More than 65 years after Independence and with ‘official’ history being constantly reworked, it is both fashionable and obligatory to brush aside the inspirational importance of Swami Vivekananda to earlier generations. He was a sanyasi in saffron robes who was unabashedly committed to the propagation of spiritualism and national regeneration and who, at the same time, did not shy away from his self-identity as a proud Hindu. That such a man greatly inspired India’s passage to freedom may seem at odds with the puerile perception that contemporary Indian nationhood is based solely on universalist, secular and republican ideals. Thus, a complex past has become unwanted baggage that, if not discarded, is best left in storage. Unfortunately, what we were happens to be markedly different from what the champions of a spurious cosmopolitan modernity believe we are and, more important, should be.
To the left-liberal elites that have a stranglehold on the citadels of intellectual power, the ‘idea of India’ is governed by the broad acceptance of the Nehruvian consensus and adherence to what might loosely be described as ‘constitutional patriotism’. Anything which doesn’t fit into this neat scheme is deemed to be in conflict with the national ethos and, as happened to Vande Mataram, quietly relegated to the ante-room. Alternatively, awkward facets of an infuriatingly complex inheritance are sanitised, bowdlerised and, like balls of plasticine, made to fit any shape.
“The intelligentsia of my country”, Nirad C. Chaudhuri had written slyly in his Autobiography Of An Unknown Indian, “have always had the faith—which certainly is justified by the secular changes in our political existence—that they are indispensable as mercenaries to everybody who rules India.”
In 1993, just after the demolition of the Babri structure in Ayodhya, the then human resources development minister Arjun Singh had attached considerable importance to celebrating the centenary of Swami Vivekananda’s speech to the Parliament of Religions in Chicago. The focus then was on projecting the ‘orange monk’ as the epitome of inclusive religion, tolerance and egalitarianism—in fact, a man who anticipated the ‘enlightened’ secularism and even socialism of the Nehruvian order. The underlying agenda was to deny an aggressive BJP and Sangh brotherhood a monopoly claim over Hindu symbols. The project also had the blessings of ‘progressive’ historians and even the tacit nod of a Ramakrishna Mission which was engaged in a bizarre battle to claim ‘minority’ status by declaring itself to be outside the Hindu fold. The Supreme Court, mercifully, rejected that claim in 1995.
Two decades later, the enthusiasm for appropriating Swami Vivekananda for the good fight against the dark forces of bigotry appears to have lost momentum. Last year, as the evocative photographs in Outlook (January 21, 2013) reminded us, Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi did something characteristically audacious: to coincide with the 150th anniversary of Swamiji’s birth, he packaged his pre-election tour of the state as the Vivekananda Yatra. Nor was this entirely a gimmick based on the fact that the Bengali monk and the Gujarati CM shared a first name. As someone who has been inspired by Vivekananda since his youth—he even sought to join the Ramakrishna Mission as a monk—Modi’s symbolism was not disingenuous. It was centred on broadly the same assumptions that made Vivekananda the inspiration for generations of Indian nationalists, particularly prior to 1947.
Secondly, Vivekananda was clear that what distinguished India from the materialist West was its attachment to a Hindu ethos grounded in spiritualism. Yet, he did not reject this-worldliness out of hand. In his study Europe Reconsidered (1988), historian Tapan Raychaudhuri argued that Vivekananda saw the West “as an admirable manifestation of rajas, manly vigour, a necessary step to higher things. Indians sunk in tamas, pure inertia and all that is brutish in man, had to emulate that quality first”. Vivekananda addressed a question that preoccupied middle-class India at the turn of the 20th century: what facet of the West should India accept or reject? Raychaudhuri suggested that Vivekananda “proposed a fair exchange of ideas, a synthesis based on national dignity”.
Finally, Vivekananda’s priorities for national regeneration were determined by the prevailing conditions in India, particularly the grim realities of political subordination. Despite his avowed defence of the principles of the Vedic caste system—one of the few things he had in common with Mahatma Gandhi—Vivekananda was unequivocal in his denunciation of the corrupted institution, particularly the rules of ritual purity that made Brahmins the oppressor and Shudras the victim. He clearly saw caste as a major impediment to the forging of a purposeful, united nation.
Added to this was his impatience with the physical inadequacies of a subject people and his overweening desire to contribute to the emergence of a muscular Hinduism which would not any more countenance servitude and humiliation. It would be fair to say that the lessons he drew from the Bhagvad Gita were radically different from those drawn by Gandhi.
Vivekananda was essentially a product of his times. He belonged to a period when the early infatuation with westernisation was yielding to a more nuanced understanding of the wider world that blended with the grim realities of India as a subject nation. Moreover, in his short life—he died at the age of 39—he spent five active years outside India fostering an understanding of the Hindu heritage of his country. Predictably, his attention was focused on projecting India’s innate strength rather than highlighting its many shortcomings. How he would have evolved had he lived to witness the political turbulence that accompanied the Partition of Bengal in 1905 is a matter of conjecture. Would he have retreated into a personal quest within the monastic order he created? Or would he have travelled in a more politically active direction? It is significant that most of his contemporaries believed his message was relevant in shaping public life.
It is tempting to dissociate Vivekananda from his context and see him through the prism of contemporary politics. This is precisely the underlying tone of Outlook’s sensational description of him as ‘The Hindu Supremacist’ that implicitly identifies him with a latter-day form of Hindu Fascism. This approach is in line with other recent interventions that have projected Vivekananda as the epitome of a regressive machismo.
Fortuitously, this attempted vilification of a towering symbol of Hindu pride may have unintended consequences. That Vivekananda was much more than yet another in the long line of eminent Hindu spiritualists preoccupied with personal salvation is obvious. By linking his life and teachings with the evolution of the political Hindu, his detractors may have unwittingly helped in locating him in the larger debate on the shape and future of an emerging India. After all, the liberal elite’s disavowal of everything ‘Hindu’ is not universally shared in India.
I used to think of Swapan Dasgupta as the uncharacteristically honest BJP ideologue who would get hot under the collar trying to defend in TV debates the numerous shenanigans of his colleagues. His essay on Swami Vivekananda (The Poor and Afflicted..., Jan 28) revealed yet another facet of him. In a beautifully crafted piece, he has demolished the pretensions of Jyotirmaya Sharma without using a single harsh word or recriminatory gesture. The quiet, empathic depth of his piece reveals the shallowness of our “secular” brigade.
Shyamal Mukherji, Mumbai
The behaviour of Hindu zealots is so predictable: one book excerpt from Jyotirmaya Sharma angers them; a rejoinder from Swapan Dasgupta leaves them elated.
M.K. Chaitanya, Singapore
Let our “seculars” get a couple of things into their thick heads: nothing diminishes Swami Vivekananda; and they don’t get to decide who will seek inspiration from him.
Novonil Guha, on e-mail
Dasgupta writes: “After all, the liberal elite’s disavowal of everything ‘Hindu’ is not universally shared in India.” Many thanks for this matter-of-fact reminder.
R. Raghavan, Chennai
Dasgupta has tried to usurp Swami Vivekananda for the Hindutva camp. But there’s no question: the Swami was a “uniter” like Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, not a “divider” like Veer Savarkar, M.A. Jinnah or Narendra Modi.
Anwaar, Dallas, US
Swami Vivekananda’s greatest contribution was in presenting Hinduism and Hindu thought in a way the West could comprehend and relate to.
Ashish Kumar, London
Thank you to all those who have taken the trouble to read the article and share their thoughts. Out of the arguments made here, there are two that perhaps need answering. So here they go.
1. The first part of the article compares outcomes (relative percentages of population of the religions concerned) irrespective of the process that led to those outcomes - whether immigration, relatively faster population growth or conversions. This was for two reasons. One, to put the figure of 2.3 per cent in "numerical perspective", as the article itself explained. The second reason was that outcomes are ultimately what the crux of debate is about. The rest of the article in any case dealt with process - or conversions in this case, from both a contemporary and historical perspective.
2. Some commenters have tried to cast doubts on the reliability of Census 2001. Those who do this should bear in mind that Census 2001 was conducted by a BJP government. Considering the extreme importance that BJP gives to this issue, it would be reasonable to expect that IF it had perceived a problem with the methodology that was distorting the numbers, it would have fixed it. As the article mentioned, BJP or BJP-supported governments have been in power for 10 of the last 40 years, or about a quarter of the time, and the only reasonable conclusion one can arrive at is that any misreporting of numbers, real or perceived, would be marginal and hence, not of importance.
To all other arguments made, my answer is the following: Please read the article again, with particular focus on the quotations of Vivekananda and Monier Williams, and the history of the missionary efforts in Bengal and their outcome.
The theory of aryan supremacy(Indian Version) is not so benign as it is made out to be. Their is clear link between the german version and Indian Version. There is enough proof of a Indian version providing ideological succor to neo-nazi terrorists of Europe and encouraging Nazi occult. there is book called "Hitler's Priestess: Savitri Devi, the Hindu-Aryan Myth and Neo-Nazism" about this character Savitri Devi Mukherji.
@Arun Kumar & @Santosh Gairola:
Here's another one - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Io50RICsFAg
"Vivekananda's lectures needs philosophic bent of mind to understand"
Sir, you are quoting names of Godmans but some of our good old freinds are not going to change there mindset as they are paid for that only...
Came across meeting of Swami Vivekanand and Nikolas Tesla..
Swami Vivekananda met Nikola Tesla-- the super genius , in Chicago in 1903, and introduced him to the ZPF, or akasha ( ether ).--the all pervasive sky of quantum energy of the universe.
Vivekananda told Tesla that classical science must factor human consciousness in, or be stuck in the mud for ever. He introduced him to the wisdom of ancient Vedas , which considers the universe and consciousness as fractal Sri Yantra geometry. Much later Tesla used to see brilliant blinding flashes of this TOE geometry .
The meeting was arranged by French actress Sarah Benhardt. Rudyard Kipling ( born in India ) and Mark Twain also wanted the meeting regarding mind over matter, cosmic free energy, akashik ether field to happen. They felt the planet deserved this union of classical science and quantum consciousness.
After the meeting , which forged Tesla's professional destiny -- Tesla started using Sanskrit words like Akasha for ether ( Zero point field )and Prana in his writings. He developed a penchant for Copper Lotas ( which Himalayan Yogis use ) and became a vegetarian.
Tesla's personal destiny was also affected. He had dozens of the most beautiful , intelligent and rich women vying for his love. Tesla decided to be celebate like Vivekananda , to harness and focus his mind to science.
Must Watch Vedios...
you mean using asphalt to paint the coal?
san diego, United States
You dont require that also as it is not easily available in market try to get something which is easily available....already media and memebers of Josuha Project 2 are involved in doing this..
Vivekananda's lectures are not for masses. He was not a God man type of being or some one like a proselytizing priest. Vivekananda's lectures needs philosophic bent of mind to understand. And for at least some lectures you need some IQ to understand the core meaning. If you ever read lectures of Swami Rama, Pramahamsa Yogananda or some of the present Gurus like Sri Sri Ravishankar and others you would easily understand the difference. Even the lectures of Jiddu Krishna Murthy, or Acharya Rajneesh ( Osho) can not be equal to Vivekananda's lectures.
And yet you would quickly notice that Vivekananda was only giving intellectual, philosopical basis to what already his Guru Ramakrishna Paramahamsa told in crisp, rustic words of an uneducated person stressing with some fables. Vivekananda was simply elucidating a philosophic thought of Rama Krishna. This you would realize only if you read "Gospel of Sri Rama Krishna" or "Sri Ramakrishna Kathamritha".
For example Vivekananda gave a two hour lecture to tell that “Advaitha “ and “Dwaitha “ are one and the same. His Guru told a story of a salt doll going to Ocean and enquiring about its depth. Ocean tells the salt doll to dive and see itself. The moment salt doll goes in to Sea , there “IT” was no more. It was as simple as that.
But for those frogs in the well neither Guru’s story nor the “shishyas” (disciple) intellectual lecture to drive home the same point would be totally “foreign”. You need to know as to what is the concept of soul as different from God and the argument that both are same. Otherwise you would only be happy to pull out some paragraphs and be happy about writing a parody.
It is damn easy even for a stupid to pull out some paragraphs out of his lectures and show it in a different mirror. This is what is like spit and run with some terrible hatred.
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