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Swami Vivekananda—the wandering monk

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Swami Vivekananda is regarded as a patriotic Hindu saint, who was born in India on January 12, 1863. His birthday is celebrated as National Youth Day in India and his messages are referred to in most intellectual discussions on Hinduism. This young Swami was credited as a major force in the revival of Hinduism in India and the introduction of Hindu religious philosophies to the United States of America, when he spoke at the Parliament of World Religions in Chicago in 1893.

But before taking Hinduism to North America, this young Swami toured the Indian sub-continent extensively and acquired first-hand knowledge of his people and how they lived under the British colonial government. History records that the Swami, known as Narendra, left his monastery to lead a Hindu religious life as a wandering monk without a fixed abode, without ties and independent. His sole possessions were a kamandalu (water pot), a staff and two of his favourite books. He travelled extensively in India for five years.

Six years ago, on behalf of the Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha, I attended an international conference on Hinduism in Detroit, USA. Many of the Hindus of North America were of the opinion that Swami Vivekananda was the person who introduced Hinduism to the West.

I had to correct that historical inaccuracy, pointing out that the Swami visited Chicago in 1893 while Hinduism was being practised in the Caribbean 50 years earlier. For the first time the Hindu delegates were informed that Hinduism was introduced in Guyana in 1838 when the first shipload of Indian indentured labourers arrived to work on its sugar plantations.