Nandkumar M Kamat
As the world is preparing to celebrate tomorrow, September 11, the 125 years of Swami Vivekananda’s address at Chicago, India’s highly urbanised and highly hedonist state, Goa, seems to have forgotten Swamiji’s historic connection- a weeklong visit to Margao and Rachol Seminary from October 27, 1892 to November 2.
Swamiji’s very first address echoed some finest principles of Christianity when he offered a vision of future at the end of his address –“Sectarianism, bigotry, and it’s 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 civilisation 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.
“Unfortunately his dream remained unfulfilled as shown by events of September 11, 2001 , the attacks by Al-Qaeda which shook the very country which he had chosen to spread the message of Vedantic philosophy. But a transformation took place in USA within a century as admitted by Jim Burklo, Senior Associate Dean of Religious Life at the University of Southern California in his 2015 speech, “I’m part of the progressive Christian movement. This is an expression of Christianity that takes the Bible seriously because it does not take it literally. That’s old news in the Vedic tradition, where the myths of Hindu scripture have long been read for their spiritual meaning rather than as historical accounts. Progressive Christians are also pluralists. Like most Hindus, we do not believe that our religion is categorically superior to others. But we don’t presume that everyone must accept Jesus as his or her personal saviour to experience salvation. Nor do we assume that the value in other faiths can be seen only by looking at them through a Christian lens.
Our movement owes much to Vivekananda, I believe, though not enough of us recognise his contribution. He initiated a much-needed Hinduisation of Christianity in America. He inspired a holy jealousy in the hearts of many Christians. He kindled in them a yearning for a humbler, kinder form of our faith. A yearning for a more sophisticated kind of Christianity that could continually evolve out of narrow-minded, chauvinistic forms.”
What magic did Swami Vivekananda perform in USA after his famous address? Why Swamiji wanted to study Christianity before planning to visit USA? Why among all the places of Christian theological scholarship in India, he selected colonial Goa under the repressive Portuguese occupation? A strong reason could be his knowledge of Portuguese presence in Bengal from AD 1518. Perhaps he knew about the work of Jesuit priests Antonio Vaz and Pedro Dias to propagate Christianity in Bengal in AD 1576. Perhaps he knew that boys from Bengal were sent since AD 1598 to Saint Paul College, at Old Goa for teaching them Christianity. Perhaps he was curious to visit Goa after reading about the brutal massacre of 13 persons in Margao in the event known as ‘Elecao Sangrenta de 21 Setembro de 1890’.
We don’t know when he made the decision, but he must have been camping in Belgaum under British India pondering about his plan before he mentioned it to his friend Dr Shirgaonkar about the desire to study the Christian religion by visiting Goa. Goans owe a lot to the family of Subrai Naik of Comba, Margao who did everything possible to take good care of Swamiji by providing a special room, arranging meetings with local scholars, personally accompanying Swamiji to Rachol Seminary, acting as interpreter in Portuguese for his interaction at the seminary and planning his visits to temples in Ponda, churches at Old Goa and organisation of a tour of Panaji town.
Swamiji had already witnessed the work of Protestant missionaries in British India. So his Goa visit appears to be a very careful decision to experience Christianity under another colonial power. We don’t know the precise details of studies done by Swamiji in the library of the Rachol seminary but undoubtedly the confidence which Swamiji got on September 11, 1893 before an unfamiliar but largely Christian audience of 7,000 Americans was developed during his short visit to Goa.
Rachol seminary deserves to be an interreligious pilgrimage point because it has played a definite role in history to mould the thoughts of Swamiji before his departure to USA. Accompanied by Subrai Naik (who later renounced material life and became Swami Subramanyan and teerth) to the seminary in a horse drawn carriage he must have seen the multicultural and peaceful ethos of Goa- and how the two communities intermingled with ease in Margao and Rachol.
He was impressed by literacy of the Goan Christians and wondered about the backwardness of the Hindus. This must have further educated him about the goals of his Hindu reformist mission through vehicle of Vedanta. Although no transcripts of his conversations with well-known lawyer in Margao J P Alvares are available, it is known that without any specific request from Swamiji, Alvares himself took the lead to arrange his visit to Rachol seminary.
In Portuguese Goa under a Roman Catholic monarchy this was exceptional. The visit of a Hindu Vedantic monk to the seminary graced by the likes of Thomas Stephens and Father Agnelo must have come as a pleasant surprise to the then rector. The country is indebted to this Jesuit Catholic seminary for carefully preserving memories of Swamiji’s visit.
The Jesuits could easily see the role Swamiji was planning to play on world platform. By opening their doors to Swami Vivekananda, through Rachol seminary, Christianity and Christians gained an ally, a friend for the larger goal of welfare of the whole humanity. It is unusual for a Catholic seminary to permanently display a portrait of a Hindu monk in its library. But we see it at Rachol seminary. It tells us – even if the hardcore “Hindutva” forces have conveniently forgotten to learn from the teachings of Swamiji- at Rachol seminary the lamp of eternal spiritual truth is glowing and Swamiji’s spirit continues to shine. (concluded)