Vivekananda in Chicago, 1893
On the photo, Swamiji has written in Bengali, and in English:"One
infinite pure and holy-- beyond thought beyond qualities I bow down
to thee" - Swami Vivekananda
Born 12 January 1863
Calcutta, West Bengal, India
Died 4 July 1902
Belur Math near Calcutta Shami Bibekanondo) (January 12, 1863 - July
4, 1902), whose pre-monastic name was Narendranath Dutta ND Nôrendronath
Dotto), was one of the most famous and influential spiritual leaders
of the philosophies of Vedanta and Yoga and a major figure in the history
of Hinduism and India. He was the chief disciple of Ramakrishna Paramahamsa
and the founder of Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission.
While he is widely
credited with having uplifted his own nation, simultaneously he introduced
Yoga and Vedanta to America and England with his popular lectures and
private discourses on Vedanta philosophy. Vivekananda was the first
known Hindu Swami to come to the West, where he introduced Eastern thought
at the World's Parliament of Religions, in connection with the World's
Fair in Chicago, in 1893. It was there that he was catapulted to fame
by his by wide audiences in Chicago and then later elsewhere in America.
Narendranath Dutta was born in Shimla Pally, Kolkata, West Bengal, India
on January 12, 1863 as the son of Viswanath Dutta and Bhuvaneswari Devi.
Even as he was young, he showed a precocious mind and keen memory. He
practiced meditation from a very early age. While at school, he was
good at studies, as well as games of various kinds. He organized an
amateur theatrical company and a gymnasium and took lessons in fencing,
wrestling, rowing and other sports. He also studied instrumental and
vocal music. He was a leader among his group of friends. Even when he
was young, he questioned the validity of superstitious customs and discrimination
based on caste and religion.
In 1879, Narendra
entered the Presidency College, Calcutta for higher studies. After one
year, he joined the Scottish Church College, Calcutta and studied philosophy.
During the course, he studied western logic, western philosophy and
history of European nations.
to arise in young Narendra's mind about God and the presence of God.
This made him associate with the Brahmo Samaj, an important religious
movement of the time, led by Keshub Chunder Sen. But the Samaj's congregational
prayers and devotional songs could not satisfy Narendra's zeal to realize
God. He would ask leaders of Brahma Samaj whether they have seen God.
He never got a satisfying answer. It was during this time that Professor
Hastie of Scottish Church College told him about Sri Ramakrishna of
Narendra met Ramakrishna for the first time in November 1881. He asked
Ramakrishna the same old question, whether he had seen God. The instantaneous
answer from Ramakrishna was, "Yes, I see God, just as I see you
here, only in a much intenser sense." Narendra was astounded and
puzzled. He could feel the man's words were honest and uttered from
depths of experience. He started visiting Ramakrishna frequently.he
first did not believe that such a plain man could've seen god but gradually
he started having faith in what Ramkrishna said.
could not accept Ramakrishna and his visions, he could not neglect him.
It had always been in Narendra's nature to test something thoroughly
before he could accept it. He tested Ramakrishna to the maximum, but
the master was patient, forgiving, humorous, and full of love. He never
asked Narendra to abandon reason, and he faced all of Narendra's arguments
and examinations with infinite patience. In time, Narendra accepted
Ramakrishna, and when he accepted, his acceptance was whole-hearted.
While Ramakrishna predominantly taught duality and Bhakti to his other
disciples, he taught Narendra the Advaita Vedanta, the philosophy of
During the course
of five years of his training under Ramakrishna, Narendra was transformed
from a restless, puzzled, impatient youth to a mature man who was ready
to renounce everything for the sake of God-realization. Soon, Ramakrishna's
end came in the form of throat cancer in August 1886. After this Narendra
and a core group of Ramakrishna's disciples took vows to become monks
and renounce everything, and started living in a supposedly haunted
house in Baranagore. They took alms to satisfy their hunger and their
other needs were taken care of by Ramakrishna's richer householder disciples.
Wanderings in India
Pencil drawing of VivekanandaSoon, the young monk of Baranagore wanted
to live the life of a wandering monk with rags and a begging bowl and
no other possessions. On July 1890, Vivekananda set out for a long journey,
without knowing where the journey would take him. The journey that followed
took him to the length and breadth of the Indian subcontinent. During
these days, Vivekananda assumed various names like Vividishananda (in
Sanskrit, Vividisha means "the desire to know" and Ananda
means "bliss"), Satchidananda, etc., It is said that he was
given the name Vivekananda by Maharaja of Khetri for his discernment
of things, good and bad.
During these wandering
days, Vivekananda stayed on king's palaces, as well as the huts of the
poor. He came in close contact with the culture of different regions
of India and various classes of people in India. Vivekananda observed
the imbalance in society and tyranny in the name of caste. He realised
the need for a national rejuvenation if India was to survive at all.
He reached Kanyakumari, the southernmost tip of the Indian subcontinent
on 24 December 1892. There, he swam across the sea and started meditating
on a lone rock. He thus meditated for three days and said later that
he meditated about the past, present and future of India. The rock went
on to become the Vivekananda memorial at Kanyakumari.
Ticket to Vivekananda
Memorial, Kanyakumari, 1981Vivekananda went to Madras and spoke about
his plans for India and Hinduism to the young men of Madras. They were
impressed by the monk and urged him to go to the United States and represent
Hinduism in the World Parliament of Religions. The Raja of Ramnad, who
was originally invited for the conference, promoted Vivekananda as the
right person to represent the views of Hinduism in the Parliament. Thus,
helped by his friends at Chennai, Bhaskara Sethupathi, Raja of Ramnad
and Maharajas of Mysore and Khetri, Vivekananda set out on his journey
to the USA.
In the West
in London, 1896Vivekananda was received well at the 1893 World Parliament
of Religions in Chicago, where he delivered a series of lectures. He
also earned wild applause for beginning his address with the famous
words, "Sisters and brothers of America." Vivekananda's arrival
in the USA has been identified by many to mark the beginning of western
interest in Hinduism not as merely an exotic eastern oddity, but as
a vital religious and philosophical tradition that might actually have
something important to teach the West.
introduced yoga and Vedanta to the West and lectured around America
introducing the topics (1894-6). He taught hundreds of students privately
in free classes held in his own room beginning in New York in 1895.
Later, he started Vedantic centers in New York City and London, lectured
at major universities and generally kindled western interest in Hinduism.
His success was not without controversy, much of it from Christian missionaries
of whom he was fiercely critical. After four years of constant touring,
lecturing and retreats in the West, he came back to India in the year
Back in India
Admirers and devotees of Vivekananda gave him an enthusiastic reception
on his return to India. In India, he delivered a series of lectures,
and this set of lectures known as "Lectures from Colombo to Almora"
is considered to have uplifted the morale of the then downtrodden Indian
society. He founded one of the world's largest charitable relief missions,
the Ramakrishna Mission and reorganized the ancient Swami order by founding
one of the most significant and largest monastic orders in India, the
However, he had
to bear great criticism from other orthodox Hindus for having traveled
in the West. In his day there was hardly a Hindu in America and he received
criticism for crossing the ocean, at that time a cause for "outcasting."
Vivekananda scoffed at these critiques from the orthodox saying "I
cannot be outcast - As a monk, I am beyond caste." His contemporaries
also questioned his motives, wondering whether the fame and glory of
his Hindu evangelism compromised his original monastic vows. His enthusiasm
for America and Britain, and his spiritual devotion to his motherland,
caused significant tension in his last years.
He once again toured
the west from January 1899 to December 1900. He inculcated a spirit
of respect and good will for exchanges between the East and the West.
He had American disciples whom he brought to India and initiated as
Swamis and brought Indian Swamis to America where they and their successors
have been ever since.
On July 4, 1902 at Belur Math near Calcutta, he taught Vedanta philosophy
to some pupils in the morning. He had a walk with Swami Premananda,
a brother-disciple and gave him instructions concerning the future of
the Ramakrishna Math. The same day, Vivekananda left his mortal body
at the young age of 39.
Principles and Philosophy
a renowned thinker in his own right. One of his most important contributions
was to demonstrate how Advaitin thinking is not merely philosophically
far-reaching, but how it also has social, even political, consequences.
One important lesson he claimed to receive from Ramakrishna was that
"Jiva is Shiva " (each individual is divinity itself). This
became his Mantra, and he coined the concept of daridra narayana seva
- the service of God in and through (poor) human beings. If there truly
is the unity of Brahman underlying all phenomena, then on what basis
do we regard ourselves as better or worse, or even as better-off or
worse-off, than others? - This was the question he posed to himself.
Ultimately, he concluded that these distinctions fade into nothingness
in the light of the oneness that the devotee experiences in Moksha.
What arises then is compassion for those "individuals" who
remain unaware of this oneness and a determination to help them.
belonged to that branch of Vedanta that held that no one can be truly
free until all of us are. Even the desire for personal salvation has
to be given up, and only tireless work for the salvation of others is
the true mark of the enlightened person. He founded the Sri Ramakrishna
Math and Mission on the principle of Atmano Mokshartham Jagad-hitaya
cha) (for one's own salvation and for the welfare of the World).
also pleaded for a strict separation between religion and government
("church and state"). Although social customs had been formed
in the past with religious sanction, it was not now the business of
religion to interfere with matters such as marriage, inheritance and
so on. The ideal society would be a mixture of Brahmin knowledge, Kshatriya
culture, Vaisya efficiency and the egalitarian Shudra ethos. Domination
by any one led to different sorts of lopsided societies. Vivekananda
did not feel that religion, nor, any force for that matter, should be
used forcefully to bring about an ideal society, since this was something
that would evolve naturally by individualistic change when the conditions
a strict demarcation between the two classes of Hindu scriptures : the
Sruti and the Smritis. The Sruti, by which is meant the Vedas, consist
of eternally and universally valid spiritual truths. The Smritis on
the other hand, are the dos and donts of religions, applicable to society
and subject to revision from time to time. Vivekananda felt that existing
Hindu smritis had to be revised for modern times. But the Srutis of
course are eternal - they may only be re-interpreted.
his followers to be holy, unselfish and have shraddha (faith). He encouraged
the practise of Brahmacharya (Celibacy). In one of the conversations
with his childhood friend Sri Priya Nath Sinha he attributes his physical
and mental strengths, eloquence to the practice of Brahmacharya.
advocate the emerging area of parapsychology, astrology (one instance
can be found in his speech Man the Maker of his Destiny, Complete-Works,
Volume 8, Notes of Class Talks and Lectures) saying that this form of
curiosity doesn't help in spiritual progress but actually hinders it.
Every one of the 20th century Indian leaders of note have acknowledged
his influence, from Gandhi to Subash Bose. The first governor general
of independent India, Chakravarti Rajagopalachari, once observed that
"Vivekananda saved Hinduism." According to Subhas Chandra
Bose, Vivekananda "is the maker of modern India" and for Mohandas
Gandhi, Vivekananda's influence increased his "love for his country
a thousand fold." Gandhi, who also strived for a lot of reform
in Hinduism himself, said: Swami Vivekananda's writings need no introduction
from anybody. They make their own irresistible appeal. Many years after
his death, Rabindranath Tagore (a prominent member of the Brahmo Samaj)
had said: If you want to know India, study Vivekananda. In him everything
is positive and nothing negative. National Youth Day in India is by
way of commemorating him held on his birthday, January 12.
is widely considered to have inspired India's freedom struggle movement.
His writings inspired a whole generation of freedom fighters including
Aurobindo Ghose and Bagha Jatin. Vivekananda was the brother of the
extremist revolutionary, Shri Bhupendranath Dutta. Subhash Chandra Bose
one of the most prominent figures in Indian independence movement said,
I cannot write about
Vivekananda without going into raptures. Few indeed could comprehend
or fathom him even among those who had the privilege of becoming intimate
with him. His personality was rich, profound and complex... Reckless
in his sacrifice, unceasing in his activity, boundless in his love,
profound and versatile in his wisdom, exuberant in his emotions, merciless
in his attacks but yet simple as a child, he was a rare personality
in this world of ours
considered Vivekananda as his spiritual mentor. While in Alipore Jail,
Sri Aurobindo used to be visited by Swami Vivekananda in his meditation
and be guided by him in yoga.
a soul of puissance if ever there was one, a very lion among men, but
the definitive work he has left behind is quite incommensurate with
our impression of his creative might and energy. We perceive his influence
still working gigantically, we know not well how, we know not well where,
in something that is not yet formed, something leonine, grand, intuitive,
upheaving that has entered the soul of India and we say, "Behold,
Vivekananda still lives in the soul of his Mother and in the souls of
her children. --Sri Aurobindo--1915 in Vedic Magazine.
Jamshedji Tata to set up Indian Institute of Science, one of India's
finest Institutions. Abroad, he had some interactions with Max Mueller.
Nikola Tesla was one of those influenced by the Vedic philosophy teachings
of the Swami Vivekananda.
Vivekananda left a body of philosophical works (see Vivekananda's complete
works) which Vedic scholar Frank Parlato has called, "the greatest
comprehensive work in philosophy ever published." His books (compiled
from lectures given around the world) on the four Yogas (Raja Yoga,
Karma Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, Jnana Yoga) are very influential and still
seen as fundamental texts for anyone interested in the Hindu practice
of Yoga. His letters are of great literary and spiritual value. He was
also a very good singer and a poet. He had composed many songs including
his favorite Kali the Mother. He used humor for his teachings and was
also an excellent cook. His language is very free flowing. His own Bengali
writings stand testimony to the fact that he believed that words - spoken
or written should be for making things easier to understand rather than
show off the speaker or writer's knowledge.
He came to be known
as Swami Vivekananda only when he became a sannyasi or monk. His parents
called him Narendra. His father was Vishwanatha Datta and his mother
Bhuvaneshwari Devi. Narendra was born on 12th January 1863 in Calcutta.
As a child he was very lively and naughty. When Narendra stepped into
boyhood, his naughtiness grew. He was a natural leader of the children
in the neighbourhood. His companions bowed to his decision always. Once
a landlord threatened the children saying, "There is a demon in
the tree and he swallows children." Narendra was not impressed
by this threat. He settled down on a branch. The other boys took to
their heels. Narendra waited for several hours, but the demon did not
appear. So, he declared that the landlord's story was a spoof. Narendra
loved to tease his sisters. Meditation, too, was a sport to him. But
as he meditated he became oblivious of the whole world. Not even a lizard
or a snake moving near him could disturb his concentration.
Even as a child
Narendra had great respect for sannyasis or ascetics. He would give
away anything to anybody if asked for. On his birthday, he would wear
new clothes, wouldn't he? If a beggar asked for aims he would give away
the new clothes. From that day, his mother would lock him up in a room
whenever a beggar passed by the house. But every beggar knew Narendra's
nature very well. So beggars would stand near the window of Narendra's
room. He would throw to them anything he had. The spirit of sacrifice
and renunciation was already blossoming in him. In her leisure time
his mother would tell him the story of the Ramayana. He could not sleep
unless she told him a story. Then he would be all ears, forgetting his
study and play. He had great reverence for Lord Hanuman. Once he sat
before the idol of Lord Shiva, with his body all smeared with ash. His
perplexed mother asked him, "Naren, what's all this?" He smiled
and said, "Mother, I'm the Lord Shiva." The mother feared
that her son would become a sannyasi, like his grandfather.
was a lawyer. So every day his house used to be crowded with his clients
belonging to different castes. The house was like an inn; the clients
had breakfast and lunch there. It was the custom to provide the guests
with hukkas (long pipes) to smoke after food. There was a different
pipe for clients of each caste. Narendra wondered what would happen
if he smoked the pipe meant for people of a different caste. Finally
he experimented. Nothing untoward happened. He concluded that caste
had no meaning.
The maxim "The
child is father of the man" was entirely true of the compassionate
boy, Narendra. Once there was a display of physical exercises in a local
gymnasium. Accidentally an iron bar fell on a sailor among the spectators.
He fell down unconscious. The people who had gathered there ran away
lest the police should question them. Narendra, with the help of two
friends of his, gave the wounded sailor first aid. Then he took him
to a doctor. He even raised some money for the wounded man. On another
occasion Narendra pulled out one of his friends who had been caught
.under the wheel of a coach drawn by horses. Likewise he helped a little
boy who was a total stranger. The boy was lying on a road with high
fever. He took him home. Narendra never knew what fear was.
It was not that
Narendra excelled only in sports; he was quick and alert in his studies
as well. After a single reading he could remember any lesson. His memory
was amazing. Concentration was the key to his success in studies. The
Datta found time he would give his son advice. "You need fear no
one so long as you keep to the path of truth and Dharma (Virtue). One
should not be browbeaten. One should guard one's self-respect. Love
of one's religion should not mean hatred of other religions. Patriotism
is essential for man's welfare. Foreign enemies may invade a country,
but they cannot take away a people's ancient and potent culture."
He loved to listen to his son's sweet voice. Narendra's face would become
radiant when he sang devotional songs.
His mother was dear
to Narendra as his own life, and to him she was a veritable goddess.
In his eyes, there was no one as ready to make sacrifices as the mother.
She must have the highest place not only in the home but also in society.
He had great respect for his father too. But this did not come in the
way of his freedom and independent thinking. He gave expression to what
he felt even about his father. "Hospitality is certainly a great
virtue. But is it right to feed the lazy? Is it right to provide them
with cigarette and pipe to smoke?" Thus he would often question
his father. But his father would say, "You do not understand their
misery, my boy. When they munch tobacco, they at least for a while forget
the bitterness of their life."
By 1880, Narendra
passed his Matriculation and Entrance Examination. He joined a college.
Day by day, his thirst for knowledge increased. He would borrow from
the library books not related to the prescribed courses and read them,
and so satisfy his thirst. He was particularly fascinated by the secrets
of God's. creation. Apart from history and science, he was well read
in Western philosophy. As he advanced in his studies, his thinking faculty
developed. Doubts and uncertainties overtook him. He gave up blind beliefs
but could not realize the Truth. He placed his doubts before eminent
scholars and sought their guidance. These scholars excelled in debate.
But their logic did not convince Narendra. Their line of thinking was
stale. It did not convince him, for none of them had direct experience
was a priest in the temple of Goddess Kali. He was not a scholar. But
he was a great devotee. It was being said of him that he had realized
God. Scholars who went to him became his disciples. Once, Narendra went
with his friends to Dakshineswar to see him. Sri Ramakrishna sat surrounded
by his disciples; he was immersed in discussions about God. Narendra
sat in a corner with his friends. All at once Sri Ramakrishna's eyes
turned to him. Sri Ramakrishna's mind was in a turmoil. He was thrilled.
Indistinct thoughts upset his mind. Memories of an earlier meeting seemed
to stir in him. For some time he sat still as if in a trance. Narendra's
attractive figure and shining eyes filled him with wonder. "Can
you sing?" he asked Narendra. Narendra sang a couple of Bangali
songs in a melodious voice. As he listened to the music, the Bhagavan
went into a trance. After some time he took Narendra into a room. He
patted Narendra on the back and said, "MY child, why are you so
late? I have grown weary, waiting for you all these days. I wanted to
share my experiences with the right person. You are not an ordinary
man. You are Lord Vishnu in human form. Do you know how much I have
been craving for you?" And he broke down. Sri Ramakrishna's behaviour
puzzled Narendra. He thought the elderly man was mad. "Will you
come again? Promise me you will", pleaded Ramakrishna. Eager to
escape from him, Narendra said, "Yes." After the Bhagavan
finished his discourse Narendra asked him, "Have you seen God ?"
"Of course I have. I have seen him just as I' m looking at you.
I have even talked to him. I can show him to you. But who is yearning
to see God?" replied Ramakrishna. Narendra said to himself, "Till
today no one had told me he had seen God. This man looks mentally deranged;
possibly he is even mad. However, it is not proper to judge without
A month passed.
Narendra went alone to Dakshineswar. Ramakrishna was resting on a cot
in his room. He was pleased to see Narendra; he made him sit on his
cot. He went into a trance and put his leg on Narendra's lap. Narendra
forgot the outer world. He felt that he was dissolving. He shouted,
'What's this you are doing to me? My parents are still alive. I should
go back to them." Smilingly Sri Ramakrishna said, "Enough
for today,' and drew back his lap. Narendra became normal once again.
As days passed,
each was attracted towards the other. Neither could bear to be parted
from the other. It did not take a long time for Sri Ramakrishna to realize
the greatness of Narendra. Moreover, he was guided by the will of Goddess
Kali. But young Narendra would not accept Ramakrishna as his guru without
a test. Ramakrishna used to say that, in order to realize God, one should
give up the desire for money and women. One day Narendra hid a rupee
under his pillow. Sri Ramakrishna, who had gone out, came into the room
and stretched himself on the cot. At once he jumped up as if bitten
by a scorpion. When he shook the mattress, the rupee coin fell down.
Later he came to know that it was the doing of Narendra.
Narendra was Ramakrishna's
favourite disciple. But he would not accept as gospel truth all that
Narendra said. Narendra was highly critical of people who worshipped
idols. He rejected the theory of "Advaita" (Monism). He had
no faith in mystic experiences. Advaitic assertions such as "I
am Brahman", "I am Shiva- did not impress Narendra. But Sri
Ramakrishna would always bring him back to the right path by saying,
"There are many roads to reach a destination. No one has the right
to say that the path the other man takes is not the right one. It is
improper to pass judgement on anything that one does not understand."
One day Sri Ramakrishna
took Narendra to a secluded place. He said, "I have attained some
powers after a long period of meditation. They will give whatever a
man wants. I have given up all desire, and so I have no use for these
powers. Shall I bestow these powers on you ?" "But will they
help me to realize the Self?" - asked Narendra. "No,"
said Sri Ramakrishna. "Then I do not want them. More than anything,
I want to realize God." Narendra's reply filled Ramakrishna with
joy. The Master had tested Narendra, and Narendra had passed the test.
turned towards renunciation, giving up all worldly desires. The parents
came to know of this. He was then studying for his B. A. degree examination.
They planned to bring him back to worldly life through marriage. Sri
Ramakrishna became unhappy on hearing this. He advised Narendra that
if bound by family ties, he would not be able to serve mankind. At times,
Narendra would lose faith in Ramakrishna's teaching; at such times Ramakrishna
would first touch him with his hands. Then Narendra would lose contact
with the world around. When he regained consciousness he would surrender
to his Guru's teaching. Thus the Guru gradually gifted all his powers
to the disciple.
In 1884, Narendra
passed the B. A. degree examination. A friend of his hosted a party.
As Narendra was singing at the party, the news of his father's death
came like a bolt from the blue. Poverty hit the family immediately after
the father's death. The money-lenders began to harass the family. Some
of them even went to a court of law. Narendra wandered far and wide
looking for a job. His clothes were tattered and torn; and it was difficult
even to get one meal a day. Many a day he fasted so that -his mother
and his brothers and sisters might have something to eat. He would tell
them that he had eaten with a friend. Sometimes he would faint with
hunger and fall down in the street. But in spite of such overwhelming
misfortune he never lost faith in God. Sri Ramakrishna would console
him saying "You are here to serve mankind and do mother Kali's
work. You should be brave."
One day he said
to himself : "God gives whatever my Guru seeks. So it is best to
seek my Guru's help." He went straight to his Guru and said, ''On
my behalf kindly pray before the Goddess to rid me of this poverty.
She will give you whatever you wish for, won't She?" The Guru said,
"My child, you have no faith in Her, why then will she listen to
my prayer? You approach Her yourself. Then she will fulfil your Feed."
So in the dead of night Narendra stood before the idol of Goddess Kali.
He lost himself in deep meditation. He begged the Goddess, "O Mother,
bestow on me the spirit of renunciation. Let me see You, that is all
I beg of You." When he came out, the Guru asked, "Did you
submit your prayer to Her? And What did She say?" Narendra said
in dismay, "O! forgot about it completely." "Then go
back and ask Her, " said. the Guru. Again he forgot to speak about
his poverty in his prayer to the Goddess. Again the Guru sent him. Back
came Narendra and the same thing happened. The Guru's joy knew no bounds.
"My child, you should not crave for only food and clothes. They
are not the ultimate goals of man. Have faith in God. He will look after
the welfare of your family," said the Guru.
Later Narendra took
up the profession of teaching. For some time he taught in the Vidyasagar
School. Now the family had at least enough food. While he worked as
a teacher he continued his study of law. His Guru' health broke down.
Sri Ramakrishna developed a tumour in the throat. Narendra gave up both
his job and his studies and devoted all his time to nursing his Master.
Once, while Narendra
was in meditation he shouted, "Where is my body?" Others had
to touch his body and convince him of its existence. When Sri Ramakrishna
heard this episode, he was happy that at last his desire to find a worthy
disciple had been fulfilled.
The disciples nursed
the Guru to the best of their ability. But the thought that the Guru
would not recover from the illness agonized them. His end was drawing
near. On the last day he called Narendra to his bedside and touched
him. He invested Narendra with all his spiritual powers. He said, "Naren,
now you are all-powerful. All these are my children. It is your. duty
to take care of them." These words filled Narendra's heart with
grief. He went out of the room weeping like a child.
After the passing
away of Sri Ramakrishna, the young disciples went to live in a rented
house in Baranagar. Although old, the house was far away from the noise
and bustle of the city; and it was on the banks of the river Ganga.
It was very close to the tomb of Sri Ramakrishna. So, the Mutt (monastery)
was opened there. The young monks had two goals salvation and the service
of fellow-men. Some young men left their homes and became monks and
joined the Mutt. Narendra became a monk and headed the institution.
The young sannyasis were unmindful of lack of food and clothing. But
even when they fasted they did not neglect their studies and meditation.
Narendra taught his brethren Sanskrit and Philosophy. To visitors he
expounded the teachings of the Master. Pilgrimage
As a sannyasi, one
cannot be tied to a particular place. Even the Mutt is a kind of a prison.
Attachment to a particular place is also wrong. It was the great good
fortune of India that Narendra took to sannyasa and became 'Vivekananda'.
Bharat became his home and its inhabitants his brothers. The sacred
task of wiping the tears of his unfortunate brothers was dear to his
heart. He had to travel all over the country. His assets were - a saffron
robe, 'Kamandalu' (an ascetic's waterpot) and 'danda' (staff). On his
way he visited many holy places. He lodged at huts and choultries and
slept on the bare ground. He satisfied his hunger by begging for food.
He was in the company of sadhus, spending the time in religious discussions
and holy rituals.
He travelled on
foot or by any vehicle whose driver was hospitable. Varanasi was the
first city that Vivekananda visited. During his stay there, he met many
scholars and exchanged ideas with them. In philosophical disputations
he triumphed over them. In Ayodhya, his imagination pulsated with the
memory of Sri Rama and Seeta. In Agra the Taj filled him with wonder.
On his way to Brindavan, he smoked a hukka borrowed from a passer-by
who was a fisherman; he drank water in a pariah's house; begged for
aims and accepted food from a cobbler. As he stepped into Brindavan
(where Lord Krishna is believed to have lived) he was in ecstasy. At
Alwar, some Muslims became his disciples. While Swamiji used to eat
in their houses, he became acquainted with Maharaja Mangal Singh. Initially
the Prince had no faith in the Swami. There was a heated debate between
the two. "Swamiji, I have no faith in idol worship," said
the Maharaja. The Swamiji replied, "An idol is only a symbol. It
is not something to sneer at. Every devotee has his own way of realizing
God. It depends on the individual's devotion." The Prince was not
satisfied with Swamiji's explanation. There was a portrait of the Maharaja
on the wall. The Swamiji asked the Diwan (chief minister) by his side,
'Whose picture is that?" "The Maharaja's," replied the
Diwan. Vivekananda said, "Spit on it." The Diwan was taken
aback. "Why are you unhappy?" asked the Swamiji. The Diwan
thought this man was certainly mad. Swamiji explained: "After all,
the photograph is just a shadow of your Maharaja. It is devoid of flesh
and blood." "But then it reminds us of the Maharaja, does
it not?" said the Diwan. Wisdom then dawned on the Maharaja. He
apologised to the Swamiji. Later the Swamiji went to Mount Abu, passing
through Jaipur and Ajmer. He spent some time in tapas (prayer and meditation)
in a cave.
While Swamiji was
travelling by train, in Rajasthan an interesting incident took place.
He was resting in a second class compartment. Two Englishmen were profusely
hurling abuses at him. They were under the impression that the Swami
did not know English. When the train reached the station. Swamiji asked
an official, in English, for a glass of water. The Englishmen were surprised;
they asked Swamiji why he was silent though he could understand them.
Swamiji snapped back, "This is not the first time I have met fools."
The Englishmen were enraged, but Swamiji's formidable physique silenced
During his travel,
Swamiji could travel by train only if somebody bought him his ticket.
Otherwise, he had to travel on foot. He had to starve most of the time
for he had no money. Once it happened that a merchant travelling with
him was helping himself to varieties of eatables. Swamiji was hungry
and tired. But he did not beg for food. The merchant spoke to him tauntingly
and said, "You are an idler. You wear the saffron clothes only
because you do not want to work. Who will ever feed you? Who cares if
you die?" Just then, a sweetmeat seller offered Swamiji some eatables
and said, "I saw you in my dream this morning. The Lord Sri Rama
himself introduced you to me." The haughty merchant was put to
shame when he saw all this.
In Mysore, Swamiji
got to know Diwan Seshadri Iyre and also the Maharaja of Mysore. The
Swamiji's discourse in Sanskrit at a gathering of scholars deeply impressed
the Maharaja. One day he questioned the Swamiji as to his future plans.
"India is the land of many religions and schools of philosophy.
The Western world has progressed in science. Human welfare is possible
only by a reconciliation of the two. Therefore, I want to go to America
in order to propagate Vedanta," said Swamiji. The Maharaja said,
"Then I shall bear all the expenses of the visit." Swamiji
thanked the Maharaja for his offer and promised him that he would make
use of it when he needed it, and took leave of him.
Swami ji next visited
Ramanad. Bhaskara Setupati was the ruler of Ramanad at that time. He
discussed with Swamiji the problems that the country was facing. The
prince treated him with great respect. "You should attend the Conference
of World Religions in America. I shall bear all your travel expenses,"
said the ruler. Assuring the prince that he would give serious thought
to his suggestion, Swamiji went to Rameshwaram and from there he finally
reached Kanyakumari. He swam to a rock and sat on it. Surrounded there
by the sea, he reflected on the state of affairs in India. The thought
of the poverty of the masses in this country made him miserable. He
decided that unless casteism was rooted out, there could be no salvation
for his countrymen. He concluded that his first task was to go to Western
countries and expose the spiritual values of India. He would then return
to awaken his own slumbering land.
It was in Madras
that the little lamp that appeared in Bengal's Narendra became the blazing
light of all India as Vivekananda. It was there that pressure mounted
on him to go to America. The fame he won in Madras travelled to Hyderabad.
Thousands gathered at the meeting addressed by him there. it was the
first ever public meeting addressed by Swamiji. After he returned to
Madras from Hyderabad, he started making preparations for his tour abroad.
Contributions towards his travel expenses poured in from all parts of
the country. But he kept with him only as much money as he needed for
the journey. He returned the rest of the money to the donors. The ship
set sail from the Bombay harbour on 31st May, 1893.
the city of Chicago in the middle of July. On his way he touched at
the ports of Colombo, Singapore, Hongkong and Tokyo. He chose a hotel
for his stay. He made enquiries about the opening of the Conference
of World Religions. It was still three months away. How was he to stay
so long in a strange place? The money he had was fast disappearing.
Meanwhile, an international fair was going on. Swamiji was wandering
in the premises of the fair. Just then he spotted a Maharaja from India.
He approached the Maharaja. But the Maharaja turned away with a wry
Since Chicago was
a big city and very expensive, Swamiji moved to the nearby city of Boston.
On the way he met a lady. She was from Boston. She was amazed at Swamiji's
strange attire, his magnificent physique, and his bright eyes. She decided
that he was no ordinary man. She begged Swamiji to be her guest. He
agreed. Occasionally he addressed meetings at small clubs. The subject
of his talk was Indian Culture and the Hindu Dharma. Gradually many
scholars became his friends. One of them was John Henry Wright. He was
professor of Greek at Harvard University. He was greatly impressed by
Swamiji's scholarship. The delegates to the Conference of World Religions
had to submit their letters of introduction to the organisers. But Swamiji
had lost his letter of introduction. Wright himself wrote the letter
of introduction, in which he called Swamiji "A scholar who surpasses
all of us professors."
Swamiji went back
to Chicago. When he reached the city he found that he had lost the addresses
of some people. The people of the city were mostly Germans and could
not understand English. As a consequence, Swamiji could not stir out.
Finding no way out, Swamiji curled himself in an empty box which was
lying in the railway station. The next morning he wandered about in
the streets. Unable to bear his hunger, he begged for aims at some houses.
He could not get anything. On the contrary he was insulted and humiliated.
He was sitting on the footsteps of a playground. A lady came out of
a house facing the playground and asked him, "Are you a delegate
to the conference of World Religions?" The Swamiji replied, 'Yes'.
The lady said, "Please come to my house. You can bathe and have
food. Then I shall take you to the Conference." Her name was Mrs.
The conference started
on 11th September, 1893. Thousands of delegates belonging to different
countries of the world had gathered at the conference. Vivekananda was
the youngest of them all. When it was his turn to speak, his heart was
pounding. His throat went dry. Besides, he did not have, like the other
delegates, a prepared speech. He requested the President to let him
be the last speaker, His turn did come as the last speaker, He prayed
fervently to Sri Ramakrishna and Mother Sharadadevi, and stood up to
speak. When he began his address in his pleasing voice with the words
"Brothers and Sisters of America," there was a thunderous
applause; it lasted for a full three minutes. When it subsided at last
he continued his short speech. He said that people born in different
religions finally reach the same God, as rivers born in different places
finally reach the sea. He emphatically declared that no religion is
superior and none is inferior. The delegates, every one of them, praised
his speech. Newspapers carried his photographs and his speech. In later
days people flocked chiefly to listen to his speech. He became the darling
of the crowds. Whenever he rose to speak there was deafening applause.
Even as the conference
was in session, many institutions and associations extended invitations
to Swami Vivekananda. Rich people begged. Vivekananda to honour them
with a visit. Within a short time he became world famous. Wherever he
went, he dwelt at length on the greatness of Indian Culture. He spoke
with spontaneous ease on every topic, be it History, Sociology, Philosophy
or Literature. He deplored the malicious propaganda that had bee unleashed
by the Christian missionaries in India.
without a scrap of paper in his hand. We see in him some of the qualities
of Jesus himself. A strange attire, a radiant personality, a rare elegance,
the skill to epitomize Hinduism superbly - with these gifts he has won
the hearts of our people. He is mesmeric. He is unsurpassed in conversation.
His mastery of English is exceptional. A man like him appears only once
in an age. We are fortunate that we can see him and hear him,"
- thus the newspapers went into raptures.
Till then Americans
had the impression that Indians were superstitious and ignorant. Thanks
to Swamiji's persistent efforts, India was elevated to an honoured position
not only in America, but in the entire comity of progressive nations.
Wherever Swamiji went, people flocked to listen to him and waited patiently.
After the speech they would invite him to their houses and treat him
as an honoured guest. They would entertain him lavishly. At such times,
Swamiji was constantly and painfully reminded of the poverty and squalor
of India. The opulence around him would become unbearable. He spent
many a sleepless and tearful night. Meanwhile, he received pressing
invitations from England. A rousing reception awaited him in London
when he arrived there. The newspapers were all praise for the Hindu
Yogi's oratory and outlook. Many became his disciples. Among them was
Margaret Noble who later became famous as 'Sister Nivedita'. She came
to India and settled here. Swami Vivekananda returned to India after
his foreign tour lasting four years.
By the time he arrived
in India, Swamiji's fame had spread far and wide. When he landed in
Colombo on 15th January 1897, he was accorded a welcome that befitted
an Emperor. When he reached Madras there was an unprecedented crowd
at the railway station. He was carried in procession in a coach drawn
by an admiring crowd. Innumerable addresses and garlands were presented
Swamiji went, he disseminated the message of his master. To those who
came to him for guidance he taught the importance of spiritual development.
To his fellow monks he explained the importance of dedicated service.
He repeatedly told them that it was mere selfishness to look for personal
salvation. He used to say, "I do not want salvation, as long as
there is a single sorrow-stricken man in India." He had realised
that social set-vice was possible only through the concerted efforts
on an organized mission. That is why he started Sri Ramakrishna Mission
in 1897 and formulated its ideology and goal. During the next two years
he bought a site at Belur on the banks of the Ganga, constructed the
buildings and established the Ramakrishna Mutt.
The body is no more,
but the voice is deathless. Swamiji's health was constantly eroded owing
to tireless work. He visited many hill resorts in the Himalayas. But
even there his missionary work continued. He visited many cities in
North India in response to public demand. He visited America again at
the invitation of his American disciples. He participated in the Conference
of Religions in Paris and returned home.
In spite of the
entreaties of his disciples he would not rest. He became more inward-looking.
The body grew weak, but the mind and the soul remained alert and active.
On 4th July 1902 he performed his daily routine. He taught his disciples
as usual. He rested for a while after food; after some time he had a
shock. He spent a pleasant time talking to his followers and even cracking
jokes. That night at nine o' clock he looked tired and his hands were
trembling. He cried and sat up. He breathed a deep sigh and went to
sleep. Within a short while he attained eternal bliss. His disciples
and fellow-teachers felt orphaned and cried like children.
is no longer with us, his words live. His message has continued to inspire
millions of his countrymen. His voice can comfort the suffering and
sanctify their lives.
Listen again: 'You
rejoice that you belong to the race of the great sages. But until those
who belong to the upper classes help to uplift the downtrodden, and
until exploitation ends, India will only be a grave. May Mother India
step forth anew from the humble dwelling of the peasant!
"May she appear
in the hut of the fisherman! May she step forth from the cottages of
the cobbler and the sweeper! May she become manifest in godowns and
factories! May the song of New India echo and reverberate amidst mountains
and in forests and valleys!"