Dr. Sarvapalli Radhakrishnan was born on 5 September, 1888 in Tirutani, a well-known religious center in the Madras State. He was the second son of Veera Samayya, a tehsildar in a zamindari. It was a middle-class, respectable Hindu Brahmin family. Indeed, the place, the time and the family were most suitable, from every point of view, for the advent of a new philosopher-statesman, so directly needed in those turbulent days of the awakening of a very ancient and glorious nation, drowsy and dormant in its own ignorance and indolence, for reasons well known to all.
As usual in those days, Radhakrishnan was married in 1906, at the tender age of 18 and while still a student, to Sivakamamma, and spent a happy conjugal life with her for half a century before she died in 1956.
Bright and brilliant, with a scholarly disposition and a serene and saintly demeanor, from the very beginning, Radhakrishnan spent the first eight years of his life happily and fruitfully in his home town with his parents.The peaceful and exhilarating atmosphere of that well-known and well-loved place, as well as the benign influence of his parents who, as was common in the South, were intensely religious in the traditional sense, went far in moulding his character and sowing a lively seed of religiousness and moralism in him.
It was, indeed, an indubitably significant fact that Radhakrishnan's parents, though orthodox, thought it fit to send their beloved son to Christian Missionary schools and colleges: Lutheran Mission School, Tirupathi (1896-1900), Vellore College, Vellore (1900-1904), Madras Christian College (1904-1908).
The wonderful far-sightedness, open-heartedness and broad-mindedness of his revered and beloved parents, which enabled them, in those days of blind prejudices and equally blind social taboos, to send their son to well-known, well-managed, well-disciplined Christian educational institutions - stood him in good stead throughout, making it possible for him to acquire specially Occidental qualities like a sense of duty, punctuality, discipline, sobriety and the like, together with specially Oriental qualities of religiosity, calmness, patience, faith in God and men.
Radhakrishnan's choice of Philosophy as his main or Honours subject in his B.A. degree course was due to a very fortunate accident. At that time, he was really rather baffled as to what particular Honours subject to choose from amongst the possible five, viz., Mathematics, Physics, Biology, Philosophy and History. Then, purely accidentally, and out of a mere boyish curiosity, he read three well-known works on Philosophy, passed on to him by one of his cousins who had that year obtained the B.A. degree with Philosophy Honours; and that definitely decided his future course of studies.
He studied Sanskrit and Hindi also; and had a good deal of interest in the traditional languages of India. He read also the Vedas and the Upanishads with great care and reverence.
In fact, Radhakrishnan was, and is, still today, a reader and a digester in the true sense of the terms. For, what he read - and he read widely and lovingly all kinds of good books - did not remain an external acquisition, an ornamental decoration, with him; but blossomed forth in him in fullest glory and grandeur.
It is not always that in this strange world of ours inner worth is accompanied by outer success. But Radhakrishnan is a glorious exception in this regard. For, all throughout his brilliant career, honour after honour was showered on him. The following are some of the main posts held by him most fittingly and efficiently: Lecturer in Philosophy, Presidency College, Madras, in the Madras Provincial Educational Service, after graduation; Assistant Professor of Philosophy in the same College for five years; Professor of Philosophy, Mysore University (1918-1921); King George V Professor of Philosophy, Calcutta University (1921-1931) and again (1937-1944); Vice-Chancellor of the Andhra University (1931); Spaulding Professor of Eastern Religion and Ethics, Oxford University (1932-1953) - first Indian to be so appointed; and Vice-Chancellor of the Banaras Hindu University (1942). Among the cultural posts held by him may be mentioned: Leader of the Indian Delegation to UNESCO many times (1946-1950); Chairman of the University Education Commission (1948) appointed by the Government of India; Chairman of the Executive Board of UNESCO (1948); President of UNESCO (1952); Delegate to the P.E.N. Congress (1959); Vice President of International P.E.N.; Honorary Fellow of the British Academy (1962); Representative of the Calcutta University at the Congress of Philosophy, Harvard University, U.S.A. (May 1962).
Among the political posts held by him may be mentioned: Ambassador-Extraordinary and Minister-Plenipotentiary to the U.S.S.R. (1949-1952),Vice-President of India (twice: 1952-1956 and 1957-1962); and President of India (1962-1966).
Among the Lectureships held may be noted: Upton Lecturer, Manchester College, Oxford; Harwell Lecturer in Comparative Religion, University of Chicago; Hibbert Lecturer, University College, London and Manchester (1929).
Among the Honorary degrees and distinctions achieved were: Knighthood (1931); Honorary D. Ph. (Teheran University, 1963); Honorary D.Litt. (Tribhuvan University, Nepal, 1963); Honorary Doctor of Law (Pennsylvania University, 1963); Honorary Ph.D. (Moscow University, 1964); Honorary Doctor of Law (National University of Ireland, 1964); over one hundred Honorary degrees including those from Oxford, Cambridge and Rome Universities; Honorary Member of the Order of Merit, Buckingham Palace (12 June, 1963). He also made Goodwill tours to Singapore, Indonesia, Japan and China (September-October 1956); to Belgium, Poland, Czechoslovakia, the Soviet Union, Hungary and Bulgaria, African countries like East and Central Africa (June-July 1956); to Indo-China States, China, Mongolia and Hong Kong (September, 1957). He also paid State visits to Great Britain (June 1963), to Nepal (November 1963) and to U.S.S.R. and Ireland (September 1964).
Radhakrishnan was, and still is, one of the most celebrated writers of the present generation. His works are many and varied on philosophical, theological, ethical, educational, social and cultural subjects. He contributed also numerous articles to different well-known journals, which too, will prove to be of immense value to generations to come.
But what is most felt after reading any of his valuable works or articles is its wonderful liveliness. Truly, his articles are not merely outer expressions of his inner thoughts, but, what is more, infinitely more, emblems and embodiments of his very life - life that merrily dances forth in the fortuitous, zig-zag way of the world, removing all its obstacles in its own inner irresistible urge and boundless boldness. Hence, it is that his works, written in an incredibly simple, sublime, soft and serene way, are so very enchanting, enlivening, exhilarating to all. As a matter of fact, as is well known, it is very difficult to express very abstract and abstruse philosophical thoughts in easily intelligible and enchantingly sweet language. But Dr. Radhakrishnan, like the great and revered Rabindranath, is one of the few who could accomplish this apparently impossible feat. That is why his philosophical writings are not ordinary scholarly dissertations, but also melodious poetical perfections of great and permanent value.
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 the tender age of twenty only, at once established his fame as a great philosophical writer of undoubted ability. All his later works are landmarks in their respective fields, like 'The Philosophy of Rabindranath Tagore' (1918), 'Idealistic View of Life' (1932), 'Eastern Religions and Western Thought', 'Reign of Philosophy in Contemporary Thought', Kalki or The Future of Civilization', 'Indian Philosophy (2 vols.), etc.
Dynamic in personality, quiet in demeanor, austere in habits, unostentatious in behaviour, just in decision, prompt in action, simple in his dress, sympathetic in his dealings - such is our revered Dr. Radhakrishnan. He is a living, loving symbol and lovely emblem of our age-old Indian culture and civilization. Nothing much need be said here regarding his ideas and attitude towards different issues. For, the central refrain of his Life's Music reverberates through every walk of his blessed life. That is why he is a Monist in Philosophy, believing in one Reality, viz., Spirit; a Monotheist in Religion, believing in one God; an Eudemonist or Perfectionist in Ethics, believing in inner perfection as the summum bonum or the highest end of life; a Socialist in Politics, believing in mass or universal uplift. His whole glorious life proves anew the eternal truth of that well-known Platonic maxim, viz., "Those States only flourish where kings are philosophers, philosophers, kings" (Plato's Republic).
Radhakrishnan is considered as the greatest living philosopher of India, and one of the greatest living philosophers of the world. 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. This proves beyond doubt that he is universally considered to be one amongst the most notable of modern philosophical luminaries, like G.F. Moore, Bertrand Russell and Karl Jaspers, about whose works also the above Library published separate volumes.
According to our Indian view, the highest aim of human life is to be, step by step, a 'Brahmachari' (or one who lives and moves about and believes in Brahman), a 'Brahmajnani' (or one who knows Brahman or the Absolute) and finally, a 'Brahmavadin' (or one who speaks or writes about Brahman or the Absolute). Here, we find Knowing, Doing and Speaking or Writing all go together; or, are intimately, intrinsically, indissolubly connected. Thus, Theory must end and fructify in Practice, Knowledge in Action, Philosophy in Ethics - in short, the root in the fruit. Dr. Radhakrishnan - himself a real 'Brahmachari', a real 'Brahmajnani' - subscribed to this theory all along. In his very first work, 'The Ethics of the Vedanta and Its Material Presupposition', published as early as 1908, he clearly and forcefully asserts this. Compare - "Philosophy in India is not an abstract study, remote from the life of manů. The Civilisation of India is an effort to embody philosophical wisdom in social life".
Dr. Radhakrishnan is, indeed, a versatile genius - a great scholar, a great philosopher, a great seer, a great writer, a great orator, a great statesman, a great administrator, all combined.
And above all, he is a Man - a full real Man, who has always lived men, served men, worshipped men, not as a superior being, not as a superman; but only as a Man, as their fellow being, as their friends, as their nearest and dearest one.
Jawaharlal Nehru, who was one of his closest friends throughout, said about Radhakrishnan: "I join you in paying my tribute to our President, 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 India's 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".
The Ethics of the Vedanta and Its Material Presupposition (1908); The Philosophy of Rabindranath Tagore (1918); The Reign of Religion in Contemporary Philosophy (1920); Indian Philosophy (2 volumes) (1923 and 1927); The Hindu View of Life (1926); The Religion We Need (1928); Kalki or The Future of Civilisation (1929); An Idealist View of Life (1932); East and West in Religion (1933); Freedom and Culture (1936); The Heart of Hindusthan (1936); My Search for Truth (Autobiography)(1937); Gautama, The Buddha (1938); Eastern Religions and Western Thought (1939); Mahatma Gandhi (1939); India and China (1944); Education, Politics and War (1944); Is this Peace (1945); The Religion and Society (1947); The Bhagwadgita (1948); Great Indians (1949); The Dhammapada (1950); The Religion of the Spirit and the World's Need (Autobiographical)(1952);The Radhakrishnan Number, (ASouvenir Volume).