Swami Vivekananda is often remembered for his address at the World’s Parliament of Religions held in Chicago in 1893, which compelled the Western scholars to accept the advances of the Indian Knowledge System developed in time beyond the capacity of modern intellectual calculations and still flowing through its customs and culture.
Swami Vivekananda- one of the most influential spiritual leader, educationist and Vedantic scholar with contemporary blend, a visionary thinker of India, a disciple of Ramakrishna Paramahamsa and an icon for his fearless courage, his positive exhortations to the youth, his broad outlook to social problems, a prolific orator and the founder of Ramakrishna Math- was born on Pausha Krishna Saptami 1919 corresponding to January 12, 1863, of the Gregorian calendar. Swami Vivekananda dedicated his life to teaching and guiding the youth the importance of social service and laying the groundwork of character and leader attributes. His concept of service to the poor inspired successive generations. His birthday (January 12) is celebrated as National Youth Day every year. In 1984, the Government of Bharat declared and decided to observe the Birthday of Swami Vivekananda (January 12, according to the English calendar) as National Youth Day every year from 1985 onwards. To quote from the Government’s Communication, “It was felt that the philosophy of Swamiji and the ideals for which he lived and worked could be a great source of inspiration for the Indian(Bharatiya) Youth.’
Swami Vivekanand was born on January 12, 1863, in Calcutta in a Bengali family. His childhood’s name was Narendranath Dutta. His father, Vishwanath Dutta, was an attorney at the Calcutta High Court.
Durgacharan Dutta, Narendra’s grandfather, was a Sanskrit and Persian scholar who left his family and became a monk at the age of 25. Swami Vivekanand was admitted to the school founded by Sh. Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar in 1870. After matriculation, he joined the Presidency College in Kolkata and completed his M.A. in philosophy.
Meeting his Guru and accepting Sanyas
Narendra met Shri Ramakrishna in1881 at his neighbour Surendernath’s house itself. Initially, for some days, Shri Ramakrishna didn’t allow Narendernath to leave his side even for a moment. The two of them would have great discussions when alone.
Shri Ramakrishna had decided to give Narendra the responsibility to carry on his incomplete mission. One day Shri Ramakrishna wrote on a piece of paper, “Narendra will perform the task of enlightening the masses.” Somewhat hesitantly, Narendranath replied, “I won’t be able to do all this.” Shri Ramakrishna immediately spoke with great resolve, “What? Won’t be able to? Your bones will perform this task.” Later, Shri Ramakrishna initiated Narendranath on the path of Sanyas and gave him the name Swami Vivekanand.
Shri Ramakrishna left his body on August 16 1886. Shri Ramakrishna taught Swami Vivekanand that service to people was the most effective worship of God. After the death of Shri Ramakrishna, Vivekanand took the responsibility of the Ramakrishna’s Cossipore Math. He transferred the Math to Baranagar. In 1899 math was transferred to Belur. This is now known as Belur math.
Visits of Vivekanand
Vivekanand started travelling in Bharat in 1888. He travelled all around Bharat for about five years and lived with different kinds of people. Vivekanand visited Chicago in July 1893. At that time, the Parliament of the World’s religions was being organized there. But due to a lack of credentials at first, he was not given the opportunity to speak. But with the help of Professor John Henry Wright of Harvard University, he got the opportunity to speak.
On September 11 1893, at the Parliament of the world’s religion, he gave his first brief speech on Hindu Dharma. He began his speech with “Sisters and brothers of America”. He got a standing ovation from seven thousand people gathered there with this speech. His speeches at the World’s Parliament of Religions made him famous as an orator by divine right and as a ‘Messenger of Bharatiya wisdom to the Western world’.
After the speech of Chicago, he gave many speeches all around the world and met with many people, including sister Nivedita who became her disciple. He founded Ramakrishna Mission on May 1 1897. He delivered three famous speeches during his brief stay in Lahore. The first of these was on “The common bases of Hindu Dharma, the second on “Bhakti”, and the third one was the famous lecture on “The Vedanta”.
Other Dimensions of Vivekananda’s Life
It was 1884 when Narendra’s father suddenly passed away. The whole family lost everything and became very poor.
Narendra was quite distracted in such a situation. He soon started visiting Shri Ramakrishna at Dakshineswar. One day Ramakrishna asked Narendra to pray to Mother Kali and seek anything he wanted for his family’s comfort. Narendra also accepted his words and visited the temple three times. But every time, instead of asking for meeting the family’s needs, he prayed to be taken to the path of truth and to do good to the people.
In 1885, it was discovered that Ramakrishna had throat cancer, and he had to go to Calcutta and later to Kashipur Garden.
But Ramakrishna knew that it was the last moment of his life when he asked Narendra to take care of his monastics and said that he wanted to see him as a guru and on August 16, 1886, in the morning, he took his last breath at Kashipur. The Guru’s death gave Narendra a big shock for a while. But he did not get distracted, and he decided to propagate his Guru ‘s teachings and travelled all over Bharat and then later to several countries.
Meanwhile, he met King Ajit Singh of Khetri in Mount Abu in 1891 and in the first meeting, King got impressed by the words of Narendra Dutta; King Ajit Singh urged him to visit his palace Khetri in Rajasthan. Respecting his urge, Narendra accepted his request and reached king Ajit Singh’s palace in Khetri on June 4, 1891. It was Singh who sponsored Vivekanand’s trip to Chicago and became a lifelong disciple of Swami.
Swami established the Ramakrishna Mission in Kolkata on May 1, 1897, and the Ramakrishna Math at Belur on the banks of river Ganga on December 9 1898, in the name of his Guru. He authored many texts like Gyan Yoga, Raja Yoga, etc., which infused a new consciousness among the youth.
As usual, on the morning of July 4, 1902, Swami got up early, performed yoga as per his daily routine, took a bath, etc. performed puja at the temple of Belur Math. He then taught his disciples about Vedas, Sanskrit and Yoga sadhanas and later discussed the setting up of a Vedic college at Ramakrishna Math.
At about 7:00 p.m. on the same day, he took his last breath in a meditative state in his room at Ramakrishna Math.