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Swami Vivekananda, a ‘youngster from India won over the world’

As PM Narendra Modi marks the 125th anniversary of Vivekananda’s Chicago speech, a look at the life of the monk

india Updated: Sep 11, 2017 12:19 IST
HT Correspondent
Swami Vivekananda, wearing a turban, at the Parliament of the World’s Religions in 1893.
Swami Vivekananda, wearing a turban, at the Parliament of the World’s Religions in 1893. (Wikipedia )

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday addressed a students’ convention to mark the 125th anniversary of Swami Vivekananda’s Chicago address and Pt Deendayal Upadhyaya centenary celebrations.

Commemorating Vivekananda’s 1893 speech, Modi said in his address, “Just with a few words, a youngster from India won over the world and showed the world the power of oneness. The 9/11 of 1893 was about love, harmony and brotherhood.”

Here is a primer on the Hindu monk who took Hinduism to the world stage in the late 19th century

Who was Vivekananda?

Swami Vivekananda was the chief disciple of 19th century mystic and yogi Ramakrishna Paramhansa. Vivekananda founded the Ramakrishna Math, a monastic order based on his guru’s teachings in Kolkata and a worldwide spiritual movement known as the Ramakrishna Mission based on the ancient Hindu philosophy of Vedanta.

Vivekananda is credited with contributing to a revival of modern Hinduism and inspiring nationalist consciousness during colonial rule. But he is best known for his famous 1893 speech where he introduced Hinduism to the Western world in Chicago.

Vivekananda’s early life

Vivekananda, born Narendranath Datta, belonged to an influential family from North Kolkata. He was born on January 12, 1863 .

His father, Viswanath Dutta, was a well-known attorney and his mother, Bhuvaneswari Devi, a very religious woman, was a housewife. Vivekananda studied at the Metropolitan School in Kolkata and later at the General Assembly’s Institution, where he studied Western logic, Western philosophy and European history. It was here that he was first introduced to the work of Ramakrishna during a lecture by Professor William Hastie.

Meeting with Ramakrishna

Vivekananda met Ramakrishna in late 1881 or early 1882. He initially did not accept Ramakrishna’s ideas or philosophy, but began to visit the monk frequently and hold discussions with him.

In 1884, Vivekananda’s family suffered a sudden reversal of fortune when his father died. It was then that Vivekananda found solace in Ramakrishna’s teachings and eventually accepted him as his guru. Vivekananda received saffron robes from Ramakrishna in 1885, before the guru died of throat cancer.

In 1888, Vivekananda began a tour of India as a ‘wandering monk’, living on bhiksha or donations and trying to discover the country by talking to common folk.

The Chicago speech

Vivekananda delivered his now famous Chicago speech at the Parliament of the World’s Religions which was held in 1893 from September 11 to 27 at the Art Institute of Chicago.

His speech, which began with, “Sisters and brothers of America”, got him a standing ovation at the summit. In his speech, Vivekananda touched upon the fact that though people may follow different religions, yet all paths eventually lead to god.

He had also warned against the dangers of sectarianism and bigotry:

Sectarianism, bigotry and its horrible descendant, fanaticism, have long possessed this beautiful earth. They have filled the earth with violence, drenched it often and often with human blood, destroyed civilisation and sent whole nations to despair. Had it not been for these horrible demons, human society would be far more advanced than it is now.

He also presented a paper on Hinduism at the conference and talked at length about religious unity. Swami Vivekananda’s teachings and his style of oratory captured the interest of America and the monk was invited to deliver lectures at various places of repute during his tour of the country.

Founding of Ramakrishna Math

In 1897, Vivekananda founded the Ramakrishna Ashram. In 1899, he established the Belur Math/monastery on the West Bank of the Ganges, which became an important centre for the teaching of the philosophy and principles associated with Vedanta.

Death

Swami Vivekananda died on July 4, 1902. He was meditating at Belur math when a ruptured blood vessel in his brain led to his death. His followers believe that the rupture was due to brahmarandhra (an opening in the crown of his head) being pierced when he attained mahasamādhi.

Vivekananda’s writing and speeches

He wrote four classics, Jnana-Yoga, Bhakti-Yoga, Karma-Yoga, and Raja-Yoga, which are his treatises on Hindu philosophy and the teachings of Vedanta. In addition, his ideas and philosophy come through in the many lectures he delivered, the letters he wrote to friends and disciples, poems and songs composed by him.

Vivekananda’s influence

Vivekananda’s writings and teachings had an impact on many of India’s nationalist leaders, who were fighting against the colonial rule. Subhas Chandra Bose called Vivekananda “the maker of modern India” and Mahatma Gandhi credited Vivekananda’s with increasing his “love for his country a thousandfold”.

January 12 , Vivekananda’s birthday is celebrated as National Youth Day in India to mark the monk’s ideas on how the young should participate in the modern world while upholding their values.