125 years of Swami Vivekananda's historic Chicago address

Ramakrishna Mission Mumbai to organise day-long programme on Saturday. Maharashtra Governor C H Vidyasagar Rao to inaugurate the event.

by Arijit Ray
Published - Sep 29, 2018 9:58 AM Updated: Sep 29, 2018 9:58 AM

Not many of the yoga worshipping generation in the US are probably aware of the fact that they owe the introduction of this life-transforming practice to their country to Swami Vivekananda, the first Hindu monk to cross the mighty oceans to reach the west and speak about the richness, expansiveness and the universal appeal of the Indian spiritual culture.
Swami Vivekananda was in all practical purposes the first ‘brand ambassador’ of India. The aura, mystique and charm associated with Brand India today owes its allegiance to this thoroughly modern nineteenth century saint, philosopher, poet, author, speaker, humanist, deep thinker and spiritual dynamo from Kolkata. He was the famous disciple of the nineteenth century ‘yuga avatar’ Sri Thakur Ramakrishna Paramahansa. Narendranath Dutta or Naren was Swami Vivekananda’s pre-monastic name.

While he was in Chennai before undertaking the trip to Chicago, it is said that he used to get regular visions from his master Sri Ramakrishna, urging him to attend the World Parliament of Religions. Then, one day, Thakur ‘appeared’ before him and told him that the World Parliament of Regions in Chicago was getting ready for him. The stage was being set for his grand arrival in the spiritual firmament of the world. There could not have been a clearer indication of the intense adulation that was to follow for Thakur Sri Ramakrishna’s favourite disciple.

When Swami Vivekananda started his speech at the august forum of The World Parliament of Religions in 1893 at Chicago by addressing his audience as “sisters and brothers of America”, he got a thunderous standing ovation that lasted more than two minutes. The spontaneous and heart-felt reaction from the audience was symbolic of the imprint his message would create in the hearts and minds of humanity across the world. A ratification of his master’s prediction.



His message of harmony, tolerance and universal acceptance stirred the depths of the human soul and re-established the relevance of practical spirituality in the lives of people, in a world torn by jealousy, greed, hatred & bloodshed.

He laid the contours of a universal religion, underlining the man-making philosophy of Vedanta, where the only goal of every person should be the expansion of his personality and gradually manifesting the divinity lying dormant in him.

When he spoke of sectarianism, bigotry and its horrible descendant fanaticism and how they have drenched the earth with human blood, destroyed civilization and sent whole nations to despair, he also spoke of tremendous hope and asserted the famous clarion call to humanity, saying “I fervently hope that the bell that tolled this morning in honour of this convention may be the death-knell of all fanaticism, of all persecutions with the sword or with the pen, and of all uncharitable feelings between persons wending their way to the same goal.”

This significant message of harmony and brotherhood reverberated through minds, across the length and breadth of the globe. While it aroused tremendous interest in spirituality in the enterprising and active minds of the western citizen, it re-awakened spirituality and set the process of resurgence of the Indian mind. And that is an extremely poignant moment in the recent history of India. A nation that had gradually started losing the connection with the rich spiritual heritage of its past in the wake of more than a thousand years of invasion and subjugation.

Swami Vivekananda’s ideas also influenced the leaders of pre-independent India, including Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Mahatma Gandhi, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, and is regarded as one of the creators of modern India.

In 1921, Mahatama Gandhi on a visit to Belur Math on the occasion of Swami Vivekananda’s birth anniversary, said “I have gone through his works very thoroughly, and after having gone through them, the love that I had for my countrymen became a thousand-fold. I ask you young men not to go away empty handed without imbibing something of the spirit of the place Swami Vivekananda lived and died.”

This comment truly exemplified the rich tapestry of patriotism, knowledge and love for the country that Swami Vivekananda brought alive in his messages. Western thinkers have spoken of him as the “moulder of the modern world”. A great humanist who loved humanity in the East as well as in the West.

Through this lecture at the World Parliament of Religions at Chicago in 1893 and subsequent lecturing and teaching work for four and a half years in the USA and England, he raised the image of India to a high pedestal as the land of spirituality, harmony and rich cultural heritage. What is now known as modern Hinduism is largely Swami Vivekananda’s creation.

Today, when humanity is at crossroads and values cherished over the centuries are getting eroded in the name of fanatic religious beliefs and dogmas, Swami Vivekananda’s message of universality, harmony, character building, strength and courage is even more relevant.

Talking about the historic address, Swami Satyadevananda, Head, Ramakrishna Math & Mission, Mumbai, said, “While we celebrate the 125th year of this momentous address delivered to transform the hearts and minds of humanity, this is also an opportunity to re-dedicate ourselves to imbibe, assimilate and realize the lofty and immensely relevant message of harmony and brotherhood of Swamiji. Let us individually and collectively strive to make the message of practical Vedanta, the message of caring and living for others a reality in every house, in every village, every district, in every relationship and association. Let Swamiji’s message be the glue that binds the new world order”

To commemorate this hallmark occasion, Ramakrishna Mission Mumbai will organise a day-long programme on September 29. At the event, senior monks from Ramakrishna Mission and different faiths of Christianity, Islam, Jainism, Zoroastrianism & Buddhism will present their interpretations on Swami Vivekananda’s speech and its relevance to society today. The cultural programme also includes an Indian classical dance exposition ‘Journey to divinity’ as a tribute to Swami Vivekananda. The function will be inaugurated by Governor of Maharashtra C H Vidyasagar Rao and graced by revered Swami Suviranandaji Maharaj, General Secretary, Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission, Belur Math.

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