One of the foremost scholars of comparative religion and philosophy, he built a bridge between Eastern and Western thought showing each to be comprehensible within the terms of the other. He introduced Western idealism into Indian philosophy and was the first scholar of importance to provide a comprehensive exegesis of India’s religious and philosophical literature to English speaking people. His academic appointments included the King George V Chair of Mental and Moral Science at the University of Calcutta (1921-?) and Spalding Professor of Eastern Religions and Ethics at Oxford University (1936-1952).
He was the first Vice President of India (1952-1962), and the second President of India (1962-1967). His birthday is celebrated in India as Teacher’s Day.
Life and career
Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan (Sarvepalli is his family name, and Radhakrishnan his given name) was born into a middle class Telugu Brahmin family at Tiruttani, a town in Tamil Nadu, India, 64 km to the northwest of Madras (now known as Chennai). His mother tongue was Telugu. His early years were spent in Tiruttani, Tiruvallur and Tirupati. His primary education was in Gowdie School, Tiruvallur, and higher school education in P.M.High School, Gajulamandyam, Renigunta. He married Sivakamamma in 1904 at age 16 in Vellore. They had five daughters and a son, Sarvepalli Gopal. He graduated with a Master’s degree in Philosophy from the prestigious Madras Christian College,being one of its most distinguished alumni.
In 1921, he was appointed as a philosophy professor to occupy the King George V Chair of Mental and Moral Science at the University of Calcutta. Radhakrishnan 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. In 1929, Radhakrishnan was invited to take the post vacated by Principal J. Estlin Carpenter in Manchester College, Oxford. This gave him the opportunity to lecture to the students of the University of Oxford on Comparative Religion. He was knighted in 1931, but did not use the title in personal life. He was the Vice-Chancellor of Andhra University from 1931 to 1936. In 1936, Radhakrishnan was named Spalding Professor of Eastern Religions and Ethics at the University of Oxford, and was elected a Fellow of All Souls College. When India became independent in 1947, Radhakrishnan represented India at UNESCO, and was later India’s first ambassador in Moscow. He was also elected to the Constituent Assembly of India.
Radhakrishnan was elected as the first Vice President of India in 1952. In 1956, his wife Sivakamamma died. They were married for over 51 years. He was elected as the second President of India (1962-1967). When he became President, some of his students and friends requested him to allow them to celebrate his birthday, September 5. He replied,
“Instead of celebrating my birthday, it would be my proud privilege if 5 September is observed as Teachers’ Day.”
His birthday has since been celebrated as Teachers’ Day in India.Radhakrishnan along with Ghanshyam Das Birla and few other Social Workers in pre independence era formed Krishnarpan Charity Trust.
Radhakrishnan argued that Western philosophers, despite all claims to objectivity, were biased by theological influences of their own culture. He wrote books on Indian philosophy according to Western academic standards, and made Indian philosophy worthy of serious consideration in the West. In his book “Idealist View of Life” he has made a powerful case for the importance of intuitive thinking as opposed to purely intellectual forms of thought. He is well known for his commentaries on the Prasthana Trayi namely, the Bhagavadgita, the Upanishads and the Brahma Sutra.
He was elected as a Fellow of the British Academy in 1938. He was awarded the Bharat Ratna in 1954, and the Order of Merit in 1963. He received the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade in 1961, and the Templeton Prize in 1975, a few months before his death. He donated the entire Templeton Prize amount to Oxford University. In 1964 he declared that he was not truly a monist philosopher, for if he were, his father would not have given him this name, Radhakrishnan; subsequently, he became disciple in a Gaudiya Math branch. The Oxford University instituted the Radhakrishnan Chevening Scholarships and the Radhakrishnan Memorial Award in his memory.
^ Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan (1888-1975) [Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy]
^ Teacher’s Day, Teacher’s Day Celebrations, Celebration of Teacher’s Day, September Festivals, Legends Behind Teacher’s Day, Stories of Teacher’s Day, Teacher’s Day Celebrations
^ Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, Charles Moore (eds.), A source Book in Indian Philosophy, Princeton: Princeton University Press 1989, 610-639
^ Paramadvaiti, B. A. (1996). “Gaudiya Math – Part I” The Sri Chaitanya Math Branch. vrindavan.org. Retrieved on 2008-08-02.
^ Quoted in J. A. C. Brown, Techniques of Persuasion, Ch. 11, 1965.