Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, a distinguished 20th-century scholar, was the first Vice President of India, and the second President. He was awarded a knighthood in 1931, and the Bharat Ratna in 1954.
His birthday is being celebrated as Teachers’ Day (September 5) in India since 1962. He defended Hinduism against “uninformed Western criticism”, contributing to the formation of contemporary Hindu identity.
After completing his education at Madras Christian College in 1911, he became Assistant Professor and later Professor of Philosophy at Madras Presidency College then subsequently Professor of Philosophy at the University of Mysore.
He became the first Indian to hold a professorial chair at the University of Oxford. He was Upton Lecturer at Manchester College, Oxford in 1926, 1929, and 1930. In 1930 he was appointed Haskell lecturer in Comparative Religion at the University of Chicago.
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 Intellectual 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.
When he became the President of India, some of his students and friends requested him to allow them to celebrate his birthday, on 5 September. He replied,
“Instead of celebrating my birthday, it would be my proud privilege if September 5th is observed as Teachers’ Day”. His birthday has since been celebrated as Teacher’s Day in India.
He was nominated sixteen times for the Nobel prize in literature, and eleven times for the Nobel Peace prize.
Along with Ghanshyam Das Birla and some other social workers in the pre-independence era, Radhakrishnan formed the Krishnarpan Charity Trust.