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125 Years Of Swami Vivekananda’s Speech – I

 Nandkumar M Kamat


BEFORE reading articles in this series to commemorate 125th anniversary of Swami Vivekananda’s famous Chicago address, readers are requested to read the contents of his full work freely available from this link On September 11, 1893, five words spoken in an address of just five minutes by a young Hindu missionary in front of seven thousand Americans changed history. His name was announced four times, but he waited till the lunch was over spending time from the back row studying the other speakers and assessing the audience. After arrival in Chicago on July 30, 1893, this stranger to America had already delivered 11 speeches. Finally, in the post-lunch session he was nudged to speak. The French delegate G Bonet-Maury was sitting next to him. He said – “Gentleman, it’s your turn now. Don’t wait. Go and speak, otherwise there is no guarantee that they would take your name again.”

Responding to the welcome for the historic World’s Parliament of Religions, Chicago, Swami Vivekananda said spontaneously – “sisters and brothers of America”. These words had such a profound, magical impact that he got a standing ovation with a sound of applause reverberating in the great hall for a few minutes. Commenting on this event later, the compere of the session Dr John H Barrows, the Chicago Presbyterian wrote – “it was as if an electric current passed through the audience at that moment. There was ear-deafening applause which continued for whole two minutes”.

Recalling the state of his mind during this event Swami Vivekananda wrote from Chicago on November 2 to his disciple in Madras Alasinga Perumal -“On the morning of the opening of the Parliament, we all assembled in a building called the Art Palace, where one huge, and other smaller temporary halls were erected for the sittings of the Parliament, men from all nations were there. From India were Mazoomdar of the Brahmo Samaj and Nagarkar of Bombay, Mr Gandhi representing the Jains, and Mr Chakravarti representing Theosophy with Mrs Annie Besant. Of these men, Mazoomdar and I were of course old friends, and Chakravarti knew me by name. There was a grand procession, and we were all marshaled on to the platform. Imagine a hall below and a huge gallery above packed with six or seven thousand men and women representing the best culture of the country, and on the platform learned men of all nations on the earth. And I who never spoke in public in my life to address this august assemblage!! It was opened in great form with music and ceremony and speeches; then the delegated were introduced one by one and they stepped up and spoke! Of course, my heart was fluttering, and my tongue nearly dried up; I was so nervous, and could not venture to speak in the morning. Mazoomdar made a nice speech – Chakravarti a nicer one, and they were much applauded. They were all prepared and came with ready-made speeches. I was a fool and had none, but bowed down to Devi Saraswati and stepped up, and Dr Barrows introduced me. I made a short speech,…and when it was finished, I sat down almost exhausted with emotion.”

125 years later as I study all the available material on this event, I can’t help but to admire the powerful “spiritual magnetism” of Swami Vivekananda. He took USA by storm. It was a spiritual Vedantic hurricane. He showed why India never invaded foreign lands but won them with ideas and thoughts. The Americans had never seen such a personality from orient before. The Vivekananda Vedanta Society of Chicago provides us with this archived material – “the news report in the Chicago Record of September 11, 1893 contains the first known mention of Swamiji as a delegate to the Parliament. The report reads “Four leaders of religious thought were sitting in Dr Barrow’s parlor — the Jain, George Condin…Swami Vivekananda, the learned Brahman Hindoo, and Dr John H Barrows, the Chicago Presbyterian. The Hindoo is of smooth countenance. His rather fleshy face is bright and intelligent. He wears an orange turban and a robe of the same color. His English is very good. ‘I have no home,’ said he. ‘It is very gratifying to us to be recognised in this Parliament, which may have such an important bearing on the religious history of the world.”

After Swamiji’s address, the local journal Chicago advocate reported – “In certain respects, the most fascinating personality was the Brahmin monk, Suami [sic] Vivekananda with his flowing orange robe, saffron turban, smooth-shaven, shapely handsome face, large, dark subtle penetrating eyes, and with the air of one being only-pleased with the consciousness of being easily master of his situation..”

Readers of this column can read the text of his entire address here and bring it to the attention of every student and youth around them – After this historic address Swamiji again spoke on September 15 on ‘Why We Disagree’. On September 19, he presented his widely discussed ‘Paper on Hinduism’. On September 20, he spoke again at the end on ‘Religion not the crying need of India.’ On September 26, he gave a talk on ‘Buddhism, the fulfilment of Hinduism’. On September 22, in Hall VII, he spoke at a special session organised by Mrs Potter Palmer of the Woman’s Branch of the Auxiliary, on ‘Women in Oriental Religion’. On September 23, he spoke before a session of the Universal Religious Unity Congress. On September 24, he spoke on ‘Love of God’.

Within a week Swamiji had such an impact that – “Chicago Inter Ocean of September 23 carried a small report of his accomplishment -” “In the Scientific Section yesterday morning, Swami Vivekananda spoke on Orthodox Hinduism. Hall 3 was crowded to overflowing and hundreds of questions were asked by auditors and answered by the great Sannyasi with wonderful skill and lucidity. At the close of the session he was thronged with eager questioners who begged him to give a semi-public lecture somewhere about his religion. He said that he already had the project under consideration.””

On September 27, the final day of the Parliament, Swami Vivekananda gave his final address. In the next article we shall see how his visit to Goa in 1892 and especially to Margao and Seminary of Rachol ( which fondly remembers his visit, helped him in USA. (to be continued)

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