Dr S.Radhakrishan (1888-1975), was one of the greatest and most learned scholars on Hindu philosophy of the twentieth century, not only in India but all over the world. He had deep knowledge of both, the eastern and western philosophical thoughts and traditions. In his research work and commentaries, he touched various fields and works, such as the Vedas, Upanishads, the Bhagavad-Gita, Jainism, Buddhism, Plato, Kant, Marxism and Existentialism. He graced the office of the President of India from 1962 to 1967; which was otherwise marred by the controversies and was occupied by the persons of not so high in stature, after his departure from this highest office. He was very aptly suited to play the role of philosopher-king as the great philosopher Plato has described. His is the great and tough journey of a poor Brahmin boy, from an unknown remote village of Andhra Pradesh to the President House via Oxford. Like the universe, he gave a positive message to the world. Every morning the sun says, “Wake up like me.” Sky says, “Aim my heights.” The Wind says, “Refresh like me.” This phrase is very aptly applicable to him.
You are born without anything, but you die with a name, but that name should not be a word only, it must be history. In the case of Dr.S.Radhakrishan, this famous phrase is applicable. Born, in an unknown village, Tiruttan, Andhra Pradesh, on 5, September 1988, in a very poor Brahman family, and like most of the Brahmans, he had a very difficult childhood and spent all his childhood in abject poverty. He received his early schooling at his native village and higher schooling, at Lutheran Mission School, Tirupati. He did his graduation, from Christian College Madras, with philosophy and Logic as his subjects. He chose ‘Ethics of the Vedanta’ as the topic for his thesis for his M.A., which he passed with distinction. He had a great desire to go to Oxford University but was unable to materialise it, due to financial hardships. Due to financial hardships, he started teaching as an assistant lecturer at the Madras Presidency College, in 1909. He was an excellent teacher and his students were enthralled with his lecturers.
TEACHER-A GUIDE TO MANKIND
He teaches us to learn in silence, while he talks;
He teaches tolerance, while he is intolerant to hawks.
He teaches kindness, while he is unkindest to wrongs;
Teachers and guides the world with lofty thoughts.
With his lofty sermons, unlocks newer paths moving;
Denounces his pleasures for pupils’ mirth growing,
With patience and sacrifice, broods nation-building:
For the success of others, teaches his living.
For him, his pupils are his bank, with precious treasure;
With his wisdom deep, motivates us and inspire:
A teacher is a director, a creator and never-ending pleasure:
An artist, a kingmaker and a philosopher:
He is a real hero of beguiling society, without wing:
Clears darkness of mind and ushering spring.
At that time teachers were very poorly paid in India. Moreover in Christian colleges teachers were subjected to all type of difficult service conditions. As a result of such conditions, he had to take up tuitions to supplement his meagre salary and family. Even then he could not overcome the financial constraints and had to sell his all the gold medals and other medals, he had won for his academics excellence. On the suggestion of a good-wisher who was very well familiar with his talent Dr Radhakrishan published his lectures on Psychology in a book form, ‘The Essentials of Psychology.’ The book was highly popular but again he had sold off its copyright for a poor sum of Rs. 500, to clear debts. All these problems could not stop his march. He believed that gates of life open to a happy tomorrow, leads to a world of joy, decorating the life with abounding happiness. Life takes to a beautiful world but only for those who walk with an aim, run with confidence and play with achievements.
In 1918, Dr.S.Radhakrishnan was selected Professor of Philosophy at the University of Mysore. He wrote his first book, ‘The Philosophy of Rabindranath ‘Tagore’ in 1918. The book was a great success and Dr.S.Radhakrishnan became an international name. In 1921, the academic dynamic vice-chancellor of Calcutta University recognised the merit and talent of Dr.S.Radhakrishnan and offered the highly prestigious post of Professor of Philosophy, at Calcutta University.
Dr.S.Radhakrishnan brought out his magnum creation, ‘Indian Philosophy’ in 1923 which was recognised as “a philosophic classic and a literary masterpiece.” With the publication of this book, Indian and Hindu philosophy was recognised as a very important and rich branch of learning. In 1929, his lifelong cherished desire was fulfilled when he was invited to deliver the Upton Lectures, at Harris Manchester College, Oxford, on ‘The Hindu View of Life’. The poor Brahmin boy of Tiruttan mesmerised the listeners. His merit and talent were immediately recognised by British scholars. There, a millionaire philanthropist was deeply impressed by his mesmerising and captivating lectures. He created and financed a post of a professor for Dr.S.Radhakrishnan, to teach Eastern Religion and Ethics, at the University of Oxford. Dr.S.Radhakrishnan was the first Indian to have been honoured to get the Professorship at Oxford. Similarly, Dr.S.Radhakrishnan had a unique achievement; he held two important chairs, simultaneously, in two different continents: One at Oxford; and the other at the University of Calcutta.
TEACHER: SOLDIER WITH A PEN
A teacher is a soldier with a pen and an eternal guide
Lighting wisdom to mind decayed and white,
Floating tirelessly till dark with no pride,
Without fear and favour telling tales bright.
To clean the dirt river flows and air floats,
To vibrate heart and mind he gloats.
‘Tween goddess Saraswati and man he is linking milk,
Giving life to the world with deepest think.
As blessed banyan with roots, side by side,
Withstand winter, storm, wind and tide,
The beauty he admires and goodness wide,
Word and language such as teacher ride,
He will turn dust to gold if his ways not hide,
And rake a soul with the favourite manifold glide.
Dr.S.Radhakrishnan has very aptly described Indian and Hindu spirituality as the perfect growth of the soul in a continuous manner i.e. from age to age, in pursuit of goodness and truth. It is for all types of persons, from sages, who have renounced the life, to common man and woman, engaged in the normal pursuit of life, the rishis, the Vedas and the Upanishads delved deeper into the mysteries of nature and life and discovered the true purpose and meaning of life. While translating the Bhagavad-Gita, he clears the puzzle about the multiplicity and supremacy of gods, immortality and transmigration of the soul, Lord Krishna tells Arjuna in the Bhagavad-Gita that he (Arjuna) need not bother himself with the multiplicity and huge variety of gods. What he should concern himself with, is that God exists and every atom of us and that is all outside us and sustains the universe that He has created.
Dr.S.Radhakrishnan was a great and multidimensional personality- a great philosopher, an expert on Hinduism, prolific writer, voracious reader, a powerful and excellent orator, an educationist of superb calibre, administrator, great patriot and man. His life-long commitment to education continued to influence and shapes the Indian academic world after independence. For his great scholarly and philosophic achievements Dr.S.Radhakrishnan was also in the shortlisted list for the award of prestigious Nobel Prize for Philosophy in 1937 but unfortunately could not get it. From 1939 to 1948 he graced the world-famed University Benaras Hindu University as its Vice-Chancellor.
When he took up the teaching job at Oxford University, in England, a close friend of Dr.S.Radhakrishnan reminded him that he could emulate America’s Woodrow Wilson’s rise from professorship to President Ship. That prophecy-cum joke came true; he became the second President of the Indian Republic on May 13, 1962, after Dr Rajendra Prasad. He proved;
TEACHING IS A —
Teaching is not a profession,
It is a holy vocation,
It is a divine mission,
It needs committing attention.
Honest teacher earns admiration,
It gives dull and empty mind inspiration,
Helps sleeping cells get stimulation,
Right, and proper teaching is a transformation.
Teaching is the strongest pillar of education,
It widens and matures imagination,
From slavery and darkness, it is liberation,
Enlarges mental horizon and sharpens comprehension.
It is a challenging task for modulation,
It stops the diversion of attention,
It sustains the eminent position,
It compels of man’s inner realisation.
The accent should not be on examination,
Good teaching requires higher imagination,
A good teacher is a temptation,
It is the architect of a nation.
After independence in 1947, the then Prime Minister Shri Jawaharlal Nehru appointed his sister Smt. Vijay Laxmi Pundit as the ambassador to U.S.S.R., but she completely failed to impress and tackle a rude and arrogant man like Stalin. Nehru and his left advisors suggested appointing Dr S.Radhakrishnan, as India’s ambassador to U.S.S.R and in 1949; Dr S. Radhakrishan was chosen to replace Smt Pundit as India’s envoy to the Soviet Union. They wanted to lower the stature of Dr.S.Radhakrishnan. Everybody was apprehensive of Nehru’s decision, that a soft philosopher like him be able to tackle a difficult and tough man like Stalin. But Dr S. Radhakrishnan was like tea bags whose strength comes out when it is put in hot water, so when problems haunt you, just think you must be God’s dearest cup-like tea. In the Soviet Union, he worked as the most favourite creation of God.
It was to everybody’s surprise that Stalin was charmed by this great philosopher. In a lecture on Hindu philosophy, Stalin listened Dr.S.Radhakrishnan. After that meeting, Stalin almost became a disciple of Dr.S.Radhakrishnan. At the time of Dr Radhakrishan’s departure from U.S.S.R. to India, Stalin expressed his wish to see him. Dr Radhakrishan met him and before leaving, he patted Stalin on the cheek and back like a father blessing his son. Stalin almost in tears and reacted emotionally, “you are the first person who has treated me like a human being and not like a monster-you are leaving and I am sad.”
It is said that Stalin offered Dr Radhakrishan as honorary citizenship of the Soviet Union and was ready to appoint Dr S Radhakrishan as Cultural Minister of the Soviet Union. But patriotism in Dr Radhakrishan did not allow accepting this offer. If he has accepted this offer perhaps, Stalin would have converted to Hinduism and the Soviet Union would have been a Hindu country.
A similar thing happened when Dr.S.Radhakrishnan met Mao Tse-tung President of China. He gave a mild slap or pat on the cheek of President Mao. Mao felt uncomfortable on this. On this Dr.S.Radhakrishnan replied with a smile that he did the same thing with Stalin and Pope.
During the making of the Indian constitution, a very interesting argument took place between Pt.Nehru and famous scholar-poet Shri Raghupati Sahay (28 August 1896 – 3 March 1982), better known under his pen name Firaq Gorakhpuri. A lobby headed by Nehru and supported by Ambedkar himself wanted to thrust English as a national link language. Firaque opposed this proposal. He argued that in India only two and a half people know English. Pt.Nehru asked very curiously about the name of those two and a half persons, thinking that he must be one out of two and a half. Firaque said sarcastically that the first name was Dr.Radhakrishnan and second he himself and Pt.Nehru half.
On his return to India, Dr Radhakrishanan became the first vice-president of India. After Dr Rajendra Prasad, he became the second President of India. After the shameful defeat on India by China in 1962, Nehru was a broken and shattered man. In the critical hour, Dr Radhakrishanan gave India excellent leadership and filled that vacuum, created by the failure of Shri Jawaharlal Nehru. The depth of your personality is revealed when you respond to the situation you dislike. In this difficult hour, Nehru failed and shamed the nation but D. Radhakrishnan excelled. In one sentence he concluded the entire age of Pt. Jawahar Lal Nehru, “Nehru was a great man, but greater was his failures.”
When his tenure as the President was completed in 1967n nobody wanted to give Dr.S.Radhakrishnan the much needed second term because he dwarfed all other in the Congress. It was due to the political and vote bank manipulations and compulsions and Islam-centric secular politics, this great son of India was denied the second term as the President of India and much lower in calibre and personality Dr Zakir Hussein replaced him as the president of India. It was a very sad commentary on Indian politics and Indian model of secularism.
To pay respect and homage to this great son of India, the nation celebrates his birthday on September 5, as Teacher’s Day. For his great achievements and his services to the nation, he was felicitated with the nation’s highest civil honour, the Bharat Ratna, in 1954. It was indeed a great achievement for a poor Brahman boy of Tiruttani to rise to these heights under difficult and hostile conditions. After this honour nation forgot him. He passed away on April 17, 1975. His death was not only mourned in India but also America, Europe, Asia and Africa. The almost entire world joined together to express its sadness at this great loss.
After thirty-two years of his death, the entire world started celebrating Teachers’ Day. On 5, October 1994, representatives of one hundred countries met in Paris, during a UNESCO-EIE (Education International), summit and signed an agreement unanimously to celebrate Teachers’ Day on 5, October, every year.
1. S. Lal, 50 Magnificent Indians of the 20th Century, Jaico.
2. LOK SEVAK SANGH, vol.15, No. 148, September 2008, p-5-6.
3. Danik Jagran, New Delhi,
4. Times of India, New Delhi.