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Journey from a hut to the president’s residence

Born into a poor family in Tamil Nadu, Dr Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan rose to become a professor at Oxford University and later, the president of India, by the strength of his erudition

education Updated: Sep 08, 2010 09:25 IST

Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan was born on September 5, 1888, into a poor Telugu Brahmin family at Tamil Nadu’s Tiruttani, a town in the then-Madras Presidency.

A brilliant student, he was awarded scholarships throughout his academic life. Dr Radhakrishnan joined the Voorhee’s College in Vellore though he later moved to the Madras Christian College at the age of 17. There, he studied philosophy. However, this was not by choice. Being poor, he didn’t have enough money to buy books. So, when his cousin, who had graduated in philosophy from the same college, passed on his books, the choice was made for Dr Radhakrishnan.

He, however, surpassed all expectations and his thesis, on Vedanta philosophy, published when he was just 20, was hailed as one of the best.

Later in life, he served as the vice chancellor of the Andhra University after which he took over Benaras Hindu University in a similar position. He also served as the Spalding Professor of Eastern Religions and Ethics at Oxford University.

It was his ambition that led him to success in his various endeavours. He had once said, “The greatest gift of life is the dream of a higher life.”

Teacher’s Day
Dr Radhakrishnan was elected as the first Vice President of India in 1952 and was elected as the second President of India (1962-1967). When he became president, some of his students requested him to allow them to celebrate his birthday. He replied, “Instead of celebrating my birthday, it would be my proud privilege if September 5 is observed as Teachers’ Day.” His birthday has since been marked as a day to commemorate the contribution of teachers to our lives.

It also reminds us of the great ideals of this true humanitarian.

Lessons from life
He propagated non-violence and affirmed the virtues of love over hatred. “All our world organisations will prove ineffective if the truth that love is stronger than hate does not inspire them,” he said. As the president of India, he rested his faith in human nature rather than in economic or political reforms to ensure peace in the society.

He loved all individuals and believed in the power of education, a power that can be wielded to trounce evil. “Human nature is fundamentally good, and the spread of enlightenment will abolish all wrong,” he said. His belief lay in the fact that education opens new doors of happiness and success. “Life of joy and happiness is possible only on the basis of knowledge and science,” he used to say.

He said that reading a book gives us true enjoyment and they (books) are the means by which we can build bridges between cultures. Dr Radhakrishnan’s definition of education transcended professional qualification. He valued greatness of spirit over technical efficiency of students.