Interstate head deck Interstate head deck Interstate head deck Interstate head deck Apart from being a religious and spiritual personality of great renown, Swami Vivekananda in the 1890s was also a newsmaker whose activities and views figured frequently in the news pages of The Hindu . And there were controversies and debates too — with writers and lay readers criticising and supporting his opinions, work, role and methods — all of which received prominence in the pages of this newspaper. Though his address to the 1893 Chicago Parliament of Religion, the speech which won him so much praise and adulation back home, was a short one, The Hindu ’s coverage of Vivekananda in the last nine years of his life cumulatively adds up to tens of thousands of words. The controversies were predictable for the time even if they seem surprising today. Orthodox Brahmins, who regarded the crossing of the seas as taboo, looked askance at his voyage, prompting an editorial in The Hindu to cite the overseas accomplishments of Vivekananda as proof that a sea journey did not compromise one's religion. A Christian missionary weighed in against the Swami's beliefs, prompting a number of critical responses from other writers. A section of the Theosophists questioned the public importance accorded to Vivekananda by Hindus when the Theosophists had also worked hard to educate the West about Hinduism. But his followers also weighed in, arguing why there was something unique about the Swami. We present below edited extracts from the pages of The Hindu to give our readers of today a flavour of the debate that was happening in society — and on the pages of The Hindu — more than 115 years ago. Point...

(February 11, 1897)

Mr. Swamijee's attitude towards theosophy

Swami Vivekananda's opinion of the Theosophical Society and his patronising reference to Mrs. Besant is not what an earnest Hindu, who has known the Society and Mrs. Besant, was prepared to hear. He is reported by the local Times to have said that ‘I lectured to her (Mrs. Besant) in London for some time.’ We heard that he lectured at the London Blavatsky Lodge once or twice; but that she was lectured to by him must be news to many and to Mrs. Besant more than to anybody else. Mrs. Besant had been a Theosophist and recognized preacher even to the leading Theosophists, who had studied Hindu religion before the Swami ever went to London. Mrs. Besant is not credited by the Swami with much insight into Hindu philosophy or much knowledge of Hindu religion. The Swami had the candor to say that his knowledge of Mrs. Besant was very limited. Men like Mr. Justice Subramania Iyer, Sir K. Seshadri Iyer, Justice Mr. Ramchandra Iyer, and a host of others who have labored hard in translating Sanskrit religious works, and who have studied with devotion Brahma Sutras, Upanishads, and Gita with commentaries by Sankara and Ramanuja, have acknowledged her capability as a great teacher on Hindu religion. And if their words mean anything, surely Vivekananda’s estimate of her knowledge is grossly absurd. This does not speak well of the Swami’s fairness of judgement or of his humility. As to his belief in Mahatma, etc., he would have done well if he had refrained from hazarding an opinion instead of venturing to discredit a ‘most sincere’ woman as he calls Mrs. Besant, as well as those of her respectable and intelligent following who have pledged their beliefs in the Mahatmas. The Swami believes in the greatness of his Guru, Yoga, Samadhi, Initiation, Meditation, and all that. What does that lead to but to Occultism and Mysticism? If he thinks they do not, then it is not Hinduism of our sages he preaches. He should have hesitated before insinuating that wisdom and Mahatmism begins and ends with his revered Guru.

He would be alienating the sympathy of all sincere men, of course, including a large number of Hindu Theosophists, who are his warm admirers, by his ill-judged pronouncement against the Theosophical Society and Mrs. Besant. A ‘sincere’ woman like Mrs. Besant is not likely to thank the Swami for his gratuitous and presumptuous advice that she would do well to forsake the ranks of the Theosophical Society. Mrs. Besant in true humility spoke of the Swami in her last Town Hall speech with respect and admiration, and the Swami assumes that he is the Guru and guide to Mrs. Besant. I am sincerely sorry for the Swami. I feel sure that he will hardly succeed in harming the Society, which deserved so well of the Hindu race; but I am afraid he would only forfeit the allegiance of a great number of his real Hindu admirers.

— Madhava Doss