India pays tribute to Swami Vivekananda on what would have been his 160th birthday

Spiritual leader believed in unity of religions and their teachings

Indian contributions to the American religious landscape are showcased as part of Beyond Bollywood. Here, Swami Vivekananda and guests at Green Acre School, Eliot, Maine, ca. 1894. This school, a meeting-place for the study of world religions, was just one stop on a tour in which Vivekenanda introduced the West to Hinduism and yoga.
CREDIT: Courtesy Eliot BahaÕi Archives and Maine Memory Network/Smithsonian
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India's President Droupadi Murmu and Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday paid tribute to Swami Vivekananda, one of the country's most prominent spiritual leaders, on what would have been his 160th birthday.

The Hindu monk and philosopher is credited with promoting the ideals of religious tolerance, brotherhood, peace and harmony.

He was also a social reformer and worked to end child marriage and illiteracy and to spread education among women and lower castes in a largely conservative British India.

India celebrates the anniversary of the monk's birth as National Youth Day to inspire young people with his teachings and their impact on the development of modern India.

"My tributes to Swami Vivekananda on his birth anniversary," Ms Murmu said on Twitter. "An iconic personality who combined spirituality and patriotism, he propagated Indian values globally.

"His life and teachings continue to inspire youth to follow their dreams and achieve greater goals."

Mr Modi, who has often spoken about Mr Vivekananda’s influence on him, said his ideas would continue to guide India.

“His life always inspires for patriotism, spirituality and hard work. His great thoughts,” Mr Modi said.

Early life

Mr Vivekananda was born into a Bengali aristocratic family in Calcutta, now Kolkata, as Narendranath Datta, in 1863.

He was educated at a western-style university where he was exposed to philosophy, science and Christianity. He was spiritual from a young age and often meditated in front of Hindu deities.

In 1881, at the age of 18, he found guru Ramakrishna, a Hindu religious and spiritual leader, and became his disciple.

He became a monk on Christmas Eve in 1886.

School students gather to practise yoga on at Ranital stadium as India celebrated Swami Vivekananda's birth anniversary. AFP

Hinduism and western esotericism

Mr Vivekananda believed in the unity of religions and their teachings. His philosophy is a reinterpretation of various strands Hindu with western esotericism and universalism.

He attended the Parliament of the World's Religions, a global dialogue of faiths, at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1893, where he delivered his iconic “Sisters and Brothers of America" speech.

He received a three-minute standing ovation from the crowd of 7,000.

“Sectarianism, bigotry, and its horrible descen­dant, fanaticism, have long possessed this beautiful earth," he said.

"They have filled the earth with vio­lence, drenched it often and often with human blood, destroyed civilization and sent whole nations to despair.

“Had it not been for these horrible demons, human society would be far more advanced than it is now."

He hoped the “convention may be the death-knell of all fanaticism”.

Several American newspapers wrote about the “Hindoo” monk who wore saffron robes, his speech, oratory skills and intellectualism.

The New York Critic called him an “interesting personality”.

“He speaks without notes, presenting his facts and his conclusions with the greatest art, the most convincing sincerity; and rising at times to a rich, inspiring eloquence,” the paper wrote in The Chicago Letter column on November 18, 1983.

Indian students wear the face masks and attire of Indian scholar monk Swami Vivekananda at a rally on ocassion to mark his birth anniversary in Chennai on January  20, 2018.
Vivekananda is considered a major force in the revival of Hinduism in modern India. / AFP PHOTO / ARUN SANKAR

He travelled across the US for two years and to the UK, Japan, China and Canada, spreading the message of “divine unity of existence and unity in diversity".

He was also offered academic positions in the Eastern Philosophy departments at Harvard and Columbia Universities but refused due to the conflict with his austere life as a monk.

He travelled across the subcontinent, acquiring first-hand knowledge of living conditions in British India.

He addressed social issues including eliminating caste system and promoting education, science and philosophy.

During his train travels, people often sat on the tracks to force him to stop so they could hear him.

He founded the Ramakrishna Math, a monastery that provides spiritual training for monks and devotees, and the Ramakrishna Mission, to provide charity, social work and education in 1897.

He died at the age of 39 after a rupture in a blood vessel in his brain. He had diabetes and had prophesied he would not live past the age of 40.

Swami Vivekananda’s quotes

Here are some of the quotes of one of the greatest thinkers of all time.

  • "The more we come out and do good to others, the more our hearts will be purified."
  • "Arise, awake and stop not till the goal is reached."
  • "Be true to yourself, and you will be true to the world. "
  • "The greatest sin is to think yourself weak."
  • "Education is the manifestation of the perfection already in man."
  • “In a conflict between the heart and the brain, follow your heart.”
  • “Do not wait for anybody or anything. Do whatever you can, build your hope on none.”
  • “You have to grow from the inside out. None can teach you, none can make you spiritual. There is no other teacher but your own soul.”
  • “Condemn none: if you can stretch out a helping hand, do so. If you cannot, fold your hands, bless your brothers, and let them go their own way.”
  • “Ask nothing; want nothing in return. Give what you have to give; it will come back to you, but do not think of that now.”
Updated: January 12, 2023, 2:00 PM