Doyen of Indian Philosophy and Education: Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan

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By: Prof. K.V. Nagaraj, Chief Advisor-ICN Group

Placing India on the global map is a great contribution of many eminently erudite Indian personalities. Professor Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan is one name to reckon with among the galaxy of such stars. His academic scholarship and intellectual superiority have very few aphorisms in modern India. He was the doyen of the Indian philosophical world.

Radhakrishnan made Indian philosophy dominantly visible on the global trope. His contribution to the reformation of Indian higher education system is no less significant. His emergence as statesman par excellence is well documented in the annals of governance in India.

Professor Radhakrishnan was born on September 5, 1888 at Tiruttani in Tamilnadu, bordering Andhra Pradesh. His parents were so poor that they could not support his education. In fact, it is said that his father wanted Radhakrishnan to be a temple priest. However, destiny willed otherwise. He had to depend upon scholarships to fund his education, secured by merit and hard work. His initial education was at Gowdie School in Thiruvallur.  Later, he joined Lutheran Mission School in Tirupati for higher secondary education. He went to Vorhees College at Vellore and Madras Christian College for collegiate education. Philosophy was his major subject both at bachelor’s and master’s level, a subject of his passion.

After the completion of his education Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan started his academic career at Madras Presidency College as an assistant lecturer in 1909. During the stay in this college, he became an avid scholar of Hindu philosophical classics such as Bhagavad Gita, Brahmasutras and commentaries of Adi Shankara, Ramanuja and Madhwa. His inquisitiveness spread to Jain and Buddhist philosophies. His in-depth knowledge of Plato, Immanuel Kant, Bradley and other Western thinkers was matchless. The turning point of his career was when he was offered the post of professor of philosophy by the University of Mysore in 1918. Three years later, Radhakrishnan moved to the Calcutta University. His book ‘Indian Philosophy,” published in 1923, was acclaimed as a masterpiece, a rare distinction in the world of philosophy.

His reputation as a scholar took Professor Radhakrishnan to different places. He was appointed professor of Eastern Religions and Ethics at Oxford University in England between 1936 and 1952. His relentless exposure of the theological biases of Western authors against Indian philosophy brought him unlimited accolades. Radhakrishnan’s efforts could draw global attention to the marquee signposts of Indian philosophy. He became the vice-chancellor of Andhra University in 1931 and Banaras Hindu University in 1939. He was also made Indian ambassador to UNESCO in 1946.  In 1948, he became the chairman of University Education Commission. Its recommendations propelled Indian higher education to another level of recognition.

Professor Radhakrishnan was appointed Indian ambassador to the Soviet Union in 1949. He became the first Vice-President of India in 1952. After two terms, in 1962, he was elected the president of India.  Honours came in search of him as recognition of his erudition. He was awarded knighthood by Britain in 1931. It was followed by Bharath Ratna in 1954. In 1975, he was awarded the prestigious Templeton prize and he donated the entie prize money to Oxford University. He was honoured by Germany also. He was the first Chancellor of Delhi University. He has authored many books including Indian Philosophy, The Philosophy of Upanishads, and An Idealist View of Life. He was also an unwavering champion of multiverse of religions.

Professor Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan was nominated 16 times for Nobel Prize in Literature and 11 times for Nobel peace Prize. Very aptly, his birthday is celebrated as Teachers’ Day all over the country in memory of an illustrious son of India. A true honour indeed!

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