Friday Review » History & Culture

Updated: September 21, 2012 16:20 IST

‘A Man among men...’

Dr. S. Krishnaswamy
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Swami Vivekananda
Swami Vivekananda

120 years on, Swami Vivekananda’s fiery speech at the Parliament of Religions is still fresh in memory.

This month marks the 120th anniversary of Swami Vivekananda’s participation in the Parliament of Religions at Chicago.

It is appropriate to celebrate this great event through the month for a simple reason. While it is generally well-known that young Vivekananda had to sleep on a sidewalk in Chicago before being discovered and given a place to stay, what is less known is that his first lecture there on September 11, 1893, catapulted him to such a great stature that the organisers had to invite him to address the gathering every day during that fortnight!

A participant of that conference said, “When the audience was bored with the tedious eloquence of some other speakers and became restive, the president of the conference found that the best means to get them into order was to announce that Vivekananda would be the next speaker again!”

Among those present at that conference, Dr. Annie Besant later commented, “Off the platform, his figure was instinct with pride of country, pride of race – the representative of the oldest of living religions… India was not to be shamed before the hurrying arrogant West by this her envoy and her son. He brought her message, he spoke in her name, and the herald remembered the dignity of the royal land whence he came. Purposeful, virile, strong, he stood out, a man among men, able to hold his own. On the platform, another side came out. The dignity and the inborn sense of worth and power still were there, but all was subdued to the exquisite beauty of the spiritual message which he had brought, to the sublimity of that matchless truth of the East which is the heart and life of India…The huge multitude hung upon his words, not a syllable must be lost, not a cadence missed!”

Profound impact

An agnostic-turned-monk, Swami Vivekananda accomplished in a life span of 39 years what is probably not possible for anyone living even for a couple of centuries. His contribution was not obscurantist revival but rejuvenating renaissance of Hinduism and the Indian ethos. His deep sense of nationalism had a profound impact on the Freedom Struggle. His worldview and success in the Western world revived India’s self esteem in the context of the depressed mood of enslavement. Suddenly, here was a new Indian spiritual leader known to the entire literate world.

His admirers included the likes of Leo Tolstoy and Max Mueller. Swamiji’s personality combined the qualities of the Buddha, Mahavir, Adi Sankara, Ramanuja, and Chaitanya in a manner of syncretism. He was a great musician even as a teenager, attracting hundreds of people to his singing, a tradition which he continued all his life.

Even his religious ideas were radical. He once declared, “I do not know the 30 crore deities of our pantheon. But I know the millions of my suffering fellowmen who are my gods to be served.” He epitomised this sentiment on the lines “Nara Seva is Narayana Seva” (Service to Man is Service to God). He did not believe in salvation by constantly running away from the world to meditate in caves; he believed that such enlightenment was only a means to serve his fellowmen. So he created an Order of Monks at the Ramakrishna Math and Mission, who are dedicated to the uplift of the downtrodden through education, health care and such other activities. He laid the foundation for communal and religious harmony, expanding on the principle his Guru had demonstrated.

The Tamil connection

How can anyone belonging to Tamil Nadu forget the unique relationship this part of the country had with a young Bengali saint who became the world-renowned Swami Vivekananda? It is well known that as a parivrajakacharya (wandering monk), Vivekananda reached Kanyakumari, swam across the sea, reached a rock and sat there in meditation for a few days. Although he had heard that a World Parliament of Religions was to take place in Chicago and a few people in Western India had suggested that he should participate, he could not make up his mind for long.

It was during his visit to Tamil Nadu that he decided to accept the challenge and proceed to America. Even then, he was debating with himself on whether he was genuinely interested in representing an ancient tradition of spirituality or was perhaps giving room to his ego to project himself. The enthusiasm of his disciples in Tamil Nadu led by Alasingar of Tiruvallikeni in Chennai helped him make up his mind.

The decision was clinched when a letter of blessings came from Sri Sarada Mata in Kolkata urging him to proceed to Chicago. The funds collected for his trip by his Tamil devotees became the nucleus which was strengthened by the generosity of the Maharaja of Ketri.

Half a century after the Chicago lecture, Rajaji said in simple words, “Swami Vivekananda saved Hinduism and saved India. But for him we would have lost our religion and would not have gained our freedom. We therefore owe everything to Swami Vivekananda. May his faith, his courage and his wisdom ever inspire us so that we may keep safe the treasure we have received from him!”

(Dr. S. Krishnaswamy is a documentary and television film maker and founder of the recently launched Tamil/English Heritage Channel, KRISHNA-TV.)


Law & OrderSeptember 24, 2010

The story behind a speech, in 3-DSeptember 18, 2012

A message that has stood the test of timeSeptember 12, 2012

Today's politicians can teach youngsters only 'HOW to be MORE GREEDY'
without knowing that:

"GREED and EGO wither the sharp edge of wisdom we ALL may be possessing in measured cups."

from:  mohan k muju
Posted on: Sep 23, 2012 at 08:08 IST

He spent his life fighting to reform Hinduism and forge a Hindu renaissance. He hoped for them to become a force for good in the world, and he did not flinch from stridently criticizing the social ills and injustices that afflict us:

"The conviction is daily gaining on my mind that the idea of caste is the greatest dividing factor and the root of Maya; all caste either on the principle of birth or of merit is bondage. Sitting down these hundreds of years with an ever-increasing load of crystallized superstition on your heads, for hundreds of years spending all your energy upon discussing the touchableness or untouchableness of this food or that, with all humanity crushed out of you by the continuous social tyranny of ages—what are you? And what are you doing now?"

He once said that there would be no salvation without service for the poor and the suffering. We celebrate him, but have we listened to his words and tried to better ourselves? Have we strived to remove the stain of caste?

from:  arulmozhi
Posted on: Sep 23, 2012 at 00:36 IST

Great article remembering the great Personality -Swami Vivekananda!
I want Hindu to come up with more such articles on real Heroes of Mother India. It is very sad to see a country where such great leaders like Swami Vivekananda, Buddha, Gandhi were born but today we are seeing so many corrupt leaders. I hope in future many more vivekanadas are born and bring a renaissance in our country.
Jai Hind!

from:  maruthi
Posted on: Sep 21, 2012 at 23:21 IST

"Vivekananda-His call to the Nation" is a compilation I place on the right side of my working table which enables me to see the turbaned bengali saint all the time."Give me a few men and women who are pure and selfless and I shall shake the world"-the compilation throws open Swami Vivekananda in all dimensions-purity of mind and body, clarity in thinking and words,connect between words and deeds and the fullest love and committment to mother India-.The proud historic moment of Swami and Bharat was his address at the Parliament of Religions on 11 September 1893 and subsequent days.He addressed as"Sisters and brothers of America" which electified the 7,000 and odd audience who rose in unison with applause.Swami was the centre of attraction subsequent days.Swami has left the classic compiled and titled "The complete works of Swami Vivekananda in VIII volumes " reprinted many times."Letters of Swami Vivekananda" and "Lectures from Colombo to Almora" are to be read to understand the saint.

from:  Dr K V Peter
Posted on: Sep 21, 2012 at 18:08 IST

Our public libraries must have enough literature on Swami Vivekananda and teachings, so that our masses can read and know the great son of mother India

from:  Prakash B Deshpande
Posted on: Sep 21, 2012 at 15:50 IST

There cannot be a comment but a cordial compliment.

from:  BALU
Posted on: Sep 21, 2012 at 11:54 IST

Service to Man is Service to God.

from:  G.Madhavi
Posted on: Sep 21, 2012 at 10:20 IST

It is not correct to compare Swami Vivekananda with the Buddha. Buddha was a non-
believer, he taught a philosophy that demanded effortlessness, complete cessation of
ambition and understanding of the complexities of human mind. Swami preached
effort, struggle, ambition, and he worshipped deities. Swami was primarily a Hindu

from:  P.N.Shreeniwas
Posted on: Sep 21, 2012 at 01:50 IST

Nicely Written Article.We need to read and internalize Swami Vivekananda's teachings.

from:  Rakesh Bhatt
Posted on: Sep 21, 2012 at 00:01 IST

120 years have rolled by but the resonance of what Swamiji had spoken and uttered still continues to reverberate and stir us. I wonder how to visualize those electrifying moments that marked the atmosphere of the religious congregation ruled by the cyclonic monk. Indeed, both Tagore and Gandhiji have aptly described this humblest son of India in their respective tributes : 'If you want to know India, study Vivekanda' and 'After reading Vivekananda, my love for the country has increased manifold.'

from:  Ashok Modi
Posted on: Sep 20, 2012 at 23:25 IST

Can you imagine the change this man could brought on had he remained the
"skeptic" ? Religion changes everything in a fertile & imaginative mind.

from:  Reju Nair
Posted on: Sep 20, 2012 at 23:12 IST

A very informative article on Swami Vivekanand's contribution
to Indian renaissance.

from:  Sant Sodhi
Posted on: Sep 20, 2012 at 22:47 IST

An excellent article, thank you for publishing this piece. The quote, "I do not know the 30 crore deities of our pantheon. But I know the millions of my suffering fellowmen who are my gods to be served" speaks for the intense passion and concern Swami Vivekananda had for human kind. While this instills a sense of pride and urge to act not wait, the moment of joy evaporates fast at the very thought of the appaling state of greed and corrpution which unfortunately is the norm of life. The question is not if but when will people take upon themselves to remedy this situation since Swami's message will never ever resonate with the plundering politicians who are only keen in amazing wealth and even more wealth.

from:  Shan
Posted on: Sep 20, 2012 at 22:18 IST

Swami Vivekananda is our Indian icon, he is the great leader, swamiji speeches inspired somany Indian freedom fighters, this artical is very nice i loved it.

from:  vijayanand
Posted on: Sep 20, 2012 at 21:43 IST

i truly feel proud to be an indian ,( inspite of all the scams nowadays)

from:  bhushan
Posted on: Sep 20, 2012 at 20:46 IST

The Author forgot to mention anything about the Raja sethupathi of
Ramnad who arranged the trip and was major support behind this.Even i
read recently from s.Rama krishnan's piece that it was sethupathi who
suppose to go to the parliament but he preferred to send swami
vivekananda.The author have purposefully hindered the role of ramnad
raja sethupathi or written without reference about his role.

from:  Vijay
Posted on: Sep 20, 2012 at 19:53 IST

Dear Dr. Krishnaswamy, a million thanks for writing this, and a million thanks to The Hindu for publishing this. Discovering Vivekananda changed my life years ago, and I wish that many more will have an occasion to be inspired by him. A more articulate, noble, bold and honest spokesperson for religion, I have never come across. He did not revive Hinduism but revived the very understanding of religion itself. That eternal religion of mankind which will still live even if the universe were to die. His words and thoughts are only going to attract more and more interest in the coming years.

from:  luhar sen
Posted on: Sep 20, 2012 at 19:21 IST

It is indeed astonishing what Swami Vivekananda achieved in 39+ years of his life span. Imagine travelling the length & breadth of India on bare foot most of the time. The sheer thought of the love he had for India, its culture, its people and the fact he could articulate it to the entire world should make us all proud. He certainly was beyond us mortals.

from:  Naren
Posted on: Sep 20, 2012 at 19:16 IST

Young generation can turn to Swami Vivekananda's work and his
life,whenever they are in a state of dilemma and despair.Having such
epitome of humanity in our history,we can learn a lot from them instead
of looking for plethora of personality development books and seminars.

from:  Priyansu Bhardwaj
Posted on: Sep 20, 2012 at 18:56 IST

A fantastic article about an hero!!!

from:  MN
Posted on: Sep 20, 2012 at 18:48 IST
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