The Dawn of A New Phase

Once more with Nivedita on board SS Mombasa came to Calcutta on 9 February 1902. Mrs Bull and Romesh Chandra Dutt also came with her. Her life at Baghbazar began as before, but this time at 17 Bose Para Lane. The earlier house at 16 had long been vacated for want of fund. The school was reopened after the Swaraswati Puja. In April Christine Greenstidel, an ardent admirer of Swami Vivekananda of Detroit, who later became popular as Sister Christine, came to India and lived with Nivedita while helping her in running the school. A little later the old house at 16 Bose Para Lane was again rented to accommodate the school. Christine shifted there to live while Nivedita remained alone at 17 Bose Para Lane till her death. For her brilliance

and personality Nivedita drew many great  and famous Indians and a few Westerners too to her small and simple house during the nine years she lived there.  While living there her life gradually took a new course primarily for three reasons. First was her inestimable love for India and her people, which grew manifold since she came back from the West in 1902; secondly, the untimely death of Swami Vivekananda brought a great impact on her life necessitating an official unlinking with the  Ramakrishna Order; and thirdly, the Swadeshi Movement in India hardly allowed her to remain aloof to innumerable injustices brought upon the country and its people by British tyranny. 

"How often does a man ruin his disciples, by remaining always with them! When men are once trained, it is essential that their leader leave them, for without his absence they cannot develop themselves."

- Vivekananda

The Fall Of A Great Tree
Swami Vivekananda

Much before the end came, Vivekananda knew that his mortal frame would hardly be able to stay for long in this world. He gave many hints in this regard to his close associates and admirers who preferred to overlook the inevitability.  The blow came on the late evening of 4 July 1902 when the Swami was apparently in good shape till the final hour came. Nivedita last met him at the Math on 2 July 1902 and passed long hours with him. Though he was on fast that day, the Swami insisted on serving the meal to Nivedita in his own hand. When it was over, he himself poured water over her hands and dried them with a towel. Nivedita instantly blurted out : 'It is I who should do these things for you, Swamiji! Not you, for me!' Vivekananda's answer startled her: 'Jesus washed the feet of His disciples!' Nivedita wrote later: 'Something checked the answer 'But that was the last time!' - And thus this was no different too.

Swami Vivekananda

A Rapid Change That Followed

Some areas of Nivedita's work and ambitions, however good and well-meaning had been, were hardly in conformity with the aims and ways of the Ramakrishna Mission. Such mutually exclusive agendas were no less inadmissible even when Vivekananda was there. But he had his own ways and towering personality to ease things out. This hardly could happen when he was no more. So Nivedita had to decide her ways. This she did and the outcome appeared in the Indian Mirror on 22 July 1902: 'Sister Nivedita begs us to inform the public that, at the conclusion of the days of mourning for the Swami Vivekananda, it has been decided between the members of the of the Order at Bellur Math and herself, that her work shall henceforth be regarded as free, and entirely independent of their sanction and authority.' This was how, despite an undying link and mutual trust between herself and the leading members of the Order till her last day, Nivedita parted her way. India at this juncture was a little before the greatest political change that would later influence and shape all of Her freedom movements.

It was a decision of Lord Curzon, the Viceroy of India between 1899 and 1905, which charted the course of Indian freedom movement. It all started in December 1903 when Curzon announced his desire to cut off portions of the then Bengal

Presidency. Administrative advantage was the declared reason behind the plan, but underneath had been the motive to curtail the cultural and political influence of Bengal over the country as a whole. Agitations and protests erupted in no time. Unperturbed, Curzon went on with his plan and the partition of Bengal was officially announced on 19 July 1905. Spontaneous upheavals  spread over Bengal, responses began to come from other parts of the country as well, and a call to boycott British goods were given. The formal proclamation of Swadeshi Movement was made on 7 August 1905 during a meeting at the Calcutta Town Hall.

The First Session of National Congress in 1885

The Early nationalists, coming together for the first time in the Congress session of 1885, were called moderates for their love and preference for peaceful polite approach to get what they desired from the British. Among their great leaders were W.C. Banerjee, Rash Behari Ghosh, Surendranath Banerjee, R. C. Dutt,  Dadabhai Naoroji, Gopal Krishna Gokhale,  Pherozeshah Mehta, Justice Ranade and many others.

But the Swadeshi Movement resulting from Curzon's decision to reshape Bengal demanded a different kind of agitation which the moderates were neither ready to nor capable of leading from the front. The rift between the moderates and the  extremists began to grow at the end of nineteenth century. The confronting ground was ready at the Benaras Congress of 1905 which came in the wake of the first partition of Bengal. 

Nivedita's indignation against the partition of Bengal made her wholeheartedly involved in the affairs of the Swadeshi Movement. In the Indian Review of March 1905 she wrote: 'This svadeshi movement is an integral part of the National Righteousness. ...' The partition of

Bengal came into effect on 16 October 1905. She met Gokhale in Calcutta and agreed to be the official reporter for the Calcutta Statesman in the Benaras Congress. In one of her writings in the paper she came out with the keynote: 'What is the real function of the Congress? It must train its members in the new way of thinking which forms the basis of nationality. ... It must teach itself to emphasize the mutual sympathy which binds all the members of the vast family that stretches from the Himalayas to Cape Comorin, from Manipur to Persian Gulf.' And it was at her temporary residence in Benaras that the leading political personalities attending the Congress frequented to etch out a common programme to avoid an almost hanging sword over their party's solidarity. Thus in Benaras the catastrophe could somehow be avoided. But not for long, the political scenario quickly began to darken and finally it was at the Surat Congress of 1907 where the Moderates and  Extremists finally crossed their swords and decided to part ways. 

The Last Compromise

Gokhale was young, able and honest; he had a balanced mind, pleasing personality and even at his young age could contribute greatly in serving his country. So the moderates with more than justified reasons to apprehend the coming storm at the Benaras Congress, chose him as the President-designate. On the boiling background of truncated Bengal, two vital resolutions came before the Session: first, boycotting the visit of Prince of Wales who had already been invited to attend the Session; second, boycotting British goods to put pressure on their economy. And to handle such turbulent issues Gokhale had to manage three formidable forces - Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Lala Lajpat Roy and the angry youth of Bengal. So in Benaras congress many close-door meetings and maneuverings went on to bring all the disagreeing forces to accept an almost unanimous proposal to avert the imminent split. Nivedita played a vital role in this regard. Her first biography has it that, '... All the leaders of India who made the epoch from 1895 to 1914 famous, were her intimate friends.'

Gopal Krishna Goklale (1866-1915)

And G K Gokhale in particular had been a great friend and admirer of Nivedita. When he went to London in April 1906, Gokhale carried with him Nivedita's letters of introduction to three illustrious men - William Stead, Frederic Harrison and Peter Kropotkin.

We are working comrades because we are Indians, children of a single-roof tree, dwellers around one bamboo clump. Our task is one, the rebuilding of Heroic India.

- Nivedita, 1907

Sri Aurobindo presiding over a conference of Nationalist Delegates at Surat in December,1907

(on his left is B G Tilak speaking to the gathering)

It was at the Surat Congress where the split between the Moderates and Extremists finally came into open leaving the party permanently divided. This had its impact on the Swadeshi Movement too. Besides, following Surat Congress extreme British repressions came upon the agitators everywhere; and unrestrained imprisonment of many of the leaders gradually weakened the movement.  There were even instances

Notes made by Prime Minister William Gladstone for the Government of Ireland Bill 1893

During her Wimbledon days Nivedita befriended Octavius Beatty who was the editor of the Wimbledon News, an organ of the Irish association in England. Political developments at that time drew her to the cause of the 'Free Ireland' group working for Home Rule. She gave lectures in public meetings, organized centres of resistance in the South of England, and so on. Therefore, when aggressive movements began in Bengal, Nivedita had no difficulty in associating herself in offering advice and assistance to their noble cause.

of a few stalwarts distancing themselves from active politics during this crucial time. Thus in the wake of a great movement virtually dying out, many inspired youth took recourse to revolutionary activities. And with such people and their movements Nivedita kept herself associated in mostly covert ways without leaving any trace of her role, then or later. 

In fact she was equally easy with both the early forces of Indian freedom struggle, the moderates, and the extremists.About Nivedita once Ramananda Chatterjee of Modern Review fame wrote : 'She was a pronounced nationalist ... though her political opinions were quite radical and definite.' The gradual decline of the Swadeshi Movement disturbed Nivedita much, her letter to S.K. Ratcliffe on 14 September 1910 still echoes her feelings in this regard. But she never lost heart, her letter to Ratcliffe, then in England, even till before a month of her death thrives with powerful words: 'I am by nature political - and my interest in social questions is wholly indirect. ... Even religion is to me too much an instrument for throwing Humanity into the furnace and remoulding huge masses and areas of men.' Time has long become overdue that we should  take a look at the letters Nivedita  wrote to great many persons around the globe to record its enduring relevance even today. It is not for nothing that the blurb of the book containing Nivedita's letters claims: 'No real history of India dealing with the late nineteenth and early twentieth century shall ever escape the indelible impact Nivedita left on many areas of the country's national life.'

The Swami felt that there was no task before India which could compare in importance with that of woman's education. His own life had had two definite personal purposes, of which one had been the establishment of a home for the Order of Ramakrishna, while the other was the initiation of some endeavour towards the education of the woman. With five hundred men, he would say, the conquest of India might take fifty years; With as many women, not more than a few weeks.


A Man of Great Impact
Sir Patrick Geddes

Nivedita was brought from the West to look after the second ambition of Vivekananda. It all more or less went well till she met Professor Geddes, who was a visionary with a combination of academic excellance and genius. Geddes, said Rabindranath, 'has the precision of the scientist, and at the same time the vision of the prophet. He has also the power of an artist to make his ideas visibe through the language of symbol.' It was Professor Geddes who, besides Swami Vivekananda, had influenced Nivedita most in her thinking and assimilation of various ideass centering civilisation, society, and the flow of human life. She desired to learn more from the Professor to understand India a little better to bring sustained benefit to the nation and its people. For she knew, or rather assumed, that it would surely be approved by Swamiji, who always prefeerred steady and permanent changes without disturbing the traditional mores of his ancient nation.

Patrick Geddes (1854-1932)

An Admiring Friend

After the Swami was no more, Nivedita visited the West twice - in August 1907, remaining there for two years; and then in October 1910, when Mrs Bulls' serious illness took her to the US. This time she came back via England and Europe in early April 1911. Thereafter Nivedita had no more than six months to remain in this world, and during those marginal days of her life emotional onslaughts came upon her mind. But like her mentor, she too had touched the feet of God. Nivedita once wrote that in Vivekananda she saw the 'King of Rishis.' 

S. K. Ratcliffe

Samuel Kerkham Ratcliffe (1868-1958)