Dr. Sarvepalli 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. 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.
He graduated with a Master's Degree in Arts from Madras University. In partial fulfilment for his M.A. degree, Radhakrishnan wrote a thesis on the ethics of the Vedanta titled "The Ethics of the Vedanta and Its Metaphysical Presuppositions", which was a reply to the charge that the Vedanta system had no room for ethics.
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).
Radhakrishnan's choice of Philosophy as his main or Honours subject in his B.A. degree course was due to a very fortunate accident. 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.
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).
Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan passed away on April 17, 1975. In India, September 5 (his birthday) is celebrated as Teacher's Day in his honor. He was awarded the Bharat Ratna in 1954. The University of Oxford instituted the Radhakrishnan Chevening Scholarships and the Radhakrishnan Memorial Award in his memory.