Tryst with the West

Print edition : February 08, 2013

Discovered in Hollywood Center in April 2002. Researchers say that it was probably taken in San Francisco in 1900. Ida Ansell, a devotee also known as Ujjvala, is thought to be the source of the photograph. Photo: czxc zc

December 1899, Pasadena, California. Enjoying a picnic. Photo: axAXax

Kate Sanborn, who befriended him while he was on his way from Chicago to Boston and invited him home. Photo: dvsdvsdv

Prof. J.H. Wright, who wrote a letter of introduction to the Parliament of Religions. Photo: scascas

J.J. Goodwin, the young English stenographer who efficiently recorded his lectures. Photo: dfvsdvsd

Margaret Noble, better known in India as Sister Nivedita. He met her in the U.K. in 1895. Photo: eaesfaef

ON MAY 31, 1893, A VIRTUALLY UNKNOWN, 30-YEAR-OLD INDIAN monk set sail for the United States. He had never been out of his own country, but he had now embarked on a long voyage to an unfamiliar destination. Through Colombo, Penang, Singapore, Hong Kong, Osaka, Kyoto, Tokyo, to Yokohama he sailed, and thence, crossing the Pacific Ocean, to Vancouver in British Columbia, Canada. From there he would travel, via Boston, to Chicago, the venue of the Columbian Exposition and the World Parliament of Religions. He scarcely knew then that he had less than 10 years to live; yet in this short span, he would not only become world-famous but alter the destiny of India.

Swami Vivekananda had formed the intention of going to the Parliament of Religions towards the end of his extensive travels in India in the previous five years. The turning point was his realisation in Kanyakumari in December 1892 that he was meant to work some marvel for the reawakening of his benighted country. In Madras, where he went next, he announced his intention of going to Chicago to participate in the Parliament. His devotees, especially a band of young men led by Alasinga Perumal, began to collect funds for the trip. Later, he got a pledge of support from the Raja of Khetri. Vivekananda saw a vision in which he was walking on water and also received permission from Sarada Ma, Sri Ramakrishna’s consort, to go West with his Master’s message.

The story of Vivekananda’s participation in the Parliament of Religions is the stuff legends are made of. In the West, for the first time in a totally different culture, he found himself practically penniless and friendless, without even an invitation to the Parliament or a letter of introduction. When he visited the Columbian Exposition, of which the Parliament was a part, he was both bewildered and impressed by the immense material and technological achievements of the West. How far behind was India!

It was the end of July 1893; he found out that the Parliament had been postponed to September. In his strange ochre robes, he was teased and stared at. Hotels in Chicago were expensive. Moreover, taken for a “Negro”, he also found accommodation difficult to secure. Soon he ran through his meagre means. Tired and depressed, he wondered whether he would have to beat an ignominious retreat. Someone told him that it was cheaper to live in Boston. En route, in the train, his regal bearing and strange appearance attracted the curiosity of a wealthy lady, Kate Sanborn. She invited Vivekananda to Breezy Meadows, her home in Boston.

As Kate Sanborn’s guest, he met many people in and around Boston. For most of them, he was an item of curiosity, the first Easterner and “Hindu” they had ever met. The image of India that they had was not very flattering, derived as it was mostly from Christian missionaries. Vivekananda realised that one of his primary responsibilities would be to show a different India to the West, one that actually had something to offer to the modern world. In Boston, he also met Professor J.H. Wright of Harvard University, who agreed to write a letter of introduction so that Vivekananda could be a delegate. Professor Wright even bought him a train ticket to Chicago.

The train arrived in Chicago late in the evening. Vivekananda had misplaced some of the addresses of the committee members in charge of the delegates. He spent the night in a freight wagon in the rail yard. The next morning, he walked towards the Lake Shore Drive, looking to make his way to the Parliament. Hungry, he asked for food as an Indian sanyasi is wont to at the doors of the wealthy mansions lining the street. Because he was unshaven and wore soiled clothes, he was taken to be a vagabond and rudely turned away.

Finally, exhausted and famished, he sat on a sidewalk. A kindly lady saw him from her window, supposed him to be a delegate at the Parliament and sent for him. She was Mrs George W. Hale, who not only offered victuals and shelter but presented him to Dr J.H. Barrows, the President of the Parliament. Vivekananda, once again, had proof that providence was watching over him. The Hales became the Swami’s staunch and lifelong devotees.

The World’s Parliament of Religions, which was inaugurated on September 11, 1893, was a grand event. Part of the Columbian Exposition to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the discovery of America, the Parliament was perhaps meant to show the West’s supremacy in matters of religion and spirit as the exposition was to demonstrate the West’s material and technological superiority. Yet, here was an unprecedented opportunity for people of various faiths and cultures to talk to each other. There were many delegates not only from all over the world, but also from the Indian subcontinent: not just Christians, but Muslims, Hindus, Brahmos, Theosophists, Buddhists, Jains, and Parsis participated.

Vivekananda seemed unprepared and out of place in this august assembly of notables and dignitaries. Yet, when he stood up to speak, with the simple greeting “Sisters and Brothers of America”, it is said that he was greeted with thunderous applause. He continued:

It fills my heart with joy unspeakable to rise in response to the warm and cordial welcome which you have given us. I thank you in the name of the most ancient order of monks in the world. I thank you in the name of the mother of religions, and I thank you in the name of the millions and millions of Hindu people of all classes and sects. I am proud to belong to a religion which has taught the world both tolerance and universal acceptance. I am proud to belong to a religion which has sheltered the persecuted and the refugees of all religions and all nations on earth ( Complete Works, Volume 1, page 3).

While the other delegates had tried to emphasise the strength and uniqueness of their own creeds, Vivekananda struck a different chord. He spoke of the tolerance and universality of India’s spiritual traditions. He denounced narrow-mindedness and fanaticism. He seemed to represent not only Hinduism but all faiths of the world. Vivekananda had succeeded in conveying in a modern idiom the great teachings of his Master to an unfamiliar Western audience.

In his final address he declared:

The Christian is not to become a Hindu or a Buddhist, nor is a Hindu or a Buddhist to become a Christian. But each must assimilate the spirit of the others and yet preserve his individuality and grow according to his own law of growth. If the Parliament of Religions has shown anything to the world, it is this: It has proved to the world that holiness, purity, and charity are not the exclusive possessions of any church in the world, and that every system has produced men and women of the most exalted character. In the face of this evidence, if anybody dreams of the exclusive survival of his own religion and the destruction of the others, I pity him from the bottom of my heart… ( Complete Works, Volume 1, page 24).

Vivekananda’s intervention in the Parliament may be considered prophetic, not just for the influence of India on the West but also for the future of dialogue between the West and the East. Though his impact in the Parliament has often been exaggerated, there is no question that his debut was outstanding and that he made a great impression. The New York Herald called him “Undoubtedly the greatest figure in the Parliament of Religions” and added, “After hearing him, we feel foolish to send missionaries to this learned nation” (Tejasananda 58).

After the Parliament, Vivekananda became somewhat of a celebrity. A lecture bureau engaged him to tour the country. On his part, he needed the money to free himself from some of his patrons and to fund his activities in India. He toured and spoke tirelessly, subjecting himself to a punishing schedule. Later, he terminated the services of the bureau because it was exploiting him. From 1893 to 1896, Vivekananda travelled widely in the U.S. as a speaker and preacher. While the American Renaissance had already created a favourable climate for Indian ideas, especially in New England, it was Vivekananda who laid the foundations for Vedanata in the U.S. and then in Britain. Besides Chicago and Boston, he spoke in Iowa City, Des Moines, Memphis, Indianapolis, Minneapolis, Detroit, Buffalo, Hartford, Cambridge, New York, Baltimore and Washington. He was an effective speaker but frequently outspoken because he abhorred cant and hypocrisy.

Of course, Vivekananda’s message to the West was not always welcomed or well received. On the contrary, it was often conveyed in the most hostile of circumstances. After his initial success, Vivekananda was regularly attacked and reviled by various Christian churches. Letters were written to his hosts and well-wishers, tarnishing his character, attempting to stop him from speaking. Vivekananda, with his outspokenness, exposed the fanaticism and falsehood of his detractors. Despite his great reverence for Jesus Christ, on whom he delivered some memorable talks, he was unsparing of the double standards and narrow-mindedness of some missionaries. For instance, in a lecture given in Detroit on February 21, 1894, he said:

One thing I would tell you, and I do not mean any unkind criticism. You train and educate and clothe and pay men to do what? To come over to my country to curse and abuse all my forefathers, my religion, and everything. They walk near a temple and say, “You idolaters, you will go to hell.” But they dare not do that to the Mohammedans of India; the sword would be out. But the Hindu is too mild; he smiles and passes on, and says, “Let the fools talk.” That is the attitude. And then you who train men to abuse and criticise, if I just touch you with the least bit of criticism, with the kindest of purpose, you shrink and cry, “Don't touch us; we are Americans. We criticise all the people in the world, curse them and abuse them, say anything; but do not touch us; we are sensitive plants”… ( Complete Works, Volume 8, pages 211-212).

Vivekananda experienced U.S. society at first hand. Though he personally encountered racial discrimination, he also appreciated the freedom and opportunity given to all sections of society, especially women. This made him all the more outraged at the ill-treatment and oppression of Indian women and lower castes in India. Vivekananda admired material progress and science. In his letters to India, he wrote enthusiastically about several aspects of American life, especially its democratic spirit, cleanliness, order, hygiene, efficiency and prosperity.

Towards the end of 1894, Vivekananda’s work began to assume a new depth and seriousness. He had already established the Vedanta Society in New York as a non-sectarian organisation devoted to teaching Vedanta. In early 1895, he took up lodgings in New York City and began giving intensive courses on the yogas. These would later be revised into his first major publications. Raja Yoga, for example, came out in June 1895. A translation and commentary on Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, it attracted the attention of William James and Leo Tolstoy.

Exhausted with his unceasing labours, Vivekananda retired for seven weeks to Miss Dutcher’s cottage at the Thousand Island Park on the St Lawrence river. He also initiated two American disciples, Marie Louise and Leon Landsberg, into sanyas, administering to them the vows of poverty and chastity. During his stay here, Vivekananda had many spiritual and mystical experiences. He also wrote some poems, taught intensely, and was at his most inspired.

In July 1895, Vivekananda sailed for Europe. He was invited by Henrietta Muller and E.T. Sturdy to England, and by Francis H. Leggett to Paris. He arrived in Paris in August 1895. He wrote enthusiastic letters describing that city and his experiences there. Later, he would also learn some French. From Paris, he went to London, where he again began to work earnestly. His British reception was quieter and less critical than the one he received in France. The British upper classes and the press liked him. He also met Margaret E. Noble, the Irishwoman who, as Sister Nivedita, became one of his foremost disciples later.

In December, Vivekananda returned to the U.S. Once again, he started lecturing intensely. The talks he gave were published as Karma Yoga. J.J. Goodwin, a professional stenographer, now joined him. To him we owe accurate transcripts of Vivekananda’s subsequent lectures in the U.S., Europe and India. In 1896, Vivekananda recommenced his lectures, speaking at the Madison Square Garden, New York City. These lectures were published as Bhakti Yoga. Thereafter, he spoke in Detroit and at Harvard University. He also reinforced the work of the Vedanta Society in New York. His aim was to rationalise and universalise the truths of the Vedanta, thereby supplying the need for a non-sectarian world practice of spirituality. A careful examination of the record shows that from December 6, 1895, to February 1896 he gave 70 classes, 10 public lectures, interviews and initiations, wrote letters, had an extensive correspondence, and wrote and edited his own lectures (Chattopadhyaya, 1993, page 40).

In May 1896, Vivekananda went again to England to meet the famous Indologist Max Mueller at Oxford. He also found new disciples in Captain and Mrs Sevier. The Seviers paid for the establishment of the Advaita Ashram at Mayavati, on the foothills of the Himalayas. Vivekananda toured Europe in August 1896. He visited Geneva, Mer-de-Glace, Montreux, Chillon, Chamounix, St. Bernard, Lucerne, Rigi, Zermatt and Schaffhausen. He loved the Alps and even wanted to climb Mont Blanc. He met Paul Deussen, Professor of Philosophy at Kiel and renowned Orientalist. With him, Vivekananda visited Heidelberg, Coblenz, Cologne and Berlin. He also travelled to Amsterdam before returning to London. In December 1896, he travelled overland through Dover, Calais, Mont Cenis, Milan, Piza and Florence, heading to Naples, from where he set sail for India.

Vivekananda had not forgotten India during these years abroad. He was forming the plans for the Math and Mission that he would establish. His letters were filled with instructions on the daily routine of monks and plans for a bigger headquarters for the order, organised and managed on modern, efficient lines. He wanted to create a generation of selfless men who would have the courage to serve their less fortunate Indian brothers and sisters. He asked of them the strength of a Kshatriya, the warrior, and the learning and luminosity of the Brahmin, the scholar. But this combination was to be transformed into a different kind of Shudra dharma or work of service of the masses.

Barely two years after his Indian sojourn, in June 1899, Vivekananda sailed a second time to the West. From Calcutta (Kolkata), his steamship, Golconda, went to Madras, then to Colombo, Aden, Naples and Marseilles, and arrived in London at the end of July. Swami Turiyananda and Nivedita accompanied Vivekananda. Fifteen days later, they set sail for New York. Vivekananda visited the Leggetts in their country home, Ridgely Manor, in the Catskill Mountains in upstate New York. After returning to New York City, he lectured there, and then went to the Midwest. He stopped at Chicago, eventually reached Los Angeles on the west coast. In California, Vivekananda visited Oakland, San Franscisco and Alameda. A centre was started in San Franscisco. Vivekananda received a gift of 160 acres (64 hectares) of land near Mt. Hamilton, California. After this successful visit, he returned to the east coast, stopping in Chicago and Detroit. Back in New York City, he gave lectures at the Vedanta Society. Later he also visited Detroit for a week.

In July 1900, he set sail for Paris to participate in the Congress of the History of Religions. Here he not only gave talks but argued with French Catholics and German Orientalists. He met J.C. Bose (the great scientist), Patrick Geddes (an academic), Pere Hyacinthe (a former monk), Hiram Maxim (an inventor), Sarah Bernhardt (the celebrated actress), Jules Bois (a writer), and Emma Calve (the famous soprano operatic singer). He also visited Brittany and Mt. S. Michel. He travelled through Vienna, Hungary, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey and Greece and reached Cairo. Here, he and his companions mistakenly wandered into the sex district, where they were jeered and accosted. But later, the sex workers came out into the street, knelt before Vivekananda and kissed the hem of his robe. This recalls an earlier episode when after an initial reaction, he returned to listen to a courtesan’s song in the palace of a Rajput prince during his wandering days. From Cairo, Vivekananda took a boat to Bombay (Mumbai).

From Bombay, taking a train to Calcutta, Vivekananda arrived at Belur Math on December 9, 1900. Captain Sevier had just passed away at Mayavati. On December 11 he wrote to Miss MacLeod: “Thus two great Englishmen [the other was J.J. Goodwin] gave up their lives for us—us, the Hindus. This is martyrdom, if anything is.” Vivekananda travelled to Mayavati to see Mrs Sevier. He returned to Belur Math in late January 1901. Two months later, in March 1901, he took his mother on a pilgrimage to East Bengal. The party reached Dhaka in March, where he delivered public lectures. He then went to Chandranath, Chittagong and to Kamakhya near Guwahati in Assam. After returning to Belur, he spent many quiet months in the monastery in his large room.

In 1902, many important visitors met Vivekananda including Okakura Tenzin from Japan. With Okakura, Vivekananda went to Varanasi and then to Bodh Gaya. In Varanasi, the Maharaja offered him a handsome donation, which was used to start the Ramakrishna Home of Service. Vivekananda’s health was failing. He had symptoms of diabetes, which he had inherited, and of dropsy. His feet were swollen and he could hardly close his eyes to sleep. Increasingly, he began to free himself of responsibilities, concentrating more and more on meditation and prayer. Always passionate in his beliefs, he now refused even to comment on day-to-day questions. On May 15, 1902, in his last letter to Josephine Macleod, he said, “A great idea of quiet has come upon me. I am going to retire for good—no more work for me” (cited in Chattopadhyay, 282).

In the last days of his life, everything he did was unhurried, calm, and deliberate. Towards the end of June 1902, he asked for a Bengali almanac, which he studied intently. Three days before his passing away, he told Swami Premananda where he wished his body to be cremated. He fasted on ekadashi, the 11th day of the lunar month; on that day, he himself served Sister Nivedita her meal. On July 4, 1902, which was a Friday, he spent many hours in meditation. He sang movingly a devotional song to Kali, ate a hearty lunch, taught Sanskrit grammar for three hours in the afternoon, took a walk with Premananda, and had a long conversation with his companions. He said, “India is immortal if she persists in her search for God. But if she goes in for politics and social conflict, she will die.” At seven in the evening, he retired to his room, asking not to be disturbed. He meditated for an hour, then asked a disciple to fan him as he lay down. After another hour, his hands trembled, he breathed deeply once, and then gave up his body. It is widely believed that he chose the day and time of this own death and that it was no accident that this happened to be the American Independence Day.

His death left his brother monks somewhat nonplussed. They did not even have the presence of mind to take one last photograph of their dear brother and leader.

From a bare outline of his journeys to the West, extraordinary as these were, it is impossible to form a notion of just how significant Vivekananda’s influence or impact was. For these, we must rely on other accounts. For instance, when Mrs Allan sees him for the first time, she says: “[He] seemed to me so big, as though he towered above ordinary mortals. The people on the street looked like pygmies and he had such a majestic presence that people stepped aside to let him pass by” (quoted in Sil, 22). Or, to cite another example, Josephine MacLeod, one of his most faithful and long-standing admirers, recorded: “The thing that held me in Swamiji is his unlimitedness. I could never touch the bottom—or top—or sides. The amazing size of him!” (quoted in Sil, 23). As Romain Rolland in his prelude to The Life of Vivekananda and the Universal Gospel puts it: “His pre-eminent characteristic was kingliness. He was a born king and nobody ever came near him either in India or America without paying homage to his majesty.” Recalling his impact at the Parliament in Chicago, Annie Besant said:

“A striking figure, clad in yellow and orange, shining like the sun of India in the midst of the heavy atmosphere of Chicago, a lion-head, piercing eyes, mobile lips, movement swift and fast—such was my first impression of Swami Vivekananda…. Monk, they called him, not unwarrantably, but warrior-monk he was, and the first impression was the warrior rather than of the monk…. Purposeful, virile, strong, he stood out, a man among men, able to hold his own. … ‘That man a heathen!’ said one, as he came out of the great Hall, ‘and we send missionaries to his people! It would be more fitting that they should send missionaries to us’” (quoted in Jyotirmayananda, 689).

As some of these opinions affirm, Vivekananda’s greatest achievements include the reconstruction of Hinduism, the change of its image in the West, the starting of a movement of social and cultural regeneration, all of which were directly linked to the birth of Indian nationalism, which was taking place at that time. The key to all these contributions was Vivekananda’s modernisation of Hinduism. Indeed, the Hinduism that he spoke about and expounded at the Parliament of Religions and, later, all over America was a new version, mostly of his own invention, of an ancient tradition. What he learned from Ramakrishna he tried to interpret in the language of modernity that he had learned as a young, English-educated Calcutta man.

Instead of a pagan, superstitious, idolatrous, and barbarous set of rituals, customs and practices, which is how Hinduism had been by and large perceived, not just by missionaries but by a large section of the educated middle classes of India, Vivekananda turned it into a rational, universal philosophy, freed from dogma and authority. He did this by making Vedanta the spine of new Hinduism, bhakti its heart, and the yogas its sinews. For the West, what he brought was indeed original and promising. As Ninian Smart says: “The universalist message of Swami Vivekananda and of his Master, Ramakrishna, genuinely represents a new departure in world religions—the attempt to make the highest form of Hinduism a world faith” (quoted in Jyotirmayananda 182).

He thus reinterpreted Hinduism not only to the West but to India. Essentially, his message was two-fold: when he faced the West, he was a teacher and practitioner of Indian spirituality; when he faced his fellow countrymen and women, he was a social reformer. As Tapan Raychaudhuri observes, “Vivekananda had a two-fold agenda which he had time to pursue for less than a decade: to preach a universalist spiritual faith based on the life of his master which he saw as the ultimate realisation of the Vedantic truth, and secondly, to create a mass consciousness through service and education” (16).

Vivekananda was quite scathing in his attack on the Indian society of his time. One of his most radical theses was that India had declined because of its neglect of women. “We are horrible sinners,” he says in his letter of March 19, 1894, to Swami Ramakrishnananda, “and our degradation is due to our calling women ‘despicable worms’, ‘gateways to hell’, and so forth…” ( Complete Works, 6, page 253). In the same letter he goes on to say, “Do you think our religion is worth the name? Ours is only Don’t-touchism, only ‘Touch me not’, ‘Touch me not…’” (ibid). In his letter to Alasinga Perumal, he is even more categorical:

So long as the millions live in hunger and ignorance, I hold every man a traitor who, having been educated at their expense, pays not the least heed to them! I call those men who strut about in their finery, having got all their money by grinding the poor, wretches, so long as they do not do anything for those two hundred millions who are now no better than hungry savages! ( Complete Works, 5, page 58).

From statements such as these, it would appear that Vivekananda had a complete programme for the regeneration of India. In his speech in Ramnad on his return to India in early 1897, he clearly spelt out the dangers before his fellow Indians:

There are two great obstacles on our path in India, the Scylla of old orthodoxy and the Charybdis of modern European civilisation. Of these two, I vote for the old orthodoxy, and not for the Europeanised system; for the old orthodox man may be ignorant, he may be crude, but he is a man, he has a faith, he has strength, he stands on his own feet; while the Europeanised man has no back bone, he is a mass of heterogeneous ideas picked up at random from every source — and these ideas are unassimilated, undigested, unharmonised. He does not stand on his own feet, and his head is turning round and round ( Complete Works, 3, page 151).

Indeed, if Vivekananda had not died young, he may have come into more direct conflict with the British authorities. In a personal conversation on November 16, 2003, Swami Prabhananda, the then secretary of the Ramakrishna Mission Institute of Culture, said that there was sufficient evidence to show that he was under surveillance of the British for several years. His aim of decolonising India would have met with severe repression from the British authorities. Even a century later, however, the great task of freeing Indian minds from subservience to the West has not been fully effected.

One of the reasons that Vivekananda continues to appeal to so many diverse kinds of people is that he was so radical and unconventional. In his letter of November 1, 1896, to Mary Hale, for example, he said, “I am a socialist not because I think it is a perfect system, but half a loaf is better than no bread. The other systems have been tried and found wanting. Let this one be tried” ( Complete Works, 6, page 381). Some have used such statements to invent a new category of thought called “Vedantic Socialism”, attributing it to Vivekananda. Indeed, there have been several attempts, many of them serious and at considerable length, to argue that Vivekananda was a socialist (see, for instance, Rao, Das Gupta, and Biswas). The latest of these efforts is the booklet Vivekananda’s Message, edited by A.B. Bardhan, a veteran of the Communist Party of India (CPI), who claims to rescue Swamiji from fundamentalists and right-wing Hindus (Roy 9).

I would even argue that Vivekananda was perhaps India’s first global citizen. No doubt, there were others such as Raja Rammohun Roy before him who had a similar breadth of outlook and cosmopolitan tendencies; indeed, Rammohun lived the last months of his life in England. But no Indian before Vivekananda had lived and travelled so extensively in the West, especially in the U.S. He was thus bicultural in a very contemporary way—he could live with equal ease in two cultures and three continents. He was thus a crossover figure, much ahead of his times, but a precursor to many others who followed his tracks later.

Mary Louise Burke’s meticulous and exhaustive account of his travels in the West gives us a picture of a man who was both worldly and deeply spiritual in a complex way. For instance, during his stay at Ridgely Manor, he tried to play golf and greatly enjoyed chocolate ice cream (Burke IV, pages 120-127). Generally, he ate well, even smoked and drank, but always maintained his two vows of poverty and chastity. This is illustrated in Deussen’s account as Vivekananda’s “room-mate” during their travels from Bremen to London in September 1896. “You seem to be a queer sort of saint,” Deussen said to him, “You eat well, you drink well, you smoke all day, and you deprive yourself of nothing.” He replied in Sanskrit: “I observe my vows.” “And what consists of your vows?” “They require of me simply Kama Kanchana Viraha, to renounce sex and gold” (Burke IV, pages 283-288). Some critics have used such accounts to offer exaggerated accounts of Vivekananda’s inner and outer conflicts. Notably, Sil describes Vivekananda’s life as “the striving of an ambitious, idealistic, impulsive, and imaginative militant monk who envisioned, rather naively, a global spiritualisation in the manner of a Napoleonic conquest” (25).

Fulfilling his own prophecy, Vivekananda gave up his body before he reached the age of 40. The (ongoing) story of the imagining of modern India, of which he was a key agent, is a still unfinished if gripping narrative. The life and works of Swami Vivekananda are central to this story for those who wish to understand it. But a man like Vivekananda belongs not only to India but also to the whole world. As he himself proclaimed, “I shall not cease to work. I shall inspire men everywhere, until the world shall know that it is one with God” ( Complete Works 5: 414). More than 100 years later that promise continues to be kept.

Makarand R. Paranjape is a Professor of English at Jawaharlal Nehru University’s Centre for English at the School of Language, Literature and Culture Studies.


Burke, Mary Louise (1983-86): Swami Vivekananda in the West: New Discoveries, six volumes (Calcutta: Advaita Ashrama).

Chattopadhyaya, Rajagopal (1999): Swami Vivekananda in India: A Corrective Biography (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass).

Das Gupta, R.K. (1995): Swami Vivekananda’s Vedantic Socialism (Calcutta).

Eastern and Western Disciples (1979-81): The Life of Swami Vivekananda, 1913 (Calcutta: Advaita Ashrama).

Jyotirmayananda, Swami (1993): Vivekananda: A Comprehensive Study (Madras: Swami Jyotirmayananda).

Radice, William, ed. (1998): Swami Vivekananda and the Modernization of Hinduism (New Delhi: Oxford University Press).

Rolland, Romain (1947): The Life of Vivekananda and the Universal Gospel (Mayavati: Advaita Ashrama).

Rao, V.K.R.V. (1979): Swami Vivekananda: The Prophet of Indian Socialism (New Delhi: Ministry of Information and Broadcasting).

Raychaudhuri, Tapan (1998): “Swami Vivekananda’s construction of Hinduism” in William Radice (ed.), Swami Vivekananda and the Modernization of Hinduism (New Delhi: Oxford University Press), pp 1-16.

Roy, Bhaskar (March 31, 2003): “The Left turns to Vivekananda”, The Times of India, page 9.

Sen, Amiya P. (2000): Swami Vivekananda (New Delhi: Oxford University Press).

Sil, Narasingha P. (1997): Swami Vivekananda: A Reassessment (Selinsgrove: Susquehanna University Press).

Tejasananda, Swami (1995): A Short Life of Swami Vivekananda (Kolkata: Advaita Ashrama).

Vivekananda, Swami (2003): The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, nine volumes (Calcutta: Advaita Ashrama).

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