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Landon Ward
Landon Ward

2 The Light: Swami Vivekananda

On his southward journey, while he was in Kathiawar, Vivekananda heard of the upcoming Parliament of Religions in Chicago in September of 1893. While in Belgaum he definitely showed interest in attending the meeting. But when the ruler of Mysore, Chamaraja Wadeyar offered to bear the expenses, he refused as he was still uncertain. Then he had an epiphany like experience during his three days of meditation in Kanyakumari (on a rock abutting the ocean ' now called the Vivekananda rock). There he felt he came face to face with the Goddess at the famous shrine, he made up his mind once and for all that he would go to Chicago. Following his continuation of trip through Madurai, Rameshwaram and Pondicherry he reached Madras. A devotee Alasinga Perumal by name took up his cause of collecting money for his upcoming trip. He went from door to door to collect the much needed funds. Meanwhile, Vivekananda went to visit his devotee, the Raja of Khetri. The Rani had given birth to a son and they both felt that this could only happen because of the blessings by the swami. Interestingly, all this while when he was touring India he had not yet assumed the name Vivekananda. He went by the name Swami Satchidananda (and sometimes Vividishananda). In May of 1893, just before he was to go to Bombay to set sail to America, Raja Ajit Singh of Khetri suggested the name Vivekananda (one with a discerning mind). It was by this name Vivekananda would be remembered by the world. He left India from the port at Bombay without any credentials (Colonel Henry Steel Olcott of the Theosophical Society in Madras had refused to even give him an introductory letter). His 'Madras Boys' even had neglected the protocol of registering his name at the Parliament of Religions, which caused an inconvenience, when he arrived in America. On May 31 he boarded S.S. Peninsular with a first class ticket, a silk robe and a handsome purse and headed for the New World. Almost two months later, on 25th of July, he reached Vancouver on the west coast of Canada. From there he travelled by train to Winnipeg, and then to St. Paul, Minnesota. A third train then would take him to Chicago, reaching there on 30th of July. Soon Vivekananda found himself running short of money, while he was waiting for the Parliament of Religions conference. He also, to his dismay found out that he could not attend the meeting without credentials (from the religious authorities of Hinduism, the religion he was to represent), and it was too late to do so. He also found living in Chicago was too expensive, with the limited resources he had with him. He had come to America with about 185 British Pounds given to him by Alasinga Perumal and an unknown amount in the purse given by the Raja of Khetri. But it was his charismatic personality, and a series of coincidences in the next few weeks that enabled him to be recognized by even strangers, as one of the most intellectual minds they had ever met. On his way from Chicago to Boston, he chanced to meet a woman who took a fascination for the swami and his intellect. The fifty-four year old woman, Kathryn Sanborn, was no ordinary woman. She was a prominent socialite in Boston with many connections. He stayed as her guest at Metcalf, Massachusetts, where she proudly showed her handsome guest with the turban around (a magnificent specimen of manhood was how she described him). Most importantly, for Vivekananda, she knew Professor John Henry Wright from Harvard. He was the professor of Greek Studies and after meeting Vivekananda was so impressed that he made a personal recommendation to the Body of Parliament of Religion to invite Vivekananda as a delegate as, 'He is more learned than all our learned professors put together. Asking such a man to produce credentials is like asking the sun for the light with which it shines,' he wrote.Vivekananda also became very close to James Wright's family. When he was playing with the three Wright children, he was a child himself. He stayed with the Professor for a few days and then was invited to stay with Kate Woods and her son Prince Woods. Kate Woods, a fifty-eight year old widow, was the founder of Thought and Work Club in 1891, and an author and lecturer par excellence. She had met Vivekananda at Kathryn Sanborn's house and had invited him to stay with her at Salem, Massachusetts. Vivekananda did not refuse to go to anyone's home if invited, not only because he loved the company of them but also because his financial situation demanded it. Even before his date with destiny on September 11 at the Parliament of Religions, Vivekananda was asked to speak to various groups by his hosts. He took no time to dispel the myth that Hindu religion was a barbaric one, as Christian missionaries had painted such a picture of the religion in the west. This was not well received by local ministries and Vivekananda felt some hostility in their attitudes and manner of questions.

2 The Light: Swami Vivekananda

An official release from the Raj Bhavan said the Governor paid a visit to the gallery and the museum and saw the childhood exhibits and images of different incidents in the life of Swami Vivekananda. He meditated in the meditation room where the swamiji stayed nine days after he returned to India.

On this occasion, Swami Gautamanandaji Maharaj, Vice-President, Sri Ramakrishna Math & Mission; Swami Dharmishtananda, Manager, Sri Ramakrishna Math; Swami Raghunayakananda, Swami Ishapremananda, Dr. Nalli Kuppuswami, retired Madras High Court judge K. Chandru, and K.N. Ramasamy, Director, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, were present.

Let there be conflict. The cream arises in conflict. What harm is there if this world is destroyed? What good can there be if it continues to exist? There is nothing very seriously wrong with anything. Satguru Yogaswami (1872-1964), Sri Lankan mystic


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