Swami Vivekananda, born Narendranath Datta, was an eminent Indian monk, philosopher, and chief disciple of Ramakrishna. His journey began in Calcutta on January 12, 1863, marked by a deep affinity for spirituality.
Following Ramakrishna’s guidance, he embraced monkhood, traversed India, and journeyed to the West. His impactful speech at the 1893 Parliament of Religions in Chicago introduced Hinduism to the world. Vivekananda’s lectures across the globe disseminated Hindu philosophy, establishing Vedanta Societies.
He founded institutions like Ramakrishna Math and Mission, leaving an enduring legacy as a pivotal figure in India’s spiritual and national renaissance. His birthday is celebrated as National Youth Day in India.
Swami Vivekananda’s story began in Calcutta, India, on January 12, 1863. He was born in a big family, one of nine siblings.
His father, Vishwanath Datta, worked as a lawyer, and his mom, Bhubaneswari Devi, was a devoted homemaker. His grandpa was really smart and even became a monk.
Narendranath, as he was called, grew up in a home where his dad was practical, and his mom was religious. He got interested in spiritual stuff early, praying and meditating in front of idols. He also admired monks who wandered around.
As a kid, Narendranath was full of energy, sometimes causing trouble. His mom once jokingly said, “I asked for a son from God, and he sent me a mischievous one!” This mischievousness and his interest in spiritual things stayed with him as he grew up.
Swami Vivekananda’s journey through education was fascinating. He started at Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar’s Metropolitan Institution when he was eight. Later, his family moved, and he went to school in Raipur until 1877. When they returned to Calcutta in 1879, he aced the Presidency College entrance exam, standing out as the top student.
Books were his thing! He read about philosophy, religion, history, and lots more. Hindu scriptures like the Vedas, Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita, Ramayana, Mahabharata, and Puranas fascinated him. He even learned Indian classical music and stayed active in sports and activities.
At the General Assembly’s Institution, now called the Scottish Church College, he dove into Western subjects like logic, philosophy, and history. He snagged a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1884. His reading list was no joke – from David Hume to Charles Darwin. Vivekananda was a genius, hailed by his principal William Hastie, who believed he’d leave a lasting mark.
His memory amazed everyone! He once quoted pages from Pickwick Papers in a talk and stunned a Swedish person with facts about Swedish history. In Germany, absorbed in reading, he impressed a professor by reciting verses from a text. Vivekananda’s memory was so sharp that he returned books after a day, claiming he’d read them – and he had! Some even called him a ‘shrutidhara’ for his extraordinary memory.
After the passing of Ramakrishna, financial support for his disciples dwindled, leaving them struggling to pay rent. Many returned home to lead family lives, but Narendra, along with the remaining disciples, took a different path. They converted a run-down house in Baranagar into a new math or monastery, using funds raised through “holy begging” (mādhukarī). This place became the very first building of the Ramakrishna Math, the hub for Ramakrishna’s monastic order.
Life at the Baranagar Math was deeply spiritual. Narendra and his companions dedicated extensive hours to meditation and religious practices daily. Their routine began at 3:00 am, immersing themselves in japa (repetition of a mantra) and meditation. Their commitment to spiritual pursuits was so profound that worldly concerns faded into insignificance.
During this time in 1887, Narendra collaborated with Vaishnav Charan Basak to compile a Bengali song anthology named Sangeet Kalpataru. Although he collected and arranged most of the songs for this compilation, unfavorable circumstances prevented him from completing the book’s work. These early days at the monastery were marked by intense spiritual dedication and a sense of detachment from worldly affairs.
Lecture tours in the UK and US
Swami Vivekananda’s venture into the West wasn’t about changing people’s beliefs but illuminating the truth within them. Post the Parliament of Religions, his US journey spanned across cities like Chicago, Detroit, Boston, and New York, mesmerizing audiences with profound talks on life and religion.
His impact extended beyond lectures. He established the Vedanta Society of New York in 1894 but soon shifted to private classes in Vedanta and yoga due to declining health. Vivekananda’s influence reached the UK during visits in 1895 and 1896, where he found success in lectures and met influential personalities.
His magnetic persona attracted a diverse following, including Nikola Tesla, William James, and Sarah Bernhardt. Initiating followers into the Vedanta mission, several became Swamis to carry on the work. In America, he established the “Peace retreat” in California, fostering spiritual growth.
Amidst these Western ventures, Vivekananda didn’t forget India. He advocated for social service and education among the underprivileged. Initiating publications like Brahmavadin and translating “The Imitation of Christ,” he aimed to spread Vedanta’s teachings.
His return to India in 1896 marked a new chapter, accompanied by Sister Nivedita, dedicated to Indian women’s education and the country’s struggle for freedom.
On the day of his passing, July 4, 1902, Swami Vivekananda commenced his day with an early awakening, engaging in three hours of meditation at the Belur Math monastery. He dedicated time to instructing students on Shukla-Yajur-Veda, Sanskrit grammar, and the philosophy of yoga. Discussions ensued regarding plans for a Vedic college within the Ramakrishna Math.
At 7:00 pm, Vivekananda retired to his room, requesting not to be disturbed. It was there that, at 9:20 pm, he peacefully passed away while in meditation. His followers believed he attained mahasamādhi, a profound state of meditation marking spiritual liberation. Reports suggested that a blood vessel in his brain might have ruptured, possibly linked to the cause of his passing. According to his disciples, this rupture occurred as his brahmarandhra—a symbolic center atop the head—was pierced during this spiritual culmination.
Fulfilling a prophecy he made regarding not living beyond forty years, Vivekananda’s cremation took place on the banks of the Ganges in Belur. His funeral pyre, set ablaze with sandalwood, honored his life and teachings, adjacent to the site where his guru, Ramakrishna, was cremated sixteen years earlier.
Swami Vivekananda’s impact as an orator and writer resonated powerfully in English and Bengali. While not a meticulous scholar, his published works were predominantly compiled from extemporaneous lectures delivered worldwide, often with minimal preparation. One of his significant works, “Raja Yoga,” was a compilation of talks given in New York, illustrating his expertise in the subject.
In his literary endeavors, “Bartaman Bharat” (meaning “Present Day India”) stands out—an erudite Bengali essay advocating for the respect and fair treatment of every Indian, regardless of birth circumstances.
His publications during his lifetime included works such as “Sangeet Kalpataru” (1887), “Karma Yoga” (1896), “Raja Yoga” (1896), and thought-provoking addresses on Vedanta philosophy. “My Master” (1901) and “Bartaman Bharat” in Bengali (1899) were among his significant works.
Posthumously, several works surfaced, expanding his legacy. These included “Addresses on Bhakti Yoga,” “The East and the West” (1909), “Inspired Talks” (1909), “Practical Vedanta,” and a comprehensive collection titled “Complete Works” across nine volumes. Among the later publications, “Seeing Beyond the Circle” (2005) continued to unveil his teachings and insights.
- January 12, 1863: Born as Narendranath Datta in Calcutta to Vishwanath Datta and Bhubaneswari Devi.
- 1871: Enrolled at Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar’s Metropolitan Institution.
- 1877: Family moved to Raipur.
- 1879: Returned to Calcutta and excelled in the Presidency College entrance examination.
- 1881: Passed the Fine Arts examination.
- 1884: Completed Bachelor of Arts degree.
- 1886: Met Ramakrishna and became his disciple.
- 1888: Ramakrishna’s passing.
- 1893: Attended the Parliament of Religions in Chicago, delivered a historic speech introducing Hinduism.
- 1894: Founded the Vedanta Society of New York.
- 1895 :First UK visit, Met Margaret Elizabeth Noble, who later became Sister Nivedita.
- 1899: Bartaman Bharat published.
- 1901: Published “My Master.”
- July 4, 1902: Passed away at Belur Math after a day of teaching and meditation.