Wednesday, February 14, 2024





                                              ( Swami Ji with  monks and some Kashmiri Pandits ….. Kashmir 1897 )



 Swami Vivekananda ( 1863 –  1902) was a saint, social reformer, orator , thinker ,teacher and a celebrated spiritual leader of modern India . He was the foremost disciple of Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa , the priest of Kali Temple in Kolkata. Among the wandering monks of India ,Swami Vivekananda is the first name that comes to my mind . For 5 years , from 1988 to 1993, Swami Ji travelled the entire length and breadth of India to get a close feel of the people , cultures and spiritual practices as also to spread the gospel of Hindu reforms and social uplift . His sole possessions were a Kamandalu (water pot), staff and his two favourite books: the Bhagavad Gita and The Imitation of Christ. Swami Ji held the Bhagavad Gita in high regard. He considered it a spiritual and philosophical guide, emphasizing the importance of its teachings on duty, righteousness, and devotion.

 Swami Vivekananda  was responsible for reviving Hindu culture and renewing a spirit of nationalism in the Colonial India . He also worked about to bring Hinduism to the fore and giving it the status of one of the major religions of the world, by the 19th century. The most famed disciple of Saint Ramakrishna, Swami Vivekananda went on to become the founder of the Ramakrishna Math and the Ramakrishna Mission as well. Vivekananda is probably best known for his inspiring speech on Hinduism at the Parliament of the World's Religions, held at Chicago in the year 1893, where he had astounded and impressed the audience by starting with the phrase, "Sisters and Brothers of America". While Vivekananda came to be regarded as India's spiritual ambassador in the United States, he is revered as a patriotic saint in modern India.

 Living primarily on Bhiksha (alms), Swami Vivekananda travelled on foot and by railway (with tickets bought by admirers). During his travels he met, and stayed with Indians from all religions and walks of life: scholars, Dewans, Rajas, Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Paraiyars (low-caste workers) and government officials.During his travels , he visited Nainital, Almora , Kashi, Rishikesh ,Ayodhya , Pune , Dehradun, Goa , Madurai , Pondicherry, Kashmir , Allahabad ,Ahmadabad , Mumbai , Ajmer, Jaipur Kanya-Kumari ,Mathura , Agra , Vrindavan, Bangaluru ,Kutchh , Girinar ,Thiruvananthapuram , Nadiad ,Baroda , Mysore,Dwarka , Rameshwaram and many more places. Finally Swami Ji embarked on his historic journey to America on May 31, 1993. During his voyage to the US, Swami Ji also visited Japan, Canada and China.

During his travels, he was deeply moved to see the terrible poverty and backwardness of the masses. He was the first religious leader in India to understand and openly declare that the real cause of India’s poverty and backwardness was the neglect of the masses .At every place where he visited, Swami Ji tried to utilise his spare time by meeting rulers, saints and sages or  reading some  ancient scriptures  or  books about culture  and history of the place. In Jaipur, he studied Panini’s Ashtadhyayi under the tutelage of a Sanskrit Scholar. Swami Ji was invited by Mangal Singh, the King of Alwar, who did not believe in the practice of idol worship because of his western outlook. A meeting with Swamiji changed his attitude towards the idol worship by the Hindus. In Ghazipur ( UP ), he got in touch with Pavhari Baba, a great sage. Pavhari Baba was known for his absolute knowledge of Advaita Vedanta. Pavhari baba had done his religious and spiritual study under the tutelage of his uncle who was a follower of Ramanuja or Shri sect . On meeting the sage, he felt blessed and referred to him as a great soul of Bhakti and Yoga . In Varanasi , Swami Ji came across the saints like Trailanga Swami, the authors like Bhudev Mukhopadhyay, and the Vedic scholars like Babu Pramadadas Mitra. He interacted with and took favour from whoever came his way without caring their castes and creeds because he believed in non-duality of the soul. Some of those who were touched by his noble soul became his disciples and got initiated into service to the nation. Among them was Sharat Chandra Gupta, a railway station master in Haridwar, who came to be known as Swami Sadananda.  Swami Ji fondly called  him Sharat “the child of my spirit”. The Gujarat travel was full of enlightenment for Swami Ji. He studied the Jain scriptures there. He got the idea of preaching Vedanta in the Western World from Thakur Saheb Jaswant Singh who he came across in Limbdi. Haridas Viharidas Desai, the Diwan of Junagadh, welcomed him as a respected guest and became his ardent follower. While traveling by train in Bombay in 1892, Swami Ji happened to meet Bal Gangadhar Tilak, a Nationalist in the Freedom Movement of India. They spent a few days together in Pune. He moved to Panaji in Goa from Maharashtra, and studied the Christian theology at a convent in Goa.

During his travel to Southern India , Swami Ji  met Ramnad  Bhaskara Sethupathi, the then King of Madurai, who approached him with an urge to participate in the Parliament of Religions in Chicago. Swami Ji won the admiration of whoever came in touch with him during the itinerary across Tamil Nadu. Most of them became  his disciples and responded to his call for renunciation in service to the nation. One of his most ardent disciples in South India was Alasinga Perumal who collected funds for Swami Ji’s voyage to Chicago by going from door to door. In Mysore, he met  Chamaraja Wodeyar, the then King of Mysore who welcomed him cordially to the Mysore Palace. He also met the Diwan of Cochin. His travel continued till he reached the Southernmost part of India, Kanyakumari, on foot through Trissur, Ernakulam, Trivandrum, and Nagercoil. He did not have any money to pay for a boat ride that would take him across to a rocky island in Kanyakumai . He plunged into the sea and swam across to get there. There he meditated for three days and had a vision. While in the West, Swami Ji  spoke about India’s great spiritual heritage; in India, he repeatedly addressed social issues: uplifting the people, eliminating the caste system, promoting science and industrialisation, addressing widespread poverty and ending colonial rule.

The places that Swami Ji visited in the undivided Punjab are: Ambala, Amritsar, Dharamshala, Rawalpindi, Sialkot, Lahore and  Murree. In Lahore, Swami Ji spoke before a huge gathering about Vedanta .Gossain Tirtha Ram (later Swami Ram Tirath ),  a professor of mathematics in Lahore was in the audience  . He was already into spirituality and a  great impetus was given to his spiritual life by Swami Vivekananda, whom he saw for the first time at Lahore. The sight of the great Swami as a Sannyasi kindled in him the urge to don the ochre robe. Later, he also visited the US to  spread the message of Vedanta . Swami Ji was a great admirer of Sikh Gurus especially Guru Gobind Singh Ji . He described Guru Gobind Singh as a creative genius .Equally strong was his praise for the Marathas, who rebelled against Mughal power keeping them away  from gaining a foothold in the  Deccan , the Southern part of India.This is what he said in Lahore :-

“Wave after wave of barbarian conquest has rolled over this devoted land of ours. This is the land which, after all its sufferings, has not yet entirely lost its glory and its strength. Here it was that in later times the gentle Nanak preached his marvellous love for the world. Here it was that his broad heart was opened and his arms outstretched to embrace the whole world, not only of Hindus, but of Mohammedans too. Here it was that one of the last and one of the most glorious heroes of our race, Guru Gobind Singh , after shedding his blood and that of his dearest and nearest for the cause of religion, even when deserted by those for whom this blood was shed, retired into the South to die like a wounded lion struck to the heart, without a word against his country, without a single word of murmur .”


Enamoured by  its  natural beauty , abundant spirituality and simplicity of the residents , Swami Ji visited Kashmir twice. The first time he reached Srinagar was on  September 10, 1897 accompanied by some monks including  Sadananda, Niranjanananda, and Dhirananda . At Srinagar, he was the guest of Justice Rishibar Mukhopadhyaya. Rishibar Mukhopadhyay was the Chief Justice  while Nilambar Mukhopadhyay was the  Prime Minister of  the Kashmir State during Maharaja Partap Singh’s rule. On the third day after his arrival in the Kashmir valley , Swami Ji decided to pay  an informal visit to the palace of Maharaja Partap Singh who was in Jammu at that point in time. Swami  Ji was received by Raja Rama Singh brother of the Maharaja . During this meeting ,Raja Ram Singh sat on the floor and offered the chair to Swami Ji. Raja Ram Singh was deeply impressed by Swami Ji's philosophy and zeal to improve the lot of the  poor in India  . Raja Ram Singh made a commitment  to Swami Ji  to help him  in carrying out his mission . During this brief tour ,Swami Ji remained busy meeting delegations of officials of the Maharaja , groups of  Sadhus ,students from schools and colleges and people in general including Kashmirri Pandits. He also addressed many gatherings . During this visit , he also visited a few places of  historic interest in the Kashmir Valley .The purpose of his first visit was   primarily to find some land for setting up his Math in the Kashmir valley.This proposal was turned down by the British Regent Adelbert Talbot. During this trip to Kashmir  , Swami Ji also paid a brief visit to Kheer Bhawani Temple . Swami Ji  left Srinagar for Baramulla and reached Murree on October 8 and from there to Rawalpindi on October 16, 1897. This was a brief visit .


 In the summer  of 1898 , Swami Ji visited  Kashmir the second time .He came  via Rawalpindi, Murree and Baramulla.  Sister Nivedita, Mrs. Ole Bull and Miss MacLeod accompanied him. From June 22 to July 15, 1898 Swami Ji and his western guests  stayed in houseboats (dungas) on the Jhelum River in Srinagar city .

Visit To Kheer Bhawani Shrine at Tulamula    

On June 26, 1898,  Swami Ji decided to go  to Kheer Bhawani Temple in Tulamula .His disciples also joined him. A Doonga boat was hired . Accompanied by some Kashmiri Pandits and his Western disciples , Swami Ji  arrived at Tulamula. Swami Ji was moved by the gesture of the Doonga Hanji ( boatman ), who although being a Muslim, didn’t  allow him and his Christian disciples to land with shoes on in Tulamula , " so thoroughly Hinduistic," wrote  Nivedita, "is the Mohammedanism of Kashmir with its forty Rishis, and pilgrimages made fasting, to their (i.e. the Hindus') shrines."

At Tulamula ,Swami Ji would spend his time in praying inside the shrine .One day at Kheer Bhavani ,Swami Ji had been thinking over the  vandalism of the temple by the Muslim invaders time and again. Troubled at heart, he thought : "How could the people have permitted such sacrilege without offering  tough resistance! If I had been here then, I would never have allowed such a thing. I would have laid down my life to defend the Mother ”. Thereupon, he heard the voice of the Goddess saying: "What if unbelievers should enter My temple and defile My image? What is that to you? Do you protect Me, or do I protect you?" Referring to this experience after his return, he said to his disciples : "All my patriotism is gone. Everything is gone. Now it is only Mother! Mother! I have been very wrong. I am only a little child”.

Another day, during  his worship,  Swami Ji   thought of  building a new temple in the place of a present dilapidated one. He had also built a monastery and temple at Belur .  He even thought of trying to raise funds from his wealthy American disciples and friends. At once the Mother appeared  to him saying  : "My child! If I so wish I can have innumerable temples and monastic centres. I can even this moment raise a seven-storied golden temple on this very spot."  "Since I heard that divine voice," Swami Ji  later said, "I have ceased making any more plans. Let these things be as Mother wishes “.

After returning from his Amarnath Yatra ,  Swami Ji  again went to Tulamula on September 30 leaving strict instructions that no one was to follow him. He returned from Kheer Bhawani Temple on October 6 .During this visit , he  performed  daily Homa (Havan), and worshipped Her with offerings of Kheer (thickened milk) made from one maund of milk, rice, and almonds. He also performed Kanya Pooja . Every morning he worshipped a Brahmin Pandit's little daughter as Uma Kumari, the Divine Virgin. He practised severe austerities. He became like a child before the Divine Mother. At the Kheer Bhawani Temple , he was no more a reformer , religious  leader or orator or great thinker . He had become a   monk in  pure Sanyasa.

Local  Excursions

Swami Ji also did some local excursions  with his disciples. Swami Ji went to Shankaracharya Temple . This small, massively built Shiva temple that stands atop the Shankaracharya Hill rises a thousand feet above the surrounding terrain. Swami Ji was fascinated by the beauty of the lake  as seen from the top of the hill . The extensive sweep of the scene from the hill drew from the Swami the exclamation : "Look, what genius the Hindu shows in placing his temples! He always chooses a grand scenic effect! See, it commands the whole of Kashmir. The rock of Hari Parbhat rises red out of blue water, like a lion couchant, crowned. And the temple of Martand has the entire  valley at its feet!" Swami Ji also went to Hari Parbhat and Mughal gardens . Swami Ji also visited Pandrethn Temple along with his disciples

Visit To Ananatnag District By Boat  

On July 19, Swami Ji and his disciples started for their journey to many places in the Anantnag district  by boat. They halted their boat at the  old Temple of Pandrethan (derived from Puran-adhishthana meaning "old capital") that lay sunk in a dirty  pond within a forest close to the Jhelum River . Swami Ji was pained to see the beautiful temple with four doorways opening to the cardinal points lying in ruinous state.  According to Swami Ji, “The temple had interior decorations, with their sun-medallion, and to the fine sculpture, in low relief, of male and female figures intertwined with serpants. From the outside , it had an image of  Buddha standing with hands uplifted. And there was a much-defaced frieze, showing a seated woman and a tree. This evidently represented  Maya Devi, the Buddha's mother “. "To the Swami," writes Sister Nivedita, "the place was delightfully suggestive," and she adds : "It was a direct memorial of Buddhism, representing one of the four religious periods into which he had already divided the history of Kashmir : 1) Tree and snake worship, from which dated all the names of the springs ending in Nag, as Veernag and so on; 2) Buddhism; 3) Hinduism in the form of sun-worship; and 4) Mohammedanism. Sculpture he told us, was the characteristic art of Buddhism. The figures with the serpants reffered to pre-Buddhism” .

Moving up the river, the party came next day (July 20) to the ruins of the two great temples of Avantipora. Its sculptures drew his admiration. In his view the temples were more than two thousand years old. Swami Ji said in the course of conversation: "In order to strengthen the national life, we must reinforce the current of that life itself along the line of its own culture of ideals. For instance, Budha preached renunciation, and India heard. Yet within a thousand years, she had reached her highest point of national prosperity. The national life in India has renunciation as its source. Its highest ideals are  Seva (service)  and  Mukti (liberation ) “.

On July 21, Swami Ji and his party arrived at the temple of Bijbehara.The town was already thronging with Amarnath pilgrims. The Party made a nighthalt in Bijbihara .After visiting the temple, they left for Anantnag which was reached on the afternoon of July 22. On the 23rd morning, the party went to see the ruins of Martand. "It had been a wonderful old building  evidently more abbey than temple, ”  writes Nivedita, "and its great interest lay in the obvious agglomeration of styles and periods in which it had grown up “. On July 25 the party went on to Achhabal garden and in the afternoon came back to Anantnag. 

Visit To The  Holy Amar Nath Cave

   Swami Vivekananda had great attraction for Lord Shiva since his childhood. As he grew older his love for Shiva became deeper. And now in the Himalayas, the abode of Shiva, the thought of Him was uppermost in the Swami Ji's mind. To his disciples, he would almost daily speak about Shiva, Shakti, Purusha,Prakriti, Ardhanarishawara and many issues relating to Shiva Sadhana  . To him, It represented the junction of two great streams of thought, Monasticism and Mother-worship; or it represented the vision of truth where renunciation through philosophy and supreme love become inseparable. And "he understood, he said, for the first time the meaning of the nature-story that made the Ganga fall on the head of Lord Shiva, and wander in and out amongst His matted locks, before she found an outlet on the plains below.

During this visit to Kashmir ,Swami Ji had made an unsusseful attempt to visit  the holy Amar Nath cave alone via Sonamarg. On July 10, he had left alone for a pilgrimage to holy Amarnath cave  by way of Sonamarg. On the 15th he returned, having found that route impracticable because the summer heat had melted some of the glaciers. Again during the visit to Ananatnag areas , Swami Ji felt a deep desire to go to Amarnath via Pahalgham. It was at Achhabal that the Swami announced his intention of going to Amarnath with the two or three thousand pilgrims then en route to that shrine. As a special privilege, Sister Nivedita was allowed to join him as a pilgrim. It was settled that his other Western disciples would accompany the party as far as Pahalgam and there wait for the Swam Ji's return.

On July 27 the party halted for a night at Bhavan (also called Mattan) and reached Pahalgam on July 28. Throughout the rest of the journey Swami Vivekananda would bathe in the holy waters , offer flowers, fruits and sweets to the object of worship before breaking his fast, make obeisance by prostrating himself on the ground, tell his beads, make ritual circumambulation, and the rest. At every halt, Swami Ji's tent was besieged by scores of monks seeking knowledge from him. Many of them could not understand his broad and liberal views on religious matters. The Muslim Tehsildar, the state official in charge of the pilgrimage, and his subordinates, were so attracted to the Swami Ji  that they attended his talks daily and afterwards entreated him to initiate them.

On July 30 , Swami Ji  left for Chandanwari. Next day a steep climb towards Pissu top followed and then a long walk on the narrow path that twisted round the mountain-side. At last they camped (July 31) at Wavjan at a height of 12,500 ft. Next day (August 1), after crossing the Mahagunas Top, a pass at 14,500 ft., they reached Panchtarani, the "place of five streams".

On August 2, the day of Amarnath itself, there was first a steep climb followed by a descent, where a wrong step would have meant death. They walked across a glacier till they reached a flowing stream. When Swami Vivekananda reached the cave, his whole frame was shaking with emotion. The cave itself, says Nivedita, was "large enough to hold a cathedral, and the great ice-Shiva in a niche of depressed shadow, seemed as if throned on its own base." His body covered with ashes, his face aflame with devotion to Shiva, the Swami entered the shrine itself, nude except for a loin-cloth, and prostrated in adoration before the Lord. A song of praise from a hundred throats resounded in the cave, and the shining purity of the great ice-linga over-powered him. He almost swooned with emotion. A profound mystical experience came to him, of which he never spoke, beyond saying that Shiva Himself had appeared before him, and that he (the Swami) had been granted the grace of Amarnath, the Lord of Immortality, namely not to die until he himself should choose to do so. Shri Ramkrishna had prophesied regarding this disciple of his : "When he realises who and what he is, he will no longer remain in the body!"

Never had Swami Ji , in visiting a holy place, felt such spiritual exaltation. Afterwards he said to his European disciple, "The image was the Lord Himself. It was all worship there. I never have been to anything so beautiful, so inspiring!"

French Nobel Laureate Romain Rolland in his book (page 162 ),“The life of Vivekananda “ writes this about Swami Ji’s visit to Amar Nath cave in Kashmir  :-

“On August 2, the day of the annual festival, they arrived at the enormous cavern large enough to contain a vast cathedral: at the back rose the ice-lingam-the great Shiva Himself. Everyone had to enter naked, his body smeared with ashes. Behind the others, trembling with motion , Vivekananda entered in an almost fainting condition; and there, prostrate ,in the darkness of the cave , before that whiteness, surrounded by the music of hundreds of voices singing, he had a vision. Shiva appeared to him. He would never say what he had seen or heard. But the blow of the apparition on his tense nerves was such that he almost died. When he emerged from the grotto, there was a clot of blood on his left eye , and his heart was dilated , and never regained  its normal condition .For days afterwards,  he spoke of nothing but Shiva, he saw Shiva everywhere; he was saturated by Him; the snowy Himalaya was Shiva  seated on His throne.”

On the journey back the Swami and party returned to Anantnag, and from there by boat to Srinagar which they reached on August 8. Following the pilgrimage to Amarnath, the Swami's devotion became concentrated on the Mother. It was touching to see him worship, as Uma, the four-year old daughter of his Muslim boatman. He once told his disciples, during these days, that "wherever he turned, he was conscious of the presence of the Mother, as if she were a person in the room."

 Thus we see during his stay in Kashmir, Swami Vivekananda was in a different world altogether. Visions of Baba Amarnath, Mother Kali and Kheer Bhavani remained always with him. Later at Belur Math he said , "Since visiting Amarnath, I feel as though Shiva were sitting on my head for twenty-four hours a day and will not come down."

In Kashmir  Swami Ji  and his party were treated with great respect by the Maharaja Partap Singh ; and during his stay various high officials visited Swami Ji's houseboat to receive religious instruction and converse with him on general topics. The party left Kashmir on October 11 and came down to Lahore. Swamiji reached Belur Math on October 18, 1898.

 As a matter of routine, Swami Ji slept for 4 hours , meditated for most of his day aside from the times he spent cooking with his disciples, studying the scriptures and  teaching/preaching.In a life-span of only 39 years, Swami Vivekananda, who spread the message of India's spiritual heritage across the world, battled several health problems all along. On 4 July 1902, at a very young age (39 years ) , Swami Ji passed away while meditating. According to his disciples, Vivekananda attained Mahasamādhi- the rupture of a blood vessel in his brain was reported as a possible cause of death. Swami Vivekananda's last rites were performed in the precincts of Belur Math, Kolkata. There is a Mahasamadhi Mandir built on the spot where his body was cremated.

Talking about Swami Vivekananda, Jawaharlal Nehru said, “Rooted in the past, full of pride in India’s prestige, he was yet modern in his approach to life’s problems, and was a kind of bridge between the past of India and her present.” Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose said, “Swami Ji harmonised the East and the West, religion and science, past and present.” It is no surprise that he managed to inspire two differing political ideologues to speak in unison!

“Na takht-o-taaj mein na lashkar-o-sipah mein hai

Jo baat mard-e-qalandar ki bargaah mein hai” ….Allama Iqbal


(A monarch’s pomp and mighty arms can never give such glee,

As can be felt in presence of a Qalandar bold and free .)


(Avtar Mota)

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