The Story about Swami Vivekananda and Rama Krishna Paramahansa
It was a bright spring morning in the city of Calcutta. The city was bustling with morning hour rush, with people heading to their destinations in all directions. Carriages were full of office goers, with horse-drawn tram cars carrying loads of passengers.
The business was at its peak. The grand city, with all its splendour, was then the capital of British India. The dazzling light of the mighty empire was shining from a height with a great circle of darkness below, engulfing millions of Indians.
On the footpaths of busy Cornwallis Street, a beggar was walking slowly, singing the praise of Lord Krishna as he went, with a pair of small brass musical discs keeping the rhythm of his voice.
Seeking alms, he was clad in old, worn-out clothes. He stopped by a big house and looked up at a high window. It seemed he knew someone who would appear at that window. As he started clapping his manjira and chanting the holy name of God, a little boy looked below and smiled at the beggar kindly.
He was a boy of eight or nine with very handsome features and large, bright eyes. Those eyes exuded intelligence, purity and compassion. When he looked forward, it was a far, far vision, as if he could see the future with a power to shape it too.
The boy’s mother had locked him up in her bedroom, as a punishment for something disastrous he had committed on that day. He was a sharp-witted boy with immense energy and an infinite stream of queries to be answered by elders, mainly his mother.
He asked questions strange for his age and could not be stopped until a proper and reasonable answer was provided to him. His father was a busy attorney and his chamber was always full of visitors – Hindus, Muslims and Brahmos – who were taking the reins of new Bengal into their hands.
As was the practice in the late 19th century, to ‘save’ the caste of the Hindus, the hookahbardar maintained an array of hookahs, for brahmins, non-brahmins, Muslims etc. No man would smoke a hookah meant for people from other castes, fearing that he would ‘lose his caste’.
The young boy watched this for a few days, and approached the hookahbardar one day with his question – “What will happen if one man smokes another’s hookah?” “He will lose his caste, Chhote Babu, he cannot do that, It is never done”, was the answer.
After a few days, the boy was spotted in the hookah room, putting his lips to each hookah like he has seen the elders do. After a hue and cry was raised over this and when his father asked him the reason of this act, he answered innocently – “I was trying to see how my caste would be lost, but, father, see nothing has happened to me?”
The beggar looked up eagerly as if knowing that the boy would give him alms as he had often done before. On other days, he would have run to his mother to get a bowl of grains or a coin for the beggar. But his mother had locked him from outside and he was frantically looking around the room, his young mind full of kindness for the poor old man.
All the cupboards and wardrobes were locked and the keys were with his mother. He looked down again to see the beggar trembling in the cold and at last, picked up a costly shawl hanging from the bedpost and threw it down to him. The beggar raised his arms to bless the boy who was an angel to him.
Years passed by and the boy grew up to be a splendid young man. Handsome, athletic, always the topper in his class and a great singer. He was an unbeatable debater in college. He could remember anything he heard. He had an analytical mind and tried to understand the meaning of religion. Does God exist? If so, why can’t we see Him? Is there anyone who has seen God? He came close to the Brahmos who were trying to bring forth a new wave of belief and religiousness, but no one was able to give him the answer he wanted.
He was about to complete his graduation when a Professor in his college told him to go and visit a saint in the temple of Dakshineswar near Calcutta who would be able to answer him.
The young man travelled to the temple of Goddess Kali by the river Ganges. He saw the saint – a picture of Godliness, innocent as a child but learned like the greatest scholar.
He wore simple clothes, lived in a simple room at the temple complex, sang with a divine voice and told everyone who came to him that all religions are equal, that God is one and the same for all beings and the path of truth and devotion were the easiest ways to know Him.
He was the only person to tell the young man that God might appear in front of any person who was truthful, pious and loved everyone equally as he would love God.
Then suddenly one day, when the young man was preparing for his LLB after clearing his B.A. examination, his father died, leaving behind his family and a large debt to be paid. The world darkened around them. The rich family was on the verge of starving. His pious mother tried frantically to save the house from debtors and to save her children from suffering.
When he was nearly losing his faith in God and His kindness, the young man met the saint of Dakshineswar one day. “Can you request the Goddess in the temple to save my mother and brothers from starving?” He asked. “Why don’t you visit the Goddess yourself and beg of her whatever wealth you want? Do it this evening”. The saint said.
On that Tuesday evening sometime in 1885, the young man entered the temple, lit up by oil lamps on the wall. The great Goddess seemed living and smiling. Her ornaments shimmered, her sword glittered, her eyes flashed with divine light, eradicating all that was evil and impure.
When the young man looked at the Goddess, he could not ask from her wealth, a job or anything worldly. It was as if something drove him to say with tears in his eyes – “Mother, bless me with a conscience, devotion and sacrifice. I do not seek any other wealth from thee”.
When he came out of the temple, he saw the saint waiting outside. “Have you sought whatever you wanted from the Mother?” he asked. “No, I could not ask for wealth or a job”. The young man said. “Why? Go again. You wanted a job and money for your family, isn’t it? Go and try again’, the saint said with a strange smile.
Thrice he tried to do as the saint commanded him, thrice he failed to seek what he had planned. At last, the saint said – “Do not worry. Your mother and brothers shall get their daily bread”.
After this incident, the young man moved away from his known world, his college friends and his Brahmo associates. He found a group of bright young students who, like him, came regularly to the saint and was drawn towards his magnetic personality. They, along with many other remarkable men, became his new friends.
After a year, the saint fell sick. He was preparing to leave his worldly body, as he decided to pass over the mettle of his great ideal to the boys who had by now almost severed their family ties, left college and was nursing him day and night, with the young man as their leader. Then one night in August 1886, he called the young man.
“Look, do not ever disbelieve God and his greatness. You have immense energy hidden in you. Go lead your friends in serving humanity, lead them from darkness to light, from suffering to peace. I transfer all the treasures from my sadhana to you today.” A few days later, he left this worldly abode.
The young man and his friends left home and family forever and stayed together in a dilapidated house in the outskirts of Calcutta. They practised rigorous austerities of Yoga which their Master had taught them so meticulously. They mastered the scriptures, the sciences and mathematics. They only had a photograph of the Master which they worshipped every day.
They sought alms in nearby houses, but many people mocked at them, some doubted if they were robbers in disguise. For days together they went without food, but prayed, meditated and read with immense energy. They had all taken their vows of sainthood, had new names and their lives were changed forever. They were sixteen in all.
After a couple of years, they all went out on a pilgrimage of India. Once the sons of wealthy parents, they travelled on foot, going without food for days, meditating in caves and under trees trying to know this great country. The young man we know went to the Himalayas, the holy cities of north India and the deserts of western India. He travelled to the farthest end of the country, to Kanyakumari.
He plunged into the turbulent sea at Rameshwaram and swam to a rock from where he could see the southernmost tip of the Indian mainland. Tears rolled down his face to see his poor country, once glorious and now robbed of her freedom, her prosperity and her glory. He felt as if his mother was staring at him with tearful eyes and chained hands. As the waters encircled the rock and rolled furiously, he sat in deep meditation for a couple of days.
Then, he saw his Master the saint of Dakshineswar walking on the violent waves towards the west, beckoning to follow him. The vision faded and he swam back to the Indian shore.
After seeing the vision, the young man was confused. What was his Master asking him to do? Everywhere he went, his deep knowledge and his powerful personality won many hearts. At last, a group of men, encouraged by the ruler of a small native state, raised some money to send him to America to participate in the World Congress of Religions.
He boarded a ship with only a few books and a small amount of money given to him by his admirers. After a long journey full of strange, new experiences, he reached the United States of America. It was August 1893.
In a rich and vibrant country, the young monk found himself in difficult circumstances. His ocher robes and Indian turban amused people. Hotels were expensive and many refused Asians directly. When he came to know that the Chicago Parliament of Religions did not admit anyone as a delegate without a proper introduction, he lost all hopes. He did not have any recommendation, though his knowledge surpassed the knowledge of all other delegates put together. Thinking of what to do next, he started for Boston, a less expensive city.
On the way to Boston, he met a rich American lady who, impressed by the personality of the Indian monk, invited him to stay at her home. She invited her friends to meet this oriental monk, a curious sight to many of them. However, he met a Professor from Harvard in this house, who, astonished by his knowledge, wrote a letter of recommendation for him to the authorities of the World Parliament of Religions. With this letter, he again started for Chicago with new hopes.
As he alighted in Chicago, he found himself in great difficulty. A severely cold night was fast approaching. No hotel admitted him. No one even spoke to him, taking him to be black. He had also lost the address of the contact the Professor had given him. When snowfall began, the monk, tired and hungry, with little protection from the cold, took refuge in a big packing case beside the railway track. But, did not lose faith in his Master, who had taught him to believe in God’s grace.
Next morning, he began to inquire again about how he could reach the office of the World Congress of Religions. No one helped him, many thinking he was a beggar, as they looked at his weary, tired form. Losing all hopes, he sat down by the roadside.
Suddenly, the main door of a large house opened and a rich, well-dressed lady came to him and asked softly – “Sir, are you a delegate of the Congress of Religions?” When he replied that he came here to participate in that Congress but did not know how to get there, she immediately took him in her house, provided all the help he needed and took him to the venue herself, where they registered him as the only Hindu delegate in the World Parliament of Religions, Chicago.
When he entered the hall, he was astonished by the grandeur. There were many speakers from various groups of Christianity. Asia was represented by only one delegate from the Brahmo religion, one each from Buddhism and Jainism and two from the Theosophist group.
The speakers were seated on a platform, with a great hall below, where a 7000-strong audience listened to each speaker with intense interest. The monk, though a great scholar, had not addressed any big audience before and did not have any prepared speech with him. He looked on as each speaker read their carefully written speech and got applauded. He did not speak in the first session – he only collected his thoughts and ideas. At last, after the lunch break, his name was announced as the speaker from India, representing the Hindu religion.
As the monk took the stage, he saw the vast sea of listeners below. He represented a country without freedom and a religion ancient but unknown to the western world. He remembered Devi Saraswati as he addressed the great audience – “Brothers and Sisters of America…………
Each and every one of the vast audience stood up. Overwhelmed, they gave a standing ovation for two minutes to the unknown, young speaker in saffron robes. When silence was restored, he began again. He spoke in a clear voice about his country, the ideals of Vedanta, the glory of Hinduism. His words rang through the vast hall, sending a new message of brotherhood and self-sacrifice.
A glory of truth and purity showed on his face and his form exuded divine beauty. History was created in Chicago on 11th September 1893, when our young monk introduced India and Hinduism to the world.
The young monk was Swami Vivekananda, the young boy from Calcutta who was known as Narendranath Datta in his early life. His Master, Ramakrishna Paramahansa and his consort the Holy Mother Sri Sarada Devi are hailed by the world today, through the great work for humanity began by Swami Vivekananda and his brother monks, and continued by generations of saints of the Ramakrishna Order.
Written By: Aditi Ghosh, Kolkata. I am forty-eight, working in the Corporate Services department in a Real Estate Group. [email protected]