Every year, on September 5, classrooms across India fill up with greeting cards, chocolates, flowers and performances as student showcase what their teachers mean to them. We all appreciate the vital role that teachers play in shaping the future, but do we really know why we celebrate Teachers’ Day?
The first Teachers’ Day was celebrated in India in 1962. This is the year when Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan began serving as the second president of India. To celebrate his esteemed position, his students suggested that his birthday be celebrated as ‘Radhakrishnan Day’.
However, he declined this move and suggested that “Instead of celebrating my birthday, it would be my proud priviledge if September 5 is observed as Teachers’ Day.”
Radhakrishnan was born in 1882 in a town called Tirutani in Andhra Pradesh. Though his father wanted him to take on the role of a priest, the boy’s talents brought him to join schools in Tirupati and Vellore. He eventually joined Christian College, Madras, in order to study philosophy.
He believed that the study of Indian philosophy and its interpretation in western terms would cast off imperial inferiority complex and give countrymen a new sense of esteem. As a professor at the Presidency College in Madras and the University of Calcutta, he was popular among students and was seen as an evocative teacher.
He later served as the Vice Chancellor of both Andhra University and Banaras Hindu University and was recognised by Oxford University when he was called to fill the Chair of Spalding Professor of Eastern Religions. In 1939, he was elected Fellow of the British Academy.
“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 India’s peculiar privilege to have a great philosopher, a great educationist and a great humanist as her President,” Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru once said on Radhakrishnan.
He became the first Vice President of India in 1952 and took on the role as the nation’s second Prsident in 1962 until 1967.
Radhakrishnan was awarded India’s highest civilian honour, the Bharat Ratna, in 1984 and the British Order of Merit in 1963. He passed away on April 17, 1975 and has till date been nominated eleven times for the Nobel Peace prize.
Despite all his achievements and contributions, Radhakrishnan remained a teacher throughout his life. Teachers’ Day is celebrated to honour the memory of India’s first Vice President and to commemorate the importance of teachers in our lives.