Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan was born in Tirutani on September 5, 1888 into a poor brahmin family. The name of his father was Sarvepalli Veeraswami. His mother's name was Sitamma.
Sarvapalli Radhakrishnan started his teaching career in year 1909 at the age of 21 years from the post of Assistant Lecturer in Madras Presidency College, Tirupati.
In year 1918, he was selected to the post of the Professor of Philosophy in the University of Mysore. It was there he published his first book titled "The Philosophy of Rabindarnath Tagore". Before that his thesis at post graduate level was published. The title of his thesis was "The Ethics of the Vedanta". After that he had published numerous articles in the various world renowned journals of Philosophy. His second book was "The Reign of Religion in Contemporary Philosophy" published in 1920. In 1921, the Vice Chancellor of Calcutta University nominated him George V Professor of Philosophy. In 1923, he published his book "Indian Philosophy". It was rated as the masterpiece in the field of literature and philosophy. This book fully established him as the leading intellectual of world. He was later called to England to deliver lectures at Oxford University. He was appointed there as Professor of Religion and Ethics. It was during his stint that he had spoken for the cause of freedom of India. He spoke, "India is not a subject to be administered but a nation seeking its soul." In 1931, he was elected to the post of Vice Chancellor of the Andhara University. He restructured the university and made well recognized institution in the field of social and general sciences and technology. In 1939, he took over as the Vice Chancellor of Benaras Hindu University founded by Pandit Madan Mohan Malvia. The Benaras Hindu University survived and flourished only because of Sarvapalli Radhakrishanan efforts.
In 1948, he was asked to chair the University Education Commission. It was under his guidance that the Indian Education system of independent India was re-framed.
In 1949, he was deputed as an ambassador to Soviet Union which was under Stalin at that time. From 1948, he represented on numerous cultural bodies of United Nations Organization (UN).
In 1954, Bharat Ratan was conferred upon Dr. Radhakrishanan. He became the President of India in 1962. It was during his tenure that India fought her two major wars namely with China in 1962 and then with Pakistan in 1965. It was during his tenure that Nehru passed away. Two famous Indian prime ministers Pandit Nehru and Lal Bahadur Shastri ruled under his presidentship.
He expired on May 17, 1975 at Madras.
Some of the Major episode of the life of Dr. S. Radhakrishanan.
Sarvapalli Radhakrishnan was born in an orthodox Brahmin family. However, he completed all this education in Christian missionary schools and colleges through scholarship. He completed his high school from Lutheran Mission School in Tirupati. He completed his graduation and post graduation from Madras Christian College Vellore.
While at Madras Christain Missrionary College, young Radhakrishanan was undecdied about the choice of subject for his honours course. He was expected to choose from Mathematics, Physics, Biology, History and Philosophy. It was a mere incidence that one of his cousin who had completed his graduation course with honours in philosophy, passed on to him three well known books on Philosophy. Radhakrishanan read those books mere out of curiosity and finally decided to opt for Philosophy as an honours course at graduation level.
In 1914, the world renowned Mathematics genius from India Srinivas Ramanuja visited Sarvapalli Radhakrishanan to seek his blessing for leaving for his studies in Cambridge. He approached him with the message that Goddesses Durga had directed him in his dream to seek his blessings before leaving India.
Ashutosh Mookerjee, the Vice Chancellor of Calcutta University was highly impressed by the articles and books of Sarvapalli Radhakrishanan. He nominated him to the post of King George V Professor of Philosophy at Calcutta University in 1921. It was a highly prestigious assignment.
Prof. J. H. Murihead requested Sarvapalli Radhakrishanan to write a readable account on Indian Philosophy which could be included in the Library of Philosophy. Radhakrishanan completed a mammoth task of writing on Indian religion within two years and published the book "Indian Philosophy" in two volumes in year 1923. The book is still rated as "philosophical classic and a literary master piece".
Sarvapalli Radhakrishanan was invited to Oxford University to deliver "Upton Lecture" on ‘The Hindu View of Life’. Later a special chair was established for him and he was appointed as Spalding Professor of East Religion and Ethics at Oxford.
In 1929, Sarvapalli Radhakrishana succeeded Principal J. Estin Carpenter in Manchester College, Oxford.
He was knighted in 1931 and bestowed upon the title of ‘Sir’. He was then called Sir S. Radhakrishanan. He was called by that title till 1947. After that he was addressed as Dr. S. Radhakrishanan.
In 1931, he was invited to head the Andhara University as Vice Chancellor. He resurrected the university by restructuring the departments of language, Humanities, Science and Technology. When he left the university in 1936, Andhara University had earned the position of the leading universities.
In 1939, he took over as the Vice Chancellor of Benaras Hindu University established by Madan Mohan Malaviya. In 1942, the Governor Sir Maurice Hallet tried to convert the campus of University into a war hospital during the Quit India Movement. Radhakrishanan approached the Viceroy and stayed the conversion of campus for other purposes. However, Sir Maurice Hallet responded by holding back the grant to the University. Sir Sarvapalli Radhakrishanan launcehd a ‘Begging Pilgrimage’ and collected funds for the university. The university continued to work in that manner. After that Madan Mohan Malaviya retired from the university. The university requested Sir Sarvapalli Radhakrishanan to continue in his post for infinite time.
Savapalli Radhakrishanan was appointed as an ambassador to USSR in 1949. He was invited by Joseph Stalin to meet him in Kremlin. It was an unexpected invitation because such a meeting was never part of the protocol. It is on record that referring to his infamous bloody purges, Radhakrishanan suggested a role model of Asoka to Stalin. Stalin listened him and responded back with a smile. He was able to establish direct rapport with Stalin who was being hated by rest of the world at that time. When Radhakrishanan was called back to India in 1952, he met Stalin before leaving and had very intimate conversation with Stalin. It touched Stalin deeply and even wished him a long life. The political analysts believe that the role played by Radhakrishanan in Moscow had laid the grounds for better relation with USSR.
During his two terms as Vice President of India, whereby he acted as the Chairman of Rajya Sabha, his period is remembered for tactful handling of sensitive debates in Rajya Sabha. His role as the Chairman of Rajya Sabha is remembered for the Sanskrit Shalokas and quotations from Bible which he readily used while defusing the tension generated during the debates in the house.
More than 100 honorary degrees and nearly 10 D Litt had been conferred upon him.
President Dr. S. Radhakrishanan spent his last days at his house ‘Girija’ Mylapore, Chennai.
Comments and Quotations by and about Dr. S. Radhakrishanan.
Dr. Sarvapalli Radhakrishanan was a monist in philosophy, monotheist in religion, eudaemonist or perfectionist in Ethics and socialist in politics.
Another profound scholar and leading politician Dr. Shanker Dayal Sharma, when took over as the President of India, it was popular in intellectual circle that a person that could revive the glory of President of India as raised to a height by Dr. S. Radhakrishanan, had come become president.
Professor A. G. Hogg of Madras Missionary College while commending the post graduate thesis of Sarvapalli Radhakrishanan titled "The Ethics of Vedanta and Its Metaphysical Presupposition" wrote, "The thesis which he prepared in the second year of his study for this degree shows a remarkable understanding of the main aspects of the philosophical problems, a capacity for handling easily a complex argument besides more than the average mastery of good English".
Aldous Huxley had remarked about Radhakrishanan that he "is the master of words and no words". It refers to his ability to express the most abstruse thoughts of philosophy in such a fine language that it becomes comprehensible to all.
Prof. H.N. Muirhead said, "Dr. Radhakrishnan has the rare qualification of being equally versed in the great European and the not less great Asiatic tradition which may be said to hold in solution between them the spiritual wisdom of the world, and of thus speaking as a philosophical bilinguist upon it."
George P. Conger said, "Among the philosophers of our time, no one has achieved so much in so many fields as has Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan of India … ."
Further, "With his unique appointment at Banaras and Oxford, like a weaver's shuttle, he has gone to and fro between the East and West, carrying a thread of understanding, weaving it into the fabric of civilization."
Sources: Former Presidents of India A Government of India Web Site. The readers will get details of all the awards conferred upon and works done by Dr. S. Radhakrishanan.
University of Memphis Web Site This link displays a handwritten letter by Dr. S. Radhakrishanan. It is part of the web site of University of Memphis at http://www.cs.memphis.edu/ .