He was India’s first global monk. A source of wisdom, a patriot, a spiritual leader, a visionary, a reformer, a nation builder… He propounded a philosophy which in his words, “can serve as a basis to every possible religious system in the world”. Words will fall short to describe the great persona – Swami Vivekananda.
The nation is celebrating the 149th birth anniversary of Swami Vivekananda today. An authoritative spokesman of Indian culture, Vivekananda introduced the message of Indianness to the international audience. He was a major force in the revival of Hinduism in modern India and helped restore a sense of pride amongst the Hindus. He taught the world that in essence all religions are true, and service to mankind is the most effective form of worship of God.
India commemorates Swami Vivekananda’s birth anniversary as National Youth Day. I am sure many young Indians, especially those who never forget to celebrate the Valentine’s Day on February 14, ar
e not even aware of the significance of January 12. Hope, they would celebrate the National Youth Day with the same vigour.
Swami Vivekananda’s ideas have had a great influence on Indian youth for generations. His message to the youth is still as invigorating as it was a century ago. In his words, depression, weakness, fear, selfishness and jealousy are the greatest enemies of young people. “The greatest sin is to think yourself weak. The remedy of weakness is not brooding over weakness, but thinking of strength,” he said.
Vivekananda firmly believed that youth is the most potent catalyst for changing the fate of the country, and hence the future of the nation rests in their hands. His words have continued to inspire the young people for generations. His message is replete with infinite encouragement for young minds to achieve great things.
He exhorted the youth of the nation, “Our country requires heroes; be heroes. Stand firm like a rock. Truth always triumphs. What India wants is a new electric fire to stir up a fresh vigour in the national veins.”
He told the youth, “All power is within you. You can do anything and everything. Believe in that.”
“All great undertakings are achieved through mighty obstacles. Keep up the deepest mental poise. Take not even the slightest notice of what puerile creatures may be saying against you. Arise, awake and stop not till the goal is reached,” was his message to the young people. Swami Vivekananda called upon the youth to fully participate in the modern world while upholding nation’s ancient values.
His comment on education will always be relevant for both the teachers and the students. “Education is not information that is put into your brain and runs riot there. It is the manifestation of perfection already in man... That education by which character is formed, strength of mind is increased, and the intellect is expanded and by which one can stand on one’s own feet. We must have life-building, man-making, character-making assimilation of ideas,” he stated.
Swami Vivekananda injected patriotism in the veins of the youth and thereby inspired India’s freedom movement. His lines -- "What we want are some young men who will renounce everything and sacrifice their lives for their country's sake" – was a wake-up call to the youth of pre-Independence India to join the freedom movement.
Vivekananda will always be remembered for his model speech dated September 11, 1893 at Parliament of the World's Religions held in Chicago. He had begun his speech with, "Sisters and brothers of America?” When he pronounced the idea an audience of 7,000 people rose to their feet and clapped that lasted for three minutes.
Representing India he introduced the greatness of Hindutva and the eternal values of Indianness to the West. “I am proud to belong to a religion which has taught the world both tolerance and universal acceptance. We believe not only in universal toleration, but we accept all religions as true. I am proud to belong to a nation which has sheltered the persecuted and the refugees of all religions and all nations of the earth,” he said.
He went on to add, “I thank you in the name of the most ancient order of monks in the world; I thank you in the name of the mother of religions.”
It was in that speech he presented the ancient teachings of India in its purest form. While other speakers spoke simply on their own faith, Vivekanada stressed upon the essence of interfaith awareness and religious tolerance.
Hundred and eighteen years after he delivered his starling speech on the platform of Parliament of the World's Religions, its content has an irresistible appeal even today. The message is still relevant to the present society marred by religious chauvinism. "Sectarianism, bigotry, and its horrible descendant, fanaticism, have long possessed this beautiful earth. They have filled the earth with violence, drenched it often and often with human blood, destroyed civilisation and sent whole nations to despair. Had it not been for these horrible demons, human society would be far more advanced than it is now,” he said.
His elocution voiced the spirit of Parliament and its sense of universality. Vivekananda became an instant rage. 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."
The American press dubbed Vivekananda as the "Cyclonic monk from India", "the greatest figure in the Parliament of Religions" and "the most popular and influential man in the Parliament". The day after he delivered that speech,
The New York Critique wrote, "Swami Vivekananda 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." The speech marked the beginning of Western interest on Indian values. The world celebrates World Brotherhood Day on September 11 as a mark of respect to that model speech.
Addressing the final session of the Parliament of Religion on September 27, 1893 Swami Vivekananda said, “Holiness, purity and charity are not the exclusive possessions of any church in the world, and that every system has produced men and women of the most exalted character.” Today, there is a need to revisit those words.
After the Parliament of Religions, Vivekananda toured extensively in the West for nearly two years preaching the essence of universal brotherhood. Yes he was a missionary, but he didn’t convert people away from their native faith. It was during a lecture in America, he said, "I do not come to convert you to a new belief. I want you to keep your own belief; I want to make the Methodist a better Methodist; the Presbyterian a better Presbyterian; the Unitarian a better Unitarian. I want to teach you to live the truth, to reveal the light within your own soul."
Returning back home he set up the Ramakrishna Mission – an organ for social service – in 1887 at Calcutta (now Kolkata). It was named after his spiritual guru Sri Ramakrishna Paramahansa. This was the first organised socio-religious movement to help the masses through educational, cultural, medical and relief work. Today, the Ramakrishna Mission continues with carrying Vivekananda’s message forward.
Swami Vivekananda’s writings powerfully inspired a whole generation of freedom fighters including Subhash Chandra Bose, Sri Aurobindo and Bagha Jatin.
Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose said, “Vivekananda is the maker of modern India.” Sri Aurobindo wrote, “Vivekananda still lives in the soul of his Mother (Bharat Mata) and in the souls of her children.”
“After going through his work, the love I had for my country became a thousandfold”, said Mahatma Gandhi.
Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru remarked: “Rooted in the past and full of pride in India's heritage, Vivekananda was yet modern in his approach to life's problems and was a kind of bridge between the past of India and her present.”
The first Governor General of independent India, Chakravarti Rajagopalachari wrote, "Vivekananda saved Hinduism, saved India."
"His words are great music, phrases in the style of Beethoven, stirring rhythms like the march of Handel choruses," wrote French Nobel Laureate Romain Rolland on Swami Vivekananda.
Visva kabi Rabindranath Tagore said, "If you want to know India, study Vivekananda."
Living for a short span of four decades, Vivekananda left his foot-prints on the sands of time. His teachings will inspire the lives and times for generations to come. His legacy will stay on to guide the nation, nationalism and nationhood. Let’s salute the Prophet. Let’s cherish his legacy. Happy National Youth Day.
(The views expressed by the author are personal)