebrated as the Teacher’s Day on 5th September every year. Besides many other great things he was a teacher par excellence. His accomplishments and achievements in this capacity have been equally unique and wonderful. He was first and last a teacher, a guru.

Author: Manjushree Sudheendra

I am Manjushree Sudheendra studying in 10th Standard in St. Teresa's School, Santacruz, Mumbai

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