Vital Sunday: Margaret Noble

Margaret Noble grew up in Ireland and England in a highly religious family. Her father was a Minister in the Wesleyan Church at Manchester, England. As she became older, she became doubtful of the truth of the Christian doctrines. She was seeking Light and Truth. In 1895 a friend invited her to her house to hear a lecture by a ‘Hindu Yogi’ whose name was Swami Vivekananda. Swami left England that winter and returned again in 1896 to teach continuously during the summer.

Margaret remarked after his first visit, “These, then, were the things I remembered and pondered over, concerning the Swami, when he had left England that winter, for America, – first, the breadth of his religious culture; second, the great intellectual newness and interest of the thought he had brought to us; and thirdly, the fact that his call was sounded in the name of that which was strongest and finest and was not in any way dependent on the meaner elements in man.”

It was in the course of a casual conversation in England, that Swami Vivekananda said to Margaret Noble, “I have plans for the women of my own country in which you, I think, could be of great help to me.” She knew she had heard a call which would change her life.

She wrote to a friend, “Suppose he had not come to London that time! Life would have been like a headless dream, for I always knew that I was waiting for something. I always said that a call would come. And it did. But if I had known more of life, I doubt whether, when the time came, I should certainly have recognized it.

“Fortunately, I knew little and was spared that torture…Always I had this burning voice within, but nothing to utter. How often and often I sat down, pen in hand, to speak, and there was no speech! And now there is no end to it! As surely I am fitted to my world, so surely is my world in need of me, waiting – ready. The arrow has found its place in the bow. But if he had not come! If he had meditated, on the Himalayan peaks!….I, for one, had never been here.”

Margaret arrived in Calcutta in January of 1898. That year, in March, Swami Vivekananda introduced her to the people of Calcutta, at a public meeting at the Star Theatre, saying, “England has sent us another gift in Miss Margaret Noble.” Also in that month Swami initiated Margaret in the vow of Brahmacharya and gave her the name of “Nivedita”, the dedicated one. That same year she started a girl’s school in Calcutta and went on to serve the people of India by working during the plague epidemic in 1899, and continuing to improve the lives of Indian women of all castes. She contributed greatly towards Indian nationalism, by touring India extensively delivering lectures on India’s culture and religion. She shall also be remembered as a prolific writer on Vedanta and Indian culture.

Nivedita died on October 13, 1911. On her memorial in Darjeeling is inscribed “Here reposes Sister Nivedita who gave her all to India.” The following is a poem Swami Vivekananda wrote to Sister Nivedita:

The mother’s heart, the hero’s will
The sweetness of the southern breeze,
The sacred charm and strength that dwell
On Aryan altars, flaming, free;
All these be yours and many more
No ancient soul could dream before-
Be thou to India’s future son
The mistress, servant, friend in one.