Sunday, 2 June 2013


Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan (5 September 1888 – 17 April 1975) was an Indian philosopher and statesman who was the first Vice President of India (1952–1962) and the second President of India from 1962 to 1967.
One of India's most influential scholars of comparative religion and philosophy, Radhakrishnan built a bridge between the East and the West by showing how the philosophical systems of each tradition are comprehensible within the terms of the other. He wrote authoritative exegeses of India's religious and philosophical literature for the English speaking world. His academic appointments included the King George V Chair of Mental and Moral Science at the University of Calcutta (1921–1932) and Spalding Professor of Eastern Religion and Ethics at Oxford University (1936–1952).
Radhakrishan was awarded the Bharat Ratna, the highest civilian award in India, in 1954. Among the many other honors he received were the British Knight Bachelor in 1931 and the commonwealth Order of Merit (1963), but ceased to use the title "Sir" after India attained independence. His birthday is celebrated in India as Teachers' Day on 5 September. He was also awarded the Templeton Prize in 1975 in recognition of the fact that "his accessible writings underscored his country’s religious heritage and sought to convey a universal reality of God that embraced love and wisdom for all people"

Early life and education

Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan was born in a Niyogi Telugu Brahmin family at a village near Thiruttani India, 84 km to the northwest of Madras (now Chennai). His father's name was Sarvepalli Veeraswami and his mother's was Sitamma. His early years were spent in Tiruttani and Tirupati. His father was a subordinate revenue official in the service of a local zamindar (landlord). His primary education was at Primary Board High School at Tiruttani. In 1896 he moved to the Hermansburg Evangelical Lutheral Mission School in Tirupati.
Radhakrishnan was awarded scholarships throughout his academic life. He joined Voorhees College in Vellore but switched to the Madras Christian College at the age of 17. He graduated from there in 1906 with a Master's degree in Philosophy, being one of its most distinguished alumni. Radhakrishnan wrote his thesis for the M.A. degree on "The Ethics of the Vedanta and its Metaphysical Presuppositions". He was afraid that this M.A. thesis would offend his philosophy professor, Dr. Alfred George Hogg. Instead, Hogg commended Radhakrishnan on having done most excellent work.  Radhakrishnan's thesis was published when he was only 20.
Radhakrishnan studied philosophy by chance rather than choice. Being a financially constrained student, when a cousin who graduated from the same college passed on his philosophy textbooks in to Radhakrishnan, it automatically decided his academic course. Later on he felt deep interest in his subject and wrote many acclaimed works on philosophy, both Eastern and Western.


Radhakrishnan was married to Sivakamu, a distant cousin, at the age of 16. As per tradition the marriage was arranged by the family. The couple had five daughters and a son, Sarvepalli Gopal. Sarvepalli Gopal went on to a notable career as a historian. Sivakamu died in 1956. They were married for over 51 years.



In April 1909,Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan was appointed to the Department of Philosophy at the Madras Presidency College. Thereafter, in 1918, Radhakrishnan was selected as Professor of Philosophy by the University of Mysore. By that time he had written many articles for journals of repute like The Quest, Journal of Philosophy and the International Journal of Ethics. He also completed his first book, The Philosophy of Rabindranath Tagore. He believed Tagore's philosophy to be the "genuine manifestation of the Indian spirit". Radhakrishnan's second book, The Reign of Religion in Contemporary Philosophy was published in 1920.
In 1921 he was appointed as a professor in philosophy to occupy the King George V Chair of Mental and Moral Science at the University of Calcutta. Radhakrishnan represented the University of Calcutta at the Congress of the Universities of the British Empire in June 1926 and the International Congress of Philosophy at Harvard University in September 1926. Another important academic event during this period was the invitation to deliver the Hibbert Lecture on the ideals of life which he delivered at Harris Manchester College, Oxford in 1929 and which was subsequently published in book form as An Idealist View of Life.
In 1929 Radhakrishnan was invited to take the post vacated by Principal J. Estlin Carpenter at Harris Manchester College. This gave him the opportunity to lecture to the students of the University of Oxford on Comparative Religion. For his services to education he was knighted by George V in the June 1931 Birthday Honours, and formally invested with his honour by the Governor-General of India, the Earl of Willingdon, in April 1932. However, he ceased to use the title after Indian independence, preferring instead his academic title of 'Doctor'.
He was the Vice-Chancellor of Andhra University from 1931 to 1936. In 1936 Radhakrishnan was named Spalding Professor of Eastern Religions and Ethics at the University of Oxford, and was elected a Fellow of All Souls College. In 1939 Pt. Madan Mohan Malaviya invited him to succeed him as the Vice-Chancellor of Banaras Hindu University (BHU). He served as its Vice-Chancellor till January 1948.
When India became independent in 1947, Radhakrishnan represented India at UNESCO (1946–52) and was later Ambassador of India to the Soviet Union, from 1949 to 1952. He was also elected to the Constituent Assembly of India.
Radhakrishnan was elected as the first Vice President of India in 1952. He was elected as the second President of India (1962–1967). When he became President, some of his students and friends requested him to allow them to celebrate his birthday, 5 September. He replied,
"Instead of celebrating my birthday, it would be my proud privilege if 5 September is observed as Teachers' Day."
His birthday has since been celebrated as Teachers' Day in India.
Along with Ghanshyam Das Birla and some other social workers in the pre-independence era, Radhakrishnan formed the Krishnarpan Charity Trust.


Radhakrishnan stated that Western philosophers, despite all claims to objectivity, were influenced by theological influences of their own culture. He wrote books on Indian philosophy according to Western academic standards, and made all efforts for the West to give serious consideration to Indian philosophy. In his book An Idealist View of Life, he made a powerful case for the importance of intuitive thinking as opposed to purely intellectual forms of thought. He is well known for his commentaries on the Prasthana Trayi namely, the Bhagavadgita, the Upanishads and the Brahma Sutra.


  • The Bharat Ratna in 1954
  • Radhakrishnan was appointed a Knight Bachelor in 1931.
  • Elected Fellow of the British Academy in 1938.
  • He was awarded Order of Merit in 1963.
  • He received the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade in 1961.
  • Awarded the Templeton Prize in 1975, a few months before his death. He donated the entire amount of the Templeton Prize to Oxford University. In 1989, the university instituted the Radhakrishnan Scholarships in his memory. The scholarships were later renamed the "Radhakrishnan Chevening Scholarships"

Philosophy and Life
    His first book, "The Ethics of the Vedanta and Its Material Presupposition"', being his thesis for the M.A. degree examination of the Madras University, published in 1908, at once established his fame as a great philosopher of undoubted ability. All his later works are landmarks in their respective fields. Expressing abstract and abstruse philosophical thoughts in intelligible language is considered very difficult. But Dr. Radhakrishnan was one of the few who could accomplish this with ease and simplicity.
    To him, philosophy was a way of understanding life and his study of Indian philosophy served as a cultural therapy. By interpreting Indian thought in western terms and showing that it was imbued with reason and logic he was able to give Indians a new sense of esteem, who were overcome by inferiority complex by imperial forces. But he also made clear to them that their long and rich tradition had been arrested and required further evolution and he exhorted Indians to cast off much that was corrupt and abhorrent.
Social Commitment
    Dr. Radhakrishnan moved beyond being a mere academic and sought to engage his philosophical and religious studies in the political and social developments of the contemporary context.
    He believed that in India, the philosopher's duty was to keep in touch with the past while stretching out to the future. This commitment to society, the crusading urgent tone in his scholarly writings, the modern note in his interpretations of even classical texts and his intellectual resistance to the deforming pressures of colonialism gave Dr. Radhakrishnan a distinct public image. He was a coin minted differently from the usual run of politicians and academicians.
Evocative Teacher
    Far from being a stern and severe intellectual remote from the world, Dr. Radhakrishnan was a very humane person. Exceedingly popular among his students right from his early days as a professor at Presidency College, Madras he was an evocative teacher. He was offered the professorship in Calcutta University when he was less than 30 years old. He served as Vice-Chancellor of Andhra University from 1931 to 1936. In 1939, he was appointed the Vice Chancellor of Banaras Hindu University .Two years later, he took over the Sir Sayaji Rao Chair of Indian Culture and Civilisation in Banaras.
    Recognition of his scholarship came again in 1936, when he was invited to fill the Chair of Spalding Professor of Eastern Religions and Ethics at Oxford which he retained for 16 years. His mastery on his subject and his clarity of thought and expression made him a much sought after teacher. But what made him even more popular was his warmheartedness and his ability to draw out people. This aspect of his personality continued to win him countless admirers throughout his long and illustrious public life.
    In the last decades of British rule, his was the most sophisticated and exalted analysis of Gandhi's work and thought and in free India he provided the ideological armour for Nehru's foreign policy.
International Acclaim
    His commitment to high principles and unfailing dignity lent nobility and moral authority to all the offices which he held. If in India Dr. Radhakrishnan was a highly respected figure, abroad he became one of the best-liked public figures of his time. He earned very early international recognition as a philospher. In 1952, the Library of Living Philosophers, an institute of world-wide repute, brought out a massive volume on 'the philosophy of Sarvapalli Radhakrishnan' devoted wholly to a critical appreciation of his philosophical doctrines.
    After Independence, this philosophical luminary, who personified the essence of India yet had a universal vision, became an ideal ambassador to the Soviet Union, for the nascent nation poised to establish itself in the international arena.
Leading the Nation
    In 1952, Dr. Radhakrishnan was chosen to be the Vice President of the Republic of India and in 1962, he was made the Head of the State for five years. It was the glory of Indian democracy that an educationist aloof from politics but with an international acclaim as a profound scholar was placed in the position of the President. And it was an advantage for a young country like India to have him to interpret its domestic and foreign policies abroad to expound its outlook and aspirations emphatically and in the rightway which was much needed in a world of uncertainity and disbelief among nations.
    His appointment as President was hailed by Bertrand Russel who said "It is an honour to philosophy that Dr.Radhakrishnan should be President of India and I, as a philosopher, take special pleasure in this. Plato aspired for philosophers to become kings and it is a tribute to India that she should make a philosopher her President".
    History reserved for Radhakrishnan's term of office as President much suspense and surprise. Within months of his ascendancy in 1962 there was the Chinese invasion. The nation's morale was dealt a blow but RadhakrishnanÕs voice, firm and resolute came on the air to reassure a shaken nation:
    "Owing to the difficult terrain and numerical superiority of the Chinese, we suffered military reverses. These have opened our eyes to the realities of the situation. We are now aware of our inadequacies and are alive to the needs of the present and the demands of the future. The country has developed a new purpose, a new will".
    In 1965, Pakistan violated our Western frontiers. Dr Radhakrishnan in his broadcast to the nation on September 25, 1965 said,"Pakistan assumed that India was too weak or too afraid or too proud to fight. India, though naturally disinclined to take to arms felt the necessity to defend herself when attacked. Pakistan also assumed that communal disturbances would occur in the country and in the resulting chaos she could have her way. Her miscalculations must have come to her as a rude shock."
    Dr.Radhakrishnan had great faith in Indian democracy. In his farewell broadcast to the Nation on May 12, 1967, he said that despite occasional forebodings to the contrary, the Indian Constitution had worked successfully so far. But democracy, he warned, was more than a system of the Government. "It was a way of life and a regime of civilised conduct of human affairs. We should be the architects of peaceful changes and the advocates of radical reform", he said.
Great Teacher
    It was in 1962 when Dr. Radhakrishnan became the President of India that his birthday in September came to be observed as 'Teachers' Day'. It was a tribute to Dr.Radhakrishnan's close association with the cause of teachers. Whatever position he held whether as President or Vice President or even as Ambassador, Dr.Radhakrishnan essentially remained a teacher all his life. The teaching profession was his first love and those who studied under him still remember with gratitude his great qualities as a teacher.
    Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, who was one of his closest friends throughout, said about Dr.Radhakrishnan: "He has served his country in many capacities. But above all, he is a great Teacher from whom all of us have learnt much and will continue to learn. It is IndiaÕs peculiar privilege to have a great philosopher, a great educationist and a great humanist as her President. That in itself shows the kind of men we honour and respect."
    Bharat Ratna, the highest award of the nation, was conferred on him in 1954 in recognition of his meritorious service to mankind.