Swami Vivekananda and Gujarat
On 12th January, 2015,the world and India in particular will be celebrating the 151st birth anniversary of our legendary scholar, saint and spiritual leader Swami Vivekananda, famous the world over as the “Messenger of Indian Wisdom to the Western World”. This year assumes a very special significance with Narendra Damodardas Modi as the new Prime Minister of India whose single greatest source of inspiration was Swamiji and who, by a strange coincidence, proudly bears the name of Swamiji “Narendra”. On 2nd October,2014,on the occasion of Mahatma Gandhi’s 145th Birth Anniversary, whilst Modi was in Washington, the American President Barack Obama, himself a great fan of both Swamiji and Gandhi, presented Modi a rare 1200 page book entitled “The World’s Congress of Religions” documenting Swamiji’s historic speeches at the Parliament of World Religions at the Chicago Art Institute in 1893 with an accompanying note saying – “This gift celebrates Swami Vivekananda’s valuable contribution as a bridge between India and US and honors our two nations’ shared traditions of pluralism and diversity.”
“Swami Vivekananda saw a dream – Bharat Mata will one day be a leader of the world.We have to make the dream true.” ……… Narendra Modi
Modi, who had in the days of his youth unsuccessfully tried to become a monk at the Belur Math (the Headquarters of the Ramakrishna Math and the Ramakrishna Mission in Howrah on the banks of the river Hoogly which was founded by Swamiji and where his mortal remains were consigned to the flames in 1902), subsequently tweeted that he would cherish the gift forever. My mind is irresistibly drawn to Mahatma Gandhi’s historic visit to Belur Math in 1921, on the occasion of Swamiji’s 58th birth anniversary, when he paid a most glorious tribute to Swamiji,” I have come here to pay my homage and respect to the revered memory of Swami Vivekananda, whose birthday is being celebrated today. I have gone through his works very thoroughly, and after having gone through them, the love that I had for my country became a thousand-fold.”
It was upon the hallowed soil of Gujarat that Swamiji discovered the true spiritual greatness of India. From November, 1891 when he entered Ahmedabad, to 26th April 1892 when he left Baroda for Bombay, he travelled throughout the length and breadth of Gujarat as a “parivrajaka” or “homeless wandering monk in the quest of truth” carrying only a kamandala (water pot), staff and his two favorite books viz. Bhagavad Gita and The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis, the 15th Century German Catholic scholar. It was during this period of wandering in Gujarat that Swamiji’s whole outlook to life underwent a steady metamorphosis and was aptly recorded by one of his earliest biographers, ”It was as though all India were pressing its life through the channels of his personality. He passed through awful upheaval. It might have been at Porbandar that this spirit took birth.” The realization that he had a mission to accomplish in Gujarat came during his visit to the coastal city of Porbandar, the birthplace of Mahatma Gandhi and Sudama,the strong and energetic cowherd friend of Lord Krishna. He told the Maharaja of Porbandar Sri Vikamathji that, “I have a mission to perform. But I cannot clearly see at present, how I shall begin or where it is to be!” In Porbandar, he told his brother disciple Swami Trigunatitananda, “Sarada, now I have started to understand to some extent the Master’s words. Really I have so much power in me, I feel as though I could revolutionize the world!” Thereafter, in the cell of Sri Sharada Peeth Math (the world’s largest independent women’s monastic order) at Dwarka, the City of Lord Krishna, he perceived a most powerful light – and that was the bright and luminescent future of India.
“Swami Vivekananda was one of those persons, who belonged to our ancient culture, knit the country together and inspired a new life into the people and awake the country from slumber. His voice was not momentary, although it was suited for the occasion, and rose from the heart of India. During the brief period of his life, not only did he win the hearts of the people of India, but also of the entire world.” ………….. Jawaharlal Nehru
During his visit to the historic Jain temples of Palitana (the world’s only mountain city that has more than 900 temples and is the most sacred place of pilgrimage of the Jain community), he saw India as one huge temple, enraptured by chapels and sanctuaries everywhere. He perceived the glory of Mahabharata, the longest epic poem ever written. Whilst beholding the ruins of the magnificent temple of Somnath, which was destroyed and rebuilt several times, Swamiji felt deep inside him the glory of India’s past.
He came in close contact with the great Sanscrit scholar Pandit Shankar Pandurang, the Administrator of Porbandar, and began appreciating the teachings of Sanatana Dharma and the need to preach it to the whole wide world. As he studied the Vedas tirelessly with Pandit Pandurang in his awesome library, he became convinced that “India was truly the Master of Religions, the fountain-head of spiritually and the cradle of civilization.” Swamiji also assiduously learnt French as advised by Panditji who said,” It will be of great use to you, Swamiji”. He penned a letter in French to his brother-disciples at Alambazar and took them completely by surprise. Pandit Pandurang told Swamiji,”I am afraid you cannot do much in this country. Few will appreciate you here. You should go to the West. Surely you can throw a great light on Western culture by preaching the ‘Sanatan Dharma.’” Thereafter, by a superb stroke of fate, Swamiji heard for the first time about the Parliament of World Religions in Chicago that was slated to be held in September,1893 and which changed the entire course of his life. Significantly in Gujarat, both his mental and physical prowess got a new spurt of divine energy.
His fellow disciple Swami Akhandananda wrote in his memoirs, “I at last reached Mandvi. I saw that there was a great change in his appearance.His presence illumined the whole room.” Here in Gujarat, after being rescued by the Thakore Saheb of Limbdi from the awful clutches of the treacherous Sadhus, Swamiji was embued with a new life. Swamiji came in close contact with some of the most prominent princes, diwans, scholars and eminent personalities of Gujarat. All of them became his great friends and fans and some of them even became his devoted disciples.
At Junagadh at the foot of the Girnar hills and famous for the iconic early 19th Century Shri Swaminarayan Temple, Swamiji met the magnanimous Ayurvedic physician Jhandu Bhatt of Jamnagar about whom he said, “I had been to many places and have seen many beautiful persons, but nowhere have I seen a generous man like Jhandu Bhatt Vithalji.”. While travelling through the Great Rann of Kutch, Swamiji had a miraculous experience of actually witnessing a mirage with his own eyes.
In his lecture delivered in New York entitled “The Real and the Apparent Man”, Swamiji described the phenomenon, “One day I was very thirsty and wanted to have a drink of water, so I started to go to one of these clear, beautiful lakes, and as I approached, it vanished. And with a flash it came to my brain, ‘This is the mirage about which I have read all my life’. The next morning I began my march. There was again the lake, but with it came also the idea that it was the mirage and not a true lake.
So is it with this universe. We are all travelling in this mirage of the world day after day, month after month, year after year, not knowing that it is a mirage. One day it will break up, but it will come back again; the body has to remain under the power of past Karma, and so the mirage will come back.” With the princes and diwans in Gujarat, Swamiji not only discussed philosophy and religion, but also various important economic and political problems. He gave them valuable practical advice and even went to the extent of drafting diplomatic letters for them.
Though Swamiji scrupulously stayed away from politics, his close association with the princes and diwans in Gujarat created considerable waves and attracted the attention of the ever watchful eyes of the British Intelligence! Thus, the ceaseless wandering of Swamiji in Gujarat was the most significant period of his whole spiritual life.
Supreme Court of India
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