Dr Sarvapalli Radhakrishnan, the Philosopher and teacher who became President of India
The history of India is proud to have a stalwart like Dr Sarvapalli Radhakrishnan in its pages. A man of exceptional and unmatched oratorial skills, brilliant vocabulary he rose from humble beginnings and had an illustrious teaching career as a Professor of Philosophy to then become the President of India.
The protege is born
A trip down memory lane takes us to Tiruttani, a town in Chennai. On September 5th 1888, a boy was born to an Andhra Brahmin family. The child was named Sarvapalli who studied on scholarships throughout his academic years. Hailing from a financially weak background, Sarvapalli studied philosophy by chance and not by choice! A distant cousin who had graduated from college had passed on his philosophy books to Radhakrishnan. That's when he decided to pursue philosophy, research and teaching as his main career.
That he was a remarkable and astute scholar even as a young man could be gauged even in his college days. When doing his Masters's in Philosophy from Madras Christian College, the MA thesis that he chose was, ‘The ethics of Vedanta and its metaphysical presuppositions.’ Even at that young age, Dr Radhakrishnan understood the importance of and defended the Hindu Vedanta Philosophy against the Western charges that Advaita lacked ethicality. He explained in detail how the Vedanta philosophy, one of the six orthodox Indian Hindu philosophies based on the Upanishads is, as a matter of fact ethical.
Dr Sarvapalli's academic career
Over the next few years, Dr Sarvapalli Radhakrishnan had an illustrious career in teaching and writing in philosophy. His extraordinary teaching skills accompanied by impeccable oratorial eloquence were admired by professors all over the world. Professors at Cambridge and Oxford Universities had to look up dictionaries of the difficult words that he sometimes uttered during his speeches. Such was his mastery! Dr Radhakrishnan’s philosophy was grounded in the Advaita Vedanta principles expounded in the Hindu religion. He earned the reputation of being a bridge-builder between the east and the west as he was influential in shaping and understanding Hinduism and its deepest philosophies.
Dr Radhakrishnan went on to hold many distinguished posts in his illustrious career. He was a teaching faculty at Madras Christian College. He was appointed as the second ambassador of India to the Soviet Union from 1949-1952. He became the fourth Vice-Chancellor of Benaras Hindu University from 1939- 1948. Being one of the most distinguished teachers of comparative religion and philosophies, during Dr Radhakrishnan’s unparalleled teaching career, he held the King George V Chair of Mental and Moral Science at the University of Calcutta from 1921 to 1932 and the Spalding Chair of Eastern Religion and Ethics at University of Oxford from 1936 to 1952.
Dr Radhakrishnan has been showered with innumerable awards and accolades in his lifetime, including a knighthood by the British Empire, and a Bharat Ratna, India’s highest civilian award. He became India’s first Vice- President from 1952-1962 and later the second President of India from 1962-1967. It is noteworthy that once India got Independence from colonial rule, Dr Radhakrishnan dropped the title of Knighthood and resumed his academic title of Dr.
Why teachers day is celebrated on 5th September
There is an interesting anecdote from the life of Dr Radhakrishnan when a group of students went to him to ask him how he wanted to celebrate his birthday to which he said, ‘Instead of celebrating my birthday, it would be my proud privilege if September 5th is observed as Teachers' Day' to pay homage to all the great teachers of India. He believed teachers were the best minds in the country. Hence each year on his birthday, September 5th is celebrated Teacher’s Day is celebrated. Let us remember this great personality with a lot of respect and reverence on his birthday.