Thursday, January 12, 2017

Monk in the city

Like many other great personages, this man shed his mortal coils before he turned forty. Born this day in 1863, Vivekananda took "Hinduism" to the centre stage at the Parliament of the World's Religions in Chicago in 1893. It took Vivekananda nearly four years after that speech to return to his native land; he arrived at Colombo on January 15, 1897 and then, traversing the route from Pamban to Madras, arriving in the city on January 20. Though he lectured at Colombo and several other stops on the way, Madras was the focus of this return trip.

The place that he stayed in was then known as Castle Kernan, or alternately the Ice House. It was not meant to be a residence, but then, it was spacious, on the Marina, and could accommodate the hundreds of visitors who wanted to meet this monk seemed to have strengthened their belief in themselves. The Madras Reception Committee said, in its welcome address, "...we come to offer you the love of our hearts and to give expression to our feeling of thankfulness for the services which you, by the grace of God, have been able to render to the great cause of Truth by proclaiming India's ancient and lofty religious ideals." So tumultuous was that reception that Vivekananda's words could not be heard by many of the nearly 10,000 strong crowd that attended. Their consolation was that they could look forward to a few more opportunities to listen to him over the next few days in their city. 

Vivekananda stayed in Madras for nine days. The enthusiasm which he generated was reason enough for an enterprising publisher from the city to put together a volume of his lectures. And somewhere in those lectures, he exhorted the young men of the city to build their strength, for a life of religiosity needed a strong body. He said, "First of all, our young men must be strong. Religion will come afterwards. Be strong, my young friends; that is my advice to you. You will be nearer to Heaven through football than through the study of the Gita." Wonder which of those approaches have gained popularity now!

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