Adi Shankara – 820 D
Adi Shankara was an early 8th century Indian philosopher and theologian who consolidated the doctrine of Advaita Vedanta. He is credited with unifying and establishing the main currents of thought in Hinduism. His works in Sanskrit discuss the unity of the atman and Nirguna Brahman “Brahman Without Attributes”.
Shankara traveled across the Indian subcontinent to propagate his philosophy through discourses and debates with other thinkers. He established the importance of monastic life as sanctioned in the Upanishads and Brahma Sutra, in a time when the Mimaṃsa school established strict ritualism and ridiculed monasticism. He is reputed to have founded four mathas (“monasteries”), which helped in the historical development, revival and spread of Advaita Vedanta of which he is known as the greatest revivalist.
Mahatma Gandhi (1869 – 1948)
Mahatma Gandhi was an Indian lawyer, politician, social activist, and writer who became the leader of the nationalist movement against the British rule of India; and came to be considered the father of his country. Gandhi is internationally esteemed for his doctrine of nonviolent protest (satyagraha) to achieve political and social progress.
Revered the world over for his nonviolent philosophy of passive resistance, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was known to his many followers as Mahatma, or “the great-souled one.” He began his activism as an Indian immigrant in South Africa in the early 1900s, and in the years following World War I became the leading figure in India’s struggle to gain independence from Great Britain.
Known for his ascetic lifestyle–he often dressed only in a loincloth & shawl–& devout Hindu faith, Gandhi was imprisoned several times during his pursuit of non-cooperation, and undertook a number of hunger strikes to protest the oppression of India’s poorest classes, among other injustices. After Partition in 1947, he continued to work toward peace between Hindus and Muslims. Gandhi was shot to death in Delhi in January 1948 by a Hindu fundamentalist.
Swami Vivekananda (1863 – 1902)
Swami Vivekananda was a Hindu monk and one of the most celebrated spiritual leaders of India. He was more than just a spiritual mind; he was a prolific thinker, great orator and passionate patriot. He carried on the free-thinking philosophy of his guru, Ramakrishna Paramhansa forward into a new paradigm. He worked tirelessly towards betterment of the society, in servitude of the poor and needy, dedicating his all for his country.
He was responsible for the revival of Hindu spiritualism and established Hinduism as a revered religion on world stage. His message of universal brotherhood and self-awakening remains relevant especially in the current backdrop of widespread political turmoil around the world. The young monk and his teachings have been an inspiration to many, and his words have become goals of self-improvement especially for the youth of the country. For this very reason, his birthday, January 12, is celebrated as the National Youth Day in India.
Sri Aurobindo (1872 – 1950)
Sri Aurobindo was a poet, a Philosopher and Yogi of reputation. His life began with political, poetic and philosophical experiences. Sri Aurobindo said that the truth of spiritualism, science and religion were already contained in the Vedas which are essential for the elevation human life.
Sri Aurobondo’s philosophy is based on intergralism; synthesis of Idealism, Realism, Pragmatism and Spiritualism. According to him “Yoga” transforms the human kind, life and body to superman. Wholesome transformation takes place on a supramental stage, where diverse elements get transformed and then integrated; which changes the nature of man and lead to realize the divine power and divine perfection.
Chanakya (371 BC – 283 BC)
Chanakya (also known as Kautilya or Vishnu Gupta was an Indian teacher, philosopher, and royal adviser. He was initially a professor of economics and political science at the ancient Takshashila University in Takshashila (in present day Pakistan. He managed the first Maurya emperor Chandragupta’s rise to power at a young age. He played an important role in the establishment of the Maurya Empire, which was the first empire in archaeologically recorded history to rule most of the Indian subcontinent. Chanakya served as the chief advisor to both Chandragupta and his son Bindusara.
Chanakya is credited with authoring two treatises said to be the first of its genre in the world – the Arthasastra (Economics), the ancient Indian political treatise; the Nitishastra, the Chanakya Niti, a treatise on the ideal way of life and his policies. His works predate Niccolo Machiavelli’s by about 1,800 years. He is compared to Aristotle, the great Greek philosopher who taught Alexander as both had identical views on the republican forms of governance. His works which were lost towards the end of the Gupta dynasty could be discovered only in 1915.
Ramanuja (1017 – 1137)
Ramanuja was a Hindu theologian, philosopher, & one of the most important exponents of Sri Vaishnavism tradition within Hinduism. After the departure of Shri Shankaracharya, when people started creating confusion in the society by making a delusory definition of Advaitvad (Monotheism), he discarding all the misinformation and established the theory of “Vishishtadvaita” and showed a new path to the society.
Rabindranath Tagore (1861 – 1941)
Rabindranath Tagore, who composed the National Anthem of India and won the Nobel Prize for Literature, was a multitalented personality in every sense. He was a Bengali poet, Brahmo Samaj philosopher, visual artist, playwright, novelist, painter and a composer. He was also a cultural reformer who modified Bengali art by rebuffing the strictures that confined it within the sphere of classical Indian forms. Though he was a polymath, his literary works alone are enough to place him in the elite list of all-time greats. Even today, Rabindranath Tagore is often remembered for his poetic songs, which are both spiritual and mercurial.
He was one of those great minds, ahead of his time, and that is exactly why his meeting with Albert Einstein is considered as a clash between science and spirituality. Tagore was keen in spreading his ideologies to the rest of the world and hence embarked on a world tour, lecturing in countries like Japan and the United States. Soon, his works were admired by people of various countries and he eventually became the first non-European to win a Nobel Prize. Apart from Jana Gana Mana (the National Anthem of India), his composition ‘Amar Shonar Bangla’ was adopted as the National Anthem of Bangladesh and the National Anthem of Sri Lanka was inspired by one of his works.
Amartya Sen is a much-admired, award winning economist, writer and philosopher. A voice of the poor and malnourished, tirelessly engrossed in the problems of the society’s poorest people, he has devised practical solutions to prevent food shortage and starvation. This Nobel laureate has helped create the United Nations Human Development Index and was featured on Time Magazine’s list of ‘World’s 50 Most Influential People Who Matter’.
He has won an array of laurels including the Bharat Ratna, the highest civilian award in India. Committed sincerely to the cause of ending poverty and deprivation, this celebrated economist, is the sixth Indian to receive a Nobel and the first Asian recipient of the Economics Prize.
B. R. Ambedkar (1891 – 1956)
Dr. Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, popularly known as Babasaheb Ambedkar, was a jurist, social reformer and politician. He is also known as the Father of Indian Constitution. A well-known politician and an eminent jurist, his efforts to eradicate social evils like untouchability and caste restrictions were remarkable.
Throughout his life, he fought for the rights of the dalits and other socially backward classes. Ambedkar was appointed as India’s first Law Minister in the Cabinet of Jawaharlal Nehru. He was posthumously awarded the Bharat Ratna, India’s highest civilian honor, in 1990.
Ram Mohan Roy (1772 – 1833)
Fondly called the “Maker of Modern India”, social and educational reformer Raja Ram Mohan Roy was a visionary who lived during one of India’s darkest social phases but strived his best to make his motherland a better place for the future generations to come. Born into a Bengali family in British India, he joined hands with other prominent Bengalis like Dwarkanath Tagore to form the socio-religious organization Brahmo Samaj, the renaissance movement of the Hindu religion which set the pace for Bengali enlightenment.
Given the fact that Ram Mohan Roy was born into a family which displayed religious diversity which was unusual in Bengal at the time, it comes as no surprise that the young Ram Mohan Roy was disturbed by the problems stemming in the society due to religious and social malpractices. He was especially concerned about the practice of “sati” which required a widow to immolate herself at the pyre of her husband. Along with other reformers and visionaries he fought against the evil practices prevalent in the Indian society at that time and helped to eradicate several of them. He also left a deep impact in the fields of politics and education.