Not many know about Sister Nivedita, the Irish woman – Margaret Noble – who, inspired by a meeting with Swami Vivekananda, reached India to offer her services for public good, and settled in Calcutta (former name of Kolkata). And fewer know how she, along with her band of young workers, nursed the sick, especially the poor, during the 1899 plague outbreak in Calcutta (which, interestingly had its origin in China and spread to India via the shipping route). Her services during the 1906 famine in Bengal has also gone mostly unchronicled. In fact, she lost her life due to a severe bout of malaria that afflicted her during this famine-relief work.
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But now you may know about this great woman at the newly inaugurated Sister Nivedita Heritage Museum and Knowledge Centre, housed in the 16, Bosepara Lane address. Located in the Baghbazar neighbourhood of north Kolkata, this was the house where she lived and from where she conducted all her educational and social welfare activities. Besides Swami Vivekananda and other monks of the Ramkrishna Order, stalwarts such as Noble Laureate poet Rabindranath Tagore, scientist Jagadish Chandra Bose, and others visited this house to meet Sister Nivedita. It was here that she began her school for girls (how she got the girl students from the orthodox hub to attend is another story).
Unfortunately, in the recent past, the house fell into disrepair and may have been demolished if it was not for the West Bengal government acquiring the two-storey building and handing it over to the Ramakrishna Sarada Mission in 2013. Subsequently, the building was carefully restored and inaugurated in 2017.
In an interview with The Telegraph, Pravrajika Asheshaprana, a member of the museum’s advisory board, said, “After the renovation, we started identifying the places within the house where significant events of Sister Nivedita’s life took place and how she lived and used the house. It was only after that we decided on displaying the objects and artefacts. The renovated house was adapted for the purpose of having a museum, like covering the open courtyard with a canopy.”
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The first thing that will strike the visitor as they enter the house is the virtual mannequin on Sister Nivedita. Inside you will come across the ‘thakur dalan’ (a space where pujas were usually held) where she started the girl’s school.
The building has been divided into several galleries. Pictorial timelines, photographs of key events, touchscreen displays, interactive installations, objects used by Sister Nivedita, etc. have been used to build the story of her life and her devotion and services to India, including her contribution to science, arts and education in the country. One of the most interesting objects is the first ever national flag of India designed by her and stitched by her students. Her study has been recreated, while the room where she lived has been converted into a meditation centre.
Information: The museum* is located at 16A Ma Saradamoni Sarani (old address 16 Bosepara Lane), Baghbazar, Kolkata 700003. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Ticketed entry. Photography not allowed.
*The museum was inaugurated just prior to the Covid-19 lockdown. Hence, it is advisable to contact the authorities before visiting, when things return to normal.