Born: 12 January, 1863
Died: 4 July, 1902
Vivekananda is known for his inspiring speech at the Parliament of the
World's Religions at Chicago on 11 September, 1893, where he introduced
Hindu philosophy to the west. But this was not the only contribution of
the saint. He revealed the true foundations of India's unity as a
nation. He taught how a nation with such a vast diversity can be bound
together by a feeling of humanity and brother-hood. Vivekananda
emphasized the points of drawbacks of western culture and the
contribution of India to overcome those. Freedom fighter Netaji Subhash
Chandra Bose once said: "Swamiji harmonized the East and the West,
religion and science, past and present. And that is why he is great. Our
countrymen have gained unprecedented self-respect, self-reliance and
self-assertion from his teachings." Vivekananda was successful in
constructing a virtual bridge between the culture of East and the West.
He interpreted the Hindu scriptures, philosophy and the way of life to
the Western people. He made them realize that in spite of poverty and
backwardness, India had a great contribution to make to world culture.
He played a key role in ending India's cultural isolation from the rest
of the world.
Swami Vivekananda's real name was Narendranath Dutta and his parents
called him 'Bile'. He was born in Calcutta's Shimla Palli, on January
12, 1863. His father Viswanath Dutta was a successful attorney with
interests in a wide range of subjects, and his mother, Bhuvaneshwari
Devi, was endowed with deep devotion, strong character and other
Vivekananda was a precocious boy with a sharp memory and also excelled
in music, gymnastics and studies in his childhood. He was also
interested in instrumental and vocal music.
In 1879, Vivekananda went to the Presidency College, Calcutta
University for higher studies. By the time he graduated from the
college, he had acquired a vast knowledge of different subjects,
especially Western philosophy and history. He was also associated with
Brahmo Movement led by Keshab Chandra Sen, for some time. Vivekananda
was always supported by one of his close friends Brajendranath Seal. In
order to understand the intricacies of faith and spiritual insight both
read the works of John Stuart Mill, Auguste Comte, Herbert Spencer and
G.W.F. Hegel. He also questioned the validity of superstitious customs
and discrimination based on caste and religion. During this spiritual
crisis, Vivekananda first heard about Sri Ramakrishna from William
Hastie, the Principal of the Scottish Church College.
With Ramakrishna Paramhansa
One day in November 1881, Vivekananda went to Kali Temple in
Dakshineshwar where Sri Ramakrishna was staying. He straightaway asked
the Ramakrishna, "Sir, have you seen God?" Without a moment's
hesitation, Sri Ramakrishna replied: "Yes, I have. I see Him as
clearly as I see you, only in a much deeper sense." Vivekananda was
astonished with Ramakrishna's reply. He was also surprised to see a
common simple man saying that "God can be seen". Apart from
removing doubts from the mind of Narendra, Sri Ramakrishna won him over
through his pure, unselfish love. Vivekananda started visiting
Dakshineswar frequently and a relationship of "Master and disciple"
developed between the two.
Vivekananda as a Monk
1884, Vivekananda went under a considerable distress due to the death of
his father. Now, he had to support his mother, brothers and sisters.
And, after few months his guru Ramakrishna fell seriously ill. He was
suffering from throat cancer. In September 1885, Sri Ramakrishna was
moved to Shyampukur, and a few months later Vivekananda took a rented
villa at Cossipore. Here, he formed a group of young people who also
believed in the same principles as Vivekananda. The young disciples,
then, nursed the Master with devoted care. On 16 August, 1886 Sri
Ramakrishna gave up his mortal body.
After the passing away of Sri Ramamkrishna, around fifteen of his
disciples began to live together in a dilapidated building at Baranagar
in North Calcutta. Under the leadership of Narendra, they formed a new
monastic brotherhood, and in 1887 they took the formal vows of sanyasa,
thereby assuming new names. Few months later, they all left for a
journey to become a wandering monk.
During his travels all over the country, Vivekananda was deeply hurt to
see the appalling poverty and backwardness of the countrymen. He found
people starving for days and there are no food and shelter for them. He
also found that, despite of poverty, the masses clung to religion. One
thing became clear to Swamiji: to carry out his plans for the spread of
education and for the uplift of the poor masses, and also of women, an
efficient organization of dedicated people was needed. Few years later,
he founded one of the world's largest charitable relief missions, the
On 4 July , 1902, the day of his death, he had a walk with Swami
Premananda, a brother-disciple at Belur Math, Calcutta. Vivekananda
expired while he was meditating.