Vivekananda in Chicago, 2018
ROAR of Ravi Dev
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi left India for South Africa in April 1893 and made quite a name for himself after he evolved the technique of “satyagraha”, or peaceful civil disobedience from Hindu principles and took it back to India. But a month later, in that same year another young man left India for Chicago, USA who made as great an impact in his native land, as Gandhi.
His name was Swami Vivekananda, and the name for himself and for Hinduism at the Parliament of Religions at Chicago on Sept 11, 1893 was such that upon his return to India in 1897, he was feted from one end of his country as the epitome of a new, vibrant India, with the tenets of its ancient Sanaatan Dharma at its core. The World Hindu Congress in Chicago commemorated the 125thanniversary of Swami Vivekananda’s speech at the Parliament of Religions, and vowed to spread it worldwide – beyond the 60 countries represented.
Vivekananda’s words instilled in the nationalist and political leaders of the time - of all stripes from the spiritual Aurobindo, to the socialist Nehru - a sense of self-respect and sincere pride for India and its heritage. His vision of a resurgent and rejuvenated India coupled with the lofty, ennobling ideas grounded in Hindu Dharma percolated, agitated and spurred them into action to free their motherland. In 1901 Gandhi, an unknown delegate to the Congress meeting at Calcutta, visited Belur Math to see the great Swami but he was not there. Vivekananda was to pass away the following year at the age of thirty-nine. Twenty years later, Gandhi was to visit again, during his agitation for nascent struggle for independence and confessed that after studying the life of Vivekananda, his love for India “grew a thousand-fold”.
What was this message of Vivekananda that was being commemorated? His opening speech, after his “Sisters and brothers of America” spontaneously received two minutes of standing applause, summarised a position that the world sorely needs today, more than ever. “I am proud to belong to a religion which has taught the world both tolerance and universal acceptance.
We believe not only in universal toleration, but we accept all religions as true. I am proud to belong to a nation which has sheltered the persecuted and the refugees of all religions and all nations of the earth. I am proud to tell you that we have gathered in our bosom the purest remnant of the Israelites, who came to Southern India and took refuge with us in the very year in which their holy temple was shattered to pieces by Roman tyranny. I am proud to belong to the religion which has sheltered and is still fostering the remnant of the grand Zoroastrian nation. I will quote to you, brethren, a few lines from a hymn which I remember to have repeated from my earliest boyhood, which is every day repeated by millions of human beings: "As the different streams having their sources in different paths which men take through different tendencies, various though they appear, crooked or straight, all lead to Thee."
The present convention, which is one of the most august assemblies ever held, is in itself a vindication, a declaration to the world of the wonderful doctrine preached in the Gita: "Whosoever comes to Me, through whatsoever form, I reach him; all men are struggling through paths which in the end lead to me." Sectarianism, bigotry, and its horrible descendant, fanaticism, have long possessed this beautiful earth.
They have filled the earth with violence, drenched it often and often with human blood, destroyed civilization and sent whole nations to despair. Had it not been for these horrible demons, human society would be far more advanced than it is now. But their time is come; and I fervently hope that the bell that tolled this morning in honour of this convention may be the death-knell of all fanaticism, of all persecutions with the sword or with the pen, and of all uncharitable feelings between persons wending their way to the same goal.”
And it was this call for universal acceptance for diversity that resounded at Chicago in Sept 2018.