There are many things that we usually associate with West Bengal or Kolkata (formerly known as Calcutta), such as the music, Rabindranath Tagore, or even Mother Teresa. But not many people are aware of Sister Nivedita who contributed immensely to the Indian society in Bengal. And it will not be farfetched to claim that not many people know of her in the UK either.
Sister Nivedita was born as Margaret Elizabeth Noble, on 28th October 1867, in Dungannon, Northern Ireland, and passed away in Darjeeling, on 13th October 1911. She was a schoolteacher and had established her own school at Wimbledon, in 1892. Margaret Elizabeth Noble became an influential spokesperson, promoting Indian national consciousness, unity and freedom, after becoming a follower of the Indian spiritual leader, Swami Vivekananda.
Swami Vivekananda visited England in 1895 and this is when Noble met him. She was drawn to the prevalent principles of vedanta and to the Swami's classic teachings. Noble accepted Vivekananda as her spiritual guider (guru) before he left England in 1896. She then worked for the Vedanta Movement in England before moving to India in 1898.
Noble had gone to India, primarily to help Vivekananda recognise his initiatives to educate women. She had also opened a small school in Kolkata (Calcutta), where she tried to fuse Indian traditions with Western ideas. She also introduced courses to train young women in arts and crafts, as well as basic academic subjects which were already being taught to them.
After seeing the great level of devotion from Margaret Elizabeth Noble, Vivekananda gave her the name, “Nivedita”, which means the dedicated one.
Popularly known as Sister Nivedita, she also served the poor in Bengal during the times of flood, plague and famine. After the death of Swami Vivekananda, she turned her attention towards India's political liberation. She had strongly objected to the partition of Bengal in 1905 and also supported a movement that called for the exclusion of imported British goods, in favour of domestically produced handmade goods.
Her school continued to be in operation in the early 21st century in Kolkata, under the management of the Ramakrishna Sarada Mission, which is a sister organisation to the Ramakrishna Mission founded by Vivekananda in 1897.
Sister Nivedita's residence in Ireland has been given a blue plaque by the Ulster History Circle as a commemoration. The Ulster History Circle is a small not for profit voluntary organisation that commemorates places with blue plaques in public places as a celebration of people who have contributed to in culture, industry and history.
Although Sister Nivedita's Irish residence has been bestowed with a blue plaque, her contribution and achievements are yet to be celebrated and acknowledged.
Her followers in the UK are very much aware of Nivedita's contributions and believe it would be a respectable gesture if her residence in Wimbledon is also bestowed with a blue plaque; and are in the process of making an application for this move.
A spokesperson who feels deeply for Sister Nivedita said, “Even though the Ulster History Circle have arranged a blue plaque in Dunganon, Ireland in 1911, her [Sister Nivedita's] work is still unrecognised in England. She was a spark of spiritual fire born as Margaret Elizabeth Noble, however, she was more popularly known as Sister Nivedita... Her writing expressed her Indian nationalist views. She was a motivational force for people in all walks of life. Her lectures and various discourses gave people, direction and guidance on how exactly to lead their lives. Throughout her life, she worked extremely laboriously for serving the people of India and society at large.”
On contacting Stephen Hammond, MP of Wimbledon regarding whether he was aware of Sister Nivedita or the prospective proposal of a blue plaque at her Wimbledon residence, he stated that he was unaware of this, hence, would not be able to reply to our queries.