‘The same divinity dwells in the entire creation’

Swami Vivekananda spurred the old NRIs into engaging in any kind of business like that of selling Indian goods in the United States rather than cajole the white masters to provide them with menial jobs

Books Reviewed:            

  1. A Monk from Bombay - Swami Vivekananda’s historic voyage from Mumbai to Chicago by Radha Viswanathan & Sudheendra Kulkarni, 62 pages and
  2. Swami Vivekananda in Mumbai and Maharashtra by Sudheendra Kulkarni, 180 pages.

Twin publications of the Observer Research Foundation Mumbai. No price mentioned.


These two slim books are put out to mark the 120th anniversary of Swami Vivekananda’s iconic voyage that commenced from here from Bombay on 31 May 1893 to participate in the Parliament of World Religions that took place in Chicago in September of that year.  Besides the year 2013 also happens to be the Swami’s 150th birth anniversary for he was born on 12 January 1863.


 The present day Mumbaikars and the powers that be need to be awakened to this great man’s presence in Bombay four times in the course of his short lifetime – first and second visits in April and June of 1892, next in the in July 1893 to take the ship to Chicago and last in 1900 after his return.


Mumbai in particular as also Maharashtra have done absolutely nothing either to remember Swami Vivekananda to perpetuate his historic stay not only at this metropolis but in the Maharashtra’s hinterland at Pune, Mahabaleshwar and Kolhapur. The books recount that in Belgaum the small cottage where he stayed for nine days has been preserved as a monument within the main complex of the Ramakrishna Math.  In Goa, where he deepened his understanding of Christianity after intensive interaction with Catholic scholars and priests, the Archaeological Survey of India has undertaken the repair, restoration and conservation of the four hundred year old Catholic Seminary at Raitul/Rachol where he spent three days in its  the various libraries days 15th-17th October, 1892 studying history of Christianity.  Later, in a letter he praised Panjim for its “vibrancy and cleanliness, most Christians here are literate whereas a majority of the Hindus are illiterate.”


The authors very rightly go to point out that we “are proverbially poor in preserving history and historical knowledge. Mumbai itself has forgotten its proud association with the life and legacy of Swami Vivekananda,  one of the greatest spiritual lights and social reformer produced by modern India, a  remarkable Indian who was the first to put Indian  on the world map.”


Swami Vivekananda had reached Bombay in the last week of July 1892 following arduous journeys across the length and breadth of north India mostly on foot.  Because of his deep interest in rock-cut, while in Bombay he visited the hundred plus caves at Kanheri considered to be the largest of the Buddhist caves in western India.  The deep impression that they made on him stirred him deeply, he later spoke at length to his disciples at the Thousand Island Park, USA. He told them that he had great dreams – “One day, we shall have a beautiful place in India with ocean on three sides. There  be small caves to accommodate two each and between each cave will be a pool of water for bathing and pipes carrying drinking water will run up to each one. There will be a great hall with carved pillars for the Assembly Hall and a more elaborate Chaitya Hall for worship. Oh! It will be a luxury.”


 “What can one say about the extreme apathy of the Maharashtra government that it has not deemed it fit to put up even a simple plaque at Kanheri Caves in the famous Borivili National Park which Swami Vivekananda visited in 1893? The beauty of the forests there and the meditative ambience of the ancient Buddhist caves so mesmerised him to express his desire to establish his spiritual monastery there after his return from America.”


 No thought has ever been given to his extremely eloquent and strong views on Shivaji –“It is a pity that in our schools, history of India written by foreigners is taught to our boys. The foreign writers of the Mahratta history can never shake off their bias nor understand the real character and greatness and the inner motives of the actions of Shivaji. There are many Mahratta bhakars or chroniclers who have written about him, but true to their ancient puranic ideal, looked upon him as a God born to relieve his devotees from the oppressions of Mahomedan fanaticism and re-establish Dharma. If our young men with patriot feelings for history of their motherland were to make researches I in finding out and translating these manuscripts, much truer light may be thrown on the greatness of the doings of Shivaji to make valuable addition to our knowledge of the real history of India.”      


Also little has been done to  commemorate the memories of Swamiji’s encounters 1892 and 1901 at Poona with Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak, then a fiery journalist editor of newspaper Kesari, later to be known as the greatest leader of India’s freedom movement long before the Gandhian era, described by the British as the Father of Indian Unrest for his Swaraj is my birthright and I will have it;  dramatist, novelist, poet and historian Na. Chi Kelkar, Hari Narayan Apte a towering  literary figure, the renowned social reformer, author and one of the founders of the Indian National Congress Justice Mahadev Govind Ranade, author Prof. Mahadev Gole


 The Swami met with Jamshedji Tata a pioneer of India’s swadeshi industrialisation when both boarded the same ship Empress of India at Yokohama in Japan to sail to Vancouver at Canada.  In retrospect is was not just a chance meeting but it carried the force what psychologist Jung terms  ‘synchronicity’ or ‘the experience of two or more causally unrelated events being observed as happening together’.  The great visionary Jamshedji Nussewanji Tata saw in him a spiritual leader that modern India. The Swami blessed him by saying “How wonderful it would be if we combine the scientific and technological achievements of the West with the asceticism and humanism of India!” He shared with the Swami his plans to build steel industry to accelerate India’s industrial development.  The book reproduces the letter to “Dear Swami Vivekananda” that Jamshedji wrote on 2d November 1898.


On June 4 June 1891, he reached Khetri where he spent five months with Raja Ajit Singh who was deeply committed to Indian philosophy and culture This Raja was the first to give him the name “Vivekananda”, before that he had assumed different names during his nation wide travels.  To protect him from the heat of Rajasthan, the Raja gave him his distinctive sartorial look of wearing the turban in Rajasthani style making it a part of his attire thereafter. It was here that Vivekananda learnt a lesson in Advaita philosophy from a dancing girl.  He had initially declined an invitation to a song and dance performance from his host, the Raja, saying that it would be improper and forbidden for a sanyasi to be present at such events.  The girl, who had heard a lot about him, on hearing of this comment expressed her sorrow by rendering melodiously   the famous Surdas song – “O Lord, look not upon my evil qualities! Thy name O Lord is same-sightedness. One piece of iron is in the image in the temple and another is the knife in the hand of the butcher; but when they touch the philosopher’s stone, both alike turn to gold… One drop of water is the sacred Yamuna another is foul in the ditch by the roadside; but when they fall into the Ganga,   both alike become holy. Thy name, O Lord, is same-sightedness.” 


 This completely overwhelmed the Swami to say that the same Divinity   dwells in the high and low, the rich and the poor in the entire creation. After taking a seat in the audience with the Raja, he admitted–“That incident removed the scales from my eyes. Seeing that all are indeed the manifestations of the One, I could no longer condemn anybody.”  The most significant reason that Khetri occupies in his life is that Raja Ajit Singh became the principal sponsor for his visit to Chicago. In a letter of 11 October 1897 to Munshi Jagmohanlal, he wrote “-Between the Raja of Khetri and I, there are closest ties of love. Certain men are born in certain periods to perform certain actions in combination. Ajit Singh and I are two such souls born to help each other in a big work for the good of mankind...We are as supplement and complement.”   Ajit Singh even got the lower berth voyage ticket the Swami had bought for himself for a first class ticket and also arranged to constantly send dollars to the Swami keeping it a secret and not wanting to publicise it in any way.


In August 1892 while at Baroda Swami Vivekananda met with the renowned painter Raja Ravi Verma at his studio.  When he pointed out certain flaws in his paintings, the painter responded that none had detected them until then adding “You must have been an artist at some point in your life.” The response was –“By the grace of God and my Guru, Saraswati (the Goddess of Knowledge) has been generous towards me.” With his deep understanding of the art of painting in the course of discussions on the New Style of Indian Art,   when some one questioned the shortcoming in the paintings of what was then thought of as the greatest living artist, his host during his stay at Bombay    corrected “The Swamiji is not only a spiritual scholar but an expert in music and other arts.” Later   the Swami himself wrote in his book East and West   that Ravi Verma’s paintings had traces of imitation of western art. He urged Indian artists to develop their own indigenous art traditions in the modern context.


He also travelled to Mysore, Cochin and Madras in the five years 1888-1893 before he boarded from the Bombay Port the SS Peninsular at the age of 29 years on his voyage to Chicago.  He journeyed to Europe between 1895 and 1896 which included three visits to England.


The books provide, perhaps for the first time, a wealth of information that is unknown so far coming as it does out of the many of his intimate glimpses and profound thoughts from the pens of those with whom stayed and talked at length on one-on-one terms during   the course of his many travels from Alwar, Jaipur, Ajmer, Khetri, Kathiawar, Ahmedabad, Junagadh, Porbunder, Dwarka, Palitana, Baroda, Bombay, Poona, Kolhapur. They  goon to add in an entirely different perspective to all  that the Ramakrishna Mission and a galaxy of international intellectuals like Romain Rolland, Max Mueller, Paul Deussen, J.J.Goodwin, Nikola Tesla, John D. Rockefellar, Sister Nivedita, Badrinath Chaturvedi, Rev. L.P.Mercer, V.Brodrov, Philip Goldberg and Harriot Monroe have written in the many volumes on his life and works.


In his letters from abroad to his friends and disciples back in India Swamiji spurred them into engaging in any kind of business like that of selling Indian goods in the United states rather than cajole the white masters to provide them with  menial jobs.


 The authors also draw attention to three strange coincidences on 9/11 spanning three centuries:

(a) 1893 Swami Vivekananda’s first address at the World Parliament of Religions at Chicago, 

(b) 1906 Mohandas Gandhi, adopts path of Satyagraha in South Africa,   

(c ) 2001 The terror strikes at the Twin Towers of World Trade Centre, New York.

8 years ago
OMG ! The same divinity dwells in Wendy Doniger too !!!
Narendra Doshi
8 years ago
Dear Nageshji,
Thanks for your write-up. It was refreshing with many unknown information.
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