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In the early 1900s, India was long under colonial rule. The Nation's culture was considered its backbone. Hence the rulers had worked extensively on degrading and destroying Indian culture.
This is when Swami Vivekanand emerged as a hope. He took upon the task of revitalizing and expanding the Vedic culture of India. He was a proud representative of the world's oldest religion. It was he who showed the power of Meditation, Yoga, and Ayurveda.
Swami Vivekanand was born in Calcutta in 1863. His parents gave him the name Narendranath Dutta. His father was an advocate and his mother a homemaker. His father taught him science while his mother taught him spirituality. This duality of science and religion became the foundation of Vivekanand's future work. His grandfather chose monkhood over family at the early age of 25. Even though his meetings with young Vivekanand were rare, they were very impactful.
At the age of three, Vivekanand had already begun meditating in front of idols and deities. At the age of six, he was meditating for hours. Once he went out to play with other children and didn't come back home. The worried parents searched for him for eight hours. The next morning he was found meditating in the middle of the rice field. This habit of meditation made him a focused and calm person. He gained abilities that would be considered superhuman in today's day and age. Once he started going to a school he also became an avid reader. He read books on philosophy, religion, spirituality, and social psychology. His favourite books were The Gita and The Limitation of Christ.
To assist his mom in her prayers he also started learning Pakhawaj, a classical Indian drum. In his adulthood, he was not only popular as a monk but was also a sought-after Pakhawaj player. In his love for spirituality, he also developed a lovely voice.
This music talent led him to Guru Ramakrishna who was an established spiritual figure at that time. During one of his tours of Calcutta, he met Vivekanand. Vivekanand was called upon to perform in front of Ramkrishna. Impressed by his musical abilities, Ramkrishna offered Vivekanand to be his Guru.
Ramkrishna resided in the city of Cossipore. Vivekanand and others started visiting Cossipore frequently. After his fathers' death, his family came into financial problems. Vivekanand was put under the weight of expectations. In these times Vivekanand's only source of peace came from his tours of Cossipore. Two years later he decided to leave all the worldly vows and desires and became a monk. He started residing in Ramakrishna’s ashram (house of a Guru) in Cossipore.
In the year 1885, Ramkrishna died of mouth cancer. In his final days, he lived in Calcutta with all his disciples. After his death, the ashram was taken away and the disciples had nowhere to live. Many of them went back to their homes and started living a normal life. Vivekanand and few others opened a small ashram in Baranagar. The ashram was named after Ramkrishna.
As a leader of the ashram, he was renamed Swami Vivekanand.
Following his popularity, he was invited to the Parliament of the world's religion in Chicago. In the absence of airlines, he followed a path through China and Japan. He visited a lot of cities including Osaka, Kyoto, Beijing, and Tokyo. He researched and discussed a lot about eastern religions and philosophy. Then he took the sea route to Canada visiting the cities of Vancouver, Montreal, and Ottawa. Finally, after 214 days he arrived in Chicago.
At first, he was denied participation. He needed to be a part of a bonafide religious group. As a solution, he attested himself as the representative of the oldest order of monks. He mentioned Lord Shiva as its founder.
His speech at Chicago's conference of religion has a special place in history.
One of the most renowned speeches related to spirituality began with a simple greeting and an ode to Goddess Saraswati. His opening words "Sisters and brothers of America'' got a standing applause for over two minutes. His speech talked about the global integrity of religions. He talked about Hinduism and Vedas. His words on humanity reverberated well among other speeches. His audience described the speech as a perfect summary of the gathering. He gained a lot of popularity as an orator earning names like ‘Handsome Oriental’ and ‘Cyclonic Monk from India.’
During this tour many incidents involving his speed reading and superior memory took place. Once in Germany, he returned a book after just one day. The librarian was in disbelief when Vivekanand mentioned the completion of the book in one day. Only after cross-checking did the librarian believe in the brilliance of Vivekanand. In Sweden, he corrected a Swedish professor about Sweden's history. In London, he became so absorbed in reading that he didn't have any conversation for hours. His believers believed him to be 'Shrutidhar' meaning a man who never forgets.
When he came back to India he decided to do a full nation tour preaching the principles of Vedanta (a Hindu philosophy based on the Upanishads). He took only his Kamandal (water pot) and some books including Gita. He travelled mostly by trains. Train tickets were often bought by his admirers. He covered the cities of Mumbai, Mangalore, Madurai, Nasik, Bhopal, Jaipur, Lucknow, and Delhi. Many of the visits included opening ceremonies of Vedic schools and maths. He also visited religious sites of other religions. He ended the national tour at Calcutta.
After two years he decided to travel west again. This time he wanted to work closely with Christian missionaries. One prominent figure in this period was Sister Christine. In her words, Vivekanand was to the west what Buddha was to the east.
During his final days, he lived in Belur ashram with his disciples. On his last day, he meditated for 4 hours after waking up. He then went on to teach his disciples a class of mantras. Stating a sense of tiredness he went back to his room. He passed away while meditating. No one knows the exact reason for his death. His followers believed that he achieved the state of Mahāsamādhi, the final frontier in meditation. A local doctor argued the case of a ruptured brain nerve. Earlier in a letter to his sister, Vivekanand had predicted that he will not live to see 40 years of life. His prophecy stood correct and he passed away at the age of just 39. He was cremated on the banks of Ganga, Belur.
His philosophy was a mixture of different belief systems. Growing he believed both in science and religion. Therefore the Vedas fascinated him. As an adult, he preached against Idol worshipping. This is the reason why he worked closely with Christianity as well. In his final few years, he also developed a hybrid of western and eastern ideologies. These ideas were carried on by institutions of Anglo-Vedic beliefs both in India and abroad.
All this success comes from his deep belief in his roots. He admired the ways of his ancestors. People remember him as a great yogi, a great teacher, and a great orator. The youth still takes motivation from him. Vivekanand started this journey with the simple goal of reviving Vedanta across India. But even in such a short life, he captured the attention of the whole world.