January 12 is the birth anniversary of Swami Vivekananda, the famous Hindu spiritual leader and intellectual from the late 19th century. An important religious reformer in India, Swami Vivekananda is known to have introduced the Hindu philosophies of Yoga and Vedanta to the West. Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose had called Vivekananda the “maker of modern India.”
In his honour, the government of India in 1984 declared his birthday as National Youth Day.
Swami Vivekananda early life
Vivekananda was born in Kolkata on January 12, 1863, as Narendra Nath Datta. From an early age, he nurtured an interest in Western philosophy, history, and theology, and went on to meet the religious leader Ramakrishna Paramhansa, who later became his Guru. He remained devoted to Ramakrishna until the latter’s death in 1886.
In 1893, he took the name ‘Vivekananda’ after Maharaja Ajit Singh of the Khetri State requested him to do so, changing from ‘Sachidananda’ that he used before.
After Ramakrishna’s death, Vivekananda toured across India, and set after educating the masses about ways to improve their economic condition as well as imparting spiritual knowledge.
The Chicago address
Vivekananda is especially remembered around the world for his speech at the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Chicago in 1893. The speech covered topics including universal acceptance, tolerance and religion, and got him a standing ovation.
Many parts of his speech have since become popular, including “I am proud to belong to a religion which has taught the world both tolerance and universal acceptance. We believe not only in universal tolerance 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.”; and “Sectarianism, bigotry, and its horrible descendant, fanaticism, have long possessed this beautiful earth…Had it not been for these horrible demons, human society would be far more advanced than it is now.”
He began delivering lectures at various places in the US and UK, and became popular as the ‘messenger of Indian wisdom to the Western world’.
Return to India
After coming back to India, he formed the Ramakrishna Mission in 1897 “to set in motion a machinery which will bring noblest ideas to the doorstep of even the poorest and the meanest.”
In 1899, he established the Belur Math, which became his permanent abode.
Through his speeches and lectures, Vivekananda worked to disseminate his religious thought. He preached ‘neo-Vedanta’, an interpretation of Hinduism through a Western lens, and believed in combining spirituality with material progress.
‘Raja Yoga’, ‘Jnana Yoga’, ‘Karma Yoga’ are some of the books he wrote.
Before his death in 1902, Vivekananda wrote to a Western follower: “It may be that I shall find it good to get outside my body, to cast it off like a worn out garment. But I shall not cease to work. I shall inspire men everywhere until the whole world shall know that it is one with God.”
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