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Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan About this sound listen (5 September 1888 – 17 April 1975) was an Indian philosopher and statesman[1] 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 distinguished twentieth-century scholars of comparative religion and philosophy, 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 University of Oxford (1936–1952).

His philosophy was grounded in Advaita Vedanta, reinterpreting this tradition for a contemporary understanding.  He defended Hinduism against “uninformed Western criticism”, contributing to the formation of contemporary Hindu identity. He has been influential in shaping the understanding of Hinduism, in both India and the west, and earned a reputation as a bridge-builder between India and the West.

Radhakrishnan was awarded several high awards during his life, including a knighthood in 1931, the Bharat Ratna, the highest civilian award in India, in 1954, and honorary membership of the British Royal Order of Merit in 1963. Radhakrishnan believed that “teachers should be the best minds in the country”. Since 1962, his birthday is celebrated in India as Teachers’ Day on 5 September.
Biography
Early life
Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan was born in a Telugu Brahmin family in a village near Thiruttani India, in the erstwhile Madras Presidency near the border of Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu states. His father’s name was Sarvepalli Veeraswami and his mother’s was Sitamma. His early years were spent in Thiruttani and Tirupati. His father was a subordinate revenue official in the service of a local zamindar . His primary education was at K.V High School at Thiruttani. In 1896 he moved to the Hermansburg Evangelical Lutheran Mission School in Tirupati.
Education
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 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.
Marriage and family
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. Former Indian Test Cricketer VVS Laxman is his great grand nephew.
Academic career

In April 1909, Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan was appointed to the Department of Philosophy at the Madras Presidency College. Thereafter, in 1918, he was selected as Professor of Philosophy by the University of Mysore, where he taught at its Maharaja’s College, 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”. His second book, The Reign of Religion in Contemporary Philosophy was published in 1920.

Political career

Radhakrishnan started his political career “rather late in life”, after his successful academic career.  His international authority preceded his political career. In 1931 he was nominated to the League of Nations Committee for International Cooperation, where after “in Western eyes he was the recognized Hindu authority on Indian ideas and a persuasive interpreter of the role of Eastern institutions in contemporary society.” 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, and elected as the second President of India (1962–1967).

Teachers’ Day
When he became the President of India, 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.

Charity
Along with Ghanshyam Das Birla and some other social workers in the pre-independence era, Radhakrishnan formed the Krishnarpan Charity Trust.

Philosophy
Radhakrishnan tried to bridge eastern and western thought, defending Hinduism against “uninformed Western criticism”, but also incorporating Western philosophical and religious thought.

Advaita Vedanta
Radhakrishnan was one of the most prominent spokesmen of Neo-Vedanta. His metaphysics was grounded in Advaita Vedanta, but he reinterpreted Advaita Vedanta for a contemporary understanding. He acknowledged the reality and diversity of the world of experience, which he saw as grounded in and supported by the absolute or Brahman. Radhakrishnan also reinterpreted Shankara’s notion of maya. According to Radhakrishnan, maya is not a strict absolute idealism, but “a subjective misperception of the world as ultimately real.”

Intuition and religious experience

“Intuition”, or anubhava, synonymously called “religious experience”, has a central place in Radhakrishnan’s philosophy as a source of knowledge which is not mediated by conscious thought. His specific interest in experience can be traced back to the works of William James (1842–1910), Francis Herbert Bradley (1846–1924), Henri Bergson (1859–1941), and Friedrich von Hügel (1852–1925), and to Vivekananda. who had a strong influence on Radhakrisnan’s thought. According to Radhakrishnan, intuition is of a self-certifying character (svatassiddha), self-evidencing (svāsaṃvedya), and self-luminous. 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. According to Radhakrishnan, intuition plays a specific role in all kinds of experience.

Classification of religions

Dr.Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan was also an erudite scholar
For Radhakrishnan, theology and creeds are intellectual formulations, and symbols of religious experience or “religious intuitions”. Radhakrishnan qualified the variety of religions hierarchically according to their apprehension of “religious experience”, giving Advaita Vedanta the highest place.
Influence
Radhakrishnan was one of India’s best and most influential twentieth-century scholars of comparative religion and philosophy,

Radhakrishnan’s defence of the Hindu traditions has been highly influential, both in India and the western world. In India, Radhakrishnan’s ideas contributed to the formation of India as a nation-state.  Radhakrishnan’s writings contributed to the hegemonic status of Vedanta as “the essential worldview of Hinduism”.  In the western world, Radhakrishnan’s interpretations of the Hindu tradition, and his emphasis on “spiritual experience”, made Hinduism more readily accessible for a western audience, and contributed to the influence Hinduism has on modern spirituality.

In figures such as Vivekananda and Radhakrishnan we witness Vedanta traveling to the West, were it nourished the spiritual hunger of Europeans and Americans in the early decades of the twentieth century.

Appraisal
Radhakrishnan has been highly appraised. According to Paul Artur Schillp.

Nor would it be possible to find a more excellent example of a living “bridge” between the East and the West than Professor Radhakrishnan. Steeped, as Radhakrishnan has been since his childhood, in the life, traditions, and philosophical heritage of his native India, he has also struck deep roots in Western philosophy, which he has been studying tirelessly ever since his undergraduate college-days in Madras Christian College, and in which he is as thoroughly at home as any Western philosopher.

Criticism and context
Radhakrishnan’s ideas have also received criticism and challenges, for their perennialist and universalist claims, and the use of an East-West dichotomy.

Perennialism

According to Radhakrishnan, there is not only an underlying “divine unity” from the seers of the Upanishads up to modern Hindus like Tagore and Gandhi, but also “an essential commonality between philosophical and religious traditions from widely disparate cultures.” This is also a major theme in the works of Rene Guenon, the Theosophical Society, and the contemporary popularity of eastern religions in modern spirituality. Since the 1970s, the Perennialist position has been criticised for its essentialism. Social-constructionists give an alternative approach to religious experience, in which such “experiences” are seen as being determined and mediated by cultural determants.

Criticism and context
Radhakrishnan’s ideas have also received criticism and challenges, for their perennialist and universalist claims, and the use of an East-West dichotomy.

Perennialism

According to Radhakrishnan, there is not only an underlying “divine unity” from the seers of the Upanishads up to modern Hindus like Tagore and Gandhi, but also “an essential commonality between philosophical and religious traditions from widely disparate cultures.”This is also a major theme in the works of Rene Guenon, the Theosophical Society, and the contemporary popularity of eastern religions in modern spirituality. Since the 1970s, the Perennialist position has been criticised for its essentialism. Social-constructionists give an alternative approach to religious experience, in which such “experiences” are seen as being determined and mediated by cultural determants.