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Swami Vivekananda: The Maker of Modern India

n important religious reformer in India, Swami Vivekananda is known to have introduced the Hindu philosophies of Yoga and Vedanta to the West.

Swami Vivekananda: The Maker of Modern India

Sentinel Digital Desk

Swami Vivekananda spelt out the four pathways of attaining moksha from the worldly pleasure and attachment in his books - Raja-yoga, Karma-yoga, Jnana-yoga and Bhakti-yoga. Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose had called Vivekananda the "Maker of modern India."

Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose had called Vivekananda the "maker of modern India. An important religious reformer in India, Swami Vivekananda is known to have introduced the Hindu philosophies of Yoga and Vedanta to the West. In his honour, the government of India in 1984 declared his birthday as National Youth Day. Swami Vivekananda spelt out the four pathways of attaining moksha from the worldly pleasure and attachment in his books - Raja-yoga, Karma-yoga, Jnana-yoga and Bhakti-yoga. Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose had called Vivekananda the "Maker of modern India." He said, "Bring all light into the world; bring light! Let light come unto everyone." He said, "I should see God in the poor and it is for my salvation that I go and worship them." Swamiji explained the Vedanta and Indian perspective of life, philosophy of ancient Rishis and Munis. He was a monk and chief disciple of Ramakrishna Paramhansa. He introduced Indian philosophies of Vedanta and Yoga to the Western world and is credited with raising interfaith awareness, bringing Hinduism to the world stage during the late 19th century. Thinking is regarded as an important part of living and Vivekananda says that one can be Christian if he thinks like a Christian, one can be a Muslim if he thinks like a Muslim. In the World Religion Conference in Chicago on September 11, 1893, Swami Vivekananda addressed the audience as 'Brothers and Sisters of America', and talked about the importance of religion and patriotism in one's life.He focused on the need for pluralism in the religious concept He condemned the frogs of the well and advised them to come out of the narrow space of thinking and see the ocean. Those who today misunderstand and misinterpret his saffron dress as that of a narrow minded Hindu Sanyasi, should not forget the speech of Vivekananda delivered at Chicago. In his Chicago speech he said: "An argument in favour of religious tolerance and accommodation as opposed to self-righteousness and bigotry, aptly illustrated by the 'frog in the well' (kupamanduka) story." In substance, Vivekananda emphasised the religious pluralism embedded in Hinduism.

He was born as Narendranath Datta on 12th January, 1863. In 1893, on the request of Maharaja Ajit Singh of Khetri State, he took the name 'Vivekananda.'He found his guru,Ramkrishna, and became a monk. After the death of Ramkrishna, Vivekananda extensively toured the Indian subcontinent, acquiring first-hand knowledge of the living conditions of Indian people in then British India. Moved by their plight, he resolved to help his countrymen, and found a way to travel to the United States where he was very successful. In India, Vivekananda founded the Ramkrishna Math, which provides spiritual training for monastics and householder devotees, and the Ramkrishna Mission to provide charity, social work and education.Ramakrishna Mission is an organisation which works in the area of value-based education, culture, health, women's empowerment, youth and tribal welfare and relief and rehabilitation.In 1899, he established the Belur Math, which became his permanent abode. Vivekananda was also a major force in the contemporary Hindu reform movement and contributed to the concept of nationalism in colonial India. He laid the greatest emphasis on education for the regeneration of our motherland. He advocated a character-building education. The influence of Swami Vivekananda on the Indian Nationalist Movement is well-known. In fact, he was not merely a Hindu Monk or visionary but a nationalist and a reformer par excellence For several decades the history of British India has been a history of distortion, destruction and gross misinterpretation of the history of Indian thoughts and culture.Indian religion was branded as pessimistic and ascetic but Vivekananda called the youth to pass more time in the football ground than in the temple or mosque. Fatalism and foreordained things are baseless according to him. Work is religion for Vivekananda.His wanderings all over India gave him the real knowledge of India and he understood the parochialism and its effects.His pilgrimages transformed him and he became a true lover of humanity. He became endowed with the quality of 'Sarvabhutahiteratah'(being deveoted to the welfare of all beings.). He explained the basic reason behind the Indian Mutiny of 1857 and warned the British of divide and rule policy in their governance.What Vivekananda made a global icon of Hinduism is his capability to give India its identity as a pluralistic nation and it was he who pointed out the liberal attitude of Hindu religion which is not an institutional religion like Islam and Christianity. Moreover, he focused on the richness of cultural heritage of the ancient India.It was a rediscovery of the social systems and philosophical thoughts for the Indian society.

In 1871, at the age of eight, Narendranath enrolled at Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar's Metropolitan Institution, where he went to school until his family moved to Raipur in 1877, In 1879, after his family's return to Calcutta, he was the only student to receive first-division marks in the Presidency College entrance examination. He was an avid reader in a wide range of subjects, including philosophy, religion, history, social science, art and literature. He was also interested in Hindu scriptures, including the Vedas, the Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita, the Ramayana,the Mahabharata and the Puranas. Narendra was trained in Indian classical music and regularly participated in physical exercise, sports and organised activities. Narendra studied Western logic, Western philosophy and European history at the General Assembly's Institution (now known as the Scottish Church College). In 1881, he passed the Fine Arts examination, and completed a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1884. Narendra studied the works of David Hume, Immanuel Kant, Johann Gottlieb Fichte, Baruch Spinoza, Georg W. F. Hegel, Arthur Schopenhauer, Auguste Comte, John Stuart Mill and Charles Darwin He became fascinated with the evolutionism of Herbert Spencer and corresponded with him, translating Herbert Spencer's book Education (1861) into Bengali. While studying Western philosophers, he also learned Sanskrit scriptures and Bengali literature . In 1880, Narendra joined Keshab Chandra Sen's Nava Vidhan, which was established by Sen after meeting Ramakrishna and reconverting from Christianity to Hinduism. Narendra became a member of a Freemasonry lodge "at some point before 1884" and of the Sadharan Brahmo Samaj in his twenties, a breakaway faction of the Brahmo Samaj led by Keshab Chandra Sen and Debendranath Tagore. From 1881 to 1884, he was also active in Sen's Band of Hope, which tried to discourage youths from smoking and drinking. It was in this cultic milieu that Narendra became acquainted with Western esotericism His initial beliefs were shaped by Brahmo concepts, which denounced polytheism and caste restrictions, and a "streamlined, rationalised, monotheistic theology strongly coloured by a selective and modernistic reading of the Upanisads and of the Vedanta."

His prodigious memory is a myth and even Immanuel Kant was impressed by his sharp memory.His gift of the gab mesmerised the world audience of Chicago. His rationalism irked the so called parochial minded saffron wearers. His name should not be used for gaining political mileage by any political party that focuses on communal division because Vivekananda for a single moment did not forget the importance of tolerance and pluralism for the Indian society. Rammohan Roy, the founder of the Brahmo Samaj who was strongly influenced by unitarianism, strove towards a universalistic interpretation of Hinduism. Not satisfied with his knowledge of philosophy, Narendra came to "the question which marked the real beginning of his intellectual quest for God". According to Banhatti, it was Ramakrishna who really answered Narendra's question, by saying "Yes, I see Him as I see you, only in an infinitely intensersense." Vivekananda died at a very tender age of 39on July 4,1902.

Dr Ratan Bhattacharjee former International Visiting Professor of English USA and a trilingual writer may be reached at

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