This article is a complete write up about Swami Vivekananda about his life and contributions to the society. 12th January being his birth anniversary, we will attempt to describe about him in this cyclopedic article.
Swami Vivekananda was born to Narendranath Datta on 12 January 1863. He was born in Calcutta when Indian was a part of the British Raj. Through his life, he was a follower of the 19th century, Indian mystic Ramakrishna.
Through his life of 39 years, Swami Vivekananda was a key person in introducing Indian philosophies to the western world, especially Vedas and Yoga.
Swami Vivekananda was the founder of the Ramakrishna Mission and the Ramakrishna Math. Through his life, he played a major role in the revival of Hinduism in India and contributed to the concept of nationalism in colonial India.
Table of Contents
The literary works contributed by Swami Vivekananda are in the fields of Raja Yoga, Karma Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, Jnana Yoga, My Master and the Lectures from Colombo to Almora.
Early life of Swami Vivekananda
Vivekananda was born to Narendranath Datta and Bhubaneshwari Devi at their ancestral home at 3, Gourmohan Mukherjee Street in Calcutta, which was then the capital of British India. On that day, it was the eve of Makar Sankranti. Their family was a traditional Bengali Kayastha clan and he was one of the nine siblings.
Vivekananda’s Great grandfather, Durgacharan Datta was a Sanskrit and Persian scholar. He left the family at the age of twenty five to be a monk. His grandfather, Vishwanath Datta was a attorney in the High court of Calcutta, had a rational attitude.
Vivekananda’s father was interested in spiritualism at a young age and would meditate for Shiva, Rama, Sita and Mahavir Hanuman.
Bhubaneswari Devi was a woman of religious temperament and a devout housewife.
Vivekananda was enrolled in the Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar’s Metropolitan Institution in the year 1871. He studied in the institution till 1877. With a short break from 1877 to 1879, where the family had moved to Raipur, they moved back to Calcutta and he became the only student to receive first division marks in the Presidency College entrance exam.
As a student, Vivekananda was a avid reader of books from different subjects like philosophy, religion, history, social science, art and literature. He also read a lot about the Vedas, Upanishads, Bhagawad Gita, Ramayana, Mahabharata and the Puranas. He trained in Indian Classical Music.
He also took active part in physical exercises, sports, Western logic, Western philosophy and the European history at the General Assembly’s Institution. The General Assembly Institution is now known as the Scottish Church College.
He also studied works by David Hume, Immanuel Kant, Johann Gottlieb Fichte, Baruch Spinoza, Georg W. F. Hegel, Arthur Schopenhauer, Auguste Comte, John Stuart Mill and Charles Darwin and was fascinated by the Evolutionism of Herbert Spencer, translated the book Education by Spencer into Bengali.
Being with Ramakrishna
In the year 1881, Vivekananda first met Ramakrishna. After Vivekananda’s father passed away in 1884, he became more spiritually focussed with Ramakrishna. The initial meetings of Vivekananda with Ramakrishna were with non acceptance and thoughts of being mere figments of imagination and hallucinations.
Facing bankruptcy, Vivekananda wanted to find a solution about how he could help his once well to do but now poor family. He tried to get work but in vain.
He once requested Ramakrishna to pray to goddess Kali for the family’s welfare. Ramakrishna suggested him to go to the temple and pray himself. He prayed thrice, but did not find anything and after which he prayed for true knowledge and devotion.
Last days of Ramakrishna
1885 witnessed Ramakrishna developing throat cancer after which he was transferred to Calcutta and then to Cossipore. Vivekananda, along with other disciples took care of him. Vivekananda received the ochre robes from Ramakrishna which thus formed the first monastic order.
Further, after the demise of Ramakrishna, many of the admirers and devotees stopped following and the support also reduced. The existence was at stake and many of the disciples left and many went back to Grihastha family oriented life.
With the remaining disciples, Vivekananda found a dilapidated house in Baranagar and established the first Ramakrishna Math. Together they started to meditate and perform religious austerities. They would get up every day at 3 am and get absorbed in japa and meditation. This brought in them a strong spirit of detachment from the worldly existence.
Further in December 1886, through an invitation to Antpur village, and on the eve of Christmas, Vivekananda and eight other disciples took vow to live their lives as their master lived. Vivekananda took name as Swami Vivekananda. Thereafter he continued his Parivrajaka travel in India through the years 1888 – 93.
Travel through India
With sole possessions of a Kamandalu (Water pot), staff and 2 books, Bhagavad Gita and The Imitation of Christ. Through his travels he visited many centers of learning and acquainting himself with diverse religious traditions and social patterns. He lived on bhiksha and travelled on foot and sometimes by railway if sponsored by his devotees. Swami Vivekananda got to meet people from all walks of life – scholars, dewans, rajas, Hindus, Muslims, Christians and even low caste workers and government workers.
Traveling out of India
31st May, 1893, Swami Vivekananda traveled out of India to Japan, China, Canada and then to the United States of America when he took part in the Parliament of Religion with the support of Brahmo Samaj representative Protapchandra Mozoombar. He was classified as the Swami as a representative of the Hindu monastic order.
The beginning of his speech was “Sisters and Brothers of America”, after which the crowd of 7000 people gave a standing ovation for 2 minutes.
Back to India
After Europe, Swami Vivekananda arrived to Colombo in British Ceylon on 15th January, 1897. He gave his speech: India, the Holy Land. He was received with warm welcome and from where he travelled from Colombo to Pamban, Rameswaram, Ramnad, Madurai, Kumbakonam and Madras to deliver lectures.
While in the West, Vivekananda spoke about India’s great spiritual heritage; in India, he repeatedly addressed social issues: uplifting the people, eliminating the caste system, promoting science and industrialisation, addressing widespread poverty and ending colonial rule.
Second West Journey
Swami Vivekananda left for the West in the year 1899 along with his sister Nivedita and Swami Turiyananda. This time in the United States, he established Vedanta Societies in San Francisco and New York and founded the shanti ashrama in California. He then went to Paris for the Congress of Religions in 1900.
The last years
In the year 1901, Swami Vivekananda experienced deterioration of health and was not able to attend the Congress of Religions. He made pilgrimages to Bodhgaya and Varanasi. He was suffering from Asthma, Diabetes and chronic Insomnia. On the 4th July, 1902, Swami Vivekananda woke early and went to Belur Math chapel and meditated for 3 hours. Then taught Shukla-Yajur-Veda, sanskrit grammar and philosophy of yoga to the students. Later discussed about a planned Vedic college at the Ramakrishna Math. At 7 pm, Swami Vivekananda went to his room asking not to be disturbed and while meditating, took his last breaths.
Disciples mentioned that he attained mahasamadhi. He was cremated on sandalwood funeral pyre, along the bank of river Ganga in Belur.
Published works by Swami Vivekananda
- Published in his lifetime
- Sangeet Kalpataru (1887, with Vaishnav Charan Basak)
- Karma Yoga (1896)
- Raja Yoga (1896 [1899 edition])
- Vedanta Philosophy: An address before the Graduate Philosophical Society (1896)
- Lectures from Colombo to Almora (1897)
- Bartaman Bharat (Bengali) (March 1899), Udbodhan
- My Master (1901), The Baker and Taylor Company, New York
- Vedânta philosophy: lectures on Jnâna Yoga (1902) Vedânta Society, New York OCLC 919769260
- Published posthumously
Here a list of selected books by Vivekananda that were published after his death (1902)
- Addresses on Bhakti Yoga
- Bhakti Yoga
- The East and the West (1909)
- Inspired Talks (1909)
- Narada Bhakti Sutras – translation
- Para Bhakti or Supreme Devotion
- Practical Vedanta
- Speeches and writings of Swami Vivekananda; a comprehensive collection
- Complete Works: a collection of his writings, lectures and discourses in a set of nine volumes