THERE is still one more year before the country can rightly celebrate the 150th birth anniversary of one of the most astounding men in India’s long cultural history but apparently such is the high respect and affection Swami Vivekananda commands among practically all sane segments of Hindu society that he is very much in the news and talked about. By any account he was in a class by himself, blessed by none else than Sri Ramakrishna Paramahansa. He was born on January 12, 1863, just seven years after the so-called Sepoy Mutiny of India’s first War of Independence. As he grew up, memories of the War must have remained fresh in every Indian patriot’s memory. Sri Ramakrishna, his guru-to-be, was born in 1836 and how Narendra Dutta (for that was his given name) came to know him and both got attached to each other in some mysterious way, is history.
Narendra was a precocious boy. Romain Rolland, in his biography of this remarkable soul has noted that Vivekananda’s “pre-eminent characteristic was kingliness!” Wrote Rolland: “Nothing escaped the magic of his glance, capable equally of embracing in its irresistible charm or of sparkling wit, irony or kindness, of losing itself in ecstacy, or of plunging imperiously to the very depth of consciousness and of withering with its fury. He was a born king and nobody ever came near him either in India or America without paying homage to his majesty”.
Indeed India needed such a man in the last quarter of the 19th century. India had lost its independence, it had lost its self-respect and Hinduism as such was at its nadir. What it desperately needed, it got. One remembers that line from the Gita quoting Krishna as telling Arjuna: Dharmasam-sthapanarthaya sambhavami yuge yuge. He wanted to establish dharma as such in the rest of the world as in India. He stood up to all critics of Hinduism as only he could: in a majestic, unassailable way. He had chosen that as his life’s broad message. And he captured the imagination of millions by his daring and exquisite scholarship.
The Parliament of Religions held in Chicago in 1893 established his credentials beyond question or argument. When asked to speak on Hinduism by Prof John Henry Wright his reply was: “But I have no credentials!” Prof. Wright hit back. He said: “To ask you, Swami, for your credentials is like asking the sun about its right to shine!” Wright wrote to a number of important people connected with the Parliament, especially to the chairman of the Committee on Selection of Delegates who was one of his friends saying: “Here is a man more learned than all our learned professors put together!” At that time Vivekananda was barely thirty years old, as old as Sankara was. But he proved Prof Wright was right. Many people still wonder why it was that an audience of about 4,000 largely Christian men and women, gave him a standing ovation of four minutes when he began his address by saying: “Sisters and Brothers of America!” The audience was surely taken aback by his sheer openness to life and his open determination to treat individual as individual and not, as a Bishop would, as sinners whose souls are to be saved. When he said in the course of his brief first address what the Gita said of religion, it must have touched the thousands to the core of their hearts. As he said: “Whosoever comes to Me, through whatsoever form, I reach him. All men are struggling through paths which, in the end, lead to Me”.
Commenting on that speech, the New York Herald wrote: “He is undoubtedly the greatest figure in the Parliament of Religions. After hearing him, we feel how foolish it is to send Missionaries to this learned nation”. And Merwin-Marie Snell, president of the Scientific Section of Columbia Exposition which was being held simultaneously with the Parliament, said: “No religious body made so profound an impression upon the Parliament and the American people at large, as did Hinduism”. Re-reading some of the speeches Vivekananda made during his lengthy sojourn in America, one cannot but wonder at the sheer brilliance of the man and the conviction he carried. Our brainless secularists of today will probably call him a communalist for advocating and explaining what Hinduism is all about.
The question one has now to ask is: Do we need another Vivekananda presently at a time when Hindus themselves are degrading their ancient way of life in the name of secularism? Mahatma Gandhi who once confessed that he has gone through Vivekananda’s works thoroughly was to say that reading Vivekananda only increased the love he had for India “a thousand fold”. Will Durant, the distinguished American historian wrote: “He (Vivekananda) preached to his countrymen a more virile creed than any Hindu had offered them since Vedic days”. Limitless were Vivekananda’s admirers. Among them was no less a celebrity than Tolstoy.
Rabindranath Tagore wrote: “If you want to know India, study Vivekananda. In him everything is positive”. He had the courage to criticise God Himself. He had travelled throughout India and seen the pitiable living conditions of the masses and at times been moved to tears. Once he was to remark, with his usual vigour, that a God who could not in this life give a crust of bread was not to be trusted in the next for the kingdom of heaven. Let it be said here and now: Only a true Hindu would have dared to say that. Sri Ramakrishna himself was to say: “Religion is not for an empty stomach”. In a world rampant with corruption, in a world where fake secularism is the ruling ideology, in a world that is dying for upliftment, what is needed is another Vivekananda.
The least that the UPA Government can do is to declare 2011-2012 as the Year of Vivekananda and make it compulsory for all students from the primary to the post-graduate level aware of what Vivekananda stood for and, in consequence, what every Indian should stand for. Former President Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan said it all when he remarked: “If you really believe in the divine spark in man, do not, for a moment hesitate to accept the great tradition which has come to us of which Swami Vivekananda was the greatest exponent”.
But who, in the UPA government, will have the courage to listen to Dr Radhakrishnan and live up to his advice?