Swami Vivekanada -A Life Divine
The the wave of 19th Century renaissance that swept India, Swami Vivekananda rode at the crest of it. is no wonder some of our greatest thinkers, politicians hailed Swamiji by describing him as the architect of modern India. When we use the term 'modern', it is rather used loosely but Swami Vivekananda's outlook towards religion its intimate association with our life in all its spheres gave it a new, revolutionary meaning.
During the Mughol times Swamiji ancestors lived in a village called Deretona which is situated in Burdwan district of West Bengal. One of his ancestors Ram Nidhi Dutta was one the early settlers when the city of Calcutta was founded. Later another ancestor Ram Mohan Dutta moved into the northern part of the city which is know as "Shimla". Ram Mohan Dutta's eldest son Durga Prasad Dutta who was Narendra Nath Dutta's ( Swamiji's) grandfather renounced the world in mid-twenties to become a sanyasi. Narendra Nath Dutta was born on 12th January in 1863. His father Viswanath Dutta was a noted attorney of his time. He knew as many as seven languages with great interest in history and music. As his reputation grew as a very successful attorney, his income also swelled in direct proportion to it. A sizable part of it was spent in taking care of some of his poor relatives and other destitute outsiders. He was a person who believed in good and aristocratic living. His liberal views on religion which had profound impact on young Narendra Nath's formative, was mainly a synthesis of the essence of all religions. Independence in thoughts based on true understanding was his main emphasis.
Bhubaneswari Debi - Swamiji's mother was also an exceptionally courageous lady with a big heart. Not a single poor soul ever returned from her doors empty-handed. Narendra Nath took his first lessons from his mother. It would be obvious that Narendra Nath Dutta who rose to become Swami Vivekananda of the world inherited all these traits from both sides.
Since his childhood Swamiji displayed some rare qualities of intelligence. fearlessness, kindness to the poor and truthfulness. His childhood stories are quite interesting and inspirational. Such was his love for the poor that he would even give away his new clothes to them much to the surprise of his mother. As a kid he was more than a handful and earned quite a name in his neighborhood. And his mother, being frustrated by his childish mischiefs, would just murmur the Shiva mantra touching his head and the result was instantaneous and little 'Bille' as he was nicknamed would calm down soon. There was a house in the neighborhood which was known to be haunted and young 'Bille' would not lend credence to all that and he spent a night at that house to emerge as hero to his friends! His interest in the spiritual aspect of life was also evident in his childhood days. Meditation was one of his favorite games. While he could spend considerable time in a state of meditation, his other friends would be restless within minutes and try unsuccessfully to disturb him.
With growing years young Narendranath started attracting attention with his meritorious performance in schools in all spheres. In school debates and deliberations he was the star performer. Even in sports and games he excelled as meritoriously as leader. His interest in a wide range of subjects and voracious reading left very profound impressions on his young thinking mind. It is interesting to note that amidst all these intellectual and spiritual pursuits he took serious interest in physical activities. Rowing,swimming, gymnastics, horse-riding drew same interest for him. Once he won in a boxing competition!
Narendranath's schooling started at Metropolitan Institution in Calcutta and when he was in his 8th standard he had to leave Calcutta to stay with his father along with the family at Raipur in Madhya Pradesh now Chattishgarh. In the absence of good schooling facilities. his father took cahrge of his studies at home. After a brief stay of one and a half years, Narnedranath returned to Calcutta to be admitted in his old school. In 1879 he appeared in the Entrance Examination and passed it securing a first division and entered one of the prestigious colleges, Presidency College. Unfortunately he fell ill with malaria for quite some time to be struck off the rolls as 'discollegiate'. Losing a year, he was admitted in General Assemblies Institution which is now Scottish Church College in Calcutta and passed the F.A Examination in 1881 to clear his B.A Examination after two years from th same college.
Knowledge acquired through extensive and intensive studies during this period overwhelmed even the European Principal of the college who had no hesitation in describing Narendranath as a 'true genius'!His range of subjects was truly phenomenal. From Gibbon and Greene's history to the philosophy of Cant,Spencer and Mill! He even took deep interest in applied mathematics. In his student days once he wrote a letter to the famous philosopher Herbert Spencer and who wrote him back appreciatively and made certain changes in the very next edition in the light of Narendranath's criticism!
At this point of time of his life when his inquisitive mind sharpened by his intimate study all the philosophical work of the East as well as West made him increasingly restless spiritually. He came into contact with Hume's skepticism , Spencer's agnosticism and Mill's 'Three Essays on Religion' which whetted his thirst for truth - keener than ever before. He was seeking spiritual resolution of all his doubts and confusion. Narendranath's subsequent meeting with Sri Ramakrishna Paramhans has to be understood in this context of his mind. It was in the month of November in 1881 that he met Sri Ramakrishna for the first time and to the great spiritual guru, it was crystal clear that the young man he met was born to deliver millions of people of the world. But what was going on in the minds of Narendranath who was faced with a crisis of belief. His blunt yet sharp question was : "Have You Seen the God?". It was not the straightforward question rather the direct answer of the master which must be very overwhelming to all. He answered: " Yes, I see Him as I see Him more clearly than I see you. And if you want to see, I can show you too". These words left him completely in trance! Narendra asked this kind of questions to many erudite scholars but the answer he got from this simple,rustic person. Here was someone who could so easily resolve a spiritual question which his ever critical mind with endless webs of logic consist of arguments and counter-arguments could not!
If Narendranath's first meeting produced reactions of a mixed kind, it made him more curious about the magnetic personality of the person he met and he struggling to free himself from the spell that he was under. His incisive erudite mind could not accept anyone and anything without rigorous intellectual scrutiny. And the process started and the Master came through that successfully . Narendranath found in Sri Ramakrishna the guru he was desperately looking for!
Meanwhile Narendranath's life entered a decisive phase with his father's untimely death in 1884. With his death the entire burden of the family fell upon his shoulders. His father led a lavish life leaving very little means to support the family in his absence and Narendranath's fruitless search for a job began. he was increasingly getting frustrated with some of his relatives launching court cases for eviction. His mother left with his young brothers and sisters to her father's house. It was one of the worst materialistic ordeals for Narendranath and he turn to Sri Ramakrishna and apprised him of his problems - his dire need for a job. He plainly asked him to pray Goddess Kali for him. The Master asked him to do it himself before the Mother. Narndranath paid three visits to the temple in quick succession and could not place his materialistic demands for even once! What he prayed for ,were knowledge and devotion! The Master could easily understand the predicament of his great disciple and assured Narendranath that henceforth his family would not encounter any problems living modestly.
Sri Ramakrishna was with Narendranath for some six years. He fell seriously ill with cancer and in 1886 he left this mortal world. And when he left he was secure in his belief that the baton changed to the right hand. After his Master's departure from the scene, Narendranath moved into a dilapidated one-storeyed house in the northern fringe of the city - Barahanagar with a few fellow disciples of Sri Ramakrishna to be initiated into sanyasa. The Rama Krishna Math was founded at this very house where he became Swami Bibidishananda and spent a very spartan life amidst religious studies and meditation. In 1888 he set out on a long and rigorous tour of the country which enabled him to have a first-hand account of the true state of India coming into contact with people belonging to all sections of society from sweepers to kings and queens! He was deeply pained at the plight of our downtrodden and raised his strong voice against the sins committed by the Brahmins and higher castes . It is very interesting to note that during this extensive tour he preferred various names like, Bibidishananda, Vivekanada and Sacchidananda. How he under the divine direction of his Master thought of visiting America to attend the Parliament of Religion at Chicago and how he moved the audience with his electrifying speech are all too familiar stories. It would be more appropriate to quote some of the greatest minds on one of the most illustrious sons of India.
" Vivekananda's words are great music,phrases in the style of Beethoven,stirring rhythms like the march of Hndel choruses. I can not touch these sayings of his at thirty years distance without receiving a thrill through my body like an electric shock." - Romain Rolland
"One of the greatest historical figures India has ever produced". - Christopher Isherwood
"The qualities which I admire in Vivekananda are his activity,manliness and courage ..He spoke and acted. For this,all must honor him, who,whatever may be their own religious beliefs,value,sincerity,truth and courage, which are the badges of every noble character." - Sir John Woodroffe, British Orientalist.
"This new Shankaracharya may well be claimed to be a unifier of Hindu ideology.” K.M.Pannikar
"Vivekananda championed the cause of Hinduism in the Parliament of Religions held at Chicago in 1893. There, in the presence of the representatives of all the religions from almost all the countries in the world, the young monk from India expounded the principles of Vedanta and the greatness of Hinduism with such persuasive eloquence that from the very first he captivated the hearts of the vast audience. It would be hardly an exaggeration to say that Swami Vivekananda made a place for Hinduism in the cultural map of the modern world. The civilized nations of the West had hitherto looked down upon Hinduism as a bundle of superstitions. Now, for the first time, they not only greeted with hearty approval the lofty principles of Hinduism as expounded by Vivekananda, but accorded it a very high place in the cultures and civilizations of the world."- R.C.Mozumdar, historian
"Swami Vivekananda will be remembered as one of the most significant figures in the whole history of Indian religion, comparable in importance to such great teachers as Shankara and Ramanuja. Since the days of the Indian missionaries who traveled in Southeast Asia and China preaching Buddhism and Hinduism more than a thousand years earlier, he was the first Indian religious teacher to make such an impression outside India.
It is very difficult to evaluate his [Swami Vivekananda's] importance in the scale of world history. It is certainly far greater than any Western historian or most Indian historians would have suggested at the time of his death. The passing of the years and the many stupendous and unexpected events which have occurred since then suggest that in centuries to come he will be remembered as one of the main moulders of the modern world, especially as far as Asia is concerned, and as one of the most significant figures in the whole history of Indian religion."-Arthur Llewellyn Basham, Indologist
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