‘‘The national ideals of India are renunciation and service. Intensify her in those channels, and the rest will take care of itself.’’ So said Swami Vivekananda.
Once upon a time, a young lad approached an ecstatic Guru at Dakshineshwar, Kolkata. To the question of whether he had seen God, the Guru replied with happiness, ‘‘Yes, I have seen God. I see him just as I see you here, only more clearly.’’ The boy, though caught by the strange conduct of the Guru, was immediately impressed by his reply. He had met venerable seers and asked the same question, but it was for the very first time that he received such a crystal clear answer. And this marked the beginning of an amazing saga of the relationship between a student and a teacher – a testimony for generations to come on how faith and strength went hand-in-hand. The Guru was the great Ramakrishna Paramahansa (referred to as Master in this article), and the disciple was none other than India’s eternal hero, Swami Vivekananda (then Narendranath Dutta, and referred to as Swamiji in this article).
Swamiji’s days with the Master witnessed his transition from a deeply Western-influenced, rational, sceptic youth to a highly venerable sanyasin, one of the greatest proponents of Vedanta and Yoga to the entire world, the founder of the Ramakrishna Math and Mission and above everything, India’s great son with an almost incomparable understanding of the essence of his motherland. To be put in Swamiji’s own words, ‘‘Let none regret that they were difficult to convince. I fought my Master for six long years, with the result that I know every inch of the way.’’ This very statement in its totality is India’s sharpest reply to contemporary critics who dub her ashrams and places of learning as venues of blind adherence and worship.
Despite the worst kind of hardships and obstacles, including the demise of his father, Viswanath Dutta and the consequent poverty, it was the consistent love and guidance of a Guru like Ramakrishna Paramahamsa which led Swami Vivekananda forward. At this juncture, it is imperative to remember that it was at the Master’s behest that Swamiji took up an attorney’s job to support his family. This advice tendered by the Master denotes a delicate balance between familial responsibility and spirituality. Swamiji was taught to never forget his family who depended upon him, and at the same time, the Master kept the flame of the Divine Mother alive in him. Along with the lessons of purity, truthfulness, renunciation and chastity, the Master embodied the highest expression of tolerance and acceptance. To hear through his Naren’s words, ‘‘I learnt from my master that the religions of the world are not contradictory or antagonistic. They are but various phases of one eternal religion.’’
Throughout his travels across the country, the wandering monk carried merely a staff, a water-pot and just two books – the Bhagawad Gita and the Imitation of Christ. But his encounters with common men and famous dignitaries alike show how he broke the bubbles of pseudo-progressiveness and peripheral philosophy.
At Alwar (present-day Rajasthan), he met Maharaja Mangal Singh (who was taken aback by Swamiji’s sheer strength of intellect) in February 1891, who was westernized and did not believe in idol –worship. Upon the Swamiji asking the Raja’s servant to spit on his (the Maharaja’s) photo, which the servant promptly denied, Swamiji explained the essence of idol-worship, wherein he said that just how the servant sees the shadow of the Maharaja in the photo, ordinary devotees see the shadow of their beloved deity, or rather the form of energy they worship to and to call these idols as mere stones would deeply hurt their sentiments. Swamiji’s philosophy attracted many disciples, including the Raja of Khetri and the assistant station master at Hathras Railroad Station Sharat Chandra Gupta. This fact exposes the actively propagated idea that philosophy and the spiritual quest is meant for the upper echelons. Swamiji’s life and mission proved that the poor and the rich alike could go in search of salvation, with the only criteria being an urge for the divine, and this must come from within.
A very notable facet of Swamiji’s life is his strong conviction about his motherland. To be put in Sister Nivedita’s words, ‘‘India was Swamiji’s greatest passion….India throbbed in his breast, India beat in his pulses, India was his daydream, India was his nightmare. Not only that, He himself became India. He was the embodiment of India in flesh and blood. He was India, and he was Bharat – the very symbol of her spirituality, purity, wisdom, power, vision, and destiny.’’ In fact, this very steadfast faith he had in his nation enabled Swamiji to face a foreign audience who had an extremely critical eye for everything that was Indian. When one could not dream of even half of the technological advancements that abound us today, Swamiji conveyed the message of Vedanta and Upanishads to the West. Swamiji's teachings remain ever-green in a world that is time and again menaced by intolerance and a garbed support for it. His words always carried the message for harmony between religions which transcended the boulders of bigotry, superstition, intolerance and sectarianism.
As a stinging reply to anyone who leaves their motherland in the endless quest for self-perfection comes Swami Vivekananda’s reply to an English friend who asked him how he likes his motherland after three years of luxurious life at the West. Swamiji replied, ‘‘India I loved before I came away. Now the very dust of India has become holy to me, and the very air is now holy to me; it is the holy land, the place of pilgrimage.’’ True, the Indian society faces various issues such as oppression of women, child labour, corruption, blots of the caste system, etc. But the mark of a true patriot is to own these very problems that bother Mother India and not use foreign platforms as venues to elucidate these problems. Swami Vivekananda lashed out at caste oppression within India but never drew a blemished portrait of his country and his people.
September 11 marks the 128th anniversary of a historical event. An occasion where India’s spiritual prowess was given a renewed curtain-raise. A proud moment where a young wandering monk from India won hearts and captured minds. Swami Vivekananda took us to the world map through his landmark speech at the Chicago World Parliament of Religions on September 11 1893.
‘‘My dear sisters and brothers of America’’ he addressed them, and a crowd of 7000 people rose to their feet to give him a standing ovation. For the first time, they were addressed as a family and even that from a penniless monk from across the seas, coming from a colony of imperial Britain. Even during the dark ages of colonization, the gathering at the Parliament was once again reminded of an ancient land that prayed for the entire world and believed in universal brotherhood, or rather, ‘‘Vasudhaiva Kudumbakam’’. Representing Hinduism – which he referred to as the Mother of all religions, and the religion which has given birth to the most ancient order of monks in the world, Swami Vivekananda reiterated in the final session of the Parliament that the world needs help and not fight; assimilation, not destruction; harmony and peace and not dissension. In a world that is mutely watching or silently supporting oppression, bigotry and terrorism, Swami Vivekananda was, is and will continue to be India’s answer to the miseries of the world.
A humble account of Swami Vivekananda would be grossly incomplete without his spiritual daughter Sister Nivedita who inspired me the most, and I am confident that a patient reading of her life and works will inspire many more girls to work for a cause, live for the society and have unwavering faith in their chosen Guru. At this juncture, I am reminded of Swamiji’s famous words, ‘‘Educate your women first and leave them to themselves; then they will tell you what reforms are necessary for them.’’ And there would not be any better example than Sister Nivedita, who, to this date, symbolizes the aspirations of an entire community of women braving all odds and giving their all for India.
The founder of the Ramakrishna Sarada Mission, Sister Nivedita Girls’ School at Baghbazar Kolkata, Ireland’s Margaret Elizabeth Noble, met Swamiji for the first time at the home of Lady Isabel Margesson. There were about fifteen people, and Swamiji talked till late evening about God, the paths of spiritual progress, Hindusim, Buddhism, Christianity and so on. As Pravrajika Atmaprana Mataji has beautifully described in her biography of Sister Nivedita, ‘‘In a West End drawing-room in London the atmosphere that was created was that of an Indian village, where, as twilight passes into darkness, groups of people sit listening to a Sadhu beside a well or a tree.’’
After their initial meeting, Maggot (as Swamiji lovingly called her) waited for her Master (as she began addressing him) and finally, it was on January 28, 1898, that she arrived at Calcutta. Since then, the way forward has been clear and steady for Sister Nivedita. Extensive travelling across the country, inspiring legendary men like Dr. Jagadish Chandra Bose, Mahakavi Subrahmanya Bharatiyar and Rabindranath Tagore, spreading Swamiji’s message across the globe, working for the upliftment of women, giving authentic lectures on a wide array of topics like Kali worship, bhakti, Hinduism, India’s unity, literature of the East, education – Sister Nivedita’s contributions to the Indian society would seem endless. I believe that the school she started and which was inaugurated by the Holy Mother Sri Sarada Devi is a very worthy reminder to 21st century Indians that traditions and empowerment are meant to be blended and not antagonized against each other. The curriculum of the girls' school consisted of Bengali, English, arithmetic, geography and history. Even while she taught her girls about Queen Sita whom she described as the ideal queen of India, Nivedita never forgot to provide them with training in clay-modelling, sewing, paper cutting, mat weaving and other games. Teachers’ training classes were also given to the senior girls. The students and their loving teacher never forgot to give a tough fight against superstitions and the apprehensions of an inadequately informed society towards women being educated and ultimately empowered.
In today's socio-economic and geopolitical scenario, where much needs to be done and prevented for the sake of humanity, I feel compelled to quote Swami Vivekananda again. Repeat this quote a thousand times, and still, it will not suffice. Because the eternal visionary has magnificently put into words everything that our nation has stood for. ‘‘….India for thousands of years peacefully existed. Here activity prevailed even when Greece did not exist. Even before, when history had no records, ideas after ideas have marched out from her, but every word was spoken with a blessing behind it and peace before it. We, of all nations of the world, have never been a conquering race, and that blessing is on our head, and so we live.’’
From Narendranath Dutta, born to Viswanath Dutta and Bhuvaneswari Devi, to India’s Swami Vivekananda, the journey of her eternal hero marked the beginning of a new era of nationalistic spirituality in the nation. Even to this day, we bear the proud badge of being the children of a soil that has produced legends like Swamiji. And we must never forget that the essence of Swami Vivekananda is the reassurance which our country needs the most today.
Courtesy: The Contents