Swami Vivekananda’s First Hosts in Bombay – Part 2

Written by VHouse Admin. Posted in Life and Works

Source from An article by Swami Shuddharupananda which appeared in Prabuddha Bharata – January 2005

Swamiji’s Visit to Kanheri Caves     Chabildas Lalubhai  

It is highly unlikely that Swamiji and his host would have returned to the Napeon Sea Road bungalow when the latter had a big, spacious bungalow in Borivili. Moreover, Swamiji was no casual visitor. He would have minutely observed and studied each and every cave. He had a deep interest in rockcut architecture. These caves, numbering more than 100, are among the largest Buddhist caves in western India. Swamiji must have been fascinated to see Caves 1, 2 and 3 for their massive pillars, sculpture and stupa. Perhaps the chaitya hall in Cave 3 and the assembly hall in Cave 10 gave him the idea that the natmandir (prayer hall) of the future Ramakrishna temple should have such a design concept. Swami Vijnananandaji incorporated this and other ideas of Swamiji in his drawings and plan of the Ramakrishna temple at Belur Math, which was completed in 1938. So it is reasonable to presume that Swamiji might have returned to the caves more than once to study them in depth, because all their details do not lend themselves to serious study in a single visit. They made such a deep impression on him that many years after he had visited the caves, Swamiji spoke of them to his disciples who had gathered at Thousand Island Park, USA. The wealth of details Swamiji studied at the Kanheri caves is evident from Sister Christine’s reminiscences of him:     

While he was at Thousand Islands he made plans for future, not only for his disciples in India and the work there, but also for those of his followers in America, who were hoping sometime to go to India. At that time we thought these plans were only daydreams. One day he said, ‘We shall have a beautiful place in India, on an island with the ocean on three sides. There will be small caves which will accommodate two each, and between each cave there will be a pool of water for bathing, and pipes carrying drinking water will run up to each one. There will be a great hall with carved pillars for the Assembly Hall, and more elaborate Chaitya Hall for worship. Oh! It will be luxury.’ It seemed that he was building castles in the air. None of us dreamed that this was something which could ever be realized.

Sister Christine’s Visit to Kanheri Caves     

Many years later, when Sister Christine visited Bombay, she visited the Kanheri caves. It is interesting to read what she has to say about her visit. She took a train to Borivili and then hired a bullockcart. When the road had ended, she and the bullockcart driver had to go on foot. She says:    

We went only a short distance and then came to a stream which at that season was almost dried up. On the other side was a small hill. Here we found carved stone steps leading to the top. And what a view there was from the crest of the hill! The ocean on three sides, a forest leading to the water, carved seats on which to rest, sculptured halls of magnificent proportions. Here it all was – the island with the ocean on three sides, a great sculptured Assembly Hall, the Chaitya Hall, … the small cells, containing two stone beds each, pools of water between the cells, even the pipes to carry water! It was as if a dream had unexpectedly come true. Coming upon this abandoned site, which answered in detail to the fairytale we had heard long before in America, I was profoundly affected.     

When Sister Christine narrated to Swami Sadanandaji her visit to the deserted island of 109 caves, he told her:     

Yes, Swamiji in his wanderings in western India before he went to America, found these caves. The place stirred him deeply; for it seems that he had a memory of a previous life in which he lived there. At that time, the place was unknown and forgotten. He hoped that some day he might acquire it and make it one of the centres for the work which he was planning for the future.     

Swamiji might have easily acquired the Kanheri caves because he knew that if he asked Ramdas Chabildas to give them to him for his future work, both Ramdas Chabildas and Chabildas Lalubhai would have readily agreed, because it was then one of their properties.

Chabildas Lalubhai’s GenerosityChabildas Lalubhai with Second wife Kesarbai and son Janmejay     

Even though Chabildas Lalubhai had amassed immense wealth, he was a devoted and benevolent person at heart. During the plague of 1874, he built shelters on his own land in Goregaon, a suburb of Bombay, for the benefit of the people, who were fleeing the city. Later, during a famine, he provided food, clothing, shelter and every kind of necessity to hundreds of orphans for a whole year. There are around fortythree Ram temples in Bombay built by rich Gujarati businessmen; the one in Gulalwadi was built by Chabildas Lalubhai. In his last will Chabildas Lalubhai mentions the construction of (a) hospital open to all, (b) a sanatorium for Hindus, (c) a lodge for poor Hindus, (d) industrial and technical schools and colleges, and (e) scholarships for students of all communities.

Swamiji and Chabildas Lalubhai      

The Life has mistaken Ramdas Chabildas and Chabildas Lalubhai for the same person, though they were son and father, respectively. Swamiji refers to Ramdas Chabildas as Mr Ramdas and to Chabildas Lalubhai as Mr Chabildas. The book says Seth Ramdas Chabildas later accompanied Swamiji to Chicago from Yokohama. But, in fact, it was Chabildas Lalubhai who travelled with Swamiji to Japan and then to Chicago and Boston. In the Life, we find that ‘Mr Chabildas, who had been one of Swami’s hosts in Bombay, sailed for Japan by the same ship [Peninsular].’ In his unpublished letter dated 22 May 1893 to the Maharaja of Khetri from Bombay, Swamiji writes, ‘His (Ramdas’) father intends going to Chicago on 31st (May 1893); if so we could go together for company.’    Samudra Villa: sea view  In his letter dated 20 August 1893 to Alasinga Perumal from Metcalf, Massachusetts, Swamiji writes, ‘Mr Lalubhai was with me up to Boston. He was very kind to me.’ In the same letter he continues, ‘Ramdas’s father has gone to England. He is in a hurry to go home. He is a very good man at heart, only Baniya roughness on the surface.’     

In his letter of 6 October 1893 written from Bombay to Sri Jagmohanlalji, Dewan of Khetri, Akshay Kumar Ghosh says, ‘In continuation of my last letter I am glad to enlighten you on various news about Swamiji. Just now I returned from Mr Chabildas, where I went in the morning to get exhaustive information about him. Mr Chabildas was always with his holiness until he separated at Boston in America.’ The letter continues:      On separating, Mr Chabildas enquired what actual sum Swamiji had with him, when it was ascertained that Swamiji had only ?100 with him, which in Mr Chabildas’ idea is too paltry a sum to live upon in Chicago for a period longer than three or four days, as the country is five times as much dear as England. Swamiji entertains the idea, if possible, of coming in Europe and spend a longer period in the continent, say about a year. But at Boston Mr Chabildas requested him to telegraph his London firm whenever he wanted any pecuniary help, and has on his way back himself advised his London agent to respond to him. From New York Mr Chabildas wired Swamiji twice but was given no reply. Then again from London Guruji was asked if he was willing to join him to come back to India. The reply that was received was this, ‘Don’t wait, will go back a long period hence.’     

In his letters to his friends and disciples, Swamiji spurred them on to engage in some kind of business, like selling Indian goods in the United States, rather than cajole their white masters to give them jobs. The story of Chabildas Lalubhai’s success, his rise from rags to riches by doing business very much agreed with Swamiji’s thinking. Swamiji appreciated his enterprising nature.     

Chabildas passed away in Bombay on 5 December 1914, at the age of seventyseven.


1. To the descendants of Chabildas Lalubhai: (a) Smt Gamavati Seth, daughter of Sri Janmeyjay Chabildas and his first wife; (b) Smt Hansaben Goragandhi, daughter of Sri Janmeyjay Chabildas and his second wife. She gave us Chabildas Lalubhai’s photograph; (c) Sri Suryakant Seth, son of Smt Gamavati Seth, who identified Chabildas Lalubhai’s Napeon Sea Road bungalow; (e) Sri Harishbhai Khot, son of Sri Bhadrasen Chabildas. He was the second descendant who identified Chabildas Lalubhai’s bungalow on Napeon Sea Road and gave us a copy of the sale deed of the said bungalow and also its photograph.          

2. To the late Sri Mahendra Seth, son of Smt Gamavati Seth. He helped us by getting most of the newspaper references and the will of Chabildas Lalubhai.      

3. To (a) Sri H L Ganjawala, corporate architect and chartered engineer, for acquiring the layout plan of the Napeon Sea Road bungalow; and (b) Sri Manesh Ganjawala, architect and interior designer, for taking pictures of the bungalow.

AcknowledgmentsSamudra Villa: another front view

1. Mulchand Verma, ‘Both Mira Road and Bhayander Owned by Gujarati Seth Chabildas Lalubhai’ (Gujarati) in Mumbai Samachar, 14 May 1991.

2. Hemchandra Narsi, ‘On Sri Ram Temples in Bombay’ (Gujarati).

3. Chabildas’ will dated 12 August 1914.

4. Sale deed of Chabildas Lalubhai’s bungalow on Napeon Sea Road to Dorab Shaw Dubash, dated 1 April 1916.

5. ‘Daring Businessman Chabildas Lalubhai’ (Marathi) in Upanagar Dhvani, 14 August 1979.

6. A M Khadilkar, A Brief Introduction on Chabildas Lalubhai (Marathi pamphlet). The author is headmaster of Chabildas Lalubhai Boys’ High School, Dadar, Mumbai 400 028.

7. ‘Centenary Celebration of Chabildas School’ (Marathi) in Navkal.

8. Sri Prakash Bhandari, ‘Letters Recording Vivekananda’s Troubles in the US’ in The Times of India, 6 March 1999.

9. ‘Outline of Chabildas Lalubhai’ in Bombay Chronicle, 7 December 1914.

10. Kishore A Hursh, ‘To Work for the Freedom of India Became His Duty’ (Gujarati) in Saptahik Dastan, 22 December 1955.

11. Vishnu Pandya, ‘The Last Will of Shyamji Krishna Verma’ (Gujarati) in Janmabhumi, 12 January 1994.

12. Mangal Bhanushali’s Gujarati article in Smarananjali.

Notes and References

1. His Eastern and Western Disciples, The Life of Swami Vivekananda, 2 vols. (Calcutta: Advaita Ashrama, 1, 2000; 2, 2001,), 1.302.

2. Ibid., 1.295.

3. The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, 9 vols. (Calcutta: Advaita Ashrama, 18, 1989; 9, 1997), 8.13.

4. In 1973, the author’s mother, Smt Lilavati, and Srimat Swami Gautamanandaji Maharaj, President, Sri Ramakrishna Math, Chennai, had gone to Mansen Kursandas’ house to find out the letters of Swamiji written to Ramdas Chabildas and his father Chabildas Lalubhai, but they could not find any. Mansen was Ramdas Chabildas’ nephew and lived in Tin Batti, Walkheshwar, Bombay.

5. History of Arya Samaj (Hindi), 1982, 1.2624.

6. Upanagar Dhvani (see item 5, ‘Acknowledgments’).

7. CW, 8.289.

8. His Eastern and Western Admirers, Reminiscences of Swami Vivekananda (Calcutta: Advaita Ashrama, 1994), 20.

9. Reported by Mulchand Verma in Mumbai Samachar, 14 May 1991.

10. The author gathered this information in August 2003 from Smt Motabai Baxi, who is now ninetyfive years old.

11. Upanagar Dhvani.

12. Heard from Smt Hansaben Goragandhi.

13. Reminiscences, 215.

14. From the aforementioned Gujarati paper by Hemchandra Narsi (see item 2, ‘Acknowledgments’).

15. Life, 1.304.

16. Ibid., 1.391.

17. CW, 5.12.

18. Ibid., 5.19.

19. Akshay Kumar Ghosh’s unpublished letter to Sri Jagmohanlalji, Dewan of Khetri; by courtesy of Swami Vivekananda Complete Works Committee, Belur Math.

Swami Vivekananda’s First Hosts in Bombay – Part 1

Written by VHouse Admin. Posted in Life and Works

sv_first_host_1Source from An article by Swami Shuddharupananda which appeared in Prabuddha Bharata – January 2005

From the Life of Swami Vivekananda by his Eastern and Western disciples we learn that Swamiji was in Khandwa towards the end of June 1892. He had stayed there for about three weeks with Babu Haridas Chatterji, a pleader. From his talks with his host there, we come to know of Swamiji’s serious intention to attend the Parliament of Religions in Chicago, to be held the following year. Earlier, Swamiji had heard of this religious convention when he was in Kathiawar. The book on the life of Thakur Saheb Jaswant Singhji of Limbdi, which was written in Gujarati and published in 1896, mentions that it was the Maharaja of Limbdi who gave Swamiji the idea of going to the West to preach Vedanta. We learn further from the Life that when Swamiji was in Porbandar, Pandit Shankar Pandurang, the dewan of the state, told him, ‘Swamiji, I am afraid you cannot do much in this country. Few will appreciate you here. You ought to go to the West, where people will understand you and your worth. Surely you can throw great light upon Western culture by preaching the Sanatana Dharma!’ Swamiji was glad to hear these words, for they coincided with his own thoughts, which he had expressed to C H Pandya of Junagadh, though vaguely.    

During this period Swamiji exhibited intense spiritual power, which was corroborated by Swami Akhandanandaji. The latter had met Swamiji around this time in Mandvi, Gujarat. He said that he was astonished to see the change in Swamiji’s face, which had a sublime, divine radiance.      

Now we can understand why Swamiji told Haridas Babu that if someone helped him with the passage money, he was prepared to go to America. Haridas Babu recognized Swamiji’s great personality and wanted him to extend his stay in Khandwa. But Swamiji had to make his pilgrimage to Rameswaram. So he could not extend his stay, nor could he keep halting at other places. Seeing Swamiji’s resolve, Haridas Babu gave a letter of introduction to his brother in Bombay and told Swamiji that his brother would introduce him to Seth Ramdas Chabildas, a wellknown barrister there. He then bought for Swamiji a train ticket to Bombay.

The House Where Swamiji Stayed in BombaySamudra Villa: front view

Swamiji reached Bombay in the last week of July 1892. There, Haridas Chatterjee’s brother introduced Swamiji to Ramdas Chabildas, who received him cordially and requested him to be his guest. Swamiji agreed. In his ‘Discourses on Jnana Yoga’ Swamiji says, ‘The higher understanding is extremely difficult. The concrete is more to most people than the abstract.’ And he cites an illustration in which he gives the description of the house of Ramdas Chabildas, his first host in Bombay. He talks about two men, one a Hindu and the other a Jain, who were playing chess in the rich merchant’s home, which was near the sea. (We introduced the above subject to give the reader an idea of the house and its location. For the whole story the reader may refer to the said lecture.)      

In January 2003 the present author located the house of Ramdas Chabildas with the help of two descendants of Chabildas Lalubhai. It stands on Dorab Shaw Lane, Napeon Sea Road, Bombay. Some photographs of the building are included in this article along with their description.      

The author found the house in extremely dilapidated condition. Only the front porch was in use, by security guards, who were manning the place on behalf of its present owner, Sri Bilasrai Mahavir Prasad Badriprasad. The house is a threestoreyed building, known as Samudra Villa. Except for the porch all other areas of the house are unsafe for human habitation. Situated beside the sea, it has long balconies on the first and second floors and matches Swamiji’s description of it. After a lot of coaxing, the guards allowed the author inside to have a look. The author has some knowledge of architecture and building construction. After analysing the style of construction and the materials used, he feels that the house is more than 150 years old. The ground floor has stables that can accommodate six to eight horses. Stables in a residential building speak of the owner’s wealth. At the rear are utilities like toilets and servants’ quarters in a separate threestoreyed building. The main house is connected with the utilities at every floor.     

This house belonged to Seth Chabildas Lalubhai, who was one of the wealthy merchants of Bombay. We have the sale document of the Samudra Villa, dated April 1916, executed between Kesarbai, wife of Chabildas Lalubhai, and the purchaser, Dorab Shaw Bomanjee Dubash, a Parsee. That explains how the lane got its name. It would be a good idea if, with permission from the headquarters, the local Ramakrishna Math arranges to put up a small marble tablet near this bungalow to commemorate Swamiji’s stay there during JulyAugust 1892.

Ramdas ChabildasSamudra Villa engraved on facade     

In 1875 Ramdas Chabildas was a student of Elphinstone School, which has all along been a prestigious institution. Later he went to England and earned his postgraduate degree in arts around 1884 and then his law degree. On his return to India the government honoured him with a walking stick with a goldandsilver handle, for becoming the first Indian barrister. Ramdas Chabildas was also a Sanskrit scholar, well grounded in the Vedas and the Upanishads. Apart from Swamiji, he had hosted at his bungalow eminent spiritual personalities like Swami Dayananda Saraswati. So his house must have resonated with religious debates and discussions. He was a staunch Arya Samajist and a founder member of its Bombay branch. From Swami Dayananda Saraswati he received training in basic Sanskrit and in composingkavyas. On Dayananda Saraswati’s demise in 1883, he composed a twentyoneverse tribute to him in Sanskrit. It is significant that the Arya Samaj of Bombay had about 100 founder members in 1875. Among them Chabildas Lalubhai was prominent.     Samudra Villa: view of stable 

During Swamiji’s twomonth stay in his bungalow, Ramdas had numerous discussions with him, one of which has come to light from Mahapurush Maharaj’s conversations at the Bombay ashrama on 19 January 1927. Mahapurush Maharaj told the monks that Swamiji had stayed in Ramdas Chabildas’ house and visited many places in Bombay. He further said, ‘Ramdas Chabildas belonged to the Arya Samaj and was against the worship of God with form. He had much discussion with Swamiji concerning it. One day he said to Swamiji, “Well, Swamiji, you say that worship of God with forms, idolworship and such other doctrines are true. If you can prove these doctrines by arguments quoted from the Vedas, I shall leave the Arya Samaj, I promise you.” Swamiji replied emphatically, “Yes, surely, I can do that.” And he began to explain to Chabildas the Hindu doctrine of imageworship and such other doctrines in the light of the Vedas. Ramdas Chabildas was convinced and made good his promise by leaving the Arya Samaj.’    Samudra Villa: dilapidated staircase  It seems Ramdas Chabildas was only a few years older than Swamiji; so they gelled. Moreover, they had converging interests: scriptures and Sanskrit. On 22 August 1892, Swamiji wrote to the Dewan of Junagadh, ‘I have got here some Sanskrit books and help, too, to read, which I do not hope to get elsewhere, and I am anxious to finish them.’      

It appears Swamiji could not visit the Elephanta caves because the monsoon had already set in, preventing launches from plying to Elephanta Island. During the monsoon the Arabian Sea is very rough, choppy and ferocious. However, Swamiji did visit the Kanheri caves near Borivili, a description of which will be given later on in the article. In his unpublished letter dated 22 May 1893 from Bombay, he writes to the Maharaja of Khetri, ‘At Bombay I went to see my friend Ramdas, barristeratlaw. He is rather a sentimental gentleman and was [so] much impressed with your highness’ character that he told me that had it not been midsummer he would rather fly to see such a prince.’      

From Bombay Swamiji went to Poona. At the railway station he was introduced to the renowned scholar and patriot Lokamanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak, who was his fellow passenger. Tilak says in his reminiscences, ‘At Victoria Terminus a sannyasin entered the carriage I was in. A few Gujarati gentlemen were there to see him off. They made the formal introduction and asked the sannyasin to reside at my house during his stay at Poona.’ We can safely assume that among the group of Gujarati gentlemen were Ramdas Chabildas and Shyamji Krishna Verma, his friend and brotherinlaw.

Ramdas Chabildas’ Family Samudra Villa: crumbling roof    

After getting his law degree, Ramdas Chabildas started his practice in Bombay. Later, in the late 1880s, he began his practice as barrister in Nagpur. He purchased a twoacre property at Civil Lines from the Baxi family and built a large bungalow, Jamna Villa, named after his wife Jamnabai. The Baxis were neighbours of Ramdas Chabildas. Ramdas Chabildas had two sons, Suryakant and Jaisen, both barristers. Suryakant died when he was about forty, leaving behind three sons and two daughters. Jaisen practised as a barrister in Nagpur and was elected mayor of the city. The Corporation of Nagpur honoured him by naming one of the city’s neighbourhoods as Ramdas Peth, after his father. Suryakant’s eldest son Janak was a commander in the Indian Navy.     

At present, Ramdas Chabildas’ property is all sold and his descendants are living mainly in Bombay, except for one in Nagpur. On the said property there still exists a memorial that preserves the relics of Ramdas Chabildas and his wife. Two marble tablets on the memorial say Ramdas Chabildas died on 22 October 1920 and Jamnabai on 10 January 1914.

Chabildas Lalubhai (Ramdas’ Father)     

Chabildas Lalubhai was born in Bombay in 1839. He was a Suryavanshi Gujarati, a kshatriya belonging to the Chevali Bhansali community. Bhansalis are descendants of King Bhanusal, who ruled in the northwestern part of India. Their family deity is Mother Hinglaj. Hinglaj is a place in Baluchistan (now in Pakistan) popularly known as Marubhumi Hinglaj (‘desert Hinglaj’). It is one of the shaktipithas of Mother Sati. A journey to Hinglaj is very difficult due to its hostile terrain. Swami Trigunatitananda had visited this place on pilgrimage.  

In later times, the Bhansali community came further down from the northwest, and some of them settled in Kutch, Sorath (Kathiawar), Surat, Sindh and Cheval. So they are called Kutchi, Sorathi, Sindhi and Chevali Bhansalis. Being Gujaratis, the Bhansali community preferred to do business and trade. Chabildas Lalubhai’s father was Lalubhai Jairamdas; he was in the British Army.    

Chabildas Lalubhai As a Businessman and Builder     

At the young age of thirteen years Chabildas Lalubhai joined Messrs Cullar Palmer & Co at their Bombay branch for Rs 15 a month. From the beginning his mind was set on starting his own business. So after gaining some experience he gave up his salaried job, purchased some big countryboats and used them for carrying freight to and from foreign steamers at BhavchaDhakka (Bombay seaport). This enterprise of his was highly successful. Gradually he became one of the foremost business magnates and owned his own steamship named Galileo for doing business with foreign companies. Galileo was insured for Rs 5 lakh. At that time English cloth was hugely popular and much soughtafter throughout the world. Chabildas Lalubhai took advantage of this business boom. He imported English cloth and amassed huge wealth by selling them to wholesale traders in Bombay. He also had a factory in Jamnagar, Saurashtra, where decorative goods were made from ivory. He exported these and other prime goods to Britain and France. Since he was the first visiting Indian trader to France, the French government honoured him with a letter of recognition.     

Chabildas Lalubhai was also highly successful in obtaining building contracts from the government and private parties. Along the BombayPoona rail line, from Karjat to Lonavla, where the Khandala Ghats are situated, he secured works connected with the railway line. In Bombay he built a number of buildings. The buildings he erected and owned still exist in Dadar.

Chabildas Lalubhai’s Borivili Bungalow     

When Swamiji visited Bombay in 1892 there were trains plying between Colaba and Andheri. Since the Kanheri caves are about 22 km from Bombay it can be presumed that along with Ramdas Chabildas and Chabildas Lalubhai Swamiji may have taken the train from Grant Road (which is nearer to their bungalow) to Andheri and then proceeded to Borivili by horse carriage, or they might have used an eighthorse shigram carriage from the Napeon Sea Road bungalow. Chabildas Lalubhai had a spacious bungalow in the western part of Borivili, a suburb 20 km away from the city, along Lokamanya Tilak Road and west of Factory Lane. He had purchased it from Seth Jayram Bhatia. At this bungalow, he used to entertain his British friends and business contacts. From Borivili, the Kanheri caves are very near. Whenever guests arrived, about forty people were hired to light the bungalow with Petromax (gasoline) lights in the evenings and also to carry delicious food to Kanheri, where some sort of picnic lunch was usually arranged. Gamavati Seth, one of the descendants, gave us this information. It is quite possible that Swamiji too may have been lodged in this bungalow for a few days and similarly entertained. Four Generations: (r-l) Chabildas Lalubhai (father), Ramdas Chabildas (son), Suryakant Ramdas (grandson) & Janak Ramdas (great-grandson)     

This Borivili bungalow of Chabildas Lalubhai had marble statues and a garden. It being a Gujarati’s bungalow, there was also a huge swing for people to sit on. In the evening many people from surrounding places visited Swamiji to listen to his talks on religion. Chandrakant, a young man who used to come there with his father, was quite inspired. Even after Swamiji’s departure, he continued to visit the house daily to pay obeisance to the memory of Swamiji; and this practice he kept up until he was ripe old. When inquisitive people asked him why he saluted the bungalow, he would narrate that when he was young he had had the good fortune of meeting and talking with a radiant, powerful and loving swami.     

After Chabildas Lalubhai’s death, his wife Kesarbai and their two sons Janmeyjay and Bhadrasen and their families lived in this house. The building does not exist anymore. Some two decades back, Hansaben Goragandhi, daughter of Janmeyjay, inherited the property and demolished the bungalow to raise a multistoreyed apartment building.

The Inspiration That Was Swami Vivekananda

Written by VHouse Admin. Posted in Articles

Source from An article by Swami Swahananda which appeared in Prabuddha Bharata – October 2004

Swami Vivekananda’s ideas have been seen through various eyes, and new light has been thrown upon these ideas. In one sense, Swamiji is inexhaustible. In another sense, it can be supported that Swamiji’s core message is that man is the Atman, Atman is perfection, and perfection defies all types of limitations.

‘I Shall Not Cease to Inspire’

The first thing about Swamiji that strikes me is his importance in inspiring us. His teachings are there of course, but his life is also there. He has left behind a sangha, an organization, a circle of devotees, to put into practice the ideas he gave. And a great man is more a principle than a person. But still, to my mind, his most important contribution is the inspiration he creates.

I remember – and this is the experience of many people – that when we were young, there was a Bengali volume, a second volume of Swamiji’s letters, which was very inspiring. Now it has been included in the larger compilation, Letters of Swami Vivekananda. The letters written between 1890 and 1902 are of a more inspiring type, when Swamiji was trying to energize people to do things. Romain Rolland has described Swamiji as ‘energy personified, and action was his message to man’. So when you read his books, you get thrilled, as do some of the famous writers and thinkers and singers, but you also feel that inspiration comes in your own life. I was in Madras for more than twelve years in the 1950s and 60s. The president of the Tamil Writers’ Association became my friend. And being inspired by us, he began to read the Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda. Early one morning, he came to the Math to meet me. That was not the time sadhus met people, but still I had to come out. He said, ‘Swami, I could not contain myself. Last night I was reading Swamiji till twelve o’clock; then suddenly the inspiration came, by reading his works, that I must do something. But what to do at midnight? So I settled with my pen and wrote two stories in one night.’ The reason he was so impressed was that for the previous two years he could not write a book or any stories for that matter, because he was constructing a building. That building took up all his energies, all his attention. There was no creativity left in him to write anything. So that is the important idea: in whatever way you are going, Swamiji’s inspiration can help you in that particular way. Not that you will necessarily turn traditionally spiritual overnight, but you will be inspired, and inspired things will happen. And that, according to Swamiji, is the real fulfilment of life: to manifest the perfection we have in us. How it is manifested and how much it is manifested, only by that will it be judged whether our life is successful or not.

So that is the major idea: Swamiji is an inspirer of people, especially young people. When we remember his inspiring words, we feel energized, enthused; all the blood will be boiling, as it were, to do something. What things will come? Much will be determined by the composition of our mind. Inspiration doesn’t always express itself in the same way. We have the classical experience of the Ramayana stories. Three brothers, Ravana, Kumbhakarna and Vibhishana, practised hard austerities. That was considered to be the major method by which strength, power and wisdom were acquired. Because Ravana was of the rajasic type, his mental composition was of rajoguna. He became a king and wielded power in the three worlds, but he also became a tyrant. Kumbhakarna was a lazy man, so by his tapasya his laziness increased, though it was probably a covetable laziness to some extent. He could alternately sleep for six months and eat for six months! We may smile at this, but remember, eighty per cent of our activities centre around these two: having good sleep and good food – to attain our security in these two. Twenty per cent of our activities may involve something more than these two things. Vibhishana was of the sattvic type and had spiritual attainment, realization of God. The idea is that spirituality can give you inspiration, but your mental composition must be all right.

Need for Purification of Mind

Along with receiving inspiration, it is very important to purify our minds as much as possible. The method of achieving purification is contemplation of the pure. The lives of Ramakrishna, Holy Mother, Swamiji and others can purify us, but it is also important to do some unselfish action. Swamiji’s major prescription is service. He used to say that renunciation and service are the national ideals of India. Why national ideals, these are the ideals of the whole world.

I was at one time the editor of the Vedanta Kesari in Madras. My predecessor was Swami Budhananda, who was a good thinker. At one time he filled up the journal with quotations he had collected for two years – quotations from the Mahabharata and other books – to prove that a householder is a greater renouncer than a sannyasin. Why? If I am a monk and I have got a headache, I go to sleep. I don’t care for the world. But if I am a mother and my child comes home, in spite of my headache, in spite of my illness, I shall have to get up and look after the child. Now, unconsciously that mother has acquired the quality of a yogi: self-control, control of the emotions and demands of the body, working for others.

True Worship

Swamiji’s prescription is to purify yourself, and then, to be useful to society, to work for others. Spiritual work is all right, but if you work for others, at least something substantial will remain. When Swamiji went to Rameswaram, he said in his lecture in the Shiva temple that if we go to the temple with fruits and flowers but forget that God is there, the whole thing is a waste. Of course, some result will be there inasmuch as it is a discipline; it is not a hundred per cent waste, but still a waste. But if we go to a sick man and give a little medicine, or go to an ignorant man and give a little knowledge, if we remember God is in him, we get the full benefit of worship. But even if we forget the God in him, still, our action has a social benefit. It involves the practice of unselfishness. The more unselfishness increases, the more will purity come. Impurity is self-consideration. In all our affairs we normally equate things from our own standpoint. Unselfishness is ignoring oneself.

I remember one thinker’s very beautiful definition of humility. We know what humility is, but his was a very unique way of explaining it: humility is the capacity to praise your adversary – very difficult indeed! To praise one’s adversary, to say that he has got good qualities, is wonderful. It requires us to think a little deeper. When we can do this, it means that complete egolessness has come. We are then able to appreciate goodness elsewhere, or find goodness in somebody else.


Swamiji’s idea is that we will be much more successful if we can purify ourselves, make the mind ready for results, ready for the manifestation of our hidden powers. As Vedantists we should believe that nothing comes from outside. All the capacities are already within. They are to be brought out. Instead of self-development, our word is atma-vikasa, self-manifestation. The Atman is all perfect, but it manifests itself. Unknown areas are there in human nature in which the Spirit can manifest. In the world’s oldest book, the Rig Veda, it is said that God covered the entire universe, but transcended it by ten fingers more, meaning that He is not finished with the universe – He is something more also. This means that a puny creature like a man or a woman has the same perfection God has; it is a question of difference of manifestation. And in innumerable ways we can manifest the Spirit in ourselves. When I first went to America, thirty-five years ago, two women had been declared generals of the US Army, for the first time in history. There had been queens and fighters, but not generals. That means that an ordinary creature like a man or woman has unknown areas, undiscovered areas, unmanifested areas. So that is why Swamiji advised us to every day think of ourselves as the Atman and manifest the power of the Spirit.

Assert Yourself

One writer spoke of ‘prayer without tears’. Prayer, normally, is asking. Now, Vedanta says, instead of weeping and crying, assert. You have got the power within you. Assert it. The theistic idea is that God has got the power, and that we ask God, ‘Please, God, give me something.’ But instead of that, assert. Assertion is a better psychological technique. If we say, ‘I have got a headache, I have got a headache; O Lord, do something for me’, the subconscious absorbs the idea – headache, headache, headache. So instead of producing health, more unhealthiness will be produced. On the other hand, Vedanta will ask you to say, ‘Shuddho’ham, buddho’ham, niramayo’ham; I am pure, I am illumined, I am healthy.’ You may argue, ‘I am not healthy; I have a headache.’ But, really speaking, you don’t have a headache. Vedanta pushes you to the question, ‘Who are you?’ That is one of the enquiries Vedanta asks us to make. Some groups don’t go into philosophy, religion, pujas and bhajans – they use straight questioning. Who are you? Analyse, analyse, analyse. Vedanta asserts, ‘I am not the body, not the mind, but the Spirit.’ The moment you say, ‘I am healthy, I am healthy’, you are identifying with your Spirit nature. When you say, ‘I have got a headache, I have got a headache’, who has got the headache? The body, of course. Or, you may feel bad mentally, but you have already argued that you are not the body, not the mind, so you are not suffering. When you say ‘I am healthy’, you are telling the greater truth, the higher truth, the more enduring truth. Truth that is more enduring is real truth. Temporary truth is no truth.

The materialists came forward and said, ‘No, we don’t accept this. How do you know that this is so? Our studies don’t reveal the Spirit.’ The Vedantists explained, ‘We don’t know your method of physical analysis or logical process, but we can realize the Truth by our special method of inspiration, or intuition, by what is called anubhuti, or experience, realization. These are different terms used by different schools to describe the ultimate understanding of one’s real nature. This method may not be accepted by the materialists but that does not matter, for according to them it cannot be known by their methods. This is not evident to ordinary people, but the ultimate nature of everything is revealed to the realized soul.

Swamiji asserted that man is Divinity in human form. When he went to America, he told the people, ‘You are not sinners. It is a sin to call you so.’ Very dramatic sentences! And by the by, it would be a very good idea, especially for you young people, to memorize fifty, sixty or seventy of these inspiring sayings of Swamiji. Through your whole life they will be useful. So when Swamiji said this, he was speaking to Americans, who were immigrants or descendants of immigrants from Europe, who had either been persecuted religiously or went to America because of famine or for a better livelihood. They found that the country was theirs for the taking. Soon there were ranches and fields, ten, twenty miles long. To such a person, if you say, ‘You are a sinner; you are hopeless’, he is not going to believe it. For religion’s sake he may grudgingly agree, but he is not going to really accept it. Swamiji said, ‘No, you are the all-powerful Spirit.’ That appealed to the pioneering Americans. That is one reason why Swamiji became so successful. He inspired. He touched the real core of the people’s lives. He told them, ‘You are something grand, something infinite, something unending.’ That is the special idea Swamiji tried to inject. In the Western context the idea of the divinity of man is the major idea that he thrust. In the Indian context it was the application of the ideal that we must see divinity in man – see it for ourselves. TheBhagavadgita identifies both, and Swamiji supported both ideas. But in the Western context, he made people aware of their spiritual nature. In the Indian context, he stressed the idea that the Atman should be seen in society.

Serving the Manifested Atman

Normally, commentators translate the word atmarama as ‘one who finds bliss in the Self’. But is it bliss in the Self with closed eyes or opened eyes? Sri Ramakrishna is seen in both ways in the advanced stage. In his commentary on the Narada Bhakti Sutras, Swami Tyagishanandaji explains that the effect of seeing the Atman everywhere is service of men and other creatures. So a man of illumination can do both: he may go within or serve the manifested Atman. Once you have realized, you are free; what do you want to do? The swami is telling us that the normal, natural course of a man of illumination will be to serve others. It is a very beautiful way of putting Swamiji’s ideas.

This is an important idea in the Indian context. Swamiji stressed this idea of service, because India needs service. Even after more than fifty years of independence, people are starving, people are ignorant. There has not been much improvement. Of course, they say forty per cent of Indians belong to the middle class, and that is why America has got interested in India. But, still, in the larger community, people are not free from hunger and insecurity, so some manifestation of energy is necessary. The Ramakrishna Mission immediately attracted the attention of society because of pinpointing this idea of serving society.

Nowadays, the question of relevance is often brought out. In what way, as a person or as a principle manifesting ideas, is Swamiji relevant? He is significantly relevant in two ways. Man must continually be made aware that he has got infinite possibilities. If he knows and believes that he has got possibilities, new avenues will open up. The method will be to serve others. That way, society will be benefited, the individual will be benefited. This way, Swamiji says, stage by stage a practitioner will go towards higher realization, which is the ultimate goal of life.

Everything Positive, Nothing Negative

Swamiji’s special prescription is that all of us should have an ideal. His famous saying is, ‘If a man with an ideal makes a thousand mistakes, I am sure that the man without an ideal makes fifty thousand. Therefore, it is better to have an ideal.’1 Swamiji always tried to improve people, not by showing their defects, but by showing their merits. By denouncing people, much result is not achieved, because it evokes resistance. If somebody denounces me and then gives me advice, half the time I am not going to accept it even if he is right. That is why Swamiji’s method was to bring out the positive side. In one of his famous letters he says, ‘No negative, all positive, affirmative. I am, God is, everything is in me. I will manifest health, purity, knowledge, whatever I want.’ (6.276) But that has to be done by asserting the positive aspect of ourselves, by thinking of our divine nature. If I lack strength, I think of the Atman as full of strength. If I lack courage, I think of the Atman as full of courage. That is the method. There is another famous saying of his:

Disease was found out as soon as man was born. Everyone knows his disease; it requires no one to tell us what our diseases are. But thinking all the time that we are diseased will not cure us – medicine is necessary. … In our heart of hearts we all know our weaknesses. But, says the Vedanta, being reminded of weakness does not help much; give strength, and strength does not come by thinking of weakness all the time. The remedy for weakness is not brooding over weakness, but thinking of strength. Teach men of the strength that is already within them. (2.300)

 That is why, even for India his prescription is to think of strength, not weakness.

In one context Swamiji denounces India, but his major thrust is, ‘Love India, honour India, respect India.’ The idea is that you must develop that love for your own country. Not only for your country – ultimately you will have to embrace the whole world, but not by ignoring your country. Now the present world is being ruled by nationalism, and everywhere the nationalistic states are lionized. But, transcending nationalism, we must also recognize the universal idea – to make the entire world our own.

• • •

These are a few ideas from Swamiji. We can take up Swamiji from any angle and try to show that a particular idea of his is useful for the betterment of the individual, of society and of the world at large. That is the special purpose of a religious teacher, a teacher who is an inspirer. ‘Awakener of souls’ is the term often used for Swamiji. Let us be inspired by him; let us try to build our lives and also dedicate them for the good of everyone.


 1. The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, 9 vols. (Calcutta: Advaita Ashrama, 1-8, 1989; 9, 1997), 2.152.

India’s Rejuvenation: Swami Vivekananda’s Vision

Written by VHouse Admin. Posted in Articles

Source from An article by Swami Atmapriyananda which appeared in Prabuddha Bharata – January 2005

1. Preamble

     Swami Vivekananda envisioned a rejuvenated India: ‘… a wonderful, glorious, future India will come. I am sure it is coming – a greater India than ever was. … Arise, awake and see her seated here on her eternal throne, rejuvenated, more glorious than she ever was – this motherland of ours.’  Seeing the degeneration and degradation all around – moral and spiritual poverty, value erosion, corruption, selfish aggrandizement, unabashed dishonesty, glorification of muscle and money power and lack of indigenous cultural moorings, one naturally heaves a deep sigh and wonders if Swamiji was carried away by his innate predilection for oriental hyperbole. When will such a glorious India come, if at all? Or is it mere wishful thinking?

     We believe that Swamiji was not only a prophet and a seer – one who could see into the future, a trikalajna rishi (a sage who had first-hand knowledge of the past, present and future); he was also a scientific visionary, one who had made a thorough, in-depth and scientific study of world history with special reference to India. His capacious and luminous mind could move at will over the entire gamut of world culture and civilizations, world religions and thought currents. But in all this, the special reference point was always India. Mother India was the Goddess of his adoration and anything concerning her stirred him always to an impassioned eulogy of her past glory. Then would follow a tearful description of her present state of utter degradation and helpless prostration before the glamorous West. The fitting finale would be a prophetic envisioning of India’s glorious future, when his sonorous voice would animate extraordinary pictures of her rejuvenation. Sister Christine’s remarkable reminiscences are worthy of recollection here:

     Our love for India came to birth, I think, when we first heard him say the word, ‘India’, in that marvellous voice of his. It seems incredible that so much could have been put into one small word of five letters. There was love, passion, pride, longing, adoration, tragedy, chivalry, heimweh, and again love. Whole volumes could not have produced such a feeling in others. It had the magic power of creating love in those who heard it. Ever after, India became the land of heart’s desire. Everything concerning her became of interest – became living – her people, her history, architecture, her manners and customs, her rivers, mountains, plains, her culture, her great spiritual concepts, her scriptures. And so began a new life, a life of study, of meditation. The centre of interest was shifted.

     When Swamiji spoke of India, it was not nationalism or patriotism of the narrow type – my country, right or wrong. From his deep study of world history and the rise and fall of world civilizations, Swamiji understood the role that India was destined to play in the comity of nations. His profound insight revealed to him that in the great economy of God, India had been assigned the specific and particular task of spiritualizing humankind. In order that India may deliver this great gift of spirituality, perform this all-important task, the vitality of the race ought to be preserved: a vigorous, powerful India, ‘rejuvenated, more glorious than she ever was’, should emerge. In his first public lecture at Colombo, soon after his triumphal return from the West, Swamiji articulated his vision, born of meditative insight:

     Thus, everyone born into this world has a bent, a direction towards which he must go, through which he must live, and what is true of the individual is equally true of the race. Each race, similarly, has a peculiar bent, each race has a peculiar raison d’etre, each race has a peculiar mission to fulfil in the life of the world. Each race has to make its own result, to fulfil its own mission. Political greatness or military power is never the mission of our race; it never was, and, mark my words, it never will be. But there has been the other mission given to us, which is to conserve, to preserve, to accumulate, as it were, into a dynamo, all the spiritual energy of the race, and that concentrated energy is to pour forth in a deluge on the world, whenever circumstances are propitious. … India’s gift to the world is the light spiritual. (3)

     This was why Swamiji felt so emphatically that a new India, rejuvenated and fully awakened to her spiritual responsibility, was an urgent necessity. For Swamiji believed that India and India alone could discharge this vitally important responsibility: ‘to conserve, to preserve, to accumulate, as it were, into a dynamo, all the spiritual energy of the race’, for the good of the world (jagat-hitaya), ‘for the good of the many, for the happiness of the many’ (bahujana hitaya, bahujana sukhaya), as Buddha said.

     The urgency of this message cannot be felt more poignantly at any time than now, when the whole world is in a state of panic and anxiety. No amount of scientific and technological advancement has been able to remove the terrifying, frightful monsters of insecurity and fear, terror and trepidation from the hearts of warring nations. Years ahead of the World Wars, Swamiji predicted that the whole of the Western world was sitting on a volcano, which needed to be quenched by the waters of Indian spirituality:

     Up, India, and conquer the world with your spirituality! Ay, as has been declared on this soil first, love must conquer hatred, hatred cannot conquer itself. Materialism and all its miseries can never be conquered by materialism. Armies when they attempt to conquer armies only multiply and make brutes of humanity. Spirituality must conquer the West. Slowly they are finding out that what they want is spirituality to preserve them as nations. They are waiting for it, they are eager for it. Where is the supply to come from? Where are the men ready to go out to every country in the world with the messages of the great sages of India? Where are the men who are ready to sacrifice everything, so that this message shall reach every corner of the world? Such heroic souls are wanted to help the spread of truth. Such heroic workers are wanted to go abroad and help to disseminate the great truths of Vedanta. The world wants it; without it the world will be destroyed. The whole of the Western world is on a volcano, which may burst tomorrow, go to pieces tomorrow. They have searched every corner of the world and have found no respite. They have drunk deep of the cup of pleasure and found it vanity. Now is the time to work so that India’s spiritual ideas may penetrate deep into the West. … We must go out, we must conquer the world through our spirituality and philosophy. There is no other alternative, we must do it or die. The only condition of national life, of awakened and vigorous national life, is the conquest of the world by Indian thought.

     At the same time we must not forget that what I mean by the conquest of the world by spiritual thought is the sending out of life-giving principles, not the hundreds of superstitions that we have been hugging to our breasts for centuries. These have to be weeded out even on this soil, and thrown aside, so that they may die forever. (277-8)

     This, then, is the background of Swamiji’s constant emphasis on the rejuvenation of India. This was his favourite theme and he would return to it again and again. It moved him, on the one hand, to heights of eloquence as seen in the passages above; and, on the other, stirred him to the inmost depths of his sensitive soul, crying with impatient longing for the early rise of an awakened India, prabuddha bharata. For he felt that if such an India failed to rise, then all spirituality and high moral values would vanish from off the face of the earth. ‘Such a thing can never be,’ he said:

     Shall India die? Then from the world all spirituality will be extinct, all moral perfection will be extinct, all sweet-souled sympathy for religion will be extinct, all ideality will be extinct; and in its place will reign the duality of lust and luxury as the male and female deities, with money as its priest, fraud, force, and competition its ceremonies, and the human soul its sacrifice. Such a thing can never be. (4.348)

     2. Scientific Rejuvenation

     2.1 The Inner versus Outer Sciences- Lopsided Growth?

     As we have seen above, Swamiji was eager to wipe out all the encrustations that had accumulated over the ages in the pure and scientific religion of Vedanta, which our Indian rishis and thinkers had propounded. He wanted to propagate a scientific, rational and dynamic system, impersonal in nature, and therefore acceptable to modern minds. He rediscovered the ancient theme of our rishis, that the physical, mental and spiritual sciences form one coherent whole. The spiritual science, the science through which the Infinite and the Absolute, the Imperishable (akshara) is realized was called para vidya, while the study of the physical and mental sciences were classified asapara vidya. The classification of knowledge into para and apara did not indicate their superiority or inferiority. At best it indicated a sense of priority and at the worst a hint that the apara vidya need not (and perhaps should not) absorb too much of one’s attention, for it does not deserve to be pursued with avidity, being ephemeral in nature. On the other hand, a pursuit of the para vidya confers immortality, eternal Freedom and Bliss. However, the para vidya and the apara vidya formed one collective and coherent whole, with the same deity Sarasvati presiding over both. In fact, the Bhagavadgita categorically states that complete knowledge consists in the knowledge of the outer as well as the inner: Kshetra-kshhetrajnayor-jnanam yat-tat jnanam matam mamaKshhetra refers to the outer, literally, ‘the field of manifestation of the Spirit’; and kshetrajna refers to the indwelling Spirit, literally, ‘the Knower of this kshetra’. Swamiji, therefore, wanted that India should make advances in all these sciences – and more particularly in the sphere of physical sciences, which had been neglected for ages thanks to an excessive and perhaps lopsided preoccupation with the mental and spiritual sciences. Even the study of mental science was largely eclipsed by that of spiritual science, for the latter exercised an overwhelming influence on the development of the former; investigations into the mind were carried out insofar as they proved helpful in the in-depth understanding of the secrets of the spiritual realm. These inner sciences – mental and spiritual – being more fascinating to the contemplative Indian mind, the outer sciences – physical sciences – suffered quite a bit of neglect. The best brains of the country came to be engaged in researches into the inner sciences. Various schools of thought emerged, and debates and discussions – what we now call symposia, colloquia, seminars and conferences – proliferated among these schools; so much so that illumining results emerged and were clearly documented. The Upanishads are glorious examples of such documentation. Commentaries (bhashyas) on these texts came to be written; glosses (tikas) were written to explain these commentaries; and explanatory notes (tippanis) were added to these glosses. There was such an upsurge that mental and spiritual wisdom became an integral part of the national psyche. Even the so-called illiterate person with no formal education could dilate with ease and deep understanding on many of these inner scientific discoveries. But all this flurry of activities was at a goodly price: the utter neglect of the outer, physical, sciences. Explaining this absorption of the entire race with things spiritual and therefore very subtle, Swamiji said:

     There is no end to the power a man can obtain. This is the peculiarity of the Indian mind, that when anything interests it, it gets absorbed in it and other things are neglected. You know how many sciences had their origin in India. Mathematics began there. You are even today counting 1,2,3, etc. to zero, after Sanskrit figures, and you all know that algebra also originated in India, and that gravitation was known to the Indian thousands of years before Newton was born.

     You see the peculiarity. At a certain period of Indian history, this one subject of man and his mind absorbed all their interest. And it was so enticing, because it seemed the easiest way to achieve their ends. Now, the Indian mind became so thoroughly persuaded that the mind could do anything and everything according to law, that its powers became the great object of study. Charms, magic, and other powers, and all that were nothing extraordinary, but a regularly taught science, just as the physical sciences they had taught before that. Such a conviction in these things came upon the race that physical sciences nearly died out. It was the one thing that came before them. Different sects of Yogis began to make all sorts of experiments. …

     The whole idea was to get at the basis, to reach the fine parts of the thing. And some of them really showed most marvellous powers. … It is the extreme belief of the race. What power is there in the hand or the sword? The power is all in the spirit.

     If this is true, it is temptation enough for the mind to exert its highest. But as with every other science it is very difficult to make any great achievement, so also with this, nay much more. Yet most people think that these powers can be easily gained. How many are the years you take to make a fortune? Think of that! First, how many years do you take to learn electrical science or engineering? And then you have to work all the rest of your life.

     While appreciating and applauding the inner scientific discoveries – advances in the mental and spiritual sciences – Swamiji realized that the time was come to correct this lopsided growth. Ignorance of the physical sciences engendered any number of superstitions, which in turn adversely affected the pristine conclusions of the mental and spiritual sciences.

     Further, Swamiji understood and felt that the Indian mind was rich in scientific temper and outlook. If only this temper was brought to bear upon the physical sciences, India would make a profound advance in these outer sciences too, as much as in the inner sciences of mind and the spirit. Indian minds leading the computer software development technology all the world over is a case in point.

     2.2 The Guiding Scientific Principles of Indian Thought and Their Rejuvenated Application

     Swamiji identified certain distinctive characteristics of Indian scientific thought that enabled the Indian mind to investigate into the inner sciences; he was convinced that these selfsame scientific principles, when applied to the outer sciences, could unravel many a mystery of the universe – both in the microscopic realm of the atom and the nucleus as well as in the macroscopic domain of the outer space, massive planets and so on. Swamiji envisaged a rejuvenated application of these principles – hitherto used by Indian spiritual scientists (rishis) only in the inner scientific realm – to investigations in the physical sciences also. Since the passing away of Swamiji, these principles have indeed been successfully applied in the physical sciences.

     We shall now discuss some of these principles and in fact show specifically how the physical sciences -twentieth-century ‘new physics’, in particular – have, in fact, made breathtaking discoveries through the application of these principles. All of them, however, are subsumed in the principle of unity, that there is an underlying unity in the midst of the apparent diversity, which may be considered as nothing but manifestations of the fundamental Unity.

     2.2.1 The Generalization Principle

     Swamiji discovered a remarkable characteristic of the Indian mind in its capacity to generalize – that is, to draw generalized conclusions from particulars. Swamiji in fact called such a mind ‘courageous and wonderfully bold’; in being able to make an intuitive leap from the particular to the general, definitely and boldly. Elaborating his thesis, Swamiji said in his ‘Jnana Yoga‘ lectures:

     Coming to the principles, we find these Vedic thinkers very courageous and wonderfully bold in propounding large and generalized theories. Their solution of the mystery of the universe, from the external world, was as satisfactory as it could be. The detailed workings of modern science do not bring the question one step nearer to solution, because the principles have failed. If the theory of ether failed in ancient times to give a solution of the mystery of the universe, working out the details of that ether theory would not bring us much nearer to the truth. If the theory of all-pervading life failed as a theory of this universe, it would not mean anything more if worked out in detail, for the details do not change the principle of the universe. What I mean is that in their inquiry into the principle, the Hindu thinkers were as bold, and in some cases, much bolder than the moderns. They made some of the grandest generalizations that have yet been reached, and some still remain as theories, which modern science has yet to get even as theories. For instance, they not only arrived at the ether theory, but went beyond and classified mind also as a still more rarefied ether. Beyond that again, they found a still more rarefied ether. Yet that was no solution, it did not solve the problem. No amount of knowledge of the external world could solve the problem. ‘But,’ says the scientist, ‘we are just beginning to know a little: wait a few thousand years and we shall get the solution.’ ‘No,’ says the Vedantist, for he has proved beyond all doubt that the mind is limited, that it cannot go beyond certain limits – beyond time, space, and causation. As no man can jump out of his own self, so no man can go beyond the limits that have been put upon him by the laws of time and space. Every attempt to solve the laws of causation, time, and space would be futile, because the very attempt would have to be made by taking for granted the existence of these three. What does the statement of the existence of the world mean, then? ‘This world has no existence.’ What is meant by that? It means that it has no absolute existence. It exists only in relation to my mind, to your mind, and to the mind of everyone else. We see this world with the five senses but if we had another sense, we would see in it something more. If we had yet another sense, it would appear as something still different. It has, therefore, no real existence; it has no unchangeable, immovable, infinite existence. Nor can it be called non-existence, seeing that it exists, and we have to work in and through it. It is a mixture of existence and non-existence. (2.90-1)

     Within a few years of Swamiji’s passing away, Einstein’s relativity theory, basing itself on the famous Michelson-Morley experiment, dealt a deathblow to the ether theory. Our common-sense conceptions of space and time underwent a radical change. Einstein successfully applied the Equality Principle to discover the now famous principle of special relativity theory that there is no preferential frame in nature so that all laws of physical phenomena must be invariant when referred to different frames of reference. This Equality Principle is a particular application of a more general principle, namely the Symmetry Principle. There is an underlying symmetry in nature, which gives rise to the following string of characteristics: symmetry a impartiality a impersonality a equality (samatva). In its application to investigation into the nature of matter, the Symmetry Principle has led to some startling discoveries, which we will discuss presently. It is worthwhile to note here that the Generalization Principle and the Symmetry Principle are related to another important principle, namely the Unification Principle.

     2.2.2 The Unification Principle

     The Generalization Principle is about trying to see the particular as a special case of the general. One simple example that school physics would give you is that of the neutron and the proton. These are the well-known constituents of an atomic nucleus. The neutron, as the name implies, is neutral while the proton is positively charged. Interestingly, both of them are almost of the same mass. Taking this sameness as the key to generalization, we could say that these two particles are just two manifestations – two different charge states – of a single particle called the ‘nucleon’. A nucleon, then, can exist in two charge states: in its positive charge state, it is called a proton and in its neutral state, the same particle is a neutron. Two is thus reduced to one – rather, the two particles are unified into one. This can be viewed in terms of the Symmetry Principle as follows: there is an underlying symmetry into which these two particles could be subsumed and the manifestation as two particles is simply that the same nucleon exists in two different charge states. We could then enlarge this concept to accommodate more particles (with a common key, like mass in the case of the proton and the neutron) and subsume them into a larger symmetry. Since this symmetry is quite different from the kind of symmetry we ordinarily see in space, we could call it some kind of internal symmetry. Such symmetric schemes are well known in elementary particle classification. Larger and larger unifications have been attempted over the years by developing super-symmetric schemes. The hope is that ultimately all particles could perhaps be considered as the manifestation of one particle.

     A similar attempt has been made in regard to forces or interactions found in nature. We now know that nature admits of four types of interactions: weak, electromagnetic, strong and gravitational. While the first three have applications in the micro-world, gravitational force is felt predominantly only in the macro-world. Now, the human mind seeks a generalization, a unification, by asking the following question: Is it possible to subsume all these forces into a single force and consider these different forces as manifestations of that one force? Encouragingly, we have come a fairly long way: we have been able to unify the first three-weak, electromagnetic and strong. These are called the Grand Unified Theories (GUTs). Unfortunately, there is this loner: the gravitational force, which still eludes our unification attempt. As we said earlier, whereas the first three are quantum mechanics – dependent, owing allegiance to the Uncertainty Principle, gravity is a ‘classical’ theory – a different species altogether! Supergravity theories that came up were at one time believed to be the right answer to the unification of gravity with other forces, but they have not proved satisfactory. Attempts at quantum gravity theories are under way, but the problem appears very complex. But for nearly two decades, the so-called String Theory has held sway, in which the basic objects are not particles, but strings that have length but no other dimension.

     Defining the goal of science, Swamiji said more than a hundred years ago: ‘The end and aim of all science is to find the unity, the One out of which the manifold is being manufactured, that One existing as many.’ (1.133)

     And again:

     Science is nothing but the finding of unity. As soon as science would reach perfect unity, it would stop from further progress, because it would reach the goal. Thus Chemistry could not progress farther when it would discover one element out of which all others could be made. Physics would stop when it would be able to fulfil its services in discovering one energy of which all the others are but manifestations, and the science of religion becomes perfect when it would discover Him who is the one life in a universe of death, Him who is the constant basis of an ever-changing world. (1.14)

     In modern times, physicists are vigorously pursuing the very same idea to find a Unified Theory. Einstein attempted it years ago, but in vain. This Theory of Everything (ToE) is the Holy Grail of physics in this century. In the words of Stephen Hawking, ‘The eventual goal of science is to provide a single theory that describes the whole universe. … And our goal is nothing less than a complete description of the universe we live in.’

     2.2.3 The Symmetry Principle

     The Symmetry Principle, based once again on the principle of unity, has contributed considerably to the revolution of our concept of matter at the beginning of the twentieth century. Quantum mechanics owes its origin to this principle. The relativity theory and quantum mechanics together wrought a thought revolution unmatched in its profundity and power.

     We would consider two remarkable applications of this principle: (a) wave-matter symmetry, leading to the development of quantum mechanics or wave mechanics, and (b) microcosm-macrocosm unity, which is the basis of many a discovery-for example, the discovery of the Rutherford atom model (with planetary electrons) and the General Theory of Relativity as the theory of gravitation based on Mach’s principle, leading to radical changes in our concepts of space and matter and their interrelation.

     2.2.3 (a) Wave-particle Dualism and the Development of Wave/Quantum Mechanics

     The dawn of the twentieth century saw the birth of a remarkable theory that revolutionized our concept of matter and radiation. Max Planck propounded the Quantum Theory of Radiation, according to which radiation occurs not as waves, but in discrete energy packets (which are like particles) called ‘quanta‘. The energy content of each quantum, however, is proportional to the frequency of the radiation – the particle concept is thus wedded to the wave concept. The quantum theory was applied with remarkable success to a large number of phenomena like photoelectric effect, Compton effect and Bohr atom model. Thus quantum theory came to be established on a firm footing as the theory of radiation. Now, these two, namely matter and radiation, being the two fundamental manifestations of nature, the Symmetry Principle (and the concepts arising therefrom (symmetry a impartiality a impersonality a equality) immediately forces us to the following conclusion: If radiation has a particle aspect as a quantum, it should naturally follow that matter should have a wave aspect.

     Arguing from this principle, de Broglie enunciated his startling theory of ‘matter-waves’, which says that a moving particle behaves as a wave, with a definite wavelength derivable from the particle momentum – once again wedding the wave concept (wavelength) with the particle concept (momentum). 

     Several questions immediately came up: What is the nature of this wave? How is this wave to be interpreted? What is its physical significance? Two great physicists, Schrodinger and Heisenberg, started from two points of view and then formulated a mechanics of these waves, called wave mechanics and quantum mechanics, respectively. These two were found to be identical except for the language. It is now well established that all physical phenomena in the micro-world (of the atom, nucleus, sub-nuclear particles and so on) are governed by quantum mechanics. Soon, Dirac and others made successful attempts to wed this to relativity; relativistic quantum mechanics was thus born.

     This threw us back to the fundamental question: What then is a particle? In place of talking about a particle, one then talked about fields. These fields were then quantized to find the particle – a recovery, as it were. Very recently, physicists started talking about strings rather than particles. Thus the excitement about what a particle is in the first place, continues unabated in all its fury! On the application level, these matter-waves were found to undergo diffraction and so on like any other physical waves, leading to the invention of electron microscopes with staggeringly high enlarging capabilities. Medical science could progress by leaps and bounds thanks to these instruments. The guiding principle of all this exercise, however, is the Symmetry Principle.

     2.2.3 (b) The Microcosm-Macrocosm Unity

     One of the earliest principles of the ancient Indian rishis in their attempt to probe nature’s mystery was the microcosm-macrocosm unity. By applying the projection principle, projecting microcosm on macrocosm, they were able to formulate their theories about the cosmic phenomena. This, once again, is the well-known psychological principle of projecting from the known to the unknown: the microcosm is within our grasp, and since microcosm and macrocosm are built on the same plan, projecting the former on the latter could unravel the secrets of the macrocosm. Several examples could be cited.

     Nature of the cosmic Person: What is the nature of the supreme, cosmic Person? This is a question that has been engaging the attention of thinking individuals since time immemorial. The projection principle was applied successfully by our ancient rishis to answer this question: projection from the individual (relatively more known) to the cosmic (unknown). You study the individual, the micro-person; analyse him thoroughly; then project, aspect by aspect, to the macro-level. You then have a picture (or, more correctly, model) of the cosmic Person.

     In analysing the individual person, our ancient rishis discovered three levels: the gross, the subtle and the causal. The micro-aspect of each of these levels was then related to the three states of waking, dream and deep (dreamless) sleep. The corresponding macro-aspects were then obtained by the micro-macro projection principle. An important case in point: projection of the macocosmic Virat, Hiranyagarbha and Ishvara from the microcosmic vishva, taijasa and prajna, corresponding respectively to the gross (waking), subtle (dream) and causal (deep sleep) levels.

     The famous ‘Purusha Sukta‘ gives a vivid description of this cosmic Person, whose body is the macrocosmic counterpart of the individual body, whose mind is the macro-mind (cosmic Mind) – in short, whose consciousness is the cosmic Consciousness. 

     In Vedanta, the micro-macro equation has come to be applied only at the highest spiritual level. The other two levels, the physical and mental, have found very little application. Perhaps for the first time in the modern age, Swamiji wanted a revival of this equation even at the physical and mental levels. Thus, apart from the spiritual monism which Advaita Vedanta propounded, Swamiji spoke about two other kinds of monism: monism at the physical level and monism at the mental level. In his famous‘Paper on Hinduism’ at the Parliament of Religions in Chicago in 1893, he called these two levels of monism as ‘materialistic monism’ and ‘philosophical monism’. This revival of physical as well as mental oneness has profound implications for modern society. In fact, physics had shown clearly the reality of physical oneness and Swamiji was aware of this. Very soon after Swamiji’s passing away, Einstein propounded his Special Relativity Theory, followed by the General Relativity Theory. The latter theory was also a theory of gravitation. In formulating this theory, Einstein drew great inspiration from the philosophical thought of the German philosopher Ernst Mach. In his autobiographical sketch, Einstein mentioned that his reading of Mach’s philosophical writings decisively furthered the critical reasoning required for the relativity theory. He further said that his whole direction of thinking was along the lines of Mach’s thought, so that if one considered Mach to be a precursor of the General Relativity Theory, one would be perfectly justified. Mach’s thoughts reflect nothing but the physical monism that Swamiji spoke about. In fact, Swamiji forcefully described this in his lecture on ‘The Mission of the Vedanta‘:

     The other great idea that the world wants from us today, the thinking part of Europe, nay, the whole world – more, perhaps, the lower classes than the higher, more the masses than the cultured, more the ignorant than the educated, more the weak than the strong – is that eternal grand idea of the spiritual oneness of the whole universe. I need not tell you today, men from Madras University, how the modern researches of the West have demonstrated through physical means the oneness and the solidarity of the whole universe; how, physically speaking, you and I, the sun, moon, and stars are but little waves or wavelets in the midst of an infinite ocean of matter; how Indian psychology demonstrated ages ago that, similarly, both body and mind are but mere names or little wavelets in the ocean of matter, the Samashti; and how, going one step further, it is also shown in the Vedanta that behind that idea of the unity of the whole show, the real Soul is one. There is but one Soul throughout the universe, all is but One Existence. This great idea of the real and basic solidarity of the whole universe has frightened many, even in this country. It even now finds sometimes more opponents than adherents. I tell you, nevertheless, that it is the one great life-giving idea which the world wants from us today, and which the mute masses of India want for their uplifting, for none can regenerate this land of ours without the practical application and effective operation of this ideal of the oneness of things. (3.188-9)

     Swamiji’s vision of microcosm-macrocosm unity: Swamiji had a vision of this micro-macro identity when he was meditating under a peepul tree in Almora. Arising from this profound meditative awareness, he recorded his experience in his diary. An English rendering of what he noted down in Bengali runs as follows:

     In the beginning was the Word etc.

     The microcosm and the macrocosm are built on the same plan. Just as the individual soul is encased in the living body, so is the universal Soul in the Living Prakriti [Nature] – the objective universe. Shiva [i.e. Kali] is embracing Shiva: this is not a fancy. This covering of the one [Soul] by the other [Nature] is analogous to the relation between an idea and the word expressing it: they are one and the same; and it is only by a mental abstraction that one can distinguish them. Thought is impossible without words. Therefore, in the beginning was the Word etc.

     This dual aspect of the Universal Soul is eternal. So what we perceive or feel is this combination of the Eternally Formed and the Eternally Formless. (9.291)

     This scientific principle of micro-macro projection that Swamiji actually saw in an intuitive vision, he was boldly applying even in the socio-politic realm. We refer to his statement quoted at the very beginning: ‘Thus, everyone born into this world has a bent, a direction towards which he must go, through which he must live, and what is true of the individual is equally true of the race.’

     Swamiji was here relying upon this scientific principle of projection, which has been responsible for many a path-breaking discovery in physical science. We see here two more examples.

     Rutherford atom model: It is well known in the history of atomic physics how Rutherfold arrived at his nuclear atom model. From large-angle scattering of alpha particles, he had come to a definite conclusion that the entire positive charge of the atom is concentrated in a very minute region inside it. This he called the ‘nucleus’. The next question was, how are the negative charges distributed around the nucleus? When no amount of speculation worked, he applied, in a stroke of intuitive genius, the above micro-macro projection principle, albeit in the reverse order. He projected the sun onto the nucleus, and then the various planets revolving round the sun in elliptical orbits automatically got projected on to the negatively charged electrons. This projection gave him immediately the ‘planetary electrons’, with the electrons revolving round the nucleus very much like the planets round the sun. On application of Planck’s quantum theory, the experimental match was immediate and more or less accurate. When the fine structure of spectral lines was discovered, Sommerfeld once again used the projection principle with success: these planetary electrons were revolving in elliptical orbits, and relativistic variation of their mass with velocity needed to be applied. When the hyperfine structure of the spectral lines came up, the theory was further refined: once again the projection principle – look at the macrocosm and project backward to the microcosm. The concept of electron spin, like the internal rotation of the planets, was introduced and the experimental match obtained. Then came space quantization by the application of the same principle, and so on.

     The projection principle is used above as an analogy to understand the unknown from the known. The other example is the nuclear structure. We briefly discuss it below.

     Liquid drop model/Shell model of nucleus: The answer to the question of what the nuclear structure was like came once again from an analogy: from the known to the unknown. Two models of the nucleus are well known: the liquid drop model and the shell model. The liquid drop model came from drawing the analogy of the liquid drop to the nucleus – each force in the liquid drop was correspondingly projected. From this, Weiszacker arrived at a formula called the ‘semi-empirical mass formula’. Interestingly, it was this formula that gave the precise reasoning and information about nuclear fission and the consequent release of enormous amounts of nuclear energy. This phenomenon of nuclear fission was used to manufacture atomic and nuclear bombs for destructive purposes on the one hand, and to make nuclear reactors for constructive purposes on the other. It is interesting how this simple principle of projection (analogy) could become responsible for the release of astounding amounts of nuclear energy due to fission. Such is the power of thought!

     It is interesting to note that this projection principle was known to and used by the ancient Indian rishis ages ago. And Swamiji was keen to revive the scientific temper of our ancients and bring about a rejuvenated application of this temper.

     2.2.3 (c) Symmetry and Conservation Principles

     We could briefly mention here the crucial role played by what is known as the principle of conservation and discuss its relation to symmetry. Conservation of certain well-known physical quantities is the bedrock of science; conservation of mass-energy and conservation of linear and angular momentum are too well known. Now, there exists an intimate connection between symmetry and conservation (invariance) laws. This connection is embodied in what is known as Noether’s Theorem. In the micro-world-the sub-atomic realm of elementary particles – the charge (C) conservation, left-right (parity) symmetry (P) and time-reversal symmetry (T) have played a vital role in our understanding, leading to what is called the CPT theorem.

     Swamiji has tried to apply the principle of conservation to socio-political situations and tried to derive some remarkable conclusions. The intimate connection between symmetry and conservation could be invoked to reinforce his theses and enunciate generalized theorems in the socio-political sphere. While a detailed discussion of this topic is beyond the scope of this paper, we mention this just to show how Swamiji wanted scientific principles to be applied to society as well: for all human existence forms one coherent whole.

     3. Conclusion

     The scientific rejuvenation in Swamiji’s vision of a rejuvenated India, therefore, is twofold: (1) the revivification of the fundamental scientific principles discovered by our ancient rishis, and (2) the practical application of these principles to every department of human activity and every sphere of human endeavour – in one word, their application in everyday life, for universal well-being.

     Swamiji has identified some of these fundamental principles, like the ones mentioned above, the most fundamental, according him, being the solidarity or oneness of the universe. He called these ‘life-giving principles’. It behoves us, then, to: (1) discover what these principles are (apart from the ones Swamiji himself mentions specifically); (2) reverentially contemplate them to find out how they could be applied to every department of human activity and to every sphere of human endeavour, for the welfare of the entire humankind; and  Test their effectiveness by actual application, individually and collectively.

     If we, as a nation, apply ourselves to this noble task, realizing the power of thought in bringing about individual and collective welfare, social change and uplift, India could hope, in the not-too-distant future, to become a superpower – not for bullying other nations or for bulldozing them to accept our own ways of thinking or to dominate over them, but for establishing a reign of peace and blessedness. The great treasures in the form of ‘life-giving principles’ and powerful ideas that we have inherited from our forefathers in this blessed land should be spread broadcast all over the world. Swamiji’s prophetic utterance in this context should fill us with fresh zeal and redoubled energy to accomplish this task:

     For a complete civilization the world is waiting, waiting for the treasures to come out of India, waiting for the marvellous spiritual inheritance of the race, which, through decades of degradation and misery, the nation has still clutched to her breast. The world is waiting for that treasure; little do you know how much of hunger and of thirst there is outside of India for these wonderful treasures of our forefathers. We talk here, we quarrel with each other, we laugh at and we ridicule everything sacred, till it has become almost a national vice to ridicule everything holy. Little do we understand the heart-pangs of millions waiting outside the walls, stretching forth their hands for a little sip of that nectar which our forefathers have preserved in this land of India. (3.317)

     If only we could deeply share this agony that Swamiji felt, and awaken without delay to this enormous national responsibility, a rejuvenated India of Swamiji’s dreams would become a reality. The entire world is waiting with bated breath, anxiety and panic writ large in its wrinkled forehead, for peace and blessedness. It is India, and only India, that can create such an atmosphere of peace and benediction. For it is from India that noble ideas, powerful thought currents, expressive of joy and immortality, have emanated since time immemorial: ‘… ideas after ideas have marched out from her, but every word has been spoken with a blessing behind it and peace before it.’ (3.106)

     May we endeavour tirelessly to actualize Swamiji’s dream of a rejuvenated India; and may the entire world be deluged with the waves of love, peace and benediction flowing out from this rejuvenated, glorious India, as from an eternal spring.


     1. The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, 9 vols. (Calcutta: Advaita Ashrama, 1-8, 1989; 9, 1997), 3.154.
     2. His Eastern and Western Admirers, Reminiscences of Swami Vivekananda (Calcutta: Advaita Ashrama,1999), 151.
     3. CW, 3.108-9.
     4. Bhagavadgita, 13.2.
     5. CW, 2.20-2.
     6. Stephen W. Hawking, A Brief History of Time (London: Bantam, 1989), 10, 13.
     7. CW, 1.8.

Swami Kalyandev: A Lamp that Swamiji Lighted

Written by VHouse Admin. Posted in Articles

Source from An article by Swami Videhatmananda which appeared in Prabuddha Bharata – May 2005

A free translation by Swami Satyamayananda, from ‘News and Reports’ (January 2005) of Vivek Jyoti, the Hindi journal of the Ramakrishna Order, published from Raipur, Chattisgarh.

     Swami Vivekananda said: ‘The national ideals of India are RENUNCIATION and SERVICE. Intensify her in those channels, and the rest will take care of itself. The banner of the spiritual cannot be raised too high in this country. In it alone is salvation.’ A sannyasin who embodied these words of Swamiji’s recently entered into mahasamadhi. He was the last surviving person who had seen and talked to Swami Vivekananda. One is amazed to learn how he translated into action Swamiji’s message to him and transformed himself into a nationally renowned saint. He performed not ordinary miracles but the real miracle of bringing solace and succour to numerous poor and downtrodden people. Last year, on 14 July, the 129-year-old sannyasin passed away into eternal samadhi, after ‘witnessing three centuries’.

     Swami Kalyandev was born Kaluram on 21 June 1876 in Kotana village in the district of Baghpat, Uttar Pradesh, at his maternal grandfather’s home. He was the third son of his pious parents, who hailed from the village of Mundbhar in Muzaffarnagar district. His father was Pherudatt and mother, Bhoi Devi. Kaluram spent his early years in Mundbhar.

     In his childhood Kaluram got an opportunity to visit his paternal aunt’s home in Budhana. His uncle Bulla Bhagat was a zamindar there. There was no dearth of anything at home but Bulla Bhagat and his wife were distressed because they were childless. This was probably the reason the devout couple had the child Kaluram brought to fill the void. Religion is the backbone of rural India, and Bulla Bhagat’s home was no different; rather it was intensely religious. The couple immersed themselves in devotion to God and service of holy men. Kaluram’s uncle became so well known among the wandering sadhus that they always thronged his doors. Unfailingly, every morning and evening there used to be readings from the Ramayana, after which prasad used to be distributed joyously to all present.

     Kaluram was happy growing in this ambience. He used to rise early and after ablutions sit beside his uncle to attentively listen to the Ramayana being sung. Thus from childhood the stories and teachings of the Ramayana entered deep into Kaluram’s heart and left a permanent impress. These ennobling ideas and images then became his ideal. Seeing so many sadhus every day and noticing their spirit of freedom, which impressed him, young Kaluram one day left his uncle’s home like the itinerant mendicants to strive for God-realization. He wore only a loincloth and a cotton chadar.

     Empty-handed and barefoot, begging for food and asking the way, the lad reached Ayodhya, the place of his dreams and aspirations. Here he met Swami Ramdas, who tutored him in the alphabet. Kaluram was a bright student and soon he could read the Ramayana in Hindi. In Ayodhya he heard of a holy place of pilgrimage, Hardwar. His mind now became restless to visit it, and after spending some more days in Ayodhya, Kaluram left for Hardwar. In Hardwar, he was delighted to see the numerous temples and ashramas. He never settled in one ashama but kept moving on to different ones. Day and night he listened to the holy scriptures and devotional songs. It was during one of these days that he went to Khetri, where he met Swami Vivekananda and was instructed by him.

     After returning from Khetri, there arose a strong desire in his mind to get formally initiated by a guru. In his search for an ideal guru, Kaluram reached Muni-ki-Reti in Rishikesh, the abode of ascetics, and met Swami Purnananda. The pure and simple Swami Purnananda agreed to Kaluram’s earnest prayers and accepted him as a disciple. Observing Kaluram’s devotion to service, his guru initiated him into sannyasa in 1900 and gave him the name Swami Kalyandev. At his guru’s behest Kalyandev stayed in the Himalayan regions and performed intense tapasya for a few years. But there was something that was tugging at his heart. He descended from the mountains and soon engaged himself in various kinds of altruistic works. Now his yearning soul was calmed down. In time, Kalyandev’s work grew into a seva-yajna, service as a religious sacrifice. And throughout the remainder of his long life of more than one hundred years, this seva-yajna grew in intensity.

     Meeting Swami Vivekananda was the greatest turning point in Swami Kalyandev’s life. In November 1897, Swamiji had reached Dehra Dun. From there he proceeded to Delhi, Alwar and then to Jaipur, where he put up at Khetri House. On 9 December, Swamiji, accompanied by some of his gurubhais and disciples, left for Khetri in horse carriages and reached the place on the 12th. Swamiji being a state guest, arrangements were made by Maharaja Ajit Singh for his stay at Sukh Mahal. In this garden house Swamiji stayed for three weeks with his entourage.

     Probably, Swami Kalyandev first heard of Swamiji when he was about twenty-one years old. He was still Kaluram then and was residing in Hardwar. Swamiji’s triumph at the Parliament of Religions in Chicago in 1893 and his subsequent successful preaching of Hinduism had generated awe, veneration and gratitude in India. When Kaluram heard that the world-renowned Swami Vivekananda was going to Khetri via Dehra Dun, Delhi, Alwar and Jaipur, he decided to meet him. Doggedly, he started for Jaipur on foot. On reaching there he heard that Swamiji had left for Khetri, and that on his return journey he would take a different route to Calcutta via Jodhpur and Ajmer. In those days, reaching Khetri was extremely difficult, but young Kaluram was no weakling and as was his habit, he again travelled on foot. He met Swamiji in one of the garden houses in Khetri.

     A reporter of Amar Ujala, a popular Hindi daily, while interviewing Swami Kalyandev for the paper’s 14 October 2003 issue, enquired, ‘Where did you get the inspiration to go from village to village and do social service?’ The swami replied, ‘In 1893 I met Swami Vivekananda in Khetri.  He said to me, “If you want to see God, go to the huts of the poor. And if you want to attain God, then serve the poor, the helpless, the downtrodden and the miserable.” To attain God through service of the poor is the mantra I received from Swamiji. I have never been able to forget it.’

     According to another version, during Kaluram’s meeting with Swamiji he was told that ‘The vision of God can be had in the huts of the poor. The farmer and the labourer – these are God’s two children. When you wake up in the morning and come out of your house, you will hear two sounds: the bells ringing in the temples and the cries of the suffering, “Oh, Rama! I am dying!” Follow the second sound first and try to alleviate people’s suffering according to your capacity. You may go to the temple only then.’

     Swamiji’s remarkable personality and his instructions left an indelible impression on young Kaluram. As we have already seen, it was after this meeting that Kaluram found his guru and had sannyasa. Then, for the rest of his life, he went from village to village on foot and served farmers and labourers, the poor and the downtrodden.

     With unflagging effort stretching over a century, Swami Kalyandev established about three hundred institutions for spreading education and bringing humanitarian aid to villages, especially what was beneficial to people at grass-roots level. His work covered western Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Punjab, Rajasthan, Delhi and other places. The institutions include technical and vocational schools, an ayurvedic medical college, middle schools, high schools, girls’ schools, junior high schools, primary schools, clinics and dispensaries, eye clinics, Sanskrit schools, workshops, students’ homes, dharmashalas, schools for the deaf and dumb, blind schools, yoga instruction centres, old age homes, asylums for old cows, orphanages, martyrs’ memorials, and other religious and spiritual centres. In all these institutions distinctions of caste or sex have never been a bar. Poor or rich, all receive equal treatment.

     All of Swami Kalyandev’s endeavours show that he tried to raise social consciousness by bringing in modern ideas. He worked against untouchability, alcoholism, child marriage and such other social evils. But in spite of being the initiator of so many institutions, Swami Kalyandev himself never held an official post.

     Swami Kalyandev also helped rebuild dilapidated and neglected religious and historical sites. For example, he renovated a monument in Shuktal, sixty kilometers north of Meerut, associated with the great sage Shuka, the son of Veda Vyasa and the narrator of the Bhagavata. There the swami also established the Shukadeva Ashrama and Seva Samiti. He also renovated parts of Hastinapur, the old capital of the Pandavas and Kauravas. Many places of pilgrimage in Haryana too have received his attention. In works of this kind, the swami displayed uncommon concern for the safety of pilgrims.

     Even at 128 Swami Kalyandev kept himself engaged in the service of the poor, looking upon them as manifestations of Narayana. He was fearless; disease and sorrow meant nothing to him. He was simple and innocent. From early morning till late in the night people of all types used to flock to him and he would listen to each of them attentively and patiently and give proper advice. Thus he tried to remove their wants and help them out of their problems.

     Swami Kalyandev met Mahatma Gandhiji in 1915. He was acquainted with luminaries like Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and Dr Sampurnanand. In 1982 he received the Padma Sri award, and in 2000 the prestigious Padma Bhushan. He was also awarded an honorary D.Litt. by Meerut University. In 2002 Sri Atal Behari Vajpayee, the then prime minister of India, released in his presence the momentous volume The Seer of Three Centuries: Swami Kalyan Dev, compiled in his honour.

     Swami Vivekananda had said: ‘You have heard that Christ said, “My words are spirit and they are life.” So are my words spirit and life; they will burn their way into your brain and you will never get away from them!’  We see the demonstration of this truth in the life of Swami Kalyandev. It was a great life of renunciation and service. It has set a towering example for us to emulate. ~

Notes and References

1. The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, 9 vols. (Calcutta: Advaita Ashrama, 1-8, 1989; 9, 1997), 5.228.
2. Although Swami Kalyandev said that he met Swamiji in 1893, the chronology of events suggests that the meeting took place in 1897.
3. It was Sri Suresh Kumar Srivastav of Gursarai, Jhansi, who first made this clipping available to the author.
4. Shuktirth Sandesh (Hindi), July-September 2004, 3. This source was made available to the author through the kindness of Dr Sudhir Kumar Bharadwaj of Muzaffarnagar.
5. Godhan (Delhi), January 2003.
6. CW, 9.407.