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Vivekananda: One of India’s leading lights

Swami Vivekananda is often seen as a Hindu religious figure, but he is much more than that. A social reformer who shook the world by his words reverberating what an inclusive and progressive India stands for.

Partha Banerjee
Sun, Feb 9 2014

The views expressed by the blogger and the subsequent comments by readers do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of Prabashi Post

About Partha

Dr. Partha Banerjee grew up in Kolkata and is a New York-based labor educator and human rights activist. He takes special pride in his many writings and talks on cultural identity and erosion. He recorded his new Tagore CD "Aro Ektu Bosho" in 2012.

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Swami Vivekananda died at a rather young age of 39. Yet, he was one of the very few Indians who became well-known globally as a celebrity intellectual. Perhaps, poet Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941), social reformer Raja Ram Mohan Ray (1772-1833) and scientist Sir J. C. Bose (1858-1937) were among the others whose work crossed the Indian borders and reached the Western World.

Remember, all of them were born and died during the two centuries of British occupation of India. Without phenomenal contribution to human civilisation, the tyrant-oppressive colonising powers would not let the names reach Europe or America.

Swami Vivekananda became known to Europe and America primarily through his legendary speech at the World Parliament of Religions, Chicago, 1893. He was only 30- years-old at that time, and could not have made it to the conference without help from a few Western admirers. The conference and his speeches made him so famous that Americans and Europeans invited him to speak to their gatherings over the next few months.

He spoke about Hinduism — from an ecumenical, inclusive point of view. He highlighted the socialist traditions of Hinduism where he chastised a degenerate variety of the religion with its patriarchy, superstitions, and caste system.

Vivekananda’s most famous disciple was Margaret E. Noble (1867-1911), a white Irish woman, who left her name and religion behind to join the Hindu monk in his mission to uplift the poor in India. She assumed the name of Sister Nivedita. ‘Nivedita’ comes from the Sanskrit word Nivedan, which means dedication and offering to the almighty. She truly dedicated her life for her firebrand mentor’s new, revivalist Hinduism.

At the age of 44, Nivedita died in Calcutta. Her health broke down working too hard for India’s slum dwellers and plague victims.

Vivekananda, the young “Socialist Saint” and Sister Nivedita were the two driving forces behind anti-British revolution in India. Elite politicians, media and ‘Limousine Gurus’ have kept it a secret. They have only appropriated him as a religious smokescreen, without showing the fire. Ramakrishna Mission, the religious order Vivekananda founded after the death of his spiritual mentor, even ostracized Sister Nivedita for her political activities.

Establishment has painted Vivekananda as a religious leader without telling us what his religion stood for. He stood for equality, moral upliftment, and justice.

Vivekananda’s brother Bhupendra Nath Datta (1880-1961) was a pioneering socialist revolutionary. He wrote extensively about Vivekananda’s brand of Hinduism, and highlighted the message of egalitarianism.

The new-generation India is oblivious of its glorious history. Swami Vivekananda is one of the best elements of that glory.

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