Decade-old quest for the ‘voice of music’ ends

Math concludes Vivekananda’s Chicago speech was not recorded

September 07, 2012 04:14 am | Updated October 01, 2016 12:44 am IST - KOLKATA

Swami Vivekananda at the Parliament of Religions in Chicago in September 1893. Photo courtesy: Advaita Ashrama Archives

Swami Vivekananda at the Parliament of Religions in Chicago in September 1893. Photo courtesy: Advaita Ashrama Archives

A decade-long quest for the recordings of the voice of Swami Vivekananda seems to have ended, with the Ramakrishna Math, the monastic order founded by him, reconciling itself to the fact that the voice, described by many as pure music, may have been lost for ever.

Accepting this painful reality with equanimity, Advaita Ashrama, a premier publishing house of the Ramakrishna Order, founded by the Swami himself, is releasing an audiobook on Swami Vivekananda’s Chicago address as part of the year-long programmes to commemorate his 150th birth anniversary.

Rich baritone

While the Swami’s talks are delivered by Biplab Ganguli, the introduction is given by Masoodul Huq. “How wonderful would it have been had Swami Vivekananda’s original voice been recorded at the Parliament of Religions? What a treasure would it have been to hear that rich, baritone voice? …but that is now no longer possible,” regretted Swami Bodhasarananda, Adhyaksha of Advaita Ashrama.

He said a detailed research and inquiries at various levels to trace the recordings revealed that no recordings were made in Chicago in September 1893.

Queerly, while this is the position of the Ramakrishna Mission, there are ‘recordings’ available on the Internet, which claim to be the famous Chicago speech. The Math questions their authenticity on three counts: it is known that no recordings were made; the Swami was introduced not by a woman as found in some of these recordings, but by Mr. Barrows (as written by the Swami in a letter to his admirer Alasinga Perumal on November 2, 1893); and the technology in 1893 did not allow this.

During her visit to the Belur Math in January 1994, Marie Louise Burke, a researcher on the Swami’s visit to the West, said that according to two historians who specialised in that period of American history and according to her own searches, the Swami’s speech was not recorded.

None traceable

However, some recordings of the Swami’s voice were made in India and abroad. Some were sent to India by the Swami himself, and these are documented — at the Mysore Palace in November/ December 1892 and at Ambala on August 16, 1897. Yet, none is traceable today.

Most recently, a cassette has been doing the rounds as a likely recording done from a phonographic record. A devotee, who strove to trace the Swami’s recordings, feels that in all probability, it is “the baritone voice that drew droves of listeners … some even climbing to treetops to see and listen to the man who took Hinduism to the West.”

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