To mark the birth anniversary of Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, every year, on September 5, people across India celebrate Teachers’ Day – students make cards for their teachers and perform songs and dances for them to thank them for their tireless efforts and love. We cannot deny the importance of teachers in our lives – they play an important role in shaping the way we think and perceive things. But while we appreciate their efforts, do we really know why we celebrate Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan’s birth anniversary as Teachers’ Day?
The first Teachers’ Day celebration in India dates back to 1962 when Dr Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan started serving as the President of India. To celebrate his esteemed position, his students suggested that his birthday be celebrated as ‘Radhakrishnan Day’. But Dr Radhakrishnan refused it and instead, came up with a suggestion – “Instead of celebrating my birthday, it would be my proud privilege if September 5 is observed as Teachers’ Day.”
Born in 1882 into a Telugu family in a town called Tirutani in Andhra Pradesh, his father wanted him to take on the role of a priest. But destiny had other plans. His hard work got him to join schools in Tirupati and Vellore and he eventually went on to join Christian College, Madras to study philosophy.
He graduated with a master’s degree in Philosophy and authored the book ‘The Philosophy of Rabindranath Tagore’ in 1917 and placed Indian philosophy on the world map. He went on to teach at Chennai’s Presidency College and Calcutta University. As a professor at the Presidency College in Madras and the University of Calcutta, he was popular among students and was seen as a brilliant teacher.
He also served as the Vice Chancellor of Andhra Pradesh University from 1931 to 1936. In 1936, Dr Radhakrishnan was invited to teach Eastern Religions and Ethics at Oxford. He held the position for sixteen years.
“He has served his country in many capacities. But above all, he is a great teacher from whom all of us have learned 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 about Radhakrishnan.
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.
With many feathers in his cap – despite his achievements and contributions, Radhakrishnan always remained a teacher throughout his life. Loved and popular among his students, he will always be remembered as an excellent teacher by many.