CLOSE your eyes. Open the heart. I have now brought you to Kanyakumari where you have the wonderful sight of the meeting of the three seas, gently touching the feet of the Mother India. Look yonder, the strong, majestic Vivekananda Rock Memorial built on the Vivekananda Rock. And near by, the great saint Thiruvalluvar statue.
Do you know the story of this Rock Memorial situated amid the gentle waves singing lullabies, and being beautifully bathed in the radiance of the Sun? Do you know that behind this monument, there is the story of a great man who selflessly dedicated himself to its cause? Yes. That floral offering is Shri Eknath Ranade. He was born on November 19, 1914. Should we not know about him? Let us meet Shri R.N. Venkataraman who had served that great personality, assisting him for about 18 years.
Shri R.N. Venkataraman is a tall and slim figure with a broad mind. With a mark of sandal paste on the forehead, with a smiling and serene face, he has been a swayamsevak right from his early years. He is now 70, but like a youth, he has been actively managing the works of the RSS state headquarters of Tamil Nadu. Excerpts from the interview:
How did the idea of Vivekananda Rock Memorial develop in the minds of the RSS in Tamil Nadu?
That was the time when Swami Vivekananda'sbirth centenary was approaching. The Ramakrishna Mutt and the Central Government were planning to celebrate the occasion on a very grand scale all over the country. Preparations were afoot in full swing.
At that time Shri Dattaji Didolkar was the RSS Prant Pracharak of Tamil Nadu. In the course of his state-wide tour, the swayamsevaks of Kanyakumari broached the matter to him: ?Preparations are going on throughout the country to celebrate the birth centenary of Swami Vivekananda. It was in Kanyakumari that Swamiji remained in meditation for three days and discovered the mission of his life; what is to be done further. The rock on which he meditated is known as the Vivekananda Rock. Therefore, we should do there something, marking the great occasion?. At that time, Shri S.Venkataraman was the pracharak of that region. Now he is pretty aged. He conveyed the wish of the swayamsevaks to Dattaji. By and by, the plan began to take shape. For this purpose, a committee was formed in Tamil Nadu.
His wish was that Vivekananda Kendra should not be just a place of worship pursuing the practice of japa and dhyana. Instead, he wanted it to be a spiritually-oriented service organisation. It was also his fond desire that in this mission youngsters, both men and women, fired with high ideals, after due training, should be absorbed.
When and under what circumstances Shri Eknath Ranade came on the scene?
Shri Eknathji'sparticipation commenced one year after the formation of the committee in Tamil Nadu. Thiru Bhaktavat-salam was the then Chief Minister of the State. Since Kanyakumari was a stronghold of Christians, the negotiations with the Government in the matter of setting up a memorial for Swamiji in that place met with obstacles for political reasons. The elders in the Sangh felt that if the Memorial committee is only a state-level committee, it would be difficult to steer clear of the obstacles. Therefore, it occurred to them that the Committee should be developed into an All India Committee.
At that time, the senior members of the Sangh had gone to Nagpur to participate in a meeting. They drew the attention of Shri Guruji to the matter under purview. As the responsibility of Sarkaryavah had just then been transferred to Shri Bhaiyaji Dani by Shri Eknathji, Shri Guruji asked Eknathji to look into the matter.
It so happened that Eknathji had just completed reading The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda. As such, his mind had already leaned towards Swamiji. In deference to Shri Guruji'swish, he came to Tamil Nadu and met the committee. Thereafter he dedicated himself wholly to the task ahead.
What were the circumstances that led you to be associated with Eknathji Ranade ever since he came to Tamil Nadu?
Eknathji obtained the signatures of more than 300 MPs supporting the Vivekananda Rock Memorial project. It was then put up before the Prime Minister Pt. Nehru, who, in turn, spoke to the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, Shri Bhaktavatsalam.
Once the Government approval was obtained, the work had to be started without any loss of time. So Eknathji told the then Prant Pracharak of Tamil Nadu, Shri Rama Gopalan, about the need for an office and an assistant for him. Gopalji thought about several persons, and I was one among them. At that time I was employed in a leading concern in Chennai. He asked me, ?Can you resign your job and join the cause of setting up a memorial for Swamiji?? If the appeal is from a senior member of the Sangh, can there be a second thought? I resigned my job, and on 8-11-1964, I joined Eknathji Ranade as his assistant. The specialty is that, that was my first ever meeting with him. He told me to take the charge same day.
From that day onwards, I was privileged to work with him for 18 years. On August 22, 1982, Eknathji attained the lotus feet of the Lord. Till his last day I worked with him.
How did Eknathji work in those days of memorial construction?
It was the nature of Eknathji to think carefully and do even small works beautifully well. He was a very hard worker. He would make his associates also to work hard. But for this quality in him, it would not have been possible to complete the construction of the Rock Memorial in just six years.
At that time Shri Prabhudas Patwari was the Governor of Tamil Nadu. Eknathji had close contacts with him. He consulted the Governor on the matter. Shri Patwari arranged a meeting for Eknathji with Thiru M.G.R., who was then the state Chief Minister. The meeting took place duly. In that meeting, I was also with Eknathji. Thiru M.G.R.'sSecretary Shri Lakshminaryanan was also present. Towards the end of the meeting which lasted for about two hours, Thiru M.G.R. said, ?This project can be taken up by the Government itself.? Eknathji welcomed the idea.
In just six years?
Yes. The work was started in November 1964, and the inaugural function was held in 1970.
In the beginning, the estimated cost of its construction was Rs. 30 lakh. Then it increased to Rs 60 lakh, then 75 lakh. Finally it worked out to Rs one crore and thirty five lakh. Just think what a great achievement it was to mobilise such a huge sum of money thirty years ago and complete the work in six years!
What led to the installation of such a majestic statue of Swami Vivekananda on the Rock Memorial?
Before 1970, it was common among people to think of Swami Vivekananda either in his meditative posture with eyes closed, or in the famous Chicago posture with his arms folded. But today, the image of Swamiji that we have in mind is one that is about to plunge into active work aimed at achieving something. Do you know how this statue took shape?
To give out to the people what he got from Swami Ramakrishna Paramhansa, Swamiji wandered on foot throughout the country. After visiting the temple in Rameswaram, and worshipping Lord Shiva, Swamiji proceeded to Kanyakumari. After worshipping the Mother in the temple, Swamiji came to the shore and gazed at the Rock over there in the sea. He was penniless. He swam across to the Rock. The Rock which was already holy with the imprint of the Sripadam got further sanctified by the touch of Swamiji'sfeet. Swamiji himself has said that after spending three days in meditation on the Rock, the mission of his life dawned on him.
Thus, Swamiji'smeditation on the Rock and the discovery of his life'smission are established facts. Once the mission was clear, the field of action lay before him. So the image of Swamiji that formed itself in the mind of Eknathji was that of the Swamiji ready to enter the field of action with gusto.
Eknathji communicated this idea and image of Swamiji to the artists. He also exhorted them to read The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda so as to enable to form for themselves a clear picture of Swamiji in their minds. He then selected competent sculptors who would satisfactorily sculpt the approved portrait of Swamiji. Shri D.P. Roy Chaudhry was one among them. He was the one who sculpted the Gandhi statue and the Labour statue at Chennai (near the Marina beach).
He was a very famous sculptor. But he would insist that once he has made the sculpture, it should be accepted. But Eknathji did not agree to that condition. He said, ?If the sculpture is satisfactory, it would be accepted. Otherwise, payment would be made for the work done.? In this way, eight sculptures were got done, out of which two were finally selected. When they were placed on the pedestal on trial, the one with the Kamandlam in one hand was disproportionately taller than the other. So the former was installed later in Vivekananda-puram, and the latter was installed on the Rock Memorial facing the Sripadam, with Swamiji'seyes focused on the Sripadam. This, in short, is the story behind the installation of the majestic statue of Swamiji on the Rock Memorial. The statue sculpted by Sonawadekar was the one that got finally selected.
And how Vivekananda Kendra came into existence?
Vivekananda Kendra was started two years after the Rock Memorial was constructed. Even as the Memorial construction was under progress, the seed of Vivekananda Kendra had started sprouting in the mind of Eknathji.
His wish was that this organisation should not be just a place of worship pursuing the practice of japa and dhyana. Instead, he wanted it to be a spiritually-oriented service organisation. It was also his fond desire that in this mission youngsters, both men and women, fired with high ideals, after due training, should be absorbed. He implemented this plan after exchanging thoughts and views with several religious leaders, political personalities, eminent thinkers, intellectuals, and a cross section of various others. Today Vivekananda Kendra does wonderful work in accordance with the aims and objectives formulated by Shri Eknathji.
How was the Vivekananda-puram developed?
Eknathji had the capacity to envisage several projects at a time and implement them successfully. Just as he thought of the Vivekananda Kendra and gave concrete shape to it, he thought of the Vivekanandapuram and made it a reality. What we see today as Vivekanandapuram is a conglomerate of land-holdings acquired from about 250 independent owners in a span of three or four years. It is a land sprawling over an area of about 110 acres. It goes without saying what an amount of tact, patience and unyielding efforts must have been exercised to acquire such an extent of land from a place that was predominantly Christian-occupied.
At that time, some people raised questions, ?Why all this? Where is the need for land?? Today several good activities are going on, in that very same land. In this connection, the assistance of Shri V. Mahalingam is worthy of remembrance.
Today, Vivekanandapuram is a vast campus with accommodation facilities for 1000 people at a time. Post office, dispensary, and several other amenities are within reach in the campus.
Till a few years ago, the mention of Kanyakumari would at once flash into one'smind the Vivekananda Rock memorial. Today the Thiruvalluvar statue is also there. There is a talk in the air that this statue has been schemed to eclipse the glory of the Memorial for Swami Vivekananda. Is that so?
It is not so. The Thiruvallur statue will not in any way lessen the glory or the importance of Vivekananda Rock Memorial. In fact, it was Eknathji Ranade who was foremost in deciding upon a statue of saint Thiruvalluvar near the Rock Memorial.
What? Was it Eknathji'splan?
Yes. They are the twin Rocks. On the bigger one stands the Vivekananda Rock Memorial. The other one remained exposed as the lone rock. But the smaller rock is not actually separate. It draws its strength and life from the bigger one. In the same way, any weakening or damage affecting the minor Rock will have a corresponding influence on the major Rock. Therefore, Eknathji realised the importance of protecting the minor Rock.
Not only that. In future, any political party might install the statue of a political leader on the minor Rock. If that leader is of a stature comparable with Swami Vivekananda, it would be befitting. Otherwise?… That is why Eknathji desired for a statue for saint Thiruvalluvar as a most fitting complement on the minor Rock, after careful consideration.
In this connection, he negotiated with the Government. At that time Shri Prabhudas Patwari was the Governor of Tamil Nadu. Eknathji had close contacts with him. He consulted the Governor on the matter. Shri Patwari arranged a meeting for Eknathji with Thiru M.G.R., who was then the state Chief Minister. The meeting took place duly. In that meeting, I was also with Eknathji. Thiru M.G.R.'sSecretary Shri Lakshminaryanan was also present. Towards the end of the meeting which lasted for about two hours, Thiru M.G.R. said, ?This project can be taken up by the Government itself.? Eknathji welcomed the idea.
Even though the Kendra was not given the opportunity to build the Thiruvalluvar statue, it was the dream of Eknathji to construct a Thiruvalluvar statue there. In acknowledgement of this fact, Thiru M.G.R. associated the names of Shri Eknathji and Vivekananda Kendra with the Celebrations Committee formed for the foundation laying ceremony for the Thiruvalluvar statue, and thereby made it a function jointly organised by the State Government and the Kendra. At the function, Eknathji delivered the vote of thanks. This event took place when Shri Morarji Desai was the Prime Minister.
It was the dream of Eknathji Ranade that a statue of saint Thiruvalluvar should be built on the minor Rock adjacent to the Vivekananda Rock. To this effect, there is also the following resolution in the Kendra'splan of action :??to take adequate measure to protect the adjoining Rock, called the Minor Vivekananda Rock whose continued existence ensures the stability and longevity of the major Vivekananda Rock from corrosion and strengthening and beautifying it, to adorn it with a magnificent statue of Thiruvalluvar, the great poet-saint of India??
How was the co-operation from the government of Tamil Nadu during the construction of the Vivekananda Rock Memorial?
When the permission was obtained from the State Government for the construction of the Memorial, Shri Bhaktavatsalam was the Chief Minister. When the actual construction was in progress, Shri Arignar Anna was the Chief Minister. Next came Kalaignar Karunanidhi as the Chief Minister.
Initially though there were some setbacks in obtaining permission for the Memorial construction, the fact remains that from Bhaktavatsalam to Karunanidhi everyone extended good cooperation.
Kalaignar Karunanidhi presided over the inaugural function of the Memorial and saw through the programme. At the function Chief Minister Karunanidhi delivered his first ever address in English before a mammoth crowd of thousands. Then for about 20 minutes he spoke in beautiful, chaste Tamil. That was the time when the Assembly was in session. Still, Karunanidhi graced the occasion with his participation right through.
During M.G.R.'srule also, there was good cooperation. It was Eknathji'sway of approach that won him such camaraderie from all.
Today Vivekanandapuram is a vast campus with accommodation facilities for 1000 people at a time. Post Office, dispensary, and several other amenities are within reach in the campus.
What kind of service activities has Vivekananda Kendra taken up?
Right from the inception of Vivekananda Kendra, it was the intention of Eknathji that the service of the Kendra should be made available in those regions where no other organisation had ever ventured. He trained young men and women and prepared them to go and work in such remote regions. Today there are more than 150 full time workers in the Kendra engaged in various service activities in different parts of the country.
In accordance with Eknathji'swish, the activities of Vivekananda Kendra were first started in Arunachal Pradesh. The Kendra continues to serve the Vanvasis in that state. The state of affairs was such that the people there remained cut off from the national mainstream. Therefore it was felt necessary to start the service activities among the people there.
Through the Kendra'sschools, the people there are being served, in addition to instilling in them love for the country. The Kendra is running 22 schools there. The students studying in those schools are taken to different parts of India in order to familiarise them with our country, and enable them to know about her wealth and glory. In short, the Kendra is nurturing in their minds the awareness that they are also people of this country.
Likewise, in the Andamans too the Kendra is going on with its services. Nine schools are being run there. Yoga training classes are part of the Kendra'sactivities.
On an average, 12 lakh people visit the Vivekananda Rock Memorial in a year. Vivekananda Kendra facilitates their visit and caters to their requirements. The Kendra also brings out many publications in various languages, spreading the message of Swamiji.
What is the people'sparticipation in the construction of the Vivekananda Rock Memorial?
As I have said earlier, the total cost of construction of the Memorial touched Rupees one crore and thirty five lakh. Of this, Rupees eighty lakh were from the common people. One Rupee, Two Rupee and Five Rupee coupons were issued so as to enable as many commoners as possible to contribute towards the cause, and in order that whenever they visit Kanyakumari it will be a joyous recollection for them that their share of money has also gone into the monumental work. The task of mobilising such funds from the public was taken up by the Sangh swayamsevaks. The Central and the State Governments also donated towards the cause. Our army jawans have also contributed. Yet, the lion'sshare of the contribution came from the general public.
(Translated by K.P. Shivakumar)