Biography of Dr Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan

Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan Biography

Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan biography and history of Teachers Day celebration
Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan

Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan was one of the most recognized and influential Indian thinkers of the 20th century. He was a leader, scholar and philosopher. Dr. Radhakrishnan served as the first Vice-President of India (1952 -1962) and then as the second President of India (1962 -1967). Due to his outstanding qualities, the Government of India honoured him with the country’s highest honour ‘Bharat Ratna‘ in 1954. The birthday of this great personality is on 5th September which is celebrated as “Teacher’s Day” across the country. As a philosopher he introduced the ideas of Western idealist philosophers into Indian thought.

    Radhakrishnan was born on September 5, 1888 into a Brahmin family in Tiruttani, Tamil Nadu. His father was Sarvepalli Veeraswami and mother was Sitamma. His ancestors lived in a town called Sarvepalli. So all members of Radhakrishnan’s family used the name Sarvepalli in front of their names. Radhakrishnan had four brothers and one sister. His father opposed Radhakrishnan’s education as he was born in an economically backward family. His father wanted him to become a priest in a temple rather than study, but destiny had more plans.

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As his father was poor, Radhakrishnan used to provide his own scholarship through the scholarship he earned.He completed his  primary education at K. V. High School at Tiruttani. In 1896 he moved to the Hermannsburg Evangelical Lutheran Mission School in Tirupati and Government High Secondary School, Walajapet. He attended the Elizabeth Rodman Voorhees College in Vellore. It was here that he was introduced to western thought.

  In 1904, he graduated with first class in Arts. He specialized in psychology, history, and mathematics. He studied the “Bible” and received a scholarship to a Christian college. He chose philosophy as his main subject at undergraduate and postgraduate level. His subject was ‘Abstract Preconceptions of Vedanta Philosophy’.

Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan got the post of Assistant Lecturer in Madras Presidency College in 1909. While in college he specialized in Hindu philosophy, namely the Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita, the Brahmasutras and the commentaries of Sankara, Ramunuja and Madhava. Apart from this he was also familiar with Buddhist and Jain philosophy and the philosophies of Western thinkers like Plato, Plotinus, Kant, Bradley and Bergson.

In 1921, Radhakrishnan was appointed Professor of Philosophy at Calcutta University. In 1923, Dr. Radhakrishnan’s book “Indian Philosophy” was published which was hailed as a philosophical classic and an outstanding contribution to literature. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan was invited by Oxford University to lecture on Hindu philosophy. He used his speeches as one of the sharpest tools of Indian independence against the British. He showed that Indian philosophy translated into standard academic jargon was in no way inferior to Western philosophy. He thus placed the importance of Indian philosophy in the court of the world.

This eminent teacher was appointed as the Vice-Chancellor of ‘Benares Hindu University’ in 1939, when India was under British rule. The then British governor, Sir Maurice Hallett, wanted to turn the university campus into a war hospital, an outgrowth of responding to the ‘Quit India Movement’ started by Mahatma Gandhi. Dr. Radhakrishnan vehemently opposed Hallett’s politically motivated thinking, which resulted in the suspension of financial aid to the university. Dr. Radhakrishnan approached philanthropists and intellectuals across the country to personally raise funds to continue the university’s activities.

In his early life he taught philosophy at Mysore University (1918). During this time he used to write in various notable newspapers. At that time he wrote his first book ‘The Philosophy of Rabindranath Tagore’. The second book ‘The Rain of Religion in Contemporary Philosophy’ was published in 1920.  He was known as one of the greatest philosophers of India and was well known abroad and in his own glory.

In those days there was early marriage. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan married Sivakamu in 1903 at the age of 16. His wife was only ten years old then. He had good knowledge of Telugu language. He also knew the English language. In 1908, a daughter was born to the Radhakrishnan couple.

Dr. Radhakrishnan was tasked with being India’s ambassador to the Soviet Union. He was also once appointed Chairman of the Executive Board of UNESCO.

  Dr. Radhakrishnan won several awards including the Bharat Ratna for his contribution to education. He even received a knighthood from the British Emperor King George V in 1931 for his teaching skills. Three decades later, Dr. Radhakrishnan was awarded the ‘Order of Merit’ by the ROYAL FOLKS of Britain. In 1975, towards the end of his life, Radhakrishnan was awarded the ‘Templeton Prize‘ by the well-known ‘Templeton Foundation‘. However, generous Radhakrishnan donated the entire amount earned through the Templeton Prize to ‘Oxford University’. 

Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan died in Chennai on April 17, 1975 after a long illness. His contribution to education will always be appreciated. When he was the President of India in 1962, his admired students and friends wanted to celebrate his birthday, September 5. But he proposed that he would be especially favoured and happy if September 5 was celebrated as Teachers’ Day. Since then, every year on September 5, “Teachers’ Day” is celebrated across the country to honour this great philosopher. On this day, the best teachers of the state are felicitated.

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