Every year since 1962, India has been celebrating September 5 as the Teachers’ Day. It’s the birthday of Dr Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan. He was a philosopher, academic, and statesman, and served as the first Vice President of India (1952–1962) and the second President of India (1962–1967).
He always believed that the teachers should be the best minds in the country. But, how much do we Indians, and especially the students and teachers know about Dr Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan?
He was one of India’s most distinguished twentieth-century scholars of comparative religion and philosophy.
Dr Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan was born on September 5, 1888, in a Tamil middle class family at Thiruthani in Tamil Nadu.
He was an outstanding student and studied philosophy at Christian College in Madras (now Chennai). After completing his education in 1911, he had joined as an assistant professor.
Because of his hard work, and excellent knowledge on the subject, he was soon elevated to the post of Professor of Philosophy at the Madras Presidency College. Subsequently, he was a Professor of Philosophy at the University of Mysore (1918-1921).
In 1921, Dr Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan had joined as the King George V Chair of Mental and Moral Science at the University of Calcutta.
He served as the Vice-Chancellor of Andhra University, Delhi University as well as the Banaras Hindu University
Dr Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan was Upton Lecturer at Manchester College in Oxford in 1926, and in 1930, he was appointed Haskell lecturer in Comparative Religion at the University of Chicago.
In 1936, he had joined as the Spalding Professor of Eastern Religion and Ethics at University of Oxford, and served till 1952. He was the first Indian to hold a professorial chair at the University of Oxford.
His philosophy was grounded in Advaita Vedanta, reinterpreting this tradition for a contemporary understanding. He defended Hinduism against what he called ‘uninformed Western criticism’, and led to the formation of contemporary Hindu identity.
Dr Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan had earned the reputation as a bridge-builder between India and the West. He was awarded several high awards during his life, including a knighthood in 1931.
He had led the Indian delegation to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and was elected chairman of UNESCO’s executive board in 1948.
He was awarded the Bharat Ratna, the highest civilian honour in India in 1954.
Dr Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan was awarded honorary membership of the British Royal Order of Merit in 1963.
He was also one of the founders of Helpage India, a non-profit organisation for elderly underprivileged in India. Dr Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan died on April 16, 1975 in Chennai.