Swami Vivekananda (1863-1902) is India's most celebrated and charismatic monk. Handsome, brilliant, an image of contained strength and a lover of music and poetry, he also had a great desire to know about the source of his Hindu heritage. His search ended when he met his guru Sri Ramakrishna.
His brilliant speech at the Parliament of Religions in Chicago in 1893 brought him worldwide fame. In his short lifespan of thirty-nine years, he propagated the Hindu spiritual culture in India and abroad. His inspirational writings and speeches remain relevant even today. This book is a study of the Swami, his life and times, and his teachings.
Dr Prema Nandakumar is an independent researcher, publishing critical and biographical works. She is also a creative writer in Tamil and English. She is the recipient of several awards.
My maternal grandfather, M.S. Krishnaswami Iyengar, was a very orthodox Srivaishnava. A widower, he would not eat food cooked even by my mother who was his only child. He had to travel a good deal because of his work but never would he eat in a stranger's house. Hotels were taboo. Wherever he stayed (even if he came to our house) he would take out his own well-packed utensils and make a simple meal of rice and dal. If he had no time or place to do his cooking, he would be content with water and fruits.
But apparently he kept his heart open. The two volume edition of The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna which he bought in 1920 may be said to be the starting point of Sri Ramakrishna-Vivekananda literature in our house. When I contemplate upon the past, I realise that grandfather's purchase of the two volumes of the Gospel was auspicious. This was the first non-traditional piece of writing to enter the shelf of our Srivaishnava household. From that day onwards the family library has never looked back in gathering spiritual treasures of our times. As the books came in, they brought new inspirations, joys and fulfillment. Grandfather remained enclosed in orthodoxy but does it matter what he ate or how much he worried about ritual purity or why he painted a gorgeous Srivaishnava tilak on his forehead? He had the curiosity to find out what was inside the Gospel which had the subtitle: "The Ideal Man for India and for the World". Later on curiosity turned to regard and respect. That makes this obscure postmaster and millions of disciplined, educated Indians of the last century like him a priceless conduit for the sustenance of our Sanatana Dharma.
That also explains the significance of Swami Vivekananda's life. More than a hundred years ago when educated young men were unable to find a meaning in their lives and remained bound to the discipline of tradition, he came as a leader to show them a royal path which would not alienate them from their tradition and yet bring them to a brave new world. Today's Indian culture is largely the work of Swami Vivekananda. I feel it is the grace of the Divine Mother that has given me this chance to write his biography. It has not been an easy task for the literature is immense and the urge to allow his words to tell the tale can be overwhelming. But it is also like wandering in the world of heroism and valour. Who wants to leave it?
Swami Nikhilananda's biography in English and Swami Ashutoshananda's in Tamil have been my mainstay throughout the planning and writing of this book. The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda apart, I have also drawn from the writings of Sister Nivedita, the biography of Sri Ramakrishna by Swami Saradananda, The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna by "M" and other books of this area which have nurtured my writing career spanning fifty-five years.
I am grateful to Sonavi Desai for asking me to take up this work for the series on Spiritual Masters, and to Swami Satyaswarupananda for suggesting my name to her. My loving thanks to Nandakumar and my children, Ahana, Bhuvana and Raja, for making me forget my age and age-related problems. And to my personal library, a salutation in gratitude.
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