There is a pleasant aroma of real ale and a gentle hum of conversation from the bar of the Wimbledon Village Club. It lays claim to be the oldest social club in England, and has occupied the original building since its founding in 1858. At that time, the only alcohol served was claret, until the range was broadened in 1880.
I set my vision on higher things, and climb the stairs to the Museum of Wimbledon on the upper floor. At the front desk, two keen volunteers present me with a copy of “An Ode to Sister Nivedita, celebrating her 150th birth anniversary “. (A “blue plaque” was unveiled at her former home in Wimbledon High Street last November.) They encourage me to take in the associated display on a clockwise course around the little museum.
My booklet includes an article by the Rev Swami Purnanandaji Maharaj with the title I have taken for this post. Sister Nivedita was born Margaret Noble in 1867, at Dungannon in Co Tyrone. She grew up to become a teacher, beginning her career at a school in Keswick. In 1891, she moved to Wimbledon and opened her own school for all ages. As her career developed, she also became a prolific writer in papers and periodicals and a popular speaker. Amongst the learned and influential people she got to know were Lady Ripon and Lady Isabel Margesson, the founders of a literary coterie which came to be known as the Sesame Club.
In 1895, the circle welcomed Swami Vivekananda, the Bengali Hindu revivalist, on his visit to London. Margaret was profoundly struck by his presence and by the “dignity ” of his religious philosophy. He was impressed by her enthusiasm and her capacity for commitment to a cause. Two years later, he invited her to India, and she arrived there in early 1898. The Swami indicated her status as “a real lioness to work for Indian women specially “. She joined the Ramakrishna Mission and, upon induction into the monastic community, received her new name.
After Vivekananda’s death in 1902, Sister Nivedita gravitated towards the more militant anti colonial wing in Bengal. Following Lord Curzon’s partition of Bengal in 1905, she became involved with the swadeshi movement. She assisted in relief work in the wake of flood, famine and plague, and continued tirelessly until her death, shortly before her forty-fourth birthday, in Darjeeling, West Bengal.
The Indian master Tilopa was born in Bengal in 988. He commented on the Symbolism of the Sesame:
“The oil, which is the essence of the sesame, although known even by the ignorant to be in the seed, cannot be extracted unless it is learnt how to do so. Likewise, the innate gnosis (sahaja jnana), though always present in the hearts of beings, is not realised unless a wise Guru explains the way. By pounding the sesame, removing the husks, it is possible to extract the essential oil.”