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Swami Vivekananda

Swami Vivekananda (pronounced: ) (12 January 1863 4 July 1902), born Narendra Nath Datta [1] ( was the chief disciple of the 19th century saint Ramakrishna and the founder of the Ramakrishna Math and the Ramakrishna Mission.[2] He is considered a key figure in the introduction of Indian philosophies of Vedanta and Yoga to the "Western" world, mainly in America and Europe[2] and is also credited with raising interfaith awareness, bringing Hinduism to the status of a major world religion during the end of the 19th century CE.[3] Vivekananda is considered to be a major force in the revival of Hinduism in modern India.[4] He is perhaps best known for his inspiring speech which began: "Sisters and Brothers of America,"[5] through which he introduced Hinduism at the Parliament of the World's Religions in Chicago in 1893.

Swami Vivekananda was born in an aristocratic Bengali Kayastha family of Calcutta on 12 January 1863. Vivekananda's parents influenced his thinking—his father by his rationality and his mother by her religious temperament. From his childhood, he showed an inclination towards spirituality and God realisation. His guru, Ramakrishna, taught him Advaita Vedanta (non-dualism); that all religions are true and that service to man was the most effective worship of God. After the Mahasamadhi of his guru, Vivekananda became a wandering monk, touring the Indian subcontinent and acquiring first-hand knowledge of conditions in India. He later travelled to Chicago and represented India as a delegate in the 1893 Parliament of World Religions. He conducted hundreds of public and private lectures and classes, disseminating Vedanta and Yoga in America, England and Europe. He also established the Vedanta societies in America and England.


Early life (1863–1888)

Birth and childhood

Swami Vivekananda was born in Calcutta on 12 January 1863 during the Makara Sankranti festival in a traditional Kayastha family. His given name was Narendra Nath Datta. Narendra's grandfather Durga Charan Datta renounced the world at the age of twenty five.[7] His father Vishwanath Datta (the only son of Durga Charan) was an attorney of Calcutta High Court.[8] Vishwanath Datta was considered generous, and had a liberal and progressive outlook in social and religious matters.[9] Narendra's mother Bhuvaneswari Devi. was a deeply religious woman. Before the birth of Narendra Nath she yearned for a son and asked one of her relatives at Varanasi to make religious offerings to the god Shiva.[10] According to traditional accounts, Bhuvaneswari Devi had a dream in which Shiva said that he would be born as her son.[11] Narendra's thinking and personality were influenced by his parents by the rational thinking of his father and the religious temperament of his mother.[12][13] He learnt the power of self-control from his mother.[13] One of the sayings of his mother that Narendra quoted often in his later years was "Remain pure all your life; guard your own honour and never transgress the honour of others. Be very tranquil, but when necessary, harden your heart."[14] He was adept in meditation and could enter the state of samadhi.[13] He would see a light while falling asleep and had a vision of Buddha during his meditation.[15] During his childhood, he had a great fascination for wandering ascetics and monks.[13]

The house of 3, Gour Mohan Mukherjee street, Calcutta, where Vivekananda was born,<!-- cite web --> now it is maintained by the Ramakrishna Mission.
The house of 3, Gour Mohan Mukherjee street, Calcutta, where Vivekananda was born,[16] now it is maintained by the Ramakrishna Mission.

Narendra had varied interests and a wide range of scholarship in philosophy, religion, history, the social sciences, arts, literature, and other subjects.[17] He evinced much interest in the Hindu scriptures like the Vedas, the Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita, the Ramayana, the Mahabharata and the Puranas. He was also well versed in classical music, both vocal and instrumental, and is said to have undergone training under two Ustads, Beni Gupta and Ahamad Khan.[18] Since boyhood, he took an active interest in physical exercise, sports, and other organisational activities.[17] Even when he was young, he questioned the validity of superstitious customs and discrimination based on caste[10] and refused to accept anything without rational proof and pragmatic test.[12] Narendra started his education at home then he joined the Metropolitan Institution of Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar in 1871 and studied here till 1877, till his father moved to Raipur.[19] After two years, in 1879, he returned to Calcutta. In January, 2012 Raipur airport was renamed as Swami Vivekanand Airport.[20]

College and Brahmo Samaj

In 1879 after his family moved back to Calcutta, he passed the entrance examination from Presidency College, Calcutta, entering it for a brief period and subsequently shifting to General Assembly's Institution, (currently known as Scottish Church College).[21] During the course, he studied western logic, western philosophy and history of European nations.[10] In 1881 he passed the Fine Arts examination and in 1884 he passed the Bachelor of Arts.[22][23]

Narendra is said to have studied the writings of David Hume, Immanuel Kant, Johann Gottlieb Fichte, Baruch Spinoza, Georg W. F. Hegel, Arthur Schopenhauer, Auguste Comte, Herbert Spencer, John Stuart Mill, and Charles Darwin.[24][25] Narendra became fascinated with the evolutionism of Herbert Spencer, and translated Spencer's book on Education into Bengali. Narendra also had correspondence with Herbert Spencer for some time.[26][27] Alongside his study of Western philosophers, he was thoroughly acquainted with Indian Sanskrit scriptures and many Bengali works.[25] According to his professors, student Narendra was a prodigy. Dr. William Hastie, the principal of Scottish Church College, where he studied during 1881–84, wrote, "Narendra is really a genius. I have travelled far and wide but I have never come across a lad of his talents and possibilities, even in German universities, among philosophical students."[24] He was regarded as a srutidhara a man with prodigious memory.[28][29] Following a discourse with Narendra, Dr. Mahendralal Sarkar said, "I could never have thought that such a young boy had read so much!"[30]

Narendra became the member of a Freemason's lodge and the breakaway faction from the Brahmo Samaj led by Keshub Chandra Sen.[21] His initial beliefs were shaped by Brahmo concepts, which include belief in a formless God and deprecation of the worship of idols.[31] Not satisfied with his knowledge of Philosophy, he wondered if God and religion could be made a part of one's growing experiences and deeply internalised. Narendra went about asking prominent residents of contemporary Calcutta whether they had come "face to face with God"[32] but could not get answers which satisfied him.[33]

His first introduction to Ramakrishna occurred in a literature class in General Assembly's Institution, when he heard Principal Reverend W. Hastie lecturing on William Wordsworth's poem The Excursion and the poet's nature-mysticism. [34] In the course of explaining the word trance in the poem, Hastie suggested his students that if they wanted to know the real meaning of trance, they should go to Ramakrishna of Dakshineswar. This prompted some of his students, including Narendra to visit Ramakrishna.[21][35][36]

With Ramakrishna

Ramakrishna, guru of Vivekananda.

Narendra's meeting with Ramakrishna in November 1881 proved to be a turning point in his life.[37] About this first meeting, Narendra said,

Though Narendra did not accept Ramakrishna as his guru initially and revolted against his ideas, he was attracted by his personality and visited him frequently.[38] He initially looked upon Ramakrishna's ecstasies and visions as, "mere figments of imagination",[12] "mere hallucinations".[39] As a member of Brahmo Samaj, he revolted against idol worship and polytheism, and Ramakrishna's worship of Kali.[40] He even rejected the Advaitist Vedantism of identity with absolute as blasphemy and madness, and often made fun of the concept[39]

Though at first Narendra could not accept Ramakrishna and his visions, he could not neglect him either. It had always been in Narendra's nature to test something thoroughly before he would accept it. He tested Ramakrishna, who never asked Narendra to abandon reason and faced all of Narendra's arguments and examinations with patience "Try to see the truth from all angles" was his reply.[38] During the course of five years of his training under Ramakrishna, Narendra was transformed from a restless, puzzled, impatient youth to a mature man who was ready to renounce everything for the sake of God-realisation. In time, Narendra accepted Ramakrishna as his guru, and when he accepted, his acceptance was whole-hearted and with complete surrendering as disciple.[38]

In 1885 Ramakrishna suffered from throat cancer and he was shifted to Calcutta and later to Cossipore. Vivekananda and other Ramakrishna's disciples took care of him during his final days. Vivekananda's spiritual education under Ramakrishna continued there. At Cossipore, Vivekananda reportedly experienced Nirvikalpa Samadhi.[41] During the last days of Ramakrishna, Vivekananda and some of the other disciples received the ochre monastic robes from Ramakrishna, which formed the first monastic order of Ramakrishna[42] Vivekananda was taught that service to men was the most effective worship of God.[12][43] When Vivekananda doubted Ramakrishna's claim of avatar, Ramakrishna said, "He who was Rama, He who was Krishna, He himself is now Ramakrishna in this body."[44] During his final days, Ramakrishna asked Vivekananda to take care of other monastic disciples and in turn asked them to look upon Vivekananda as their leader.[45] Ramakrishna's condition worsened gradually and he expired in the early morning hours of 16 August, 1886 at the Cossipore garden house. According to his disciples, this was Mahasamadhi.[45]

Founding of the Ramakrishna Math

Swami Vivekananda and other disciples of Ramakrishna in Baranagar Math, in 1887[46] After the Mahasamadhi of Ramakrishna, their master, the cohesive force had departed and many of his disciples returned home and inclined towards householder's life.[47] But, the monastic disciples led by Vivekananda formed a fellowship at a half-ruined house at Baranagar near the river Ganges, with the financial assistance of the householder disciples of Ramakrishna. This became the first building of the Ramakrishna Math, or the monastery of the disciples who constituted the first monastic order of Ramakrishna.[37]

The dilapidated house at Baranagar was chosen because of its low rent and proximity to the Cossipore burning-ghat, where Ramakrishna was cremated. Narendra and other members of the Math often spent their time in meditation, discussing different philosophies and teachings of spiritual teachers including Ramakrishna, Adi Shankara, Ramanuja, and Jesus Christ.[48] Narendra reminisced about the early days in the monastery as follows-[48]

In January 1887, Narendra and eight other disciples took formal monastic vows. Narendra took the name of Swami Bibidishananda. Later he was coronated with the name Vivekananda by Ajit Singh, the Maharaja (king) of Khetri.[49]

In January 1899 the Baranagar Math was shifted to a newly acquired plot of land at Belur in the district of Howrah, now famous as the Belur Math.

As a wandering monk in India (1888–1893)


Later, in 1888, Vivekananda left the monastery as a Parivr jaka the Hindu religious life of a wandering monk, "without fixed abode, without ties, independent and strangers wherever they go."[50] His sole possessions were a kamandalu (water pot), staff, and his two favourite books Bhagavad Gita and The Imitation of Christ.[51] Narendra travelled the length and breadth of India for five years, visiting important centres of learning, acquainting himself with the diverse religious traditions and different patterns of social life.[52][53] He developed a sympathy for the suffering and poverty of the masses and resolved to uplift the nation.[52][54] Living mainly on bhiksha or alms, Narendra travelled mostly on foot and railway tickets bought by his admirers whom he met during the travels. During these travels he gained acquaintance and stayed with scholars, Dewans, Rajas and people from all walks of life Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Pariahs (low caste workers) and government officials.[54]

Northern India

In 1888, he started his journey from Varanasi. At Varanasi, he met pandit and Bengali writer, Bhudev Mukhopadhyay and Trailanga Swami, a famous saint who lived in a Shiva temple. Here, he also met Babu Pramadadas Mitra, the noted Sanskrit scholar, to whom the Swami wrote a number of letters asking his advice on the interpretation of the Hindu scriptures.[55] After Varanasi he visited Ayodhya, Lucknow, Agra, Vrindavan, Hathras and Rishikesh. At Hathras he met Sharat Chandra Gupta, the station master who later became one of his earliest disciples as Sadananda.[56][57] Between 1888–1890, he visited Vaidyanath, Allahabad. From Allahabad, he visited Ghazipur where he met Pavhari Baba, a Advaita Vedanta ascetic who spent most of his time in meditation.[58] Between 1888–1890, he returned to Baranagore Math few times, because of ill health and to arrange for the financial funds when Balaram Bose and Suresh Chandra Mitra, the disciples of Ramakrishna who supported the Math had expired.[57]

The Himalayas

In July 1890, accompanied by fellow monk Swami Akhandananda (also a disciple of Ramakrishna), he continued his journey as a wandering monk and returned to the Math only after his visit to the West.[57][59] He visited Nainital, Almora, Srinagar and Dehradun in the Himalayas and Rishikesh and Haridwar. During these travels, he met Swami Brahmananda, Saradananda, Turiyananda, Akhandananda and Advaitananda. They stayed at Meerut for a few days where they passed their time in meditation, prayer and study of scriptures. At the end of January 1891, the Swami left his fellows and journeyed to Delhi alone.[59][60]


At Delhi, after visiting historical places he journeyed towards Alwar, in the historic land of Rajputana. Later he journeyed to Jaipur, where he studied Panini's Ashtadhyayi with a Sanskrit scholar. He next journeyed to Ajmer, where he visited the palace of Akbar and the famous Dargah and left for Mount Abu. At Mount Abu, he met Raja Ajit Singh of Khetri, who became his ardent devotee and supporter. Swami Tathagatananda, a senior monk of the Ramakrishna Order, and the Head of Vedanta Society, New York wrote as follows:

At Khetri, he delivered discourses to the Raja, became acquainted with the pandit Ajjada Adibhatla Narayana Dasu, and studied Mah bh ya on sutras of Panini. After two and a half months there, towards the end of October 1891, he proceeded towards Rajasthan and Maharastra.[54][61]

Western India

Continuing his travels, he visited Ahmedabad, Wadhwan, Limbdi. At Ahmedabad he completed his studies of Muslim and Jain culture.[54] At Limbdi, he met Thakur Saheb Jaswant Singh who had himself been to England and America. From the Thakur Saheb, the Swami first got the idea of going to the West to preach Vedanta. He later visited Junagadh, where he was the guest of Haridas Viharidas Desai, the Diwan of the State, who was so charmed with his company that every evening he, with all the State officials, used to meet the Swami and converse with him until late at night. From there he also visited Girnar, Kutch, Porbander, Dwaraka, Palitana, Nadiad where he stayed at Diwan Haridas Viharidas Desai's house Nadiad ni haveli and Baroda. At Porbander he stayed three quarters of a year, in spite of his vow as a wandering monk, to perfect his philosophical and Sanskrit studies with learned pandits; he worked with a court pandit who translated the Vedas.[54]

He later travelled to Mahabaleshwar and then to Pune. From Pune he visited Khandwa and Indore around June 1892. At Kathiawar he heard of the Parliament of the World's Religions and was urged by his followers there to attend it. He left Khandwa for Bombay and reached there in July 1892. In a Pune-bound train he met Bal Gangadhar Tilak.[62] After staying with Tilak for few days in Pune,[63] the Swami travelled to Belgaum in October 1892 and to Panaji and Margao in Goa. He spent three days in the Rachol Seminary, the oldest convent-college of theology of Goa where rare religious literature in manuscripts and printed works in Latin are preserved. He studied important Christian theological works here.[64]

Southern India

Later Vivekananda travelled to Bangalore, where he became acquainted with K. Seshadri Iyer, the Dewan of Mysore state, and later he stayed at the palace as guest of the Maharaja of Mysore, Chamaraja Wodeyar. Regarding the Swami's learning, Seshadri remarked, "a magnetic personality and a divine force which were destined to leave their mark on the history of his country." The Maharaja provided the Swami a letter of introduction to the Dewan of Cochin and got him a railway ticket.[65]

Vivekananda Temple on Vivekananda rock at Kanyakumari, India
Vivekananda Temple on Vivekananda rock at Kanyakumari, India
From Bangalore, he visited Trichur, Kodungalloor, Ernakulam. At Ernakulam, he met Chattampi Swamikal, contemporary of Narayana Guru in early December 1892.[66] From Ernakulam, he journeyed to Trivandrum, Nagercoil and reached Kanyakumari on foot during the Christmas Eve of 1892.[67] At Kanyakumari, the Swami meditated on the "last bit of Indian rock", famously known later as the Vivekananda Rock Memorial, for three days. At Kanyakumari, Vivekananda had the "Vision of one India", also commonly called "The Kanyakumari resolve of 1892".[68] He wrote,

From Kanyakumari he visited Madurai, where he met the Raja of Ramnad, Bhaskara Setupati, to whom he had a letter of introduction. The Raja became the Swami's disciple and urged him to go to the Parliament of Religions at Chicago. From Madurai, he visited Rameshwaram, Pondicherry and Madras and here he met some his most devoted disciples, who played important roles in collecting funds for Swami's voyage to America and later in establishing the Ramakrishna Mission in Madras. With the aid of funds collected by his Madras disciples and Rajas of Mysore, Ramnad, Khetri, Dewans and other followers Vivekananda left for Chicago on 31 May 1893 from Bombay assuming the name Vivekananda–the name suggested by the Maharaja of Khetri Ajit Singh.[69]

Visit to Japan (1893)

On his way to Chicago, Vivekananda visited Japan in 1893. He first reached the port city of Nagasaki, and then boarded a steamer to Kobe. From here to took the land route to Yokohama, visiting along the way, the three big cities of Osaka, Kyoto and Tokyo. He called the Japanese "one of the cleanest people on earth", and was impressed not only by neatness of their streets and dwellings but also by their movements, attitudes and gestures, all of which he found to be "picturesque".[70]

This was a period of rapid military build-up in Japan - a prelude to the Sino-Japanese War and the Russo-Japanese War. These preparations did not escape the attention of Vivekananda, who wrote - "The Japanese seem now to have fully awakened themselves to the necessity of the present times. They have now a thoroughly organized army equipped with guns which one of their own officers has invented and which is said to be second to none. Then, they are continually increasing their navy." About the industrial progress he observed, "The match factories are simply a sight to see, and they are bent upon making everything they want in their own country."[70]

Contrasting the rapid progress of Japan with the situation back in India, he urged his countrymen - the "offspring of centuries of superstition and tyranny" - to come out of their narrow holes and have a look abroad -

First visit to the West (1893–1897)

His journey to America took him through China and Canada and he arrived at Chicago in July 1893.[71] But to his disappointment he learnt that no one without credentials from a bona fide organization would be accepted as a delegate. He came in contact with Professor John Henry Wright of Harvard University.[72] After inviting him to speak at Harvard and on learning from him not having credentials to speak at the Parliament, Wright is quoted as having said, "To ask for your credentials is like asking the sun to state its right to shine in the heavens." Wright then addressed a letter to the Chairman in charge of delegates writing, "Here is a man who is more learned than all of our learned professors put together." On the Professor, Vivekananda himself writes "He urged upon me the necessity of going to the Parliament of Religions, which he thought would give an introduction to the nation."[73]

Parliament of the World's Religions

Swami Vivekananda on the platform of the Parliament of Religions September 1893. On the platform (left to right) Virchand Gandhi, Dharmapala, Swami Vivekananda[74] Parliament of the World's Religions opened on 11 September 1893 at the Art Institute of Chicago as part of the World's Columbian Exposition.[75] On this day Vivekananda gave his first brief address. He represented India and Hinduism.[76] Though initially nervous, he bowed to Saraswati, the Hindu goddess of learning and began his speech with, "Sisters and brothers of America!".[72][77] To these words he got a standing ovation from a crowd of seven thousand, which lasted for two minutes. When silence was restored he began his address. He greeted the youngest of the nations in the name of "the most ancient order of monks in the world, the Vedic order of sannyasins, a religion which has taught the world both tolerance and universal acceptance."[78] And he quoted two illustrative passages in this relation, from the Bhagavad Gita "As the different streams having their sources in different places all mingle their water in the sea, so, O Lord, the different paths which men take, through different tendencies, various though they appear, crooked or straight, all lead to Thee!" and "Whosoever comes to Me, through whatsoever form, I reach him; all men are struggling through paths that in the end lead to Me."[78] Despite being a short speech, it voiced the spirit of the Parliament and its sense of universality.[78][79]

Dr. Barrows, the president of the Parliament said, "India, the Mother of religions was represented by Swami Vivekananda, the Orange-monk who exercised the most wonderful influence over his auditors."[77] He attracted widespread attention in the press, which dubbed him as the "Cyclonic monk from India". The New York Critique wrote, "He is an orator by divine right, and his strong, intelligent face in its picturesque setting of yellow and orange was hardly less interesting than those earnest words, and the rich, rhythmical utterance he gave them." The New York Herald wrote, "Vivekananda 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."[80] The American newspapers reported Swami Vivekananda as "the greatest figure in the parliament of religions" and "the most popular and influential man in the parliament".[81] The Boston Evening Transcript, reported on 30 September 1893 that Vivekananda was "a great favorite at the parliament...if he merely crosses the platform, he is applauded".[82] He spoke several more times at the Parliament on topics related to Hinduism and Buddhism and harmony of religions. The parliament ended on 27 September 1893. All his speeches at the Parliament had one common theme of universality, and emphasized religious tolerance.[83]

Lecturing tours in America and England

After the Parliament of Religions held in September 1893 at The Art Institute of Chicago, Vivekananda spent nearly two whole years lecturing in various parts of eastern and central United States, appearing chiefly in Chicago, Detroit, Boston, and New York. By the spring of 1895, he was weary and in poor health, because of his continuous exertion.[84] After suspending his lecture tour, the Swami started giving free and private classes on Vedanta and Yoga. In June 1895, for two months he conducted private lectures to a dozen of his disciples at the Thousand Island Park. Vivekananda considered this to be the happiest part of his first visit to America. He later founded the "Vedanta Society of New York".[84]

During his first visit to America, he travelled to England twice in 1895 and 1896. His lectures were successful there.[85] Here, in November 1985, he met Miss Margaret Elizabeth Noble, an Irish lady, who later became Sister Nivedita.[84] During his second visit in May 1896, while living at a house in Pimlico, the Swami met Max M ller a renowned Indologist at Oxford University who wrote Ramakrishna's first biography in the West.[79] From England, he also visited other European countries. In Germany he met Paul Deussen, another famous Indologist.[86]

He also received two academic offers, the chair of Eastern Philosophy at Harvard University[87] and a similar position at Columbia University. He declined both, saying that, as a wandering monk, he could not settle down to work of this kind.[84]

Swami Vivekananda in Greenacre, Maine in August, 1894[88]

He attracted several sincere followers. Among his other followers were Josephine MacLeod, Miss M ller, Miss Noble, E.T. Sturdy, Captain and Mrs. Sevier who played an important role in the founding of Advaita Ashrama and J.J. Goodwin who became his stenographer and recorded his teachings and lectures.[84][86] The Hale family became one of his warmest hosts in America.[89] His disciples Marie Louise, a French woman, became Swami Abhayananda, and Mr. Leon Landsberg, became Swami Kripananda. He initiated several other followers into Brahmacharya.[90]

Swami Vivekananda's ideas were admired by several scholars and famous thinkers William James, Josiah Royce, C. C. Everett, Dean of the Harvard School of Divinity, Robert G. Ingersoll, Nikola Tesla, Lord Kelvin, and Professor Hermann Ludwig Ferdinand von Helmholtz.[12] Other personalities who were attracted by his talks were Harriet Monroe and Ella Wheeler Wilcox two famous American poets, Professor William James of Harvard University; Dr. Lewis G. Janes, president of Brooklyn Ethical Association; Sara C. Bull, wife of Ole Bull, the Norwegian violinist; Sarah Bernhardt, the French actress and Madame Emma Calv , the French opera singer.[91]

From West, he also set his Indian work in motion. Vivekananda wrote a stream of letters to India, giving advice and sending money to his followers and brother monks. His letters from the West in these days laid down the motive of his campaign for social service.[92] He constantly tried to inspire his close disciples in India to do something big. His letters to them contain some of his strongest words.[93] In one such letter, he wrote to Swami Akhandananda, "Go from door to door amongst the poor and lower classes of the town of Khetri and teach them religion. Also, let them have oral lessons on geography and such other subjects. No good will come of sitting idle and having princely dishes, and saying "Ramakrishna, O Lord!" unless you can do some good to the poor."[94][95] Eventually in 1895, the periodical called Brahmavadin was started in Madras, with the money supplied by Vivekananda, for the purpose of teaching the Vedanta.[96] Subsequenly, Vivekananda's translation of first six chapters of The Imitation of Christ was published in Brahmavadin (1889).[97]

Vivekananda left for India on 16 December 1896 from England with his disciples, Captain and Mrs. Sevier, and J.J. Goodwin. On the way they visited France, Italy, seeing Leonardo da Vinci's The Last Supper, and set sail for India from the Port of Naples on December 30, 1896.[98] Later, he was followed to India by Max M ller and Sister Nivedita. Sister Nivedita devoted the rest of her life to the education of Indian women and the cause of India's independence.[84][99]

Back in India (1897–1899)

Swami Vivekananda at Chennai 1897
Swami Vivekananda at Chennai 1897

Colombo to Almora

The ship from Europe arrived in Colombo, Sri Lanka on 15 January 1897.[100] Vivekananda received an ecstatic welcome. Here, he gave his first public speech in East, India, the Holy Land. From there on, his journey to Calcutta was a triumphal progress. He travelled from Colombo to Pamban, Rameshwaram, Ramnad, Madurai, Kumbakonam and Madras delivering lectures. People and Rajas gave him enthusiastic reception. In the procession at Pamban, the Raja of Ramnad personally drew the Swami's carriage. On way to Madras, at several places where the train would not stop, the people squatted on the rails and allowed the train to pass only after hearing the Swami.[100] From Madras, he continued his journey to Calcutta and continued his lectures up to Almora. While in the West he talked of India's great spiritual heritage, on return to India the refrain of his 'Lectures from Colombo to Almora' was uplift of the masses, eradication of the caste virus, promotion of the study of science, industrialization of the country, removal of poverty, the end of the colonial rule.These lectures have been published as Lectures from Colombo to Almora. These lectures are considered to be of nationalistic fervour and spiritual ideology.[101] His speeches had tremendous influence on the Indian leaders, including Mahatma Gandhi, Bipin Chandra Pal and Balgangadhar Tilak.[102][103]

Founding of the Ramakrishna Mission

Advaita Ashrama, Mayavati, a branch of the Ramakrishna Math, founded on March 19, 1899, later published many of Swami Vivekananda's work, now publishes Prabuddha Bharata journal On 1 May 1897 at Calcutta, Vivekananda founded the Ramakrishna Mission the organ for social service. The ideals of the Ramakrishna Mission are based on Karma Yoga.[104][105] Its governing body consists of the trustees of the Ramakrishna Math- the organ to carry out religious works.[106] Due to the close association between the two, both have their headquarters at Belur, near Calcutta. This was the beginning of an organized social and religious movement to help the masses through educational, cultural, medical and relief work.[79]

Two other monasteries were founded by him- one at Mayavati on the Himalayas, near Almora called the Advaita Ashrama and another at Madras. Two journals were also started, Prabuddha Bharata in English and Udbhodan in Bengali.[107] The same year, the famine relief work was started by Swami Akhandananda at Murshidabad district.[79][106]

Vivekananda had inspired Jamsetji Tata to set up a research and educational institution when they had travelled together from Yokohama to Chicago on Vivekananda's first visit to the West in 1893. About this time Vivekananda received a letter from Tata, requesting him to head the Research Institute of Science that Tata had set up. But Vivekananda declined the offer saying that it conflicted with his spiritual interests.[108][109][110]

Visit to Punjab

He later visited western Punjab with the mission of establishing harmony between the Arya Samaj which stood for reinterpreted Hinduism and the Sanatanaists who stood for orthodox Hinduism. At Rawalpindi, he suggested methods for rooting out antagonism between Arya Samajists and Muslims.[111] His visit to Lahore is memorable for his famous speeches and his inspiring association with Tirtha Ram Goswami, then a brilliant professor of Mathematics, who later graced monasticism as Swami Rama Tirtha and preached Vedanta in India and America.[106] He also visited other places, including Delhi and Khetri and returned to Calcutta in January 1896. He spent the next few months consolidating the work of the Math and training the disciples. During this period he composed the famous arati song, Khandana Bhava Bandhana during the event of consecration of Ramakrishna's temple at a devotees' house.[112]

Second visit to the West and last years (1899 1902)

Swami Vivekananda– the photo was taken in Bushnell Studio in San Francisco, 1900.<!-- cite web -->
Swami Vivekananda– the photo was taken in Bushnell Studio in San Francisco, 1900.[113]

Vivekananda once again left for the West in June 1899 amid his declining health.[114] He was accompanied by Sister Nivedita and Swami Turiyananda. He spent a short time in England, and went on to United States. During this visit, he founded the Vedanta societies at San Francisco and New York. He also founded "Shanti Ashrama" (peace retreat) at California, with the aid of a generous gift from an American devotee.[115] Later he attended the Congress of Religions, in Paris in 1900.[116] The Paris addresses are memorable for the scholarly penetration evinced by Vivekananda related to worship of Linga and authenticity of the Gita. From Paris he went to Brittany, Vienna, Istanbul, Athens and Egypt. For the greater part of this period, he was the guest of Jules Bois, the famous thinker.[115] He left Paris on 24 October 1900 and arrived at the Belur Math on 9 December 1900.[115] Vivekananda spent few of his days at Advaita Ashrama, Mayavati and later at the Belur Math. Henceforth till the end he stayed at Belur Math, guiding the work of Ramakrishna Mission and Math and the work in England and America. Thousands of visitors came to him during these years including The Maharaja of Gwalior and in December 1901, the stalwarts of Indian National Congress including Bal Gangadhar Tilak. In December 1901, he was invited to Japan to participate in the Congress of Religions; however his failing health made it impossible. He undertook pilgrimages to Bodhgaya and Varanasi towards his final days.[117]


His tours, hectic lecturing engagements, private discussions and correspondence had taken their toll on his health. He was suffering from asthma, diabetes, chronic insomnia and other physical ailments. The severe austerity he performed in his youth had already sapped his physical strength.[118] A few days prior to his demise, he was seen intently studying the almanac. Three days before his death he pointed out the spot for this cremation the one at which a temple in his memory stands today. He had remarked to several persons that he would not live to be forty.[118]

On the day of his death he woke up very early in the morning, then he went to chapel and meditated for three hours, sang a song on Kali and then he whispered- "If there were another Vivekananda, then he would have understood what this Vivekananda has done!"[119] He taught Shukla-Yajur-Veda to some pupils in the morning at Belur Math.[120] He had a walk with Swami Premananda, a brother-disciple, and gave him instructions concerning the future of the Ramakrishna Math.

Vivekananda died at ten minutes past nine p.m. on 4 July 1902 while he was meditating. According to his disciples, this was Mahasamadhi.[121] Afterward, his disciples recorded that they had noticed "a little blood" in the Swami's nostrils, about his mouth and in his eyes.[122] The doctors remarked that it was due to the rupture of a blood-vessel in the brain, but they could not find the real cause of the death. According to his disciples, Brahmarandhra the aperture in the crown of the head must have been pierced when he attained Mahasamadhi. Vivekananda had fulfilled his own prophecy of not living to be forty years old.[120] The funeral pyre of Swami Vivekananda was built and the body was consigned to the flames kindled with sandalwood on the bank of Ganga in Belur. On the other bank of the river, Ramakrishna had been cremated sixteen years before.[119]

Teachings and philosophy

Swami Vivekananda believed a country's future depends on its people, so he mainly stressed on man, "man-making is my mission", that's how he described his teaching.[123] He wanted to set in motion a machinery which will bring noblest ideas to the doorstep of even the poorest and the meanest. [124] Swami Vivekananda believed that the essence of Hinduism was best expressed in the Vedanta philosophy, based on the interpretation of Adi Shankara. He summarized the Vedanta's teachings as follows,[125]

  • Each soul is potentially divine.[125]
  • The goal is to manifest this Divinity within by controlling nature, external and internal.[125]
  • Do this either by work, or worship, or mental discipline, or philosophy by one, or more, or all of these and be free.[125]
  • This is the whole of religion. Doctrines, or dogmas, or rituals, or books, or temples, or forms, are but secondary details.[125]

Vivekananda advised his followers to be holy, unselfish and have shraddha (faith). He encouraged the practice of Brahmacharya (celibacy).[126] In one of the conversations with his childhood friend Priya Nath Sinha he attributes his physical and mental strengths, and eloquence to the practice of Brahmacharya.[127]


Swami Vivekananda remains the most influential figure in modern Hinduism. He revitalized the religion within and outside India. Vivekananda was the principal reason behind the enthusiastic reception of yoga, transcendental meditation and other forms of Indian spiritual self-improvement in the West.[128] Professor Agehananda Bharati explained that, "...modern Hindus derive their knowledge of Hinduism from Vivekananda, directly or indirectly."[129] Vivekananda espoused the idea that all sects within Hinduism and, indeed, all religions are different paths to the same goal.[130] This view, however, has been criticised for oversimplification of Hinduism.[130]

In the background of germinating nationalism in the British-ruled India, Vivekananda crystallised the nationalistic idea. In the words of the social reformer Charles Freer Andrews, "The Swami's intrepid patriotism gave a new colour to the national movement throughout India. More than any other single individual of that period Vivekananda had made his contribution to the new awakening of India."[131] Vivekananda drew the attention towards the prevalence of poverty in the country, and maintained that addressing such poverty was prerequisite for the national awakening.[132] His nationalistic thoughts influenced scores of Indian thinkers and leaders.

The first governor general of independent India, Chakravarti Rajagopalachari, said "Vivekananda saved Hinduism, saved India."[133] According to Indian freedom fighter Subhash Chandra Bose, Vivekananda "is the maker of modern India";[134] for Mahatma Gandhi, Vivekananda's influence increased his "love for his country a thousandfold." Swami Vivekananda is widely considered to have inspired India's freedom struggle movement.[135] His writings inspired a whole generation of freedom fighters including Subhash Chandra Bose, Aurobindo Ghose, Bal Gangadhar Tilak and Bagha Jatin.

Subhash Chandra Bose, a major proponent of armed struggle for Indian independence movement said about Vivekananda,[136] "His personality was rich, profound and complex... Reckless in his sacrifice, unceasing in his activity, boundless in his love, profound and versatile in his wisdom, exuberant in his emotions, merciless in his attacks but yet simple as a child, he was a rare personality in this world of ours." Aurobindo Ghose considered Vivekananda as his spiritual mentor.[137] He said, "Vivekananda was a soul of puissance if ever there was one, a very lion among men... We perceive his influence still working gigantically, we know not well how, we know not well where, in something that is not yet formed, something leonine, grand, intuitive, upheaving that has entered the soul of India and we say, "Behold, Vivekananda still lives in the soul of his Mother and in the souls of her children."[137]

Swami Vivekananda statue near Gateway of India

At the Belur Math, Mahatma Gandhi was heard to say that his whole life was an effort to bring into actions the ideas of Vivekananda.[138] Many years after Vivekananda's death, Rabindranath Tagore told Romain Rolland,[139] "If you want to know India, study Vivekananda. In him everything is positive and nothing negative." The French Nobel Laureate Romain Rolland writes,[140] "His words are great music, phrases in the style of Beethoven, stirring rhythms like the march of H ndel choruses. I cannot touch these sayings of his, scattered as they are through the pages of books, at thirty years' distance, without receiving a thrill through my body like an electric shock. And what shocks, what transports, must have been produced when in burning words they issued from the lips of the hero!"

Jamsetji Tata was influenced by Vivekananda to establish the Indian Institute of Science one of India's well known research university during their conversation as fellow travellers on a ship from Japan to Chicago in 1893.[110] Abroad, Vivekananda had some interactions with Max M ller. Scientist Nikola Tesla was one of those influenced by the Vedic philosophy teachings of the Swami Vivekananda. On November 11, 1995 a section of Michigan Avenue, one of the most prominent streets in Chicago, was formally renamed "Swami Vivekananda Way".[141]

National Youth Day in India is held on his birthday, January 12.[142] He is projected as a role model for youth by the Indian government as well as non-government organisations and personalities.[142][143] In September 2010, Finance Ministry of India highlighted the relevance of teachings and values of Swami Vivekananda in today's competitive environment. In this meeting Union Finance Minister, Shri Pranab Mukherjee has approved in principle Swami Vivekananda Values Education Project at the cost of 100 crore with the objectives like 1) Involving the youth through competitions, essays, discussions and study circles. 2) Publishing Swami Vivekananda's complete work in different languages etc.[144] In many institutes, students have come together and formed organizations meant for promoting discussion of spiritual ideas and the practice of such high principles. Many of such organizations have adopted his name. One such group also exists at IIT Madras and is popularly known as Vivekananda Study Circle. Another one exists at IIT Kanpur by the name Vivekananda Samiti. Additionally, Swami Vivekananda's ideas and teachings have carried on globally, being practised in institutions all over the world.


Manuscript of "Blessings to Nivedita" a poem written by Swami Vivekananda in his own handwriting. Vivekananda left a body of philosophical works. Vivekananda observed that the billions of people on the earth could be classified into four basic types- those who were in constant activity, or the worker; those who were driven by their inner urge to achieve something in life, or the lover; those who tended to analyse the working of their minds, or the mystic; and those who weighed everything with reason, or the philosopher. His books (compiled from lectures given around the world) on the four Yogas (Karma yoga for the worker, Bhakti yoga for the lover, Raja yoga for the mystic, and Jnana yoga for the philosopher) are very influential and still seen as fundamental texts for anyone interested in the Hindu practice of Yoga. His letters are of great literary and spiritual value. He was also considered a very good singer and a poet.[145] By the time of his death, he had composed many songs and poems including his favourite Kali the Mother. He used humour for his teachings. His language is very free flowing. His own Bengali writings stand testimony to the fact that he believed that words - spoken or written - should be for making things easier to understand rather than show off the speaker or writer's knowledge.

Books by Swami Vivekananda

Published in his lifetime[146]
  • Karma Yoga (1896)
  • Raja Yoga (1896 [1899 edition])
  • Vedanta Philosophy: An address before the graduate philosophical society (First published 1896)
  • Lectures from Colombo to Almora (1897)
  • Vedanta philosophy: lectures on Jnana Yoga (1902)
Published posthumously

Here a list of selected books of Swami Vivekananda published after his death (1902)[146]

  • Lectures from Colombo to Almora (1904)
  • Inspired Talks (First published 1909)
  • Addresses on Bhakti Yoga
  • Bhakti Yoga
  • Complete works. Vol 5
  • The East and the West
  • Raja Yoga (1920)
  • Speeches and writings of Swami Vivekananda; a comprehensive collection
  • Practical Vedanta
  • Jnana Yoga


See also




  • (Collected articles on Swami Vivekananda, reprinted in 1994)

External links

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