SWAMI VIVEKANANDA, one of the most admired spiritual leaders of the country, whom the world hails as the ‘Great Hindu Monk of India’ and whom the West christened as the ‘Cyclonic Hindu Monk’, needs no introduction, not just in India but in the entire spiritual world. However, very little is known about his connection with Raipur, the capital of Chhattisgarh State – often considered the ‘spiritual birthplace’ of Swamiji.
This chief disciple of Shri Ramakrishna Paramhansa, who earned the sobriquet of a Parivrajak (Wandering Monk), travelled from Chicago to Colombo and the Himalayas to Kanyakumari, in relentless pursuit of spiritual knowledge and to spread the message of Vedanta. But his two-year stay in Raipur – the longest outside his hometown Calcutta – continues to remain a little known fact about Swamiji.
Swami Vivekananda was born as Narendranath Datta (Naren) in Kolkata (Calcutta) on January 12, 1863 to Shri Viswanath Datta, an attorney at Calcutta High Court and Smt Bhuvaneshwari Devi, a pious lady.
Naren’s father used to travel to various places in central and northern India in connection with his professional work. On one such assignment, Shri Datta moved to Raipur (then in the Central Province) along with his family in 1877. Naren was 14 years old and a student of the ‘third class’ (sic) (equivalent to present class eight).
“From writings and documents related to Swamiji, we find that his father brought him to Raipur probably for a change of weather and also because he had to live for a longer period outside Calcutta for a legal case. They stayed in a house at Budhapara,” says Swami Satyarupananda, secretary, Ramakrishna Mission-Vivekananda Ashram, Raipur.
Before moving to Raipur, Naren was studying at the Metropolitan Institution of Pt. Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar in Calcutta. He left his schooling and moved with his father to Raipur, but at that time there were no good schools in Raipur. So he spent his time with his father and had intellectual discussions on spiritual topics. It was in Raipur that Swamiji learned Hindi and the game of chess for the first time. His father taught him culinary skills too.
As a lover of music and a singer himself, Naren’s father created a suitable atmosphere in the house for the cultivation of music.
In those days, Raipur was not connected by railway, so Shri Datta and his family reached Raipur via Allahabad and Jabalpur. According to available records, they travelled by bullock-carts from Jabalpur to Raipur through dense forests and mountains, and it took more than a fortnight to reach the destination.
It can be said that Raipur played a pivotal role in shaping up the spiritual life of Swamiji. This was perhaps the first time when, helped by a strong power of imagination, Naren entered into deep meditation. In his own words, Swamiji later narrated his experience and his first glimpses of natural beauty during his journey (Jabalpur to Raipur).
Recollecting a particular day’s event, he wrote, “We had to travel by the foot of the Vindhya mountains… the slow moving bullock-cart arrived at a place where two mountain peaks locked themselves and below the meeting point there was a cleft. I saw an enormous honeycomb hanging down. Filled with wonder, as I was pondering over the beginning and the end of that kingdom of bees, my mind became so much absorbed in the thought of the infinite power of God, the Controller of the three worlds, that I completely lost my consciousness of the external world for some time. I don’t remember how long I was lying in the bullock-cart in that condition. When I regained normal consciousness, I found that we had crossed that place and come far away.”
This incidence is said to be the turning point in the life of young Naren. “It’s probably during this journey by bullock-cart that Swamiji had his first realisation of the Supreme Being and the question of existence of God came to his mind,” says Swami Satyarupananda.
The settlement where he stayed (Budhapara), then largely a Bengali-dominated locality where intellectuals of the day had their homes, is opposite the Budha Talab, now known as the Vivekananda Sarovar.
Given his athletic temperament, it is said that Naren used to go for swimming at Budha Talab, with his friends. The residents of Budhapara still consider it holy and a matter of great pride to reside there.
“Our house was on Giribhatt gali, which is opposite to the lane where Swamiji had lived and a friend of mine used to live in a portion of that house. From our childhood we took pride in living at a place, where none other than Swami Vivekananda had spent his two years,” reminisces former editor of India Today (Hindi) and senior journalist, Jagdish Upasane.
There maybe differences of opinion on the exact house where Swamiji had lived, but his stay in the city left an indelible mark on Chhattisgarh, that still finds resonance.
As a tribute, the Ramakrishna Mission and the math’s first branch in undivided Madhya Pradesh was set up in Raipur way back in 1968. It was first conceived as a private ashram and then got affiliation from Belur Math.
“Chhattisgarh, especially Raipur, is a pilgrimage place, as Swami Vivekananda’s feet had touched this soil. Looking at the close proximity of Budhapara, I’m sure in those days Swamiji must have treaded on this land on which the Mission now stands,” says Satyarupananda with pride.
Records show that many noted scholars used to visit Vishwanath Datta at Raipur. Naren would listen to their discussions, and occasionally join them, introducing his personal views. His logical explanations on various issues astonished the elders, who would treat him on equal footing.
The family returned to Calcutta in 1879, and Naren joined his old school and old classmates. In the same year, he passed the entrance examination for Presidency College, Calcutta, entering it for a brief period and subsequently shifting to General Assembly’s Institution (Scottish Church College).
The seed of spiritual journey that got germinated in Raipur made Vivekananda a towering global personality, a link between India and the western world and, a voice of India and the East in the ‘Parliament of the World’s Religions’ in Chicago in 1893. And, this can rightly be summed up from what Swami Ranganathananda, the 13th president of the Ramakrishna Order said, “For the first time in our history of the past thousand years, our country produced a great teacher in Swami Vivekananda who took India out of her isolation of centuries and brought her into the mainstream of international life.”
(The writer is a New Delhi-based journalist, who writes on Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh on various issues. He can be reached on [email protected])