Table of Contents
Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, a prominent Indian philosopher and statesman, held a significant role in the shaping of modern India. Born on September 5, 1888, he made a mark as the second president of India, serving from 1962 to 1967. Prior to his presidency, Radhakrishnan was the country’s first vice president from 1952 to 1962. His political career extended to the international stage as well, as he served as India’s ambassador to the Soviet Union from 1949 to 1952. Radhakrishnan was not only a statesman but also an academic, having been the vice-chancellor of Banaras Hindu University and Andhra University, and holding prestigious academic positions at the University of Calcutta and the University of Oxford.
Beyond his political and academic achievements, Radhakrishnan was an influential scholar in the fields of comparative religion and philosophy. His grounding in Advaita Vedanta philosophy allowed him to reinterpret this tradition in a contemporary context. He played a vital role in defending Hinduism against what he saw as “uninformed Western criticism,” contributing significantly to the development of contemporary Hindu identity. Moreover, Radhakrishnan acted as a bridge-builder between India and the Western world, shaping the understanding of Hinduism in both regions.
Throughout his life, Radhakrishnan received numerous prestigious awards and recognitions. He was knighted in 1931, and in 1954, he was honored with the Bharat Ratna, India’s highest civilian award. His influence extended beyond India, as he was made an honorary member of the British Royal Order of Merit in 1963. Additionally, Radhakrishnan was a co-founder of Helpage India, a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting underprivileged elderly individuals in the country.
One of his most enduring legacies is the celebration of Teachers’ Day in India, which has been observed on his birthday, September 5, since 1962. Radhakrishnan firmly believed that the nation’s teachers should be its best minds, emphasizing the pivotal role of educators in shaping the future of the country.
Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan: Early Life
Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, often referred to as Radhakrishnan, was born into a Telugu-speaking family in the picturesque town of Tiruttani, located in the North Arcot district of the former Madras Presidency, which is now part of Tiruvallur district in Tamil Nadu. Hailing from the Sarvepalli village in Andhra Pradesh’s Nellore district, Radhakrishnan was the second of three siblings. His early years were shaped by the tranquil surroundings of Thiruttani and the sacred town of Tirupati. His father served as a revenue official for a local Zamindar, or landlord. Radhakrishnan began his educational journey at K. V. High School in Thiruttani and later continued at the Hermansburg Evangelical Lutheran Mission School in Tirupati, followed by the Government High Secondary School in Walajapet. This illustrious figure’s upbringing and early education provide a fascinating glimpse into his formative years and the foundations of his remarkable life journey.
Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan: Education
Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, a renowned Indian philosopher and statesman, began his academic journey with a series of scholarships that supported his education. He started at Voorhees College in Vellore for high school and later pursued his First of Arts (F.A.) at the Madras Christian College, affiliated with the University of Madras, when he was just 16 years old. He not only completed his bachelor’s degree at this institution in 1907 but also obtained his master’s degree there.
Radhakrishnan’s path to studying philosophy was somewhat accidental; due to financial constraints, he received philosophy textbooks from a cousin, which ultimately determined the course of his academic career. His bachelor’s thesis, “The Ethics of the Vedanta and its Metaphysical Presuppositions,” aimed to address the claim that Vedanta lacked ethical principles.
This work garnered praise from his professors, Rev. William Meston and Dr. Alfred George Hogg. Radhakrishnan’s early encounter with criticism from Christian educators about Hinduism drove him to critically examine Indian philosophy and religion. Throughout his life, he passionately defended Hinduism against uninformed Western criticism. At the same time, he expressed admiration for his teacher, Professor Hogg, and the support he received from figures like William Skinner, who enabled him to secure his first job at Presidency College, a chapter of his life that he commemorated by dedicating one of his early books to Skinner.
Radhakrishnan’s academic and intellectual journey was deeply influenced by these experiences, shaping his lifelong commitment to understanding and championing Indian philosophy and culture.
Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan: Marriage and Family
Dr. Radhakrishnan, the eminent philosopher and India’s first Vice President and second President, entered into an arranged marriage with his distant cousin, Sivakamu, in May 1903 when he was 16 years old, while she was just 10. This union resulted in a family with a remarkable legacy. The couple had five daughters named Padmavati, Rukmini, Sushila, Sundari, and Shakuntala, as well as a son named Sarvepalli Gopal, who made a name for himself as a historian. The Radhakrishnan family tree boasts a diverse range of accomplished individuals, with members pursuing careers in academia, public policy, medicine, law, banking, business, publishing, and more across the world. Notably, former Indian cricketer V. V. S. Laxman is among his great-grandnephews. Sivakamu died on 26 November 1956, after sharing 53 years of marriage with Dr. Radhakrishnan.
Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan: Academic Career
Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan began his illustrious career in the field of philosophy in April 1909 when he was appointed to the Department of Philosophy at the Madras Presidency College. His scholarly contributions were prolific, as he authored numerous articles for esteemed journals like The Quest, Journal of Philosophy, and the International Journal of Ethics. During this time, he completed his first book, “The Philosophy of Rabindranath Tagore,” where he admired Tagore’s philosophy as a genuine manifestation of the Indian spirit. In 1920, Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan’s second book, “The Reign of Religion in Contemporary Philosophy,” was published.
Radhakrishnan’s academic journey led him to the University of Mysore, where he was selected as a Professor of Philosophy in 1918. In 1921, he assumed the prestigious King George V Chair of Mental and Moral Science at the University of Calcutta. Notably, he represented the University of Calcutta at the Congress of the Universities of the British Empire in June 1926 and the International Congress of Philosophy at Harvard University in September 1926. During this period, he also delivered the Hibbert Lecture on the ideals of life at Manchester College, Oxford, in 1929, which was subsequently published as “An Idealist View of Life.”
In recognition of his contributions to education, Radhakrishnan was knighted by King George V in the June 1931 Birthday Honors, formally receiving the honor from the Governor-General of India in April 1932. However, he chose to use his academic title of ‘Doctor’ after India gained independence. His commitment to education continued as he served as the Vice-Chancellor of Andhra University from 1931 to 1936. During this time, he spoke passionately about the potential for unity in Andhra and the region’s open-mindedness and cultural richness.
In 1936, Radhakrishnan’s academic journey took him to the University of Oxford, where he assumed the position of Spalding Professor of Eastern Religion and Ethics and became a Fellow of All Souls College. Notably, he received nominations for the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1936 and 1937, and such nominations continued steadily into the 1960s. In 1939, he was invited to become the Vice-Chancellor of Banaras Hindu University (BHU) by Pt. Madan Mohan Malaviya, a role he held until January 1948, making substantial contributions to the university’s development and academic growth.
Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan: Political Career
Radhakrishnan’s political career took off after India gained independence in 1947. He represented India at UNESCO from 1946 to 1952 and subsequently served as India’s Ambassador to the Soviet Union from 1949 to 1952. He was also a member of the Constituent Assembly of India. In 1952, he became the first Vice-President of India and later assumed the role of the second President of India, holding office from 1962 to 1967. Notably, he wasn’t affiliated with the Congress Party nor actively involved in the Indian independence movement. His motivation stemmed from a deep pride in Hindu culture and a fervent desire to defend Hinduism against misinformed Western criticism.
Teacher’s Day and Radhakrishnan’s Legacy
Dr. Radhakrishnan’s impact transcended his political career. He left an enduring legacy as a teacher and philosopher. When he became President, his students and friends requested permission to celebrate his birthday on September 5. However, Radhakrishnan selflessly suggested that, instead of commemorating his birthday, the day should be observed as Teachers’ Day. Since then, September 5 has been celebrated as Teacher’s Day in India, honoring the profound influence of this remarkable scholar and statesman.
Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan was a multifaceted figure who made an indelible mark on India’s political, academic, and philosophical landscape. His life journey, from a humble beginning in a small South Indian town to becoming India’s second President, is a testament to his unwavering commitment to education, philosophy, and the promotion of Indian culture. Radhakrishnan’s scholarly contributions, both in India and on the international stage, helped bridge the gap between East and West and challenged Western misconceptions about Hinduism and Indian philosophy.
His legacy extends beyond his political achievements, as he is immortalized through the celebration of Teacher’s Day, An appropriate homage to a man who passionately championed the indispensable influence of educators in molding the destiny of a nation. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan’s life and work continue to inspire generations of Indians and scholars worldwide, leaving an enduring legacy that transcends time and borders.
FAQs on About Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan
Who was Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan?
Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan was a prominent Indian philosopher, academic, statesman. He served as the second President of India from 1962 to 1967 and was the country's first Vice President from 1952 to 1962.
What were Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan's contributions to Indian philosophy?
Radhakrishnan was an influential scholar in the fields of comparative religion and philosophy. He played a vital role in reinterpreting Advaita Vedanta philosophy in a contemporary context and defended Hinduism against Western criticism
What was Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan's educational background?
Radhakrishnan's educational journey began at K. V. High School in Tiruttani, and he later pursued his higher education at the Madras Christian College, where he completed his bachelor's and master's degrees in philosophy.
What is the significance of Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan's academic career?
He had a prolific academic career, serving as a professor at various institutions, including Madras Presidency College, the University of Mysore, the University of Calcutta, and the University of Oxford. His works and lectures in philosophy garnered international recognition
What was his role in Indian politics?
After India gained independence, Radhakrishnan represented India at UNESCO, served as India's Ambassador to the Soviet Union, and was a member of the Constituent Assembly of India. He became the first Vice President and later the second President of India.