Dutta (Swami Vivekananda) was born in an upper
middle-class Kayastha (high caste Hindu) family
on 12 January 1863, in his paternal home at
3, Gour Mohan Mukherjee Lane, Calcutta. Narendranath
was the sixth child and the second and eldest
living son of his parents, Vishwanath Dutta
and Bhuvaneswari Devi. Afterwards Narendranath
had two more sisters and two brother-Mahendranath
and Bhupendranath. All the three brothers remained
Narendranaths father was an Attorney at
the Calcutta High Court, earning nearly a thousand
rupees per month. The family atmosphere was
a blend of modernism and orthodoxy, represented
respectively by his father and mother. Vishwanath
had a liberal outlook but perhaps no deep faith
in any religion. Bhuvaneshwari had devout deep
faith in traditional Hinduism. She was well
versed in Bengali and knew some English. She
believed that she got Narendranath through the
grace of Vireshwara Shiva of Varanasi. Narendranath
in his later life openly admitted her influence
in the development of his character.
Narendranath did not have any traditional Indian
education in a Pathshala or Tol. Passing the
Entrance examination from the Metropolitan Institution
in 1879, Narendranath was admitted into the
Presidency College and after one year into the
General Assemblies Institution (now Scottish
Church College), from where he passed the F.
A. and B. A. examinations in 1881 and 1884 respectively.
After graduation he started studying Law in
the Metropolitan Institution (now Vidyasagar
College), completed the course in 1886, but
did not appear in the final examination.
In student-life the main stream of Narendranaths
energy was diverted through the channel of searching
for God, the Absolute Truth. He used to practise
continence and concentration of mind as prescribed
for an intellectual grasp of the problem like
the Western philosophers. This quest of Truth
brought him in contact with Maharshi Debendranath
Tagore, Keshab Chandra Sen, Shivnath Shastri
and others of the Brahmo Samaj, of which Narendranath
was a member for a period, and with Brajendra
Nath Sen . He also corresponded with Herbert
But nothing and none could satisfy him and he
eagerly searched for a man who had seen
God and could guide him to do so. After a period
of fruitless search at last in 1882, he found
Sri Ramakrishna to be the man. He began to visit
Ramakrishna at Dakshineshwar but was cautious
enough not to accept the validity of his statements
without sifting them thoroughly through the
sieve of his rational mind beset with all modern
doubts of the age. And finally being satisfied
he surrendered to him and realised under his
guidance the Absolute Truth in 1886.
Narendranath had to pass through the stormiest
days of his life, both internal and external,
caused by the sudden death of his father in
1884, reducing the family overnight from luxury
Before passing away on 16 August 1886, Sri Ramakrishna
entrusted the responsibility of carrying out
his work to Narendranath, saying, You
will do great things in this world; you will
bring spiritual consciousness to men and assuage
the misery of the humble and the poor.
At that time the world was being assailed by
the atheistic ideas getting fresh impetus from
scientific discoveries and the rational outlook
of the intellectuals.
Narendranath started his work by assembling
his brother-disciples, a band of young men,
in a rented house, later on known as Baranagore
Math, where they took formal Sannyasa and new
names. Narendranath assumed the name Vivekananda:
I assumed. He said, as it
is customary with all Sannyasins-on my renunciation
of the world; it signifies literally the bliss
Narendranath toured Northern India up to Hardwar
thrice in 1888, 1889 and 1890 from Baranagore
Math, meeting Pawhari Baba during the second
tour. On his third tour he did not come back
to Baranagore and travelled alone through Central
and Southern India and reached the Temple of
Kanyakumari in the last week of December 1892.
During this period he met Bal Gangadhar Tilak,
the Maharajas of Alwar, Khetri, Mysore and Ramnad,
came in close contact with the masses of India
and thus acquired intimate experience of the
degraded social, economic and spiritual condition
of the nation; all the while he tried in vain
to find out a way to uplift the nation.
At last sitting on the last rock of India(now
known as Vivekananda-Shila), he hit upon
a plan-he visualised that religion is
the blood of the nations body, the impurities
of this blood are responsible for all our present
maladies; the nation can rise again if this
blood is purified, and the first step in this
direction it to make it conscious of the greatness
of its age-old religion and civilisation.This
idea inspired him to join the Parliament of
Religions to be held in Chicago the following
September and to preach there the universal
ideas of Vedanta.
His disciples, Alasinga Perumal and others
of Madras and the Raja of Khetri, collected
the money necessary for the voyage, and on 31
May 1893 Vivekananda now left with little money
faced the danger of death due to cold and starvation.
A man of destiny, he overcame all obstacles
and at last was accepted as a delegate to the
Parliament on the recommendation of Professor
J. H. Wright of Harvard University and the motherly
help of Mrs. G. W. Hale of Chicago.
On 11 September 1893, the opening day of the
Parliament of Religions, a short speech beginning
with Sisters and brothers of America
made Vivekananda the most popular speaker there
and a world-figure. He spoke at least 11 times
on different occasions in the Parliament. These
speeches impressed deeply the modern Western
mind as to what true religion is, and along
with it the greatness of Hindu civilisation
and Hindu religion. This appreciation of the
West aroused the Indian nation, as expected
by Vivekananda, and made it conscious of its
own greatness, removing completely the inferiority
complex which the
pioneering movements of the century initiated
by Raja Rammohun Roy, Dayananda Saraswati, Annie
Besant and others could not do.
After the Parliament of Religions was over on
27 September, Vivekananda in a hurricane tour
lectured in different cities of the United States,
fearlessly preaching his ideas and ignoring
false propagandas directed against him. Then
in February 1895, he settled in New York, opened
a centre there for regular classes and also
paid attention to the building of spiritual
lives of his Western disciples, initiating some
of them in Brahmacharya and Sannyasa also.
From America Vivekananda went to England via
Paris in 1895 and came back towards the end
of the year. From this time his lectures were
taken down by his disciple and stenographer
Mr. J. J. Goodwin. Vivekananda went to London
again in 1896. This time he toured the Continent.
During these two visits to Europe Vivekananda
became acquainted with Professor Max Muller,
Paul Deussen, A. Sturdy, Miss Margaret Noble
and Mr. And Mrs. Sevier. The last three became
his disciples and sacrificed their lives for
serving him through serving India.
Vivekananda left India for the second time on
20 June 1899, and reached New York via London.
Establishing a few centres on the Pacific Coast
he sailed from New York on 26 July 1900 for
Paris where he was invited to attend the Congress
of the History of Religions. There he met Sir
Jagdish Chandra Bose. From there he came back
via Cairo to Belur Math on 9 December 1900.
Towards the end of 1901, he met the Reverend
Oda and Okakura who came to Belur Math to invite
him to Japan.
Vivekananda left his mortal body on 4 July 1902,
at Belur Math in his own room.
The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda
(in 8 volumes) contains all his works (including
poems and letters) and speeches in original
English, and also original Bengali, Sanskrit
and French speeches translated into English.
He delivered a few lectures in Hindi but they
are not available. His work in book-form were
first published in 1896-Karma-Yoga
from New York, Raja-Yoga from England
and Bhakti-Yoga from Madras.
It is rightly stated by Dr. R. C. Majumdar and
R. G. Pradhan that, The nascent nationalism
of India received a great momentum from the
life and activities of Swami Vivekananda
,who might well be called the father of
modern Indian Nationalism; he largely created
it and and also embodied in his own life its
highest and noblest elements. He dealt
with all the main problems of modern India and
pointed out their solutions in his Lectures
from Colombo to Almora'.In 1897 he said,"Let
the country be your only God for the coming
He was not a politician but his ideas and
patriotism inspired many to serve the country,
combining spirituality with intense activity
in their own lives; we may recall the names
of the heroes of the revolutionary movements,
Mahatmaji and Netaji, whose contributions are
on the top in making India politically free
in just fifty years after Swamiji gave his first
He said, "I am a Socialist not because
I think it is a perfect system, but because
half-a-loaf is better than no bread. He
said, the turn has come for the labour to come
soon in power all over the world, and also located
the starting point of this event: The
great upheaval which is to bring about a new
epoch will come from Russia or China.
He warned the rich and the educated class to
uplift the masses economically and culturally.
He said, Teach them history, geography,
science, literature and along with it profound
truths of religion. Otherwise, when
the masses will wake up
by a puff of their
mouth you will be entirely blown away.
He wanted the spread of education to the masses
both men and women, but not at the cost of Indian
ideals. He laid stress on technical education,
and also on learning Sanskrit, in which, he
said, lies the integrity of India. Regarding
customs he wanted the combination of all healthy
customs of the East and the West. He wanted
the caste-system to be based on qualities ;
he said ,"the modern system (based on heredity)
is a barrier to Indian progress." He never
supported the custom of untouchability.
He felt the need of a school of Indian historians
to strike out an independent path of historical
research for ourselves with scientific
accuracy, and also of the revival of Indian
Swami Vivekananda based all his ideas on universality
and taught us to do so. Every idea has
to become broad till it covers the whole world.
He said more than once that he was not for India
alone, but for the whole world. He loved India
so much because India alone has the potentiality
to bring about a synthesis of the East and the
West- spirituality and material progress -and
inspire other nations to do so. If India fails
to do this, he said, then in the whole world
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.
His idea on religion also was universal:"Each
man is potentially divine. The goal is to manifest
this divinity by controlling nature, external
and internal. That is the whole of religion.
He said, every one can and should manifest this
divinity already in him by doing work
as worship and serving man as God
in every field of his life. The manifestation
of this divinity should be the purpose of our
education and society.
To realise this truth is essential also for
feeling our unity with others and for growing
universal love in our mind. Comparing the Truth
of Oneness realised by Seers with modern scientific
truths, and showing it not to be contrary to
them (particularly in his works Raja-Yoga
and Jnana-Yoga), he also satisfied
the modern intelligentsia. Regarding the theory
of Revolution, he said that the theory of Involution
also should be accepted.
In a word it may be said that his life beacons
the upward path of human civilisation.