Swami Vivekananda was an Indian Hindu Monk and chief disciple to saint Ramakrishna Paramahamsa. He was a key figure in the introduction of the Indian philosophies of Vedanta and Yoga to the western world and is credited with raising interfaith awareness, bringing Hinduism to the status of a major world religion during the late 19th century when India was struggling under British rules. He was a major force in the revival of Hinduism in India, and contributed to the concept of nationalism in colonial India. Vivekananda founded the Ramakrishna Math and the Ramakrishna Mission. He is best known for his inspiring speech which began, "Sisters and brothers of America ...,”; in which he introduced Hinduism at the Parliament of the World's Religions in Chicago in 1893.
Born into an aristocratic Bengali family of Calcutta, Vivekananda was inclined towards spirituality. He was influenced by his guru, Ramakrishna, from whom he learnt that all living beings were an embodiment of the divine self; therefore, service to God could be rendered by service to mankind. After Ramakrishna's death,Vivekananda toured the Indian subcontinent extensively and acquired first-hand knowledge of the conditions prevailing in British India. He later travelled to the United States, representing India at the 1893 Parliament of the World Religions. Vivekananda conducted hundreds of public and private lectures and classes, disseminating tenets of Hindu philosophy in the United States, England and Europe. In India, Vivekananda is regarded as a patriotic saint and his birthday is celebrated as National Youth Day in India.
Narendranath Datta was born at 3, Gourmohan Mukherjee Street in Calcutta, the capital of British India, on 12 January 1863 during the Makar Sankranti festival.His father, Vishwanath Datta, was an attorney at the Calcutta High Court. Durgacharan Datta, Narendra's grandfather, was a Sanskrit and Persian scholar, who left his family and became a monk at age twenty-five. Narendra's mother, Bhuvaneswari Devi, was a devout housewife. The progressive, rational attitude of Narendra's father and the religious temperament of his mother helped shape his thinking and personality.Narendra was interested in spirituality from a young age, and used to play at meditating before the images of deities such asShiva, Rama, and Sita.He was fascinated by wandering ascetics and monks.Narendra was naughty and restless as a child, and his parents often had difficulty controlling him.His mother said, "I prayed to Shiva for a son and he has sent me one of his demons".
In 1871 Narendra enrolled at Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar's Metropolitan Institution, where he studied until his family moved to Raipur in 1877. In 1879, after his family's return to Calcutta, he received first-division marks in the Presidency College Entrance Examination. That year, he was the only student at his college who received first-division marks. Narendra was an avid reader and was interested 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. Also he was trained in Indian classical music and regularly participated in physical exercise, sports and organized activities .
Narendra became a member of a Freemasonry lodge and a breakaway faction of the Brahmo Samaj led by Keshub Chandra Sen and Debendranath Tagore. His initial beliefs were shaped by Brahmo concepts, which included belief in a formless God and the deprecation of idolatry.At this time, Narendra met Debendranath Tagore (the leader of Brahmo Samaj) and asked if he had seen God. Instead of answering his question, Tagore said "My boy, you have the Yogi's eyes. Not satisfied with his knowledge of philosophy, Narendra wondered if God and religion could be made a part of one's growing experiences and deeply internalized. He asked several prominent Calcutta residents if they had come "face to face with God", but none of their answers satisfied him.
Narendra's first introduction to Ramakrishna occurred in a literature class in General Assembly's Institution when he heard Professor William Hastie lecturing on William Wordsworth's poem, The Excursion. While explaining the word "trance" in the poem, Hastie suggested that his students visit Ramakrishna of Dakshineswar to understand the true meaning of trance. This prompted some of his students (including Narendra) to visit Ramakrishna. In November 1881,when Narendra was preparing for his upcoming F. A. examination, Ram Chandra Datta accompanied to Surendra Nath Mitra's, house where Ramakrishna was invited to deliver a lecture. At this meeting, Ramakrishna asked young Narendra to sing. Impressed by his singing talent, he asked Narendra to come to Dakshineshwar. Narendra did not consider this their first meeting, and neither mentioned this meeting later.In late 1881 or early 1882, Narendra went to Dakshineswar with two friends and met Rmakrishna. This meeting proved to be a turning point in his life. He was attracted by his personality and began frequently visiting him at Dakshineswar. He initially saw Ramakrishna's ecstasies and visions as "mere figments of imagination" and "hallucinations". As a member of Brahmo Samaj, he opposed idol worship, polytheism and Ramakrishna's worship of Kali.]He even rejected the Advaita Vedanta of "identity with the absolute" as blasphemy and madness, and often ridiculed the idea. Narendra tested Ramakrishna, who faced his arguments patiently: "Try to see the truth from all angles", he replied.Narendra's father's sudden death in 1884 left the family bankrupt; creditors began demanding the repayment of loans, and relatives threatened to evict the family from their ancestral home. Narendra, once a son of a well-to-do family, became one of the poorest students in his college. He unsuccessfully tried to find work and questioned God's existence, but found solace in Ramakrishna and his visits to Dakshineswar increased.One day Narendra requested Ramakrishna to pray to goddess Kali for their family's financial welfare. Ramakrishna suggested him to go to the temple and pray it himself. Following Ramakrishna's suggestion, he went to the temple thrice, but failed to pray for any kind of worldly necessities and ultimately prayed for true knowledge and devotion from the goddess. Narendra gradually grew ready to renounce everything for the sake of realising God, and accepted Ramakrishna as his guru.In 1885, Ramakrishna developed throat cancer, and was transferred to Calcutta and (later) to a garden house in Cossipore. Narendra and Ramakrishna's other disciples took care of him during his last days, and Narendra's spiritual education continued. At Cossipore, he experienced Nirvikalpa Samadhi. Narendra and several other disciples received ochre robes from Ramakrishna, forming his first monastic order. He was taught that service to men was the most effective worship of God. Ramakrishna asked him to care for the other monastic disciples, and in turn asked them to see Narendra as their leader. Ramakrishna died in the early-morning hours of 16 August 1886 in Cossipore.
After Ramakrishna's death, his devotees and admirers stopped supporting his disciples. Unpaid rent accumulated, and Narendra and the other disciples had to find a new place to live.] Many returned home, adopting a Grihastha (family-oriented) way of life. Narendra decided to convert a dilapidated house at Baranagar into a new math (monastery) for the remaining disciples. Rent for the Baranagar Math was low, raised by "holy begging" (mādhukarī). The math became the first building of the Ramakrishna Math: the monastery of the monastic order of Ramakrishna. Narendra and other disciples used to spend many hours in practising meditation and religious austerities every day.In 1887, Narendra compiled a Bengali song anthology named Sangeet Kalpataru with Vaishnav Charan Basak. Narendra collected and arranged most of the songs of this compilation, but could not finish the work of the book for unfavourable circumstances.
In 1888, Narendra left the monastery as a Parivrajaka— the Hindu religious life of a wandering monk, "without fixed abode, without ties, independent and stranger
s wherever they go".His sole possessions were a kamandalu (water pot), staff and his two favorite books: the Bhagavad Gita and The Imitation of Christ. Narendra
travelled extensively in India for five years, visiting centers of learning and acquainting himself with diverse religious traditions and social patterns.
He developed sympathy for the suffering and poverty of the people, and resolved to uplift the nation. Living primarily on bhiksha (alms), Narendra travelled on
foot and by railway (with tickets bought by admirers). During his travels he met, and stayed with Indians from all religions and walks of life: scholars, dewans,
rajas, Hindus, Muslims, Christians, paraiyars (low-caste workers) and government officials.Narendra visited Trissur, Kodungalloor and Ernakulam. At Ernakulam he
met Chattampi Swamikal, a contemporary of Narayana Guru, in early December 1892. From Ernakulam, Narendra travelled to Trivandrum, Nagercoil and reached
Kanyakumari on foot on Christmas Eve 1892. At Kanyakumari, Narendra meditated on the "last bit of Indian rock" (later known as the Narendra Rock Memorial).
At Kanyakumari, Narendra had a "vision of one India" (the "Kanyakumari resolve of 1892").]He wrote:
"At Cape Camorin sitting in Mother Kumari's temple, sitting on the last bit of Indian rock—I hit upon a plan: We are so many sanyasis wandering about, and teaching the people metaphysics—it is all madness. Did not our Gurudeva use to say, 'An empty stomach is no good for religion?' We as a nation have lost our individuality and that is the cause of all mischief in India. We have to raise the masses.From Kanyakumari, Narendra visited Madurai and had meetings with the Raja of Ramnad Bhaskara Sethupathi (to whom he had a letter of introduction). During his meetings, he had extensive discussions on Hindu philosophy with eminent scholars like Mahavidwan R. Raghava Iyengar. The raja became his disciple, urging him to attend the Parliament of Religions in Chicago. From Madurai, Narendra visited Rameswaram, Pondicherry and Madras; there, he met some of his disciples, specially Alasinga Perumal (who played important roles in collecting funds for his voyage to America and later establishing the Ramakrishna Mission in Madras). Perumal went door to door in hopes of getting money for Narendra's travel. With funds collected by his Madras disciples, the kings of Mysore, Ramnad, Khetri, diwans and other followers, Narendra left Bombay for Chicago on 31 May 1893 with the name "Vivekananda" which was suggested by Ajit Singh of Khetri. The name "Vivekananda" meant "the bliss of discerning wisdom".
Vivekananda started his journey to the West on 31 May 1893 and visited several cities in Japan China and Canada en route to the United States, reaching Chicago on 30 July 1893. However, he was disappointed to learn that no one without credentials from a bona fide organization would be accepted as a delegate. Vivekananda contacted Professor John Henry Wright of Harvard University, who invited him to speak at Harvard.On learning that Vivekananda lacked credentials to speak at the Chicago Parliament; Wright said "To ask for your credentials is like asking the sun to state its right to shine in the heavens". Vivekananda wrote of the professor, "He urged upon me the necessity of going to the Parliament of Religions, which he thought would give an introduction to the nation"
The Parliament of the World's Religions opened on 11 September 1893 at the Art Institute of Chicago as part of theWorld's Columbian Exposition. On this day, Vivekananda gave a brief speech representing India and Hinduism. He was initially nervous, bowed to Saraswati (the Hindu goddess of learning) and began his speech with "Sisters and brothers of America!”. At these words, Vivekananda received a two-minute standing ovation from the crowd of seven thousand. When silence was restored he began his address, greeting the youngest of the nations on behalf of "the most ancient order of monks in the world, the Vedic order of sanyasis, a religion which has taught the world both tolerance and universal acceptance". Vivekananda quoted two illustrative passages from the "Shiva Mahimna Stotram": "As the different streams having their sources in different places all mingle their water in the sea, so, O Lord, the different paths which men take, through different tendencies, various though they appear, crooked or straight, all lead to Thee!" and "Whosoever comes to Me, through whatsoever form, I reach him; all men are struggling through paths that in the end lead to Me." Despite the brevity of his speech, it voiced the spirit and sense of universality of the parliament.
new views for expanding on "life and religion to thousands”. During a question-answer session at Brooklyn Ethical Society, he remarked— "I have a message to the West as Buddha had a message to the East."Vivekananda spent nearly two years lecturing in the eastern and central United States, primarily in Chicago, Detroit, Boston, and New York. He founded the Vedanta Society of New York in 1894. By spring 1895 his busy, tiring schedule had affected his health. He ended his lecture tours and began giving free, private classes in Vedanta and yoga. Beginning in June 1895, Vivekananda gave private lectures to a dozen of his disciples atThousand Island Park in New York for two months.During his first visit to the West he travelled to England twice, in 1895 and 1896, lecturing successfully there. In November 1895 he met Margaret Elizabeth Noble an Irish woman who would become Sister Nivedita. During his second visit to England in May 1896 Vivekananda met Max Müller, a noted Indologist from Oxford University who wrote Ramakrishna's first biography in the West.From England, Vivekananda visited other European countries. In Germany he met Paul Deussen, another Indologist.Vivekananda was offered academic positions in two American universities (one the chair in Eastern Philosophy at Harvard University and a similar position atColumbia University); he declined both, since his duties would conflict with his commitment as a monk.
Despite declining health, Vivekananda left for the West for a second time in June 1899 accompanied by Sister Nivedita and Swami Turiyananda. Following a brief stay in England, he went to the United States. During this visit, Vivekananda established Vedanta Societies in San Francisco and New York and founded a Shanti Ashrama (peace retreat) in California. He then went to Paris for the Congress of Religions in 1900. His lectures in Paris concerned the worship of the lingam and the authenticity of the Bhagavad Gita. Vivekananda then visited Brittany, Vienna, Istanbul, Athens and Egypt. The French philosopher Jules Bois was his host for most of this period, until he returned to Calcutta on 9 December 1900. After a brief visit to the Advaita Ashrama in Mayavati; Vivekananda settled at Belur Math, where he continued co-ordinating the works of Ramakrishna Mission, the math and the work in England and The U.S. He had many visitors, including royalty and politicians. Although Vivekananda was unable to attend the Congress of Religions in 1901 in Japan due to deteriorating health, he made pilgrimages to Bodhgaya and Varanasi. Declining health restricted his activity.
On 4 July 1902 (the day of his death) Vivekananda awoke early, went to the chapel at Belur Math and meditated for three hours. He taught Shukla-Yajur-Veda, Sanskrit grammar and the philosophy of yoga to pupils, later discussing with colleagues a planned Vedic college in the Ramakrishna Math. At seven p.m. Vivekananda went to his room, asking not to be disturbed; he died at 9:10 p.m. while meditating. According to his disciples, Vivekananda attained Mahasamādhi; the rupture of a blood vessel in his brain was reported as a possible cause of death. His disciples believed that the rupture was due to his brahmarandhra (an opening in the crown of his head) being pierced when he attained mahasamādhi. Vivekananda fulfilled his prophecy that he would not live forty years. He was cremated on a sandalwood funeral pyre on the bank of the Ganges in Belur, opposite where Ramakrishna was cremated sixteen years earlier.