The Anniversary of The Parliament of World s Religion

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Anupama Nair

A modern man with the name of a great saint — Narendra (Modi)  remembered Swami Vivekananda on Sunday, September 11, as the renowned philosopher delivered his famous speech on this day in 1893 at the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago in the US. PM Modi in a tweet, said, “11th September has a special connection with Swami Vivekananda. It was on this day in 1893 that he delivered one of his most outstanding speeches in Chicago. His address gave the world a glimpse of India's culture and ethos

The Parliament of the World's Religions was inaugurated on 11 September, 1893 at the Art Institute of Chicago, in Chicago, as part of the World’s Columbian Exposition. On this day, Vivekananda gave a brief speech representing India and Hinduism. Though he was initially nervous, he bowed to Saraswati Devi (the Hindu goddess of learning) and began confidently with "Sisters and brothers of America!". At these words, Vivekananda received a two-minute standing ovation from the crowd of seven thousand. According to Sailendra Nath Dhar, when silence was restored, he began his address, “greeting the youngest of the nations on behalf of the most ancient order of monks in the world, the Vedic order of sannyasis, a religion which has taught the world both tolerance and universal acceptance”. Though, "it was only a short speech, but it voiced the spirit of the Parliament of Religions."

John Henry Barrows, the President of the Parliament, hailed "India, the Mother of religions was represented by Swami Vivekananda, the Orange-monk who exercised the most wonderful influence over his auditors". Vivekananda attracted widespread attention in the press, which called him the "cyclonic monk from India". The New York Critique reported, "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". According to American newspapers Vivekananda was "the greatest figure in the Parliament of religions" and "the most popular and influential man in the Parliament". The Boston Evening Transcript stated that Vivekananda was "a great favorite at the Parliament, if he merely crosses the platform, he is applauded". He spoke several more times  "at receptions, the scientific section, and private homes", topics related to Hinduism, and harmony among religions until the Parliament ended on 27 September 1893. He soon became known as a "handsome oriental" and made a huge impression as an orator.

After the Parliament of Religions, he toured many parts of the US as a guest. His popularity opened up new views for expanding on "life and religion to thousands". During a question-answer session at Brooklyn Ethical Society, New York, he stated, "I have a message to the West as Buddha had a message to the East."

Vivekananda spent nearly two years lecturing in the eastern and central United States, primarily in Chicago, Detroit, Boston and New York. He started the Vedanta Society of New York in 1894. During his visit to the West, he visited England twice, in 1895 and 1896, lecturing successfully there.  During his second visit to the UK in May 1896 Vivekananda met Max Mueller, who was a noted Indologist, who wrote Ramakrishna's first biography in the West. From the UK, Vivekananda visited other European countries. Vivekananda was offered academic positions in two American universities (Eastern Philosophy at Harvard University and University of Columbia). However, he declined both, since his duties would conflict with his commitment as a monk.

He initiated several followers — Marie Louise who became Sister Abhayanda and Leon Landsberg became Swami Kripananda, so that they could continue the work of the mission of the Vedanta Society. This society still has foreign nationals and is also located in Los Angeles, California. During his stay in America, Vivekananda was given land in the mountains to the southeast of San Jose, California, to establish a retreat for Vedanta students. He called it "Peace retreat, or Shanti Ashrama. The largest American center is the Vedanta Society of Southern California in Hollywood. There is also a Vedanta Press in Hollywood which publishes books about Vedanta and English translations of Hindu scriptures and texts.

Vivekananda founded the The Ramakrishna Mission in 1897 for social service. Its ideals are based on Karma Yoga and its governing body consists of the trustees of both Ramakrishna Matt and Ramakrishna Mission and have their headquarters at Belur Matt, Calcutta. Vivekananda founded two other monasteries: one in Mayavati in the Himalayas (near Almora), the Advaita Ashram. Two journals were founded—Prabudha Bharatam in English and Udbhodan in Bengali. 

Vivekananda had earlier inspired Jamshed ji Tata (founder of Tata Sons) to set up a research and educational institution when they travelled together from Yokohoma to Chicago on Swamij’s first visit to the West in 1893. Tata now asked him to head his Research Institute of Science. Vivekananda declined the offer, citing a conflict with his "spiritual interests". After brief visits to Lahore, Delhi and Khetri, he returned to Calcutta in January 1898. He consolidated the work of the matt and trained disciples for several months.

On 4 July 1902, Vivekananda awoke early, went to the monastery at Belur Matt and meditated for three hours. He discussed with colleagues and planned to establish a Vedic college in the Ramakrishna Matt. At 7:00 pm Vivekananda went to his room, asking not to be disturbed. He died at 9:20 p.m. while doing meditation. According to his disciples, Vivekananda attained “maha-samadhi”. The rupture of a blood vessel in his brain was reported as a possible cause of death. Vivekananda prophecy that he would not live forty years came true. He was cremated on bank of the Ganga in Belur Matt, opposite where his Guru, Sri Ramakrishna was cremated sixteen years ago.

Charles Freer Andrews a social reformer stated, "The Swami's intrepid patriotism gave a new color 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".  His nationalistic ideas influenced many other Indian thinkers and leaders, like Sri Aurobindo who regarded Vivekananda as the one who awakened India spiritually.

“Bartaman Bharat” meaning "Present Day India" is an erudite Bengali language essay written by him, which was first published in the March 1899 issue of Udbodhan, the only Bengali language magazine of Ramakrishna Matt and Ramakrishna Mission. The essay was reprinted as a book in 1905 and later compiled into the fourth volume of “The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda”

In today’s world of such chaos, adharma and all other evils and now Corona, we will do well to remember this great monk and read his works. His birthday is celebrated as Youth Day in India.


Quotes of Swamiji


“Arise, awake, and stop not till the goal is reached”

“Say brother, the soil of India is my highest heaven, good of India is my highest good”

if there is any land in this earth that can lay claim to be blessed as punya bhumi the land where humanity has attained its highest towards gentleness, generosity, purity and above all land of introspection and spirituality, it is India








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