It was in the last days of the year 1892, when the Swami arose from his meditation at Kanyakumari, and wended his way to Madras, a centre of orthodox learning and culture. From the shrine of the Mother he went afoot, journeying through Ramnad and onwards, until he reached Pondicherry, south of Madras. Weary from long marches he rested there for some days, and met several young men who became his admirers and invited him to their homes.
It was at Pondicherry that the Swami had a lengthy and bitter discussion with an exceedingly bigoted orthodox Pandit upon many important topics relating to Hinduism and its reform. The Pandit, being of the old school, antagonised the Swami at every turn. He was not so much learned as he was violent, and he became brutal in his denunciation of the Swami’s progressive ideas. The conversation turned on the question of sea voyage. When the Pandit could not hold his ground against the Swami, he would often interrupt him blurting out in Sanskrit with wild gestures, “Kadapi Na, Kadapi Na,” “Never, never!” “My friend,” the Swami cried out at last, “what do you mean? Upon every educated Indian devolves the responsibility of submitting the contents of the Dharma to the test. For this reason we must come out of the limited grooves of the past and take a look at the world as it moves onwards to progress at the present day. And if we find that there are hide-bound customs which are impeding the growth of our social life or disturbing our philosophical outlook, it is time for us to take an advance step by eschewing them.” The Swami spoke also concerning the uplift of the masses, and said that the time was at hand when the Shudras would arise and demand their rights and privileges. He insisted that it was the duty of the educated Indians to help the downtrodden masses by giving them education, to spread the ideal of social equality and to root out the tyranny of priestcraft and the evils of national disorganisation, which the perversion of the caste system and of the higher principles of religion had brought on.
Destiny works in strange ways. It so happened that Mr. Manmatha Nath Bhattacharya chanced to meet the Swami plodding up from Rameswaram, with staff and Kamandalu in hand. Learning that the Swami was on his way to Madras, Mr. Bhattacharya insisted that he should travel with him and be his guest. The Swami consented, and they started for Madras. There the Swami found awaiting him a dozen or more of the finest young men of the city, who in time became his disciples. From the day of his arrival he was besieged by numerous visitors.
From this time on the Swami seemed to be on the high road to public recognition. It was in Madras that many young men became his devoted adherents. It was here that he secured the funds wherewith he was enabled to go to America. It was in Madras that the message of his Master gained a ready acceptance. It was here, also, that his first work in India in the way of organisation and publication was commenced, and it was his Madrasi disciples who widely circulated his message even before his return from the West.
With the many eager inquirers who sought interviews with him, the Swami would discuss religion, psychology, science, literature or history. One day, when the Swami was in an exalted mood in which all thought was sublimated, some one asked him, “Swamiji, why is it that in spite of their Vedantic thought the Hindus are idolaters?” The Swami with flashing eyes turned on the questioner and answered, “Because we have the Himalayas!” He meant thereby that, surrounded by Nature so sublime and soul-stirring, man cannot but fall down and adore. The Swami's personality towered over everything. His thrilling musical voice, his songs, his strength of soul, his powerful intellect, his luminous and ready replies, his scintillating wit, his epigrams and eloquence held his hearers spellbound. And day after day the number of those who came to the house of Mr. Bhattacharya increased. He combined a spirit of humility with what would seem to be at times an aggressive self-consciousness; for sometimes he would beg pardon of a Pandit who had insulted him, calling himself an ignorant fellow; at other times he would burst like a hurricane upon his audience, giving them no opportunity to escape from the currents of his thought. But all this was unostentatious and informal. He spoke no harsh words against anyone, but he did not refrain from criticism when necessary. For example, there was the case of the Pandit who asked him if there was any harm in giving up Sandhyavandana, or prayers performed in the morning, noon and evening, because of lack of time. “What!” cried the Swami almost ferociously, “Those giants of old, the ancient Rishis, who never walked but strode, of whom if you were but to think for a moment you would be shrivelled into a moth, they, sir, had time, and you have no time!” In that same meeting, when a Westernised Hindu spoke in a belittling manner of the “meaningless teachings” of the Vedic Seers, the Swami fell upon him with a thunderbolt vehemence, crying out, “How dare you criticise your venerable forefathers in such a fashion! A little learning has muddled your brain. Have you tested the science of the Rishis? Have you even as much as read the Vedas? There is the challenge thrown by the Rishis! If you dare oppose them, take it up.”
To relieve the undue strain put upon himself by the constant influx of people, the Swami used to walk in the evening on the seashore. One day, when he saw the wretched and half-starved children of the fishermen working with their mothers, waist-deep in the water, tears filled his eyes, and he cried out, “O Lord, why dost Thou create these miserable creatures! I cannot bear the sight of them. How long, O Lord, how long!” Those who were in his company were overcome and burst into tears.
A party was arranged in his honour one evening. All the intellectual luminaries of Madras were present. The Swami declared himself to be an Advaitin, boldly, almost challengingly. A clique of intellectuals asked him, “You say you are one with God. Then all your responsibility is gone. What is there to qheck you when you do wrong, and when you stray from the right path?” The Swami replied crushingly, If I honestly believe that I am one with God, I shall abominate vice and no check is needed!”
In the course of a similar conversation in the palace of the Raja of Ramnad, some one had jeered at him for his assertion that it was possible for a human being to see Brahman, the Unknown. Aroused at once, he exclaimed, "I have seen the Unknown!”
The Swami held several conversations at the Literary Society of Triplicane, which had given him his first introduction to the public; many of its young members belonged to the social reform movement in Madras. But he saw that they were working from the wrong point of view, that of sweeping condemnation. In his repeated talks the Swami emphatically urged upon them the necessity of critically analysing foreign ideals and of avoiding the assimilation of irreligious foreign culture. He said that they should invoke the aid of all that was great and glorious in the past, otherwise the very foundations of the national structure would be undermined. He told them that he was not an enemy of social reform; on the contrary, he yearned for reforms, but they must come from within, and not from without, and must be constructive and not destructive.
There came to him an atheist, the Assistant Professor of Science in the Christian College, Singaravelu Mudaliar. He saw the pragmatic values of Christianity and criticised Hinduism. He came to argue, but at the end of the conversation he was converted to the Swami’s way of thinking and became his ardent disciple. The Swami loved him very much and called him "Kidi”. He said of him afterwards jocularly, “Caesar said, ‘I came, I saw, I conquered.’ But Kidi came, he saw, and was conquered!” After a time Kidi devoted his life to the Swami’s cause, and when at his suggestion the Prabuddha Bharata was started in Madras, Kidi became its honorary manager. He later renounced the world to lead the life of a recluse and died a saintly death.
Mr. V. Subramanya Iyer says that he went with some of his class-fellows to the house of Mr. Bhattacharya, intending to have some fun. They found the Swami smoking his Hookah in a sort of half-awake, half-dreamy state, seemingly in deep contemplation. One bolder than the others advanced and asked, '‘Sir, what is God?” The Swami smoked on as if entirely oblivious of the question. Then he raised his eyes, and said as if by way of reply, “Well, my fellow, what is energy?” When the boy and his companions were unable to give any real definition, the Swami roused himself and said, “What is this! You cannot define a simple word like ‘energy’, which you use every day of your life, and yet you want me to define God!” They asked other questions, but the Swami’s replies crushed them. After a time the boys left, but Mr. Iyer who was greatly impressed remained and accompanied the Swami and his disciples on his daily walk to the seashore. Casually the Swami asked Mr. Iyer, “Well, my boy, can you wrestle?” Receiving an answer in the affirmative the Swami said in fun. “Come, let us have a tussle.” Surprised at the Swami’s athletic skill and strength of muscle, Mr. Iyer called him, ‘Taiwan Swami” or the “Athlete Swami”.
It so happened that one day the Swami found the cook of Mr. Bhattacharya looking longingly at the Hookah which the Maharaja of Mysore had given him, and so he asked him, “Would you like to have this?” The Swami repeated his question, and seeing the man puzzled and afraid to say “yes”, he then and there handed it to him. The man could not believe that he meant it. But when he actually had it in his hands, he was grateful beyond words, and those who heard of the incident saw what renunciation the Swami had, for he loved that Hookah, his only comfort. It was customary with him throughout his life to give away whatever anyone admired in his possession. On one occasion in America a young man (Mr. Prince Woods)1 coveted the staff which he had used whilst journeying to many pilgrimages during his wandering days. He had brought it all the way from India and prized it for its sacred associations. But he gave it away instantly, saying, “What you admire is already yours!”
The Swami had a strange experience about this time. For some days, he was bothered by waves of psychic disturbance sent by some spirits. The spirits reported all sorts of false things to make his mind uneasy, which statements he learned later to be untrue. When they had thus annoyed him for some days, he remonstrated, whereupon they told him of their miserable condition. The Swami thought over the matter, and one day repairing to the seashore, he took a handful of sand as a substitute for rice and grain and offered it praying with his whole heart that these spirits might find rest. Thereafter they ceased to bother him, having attained peace.
In Madras the Swami gained numerous followers. The experience he had in Alwar was here intensified many times, for people flocked from all parts to hear him. More and more he revealed the strength, the purity and the effulgence of his soul, and his sweet personality captivated their hearts even as his ideas captivated their intellects. Mr. K. Vyasa Rao, B.A., speaks as follows, in a reminiscent mood, of the Swami of these days and the impression he created:
“A graduate of the Calcutta University, with a shaven head, a prepossessing appearance, wearing the garb of renunciation, fluent in English and Sanskrit, with uncommon powers of repartee, who sang ‘with full-throated ease’ as though he was attuning himself to the Spirit of the universe, and withal a wanderer on the face of the earth! The man was sound and stalwart, full of sparkling wit, with nothing but a scathing contempt for miracle-working agencies . . . ; one who enjoyed good dishes, knew how to appreciate the Hookah and the pipe, yet harped on renunciation with an ability that called forth admiration and a sincerity that commanded respect. The young Bachelors and Masters of Arts were at their wits’ end at the sight of such a phenomenon. There, they saw the man and saw how well he could stand his ground in wrestling and fencing in the arena of the Universal Soul; and when the hour of discussion gave way to lighter moods, they found that he could indulge in fun and frolic, in uncompromising denunciation and in startling bons mots. But everything else apart, what endeared him to all was the unalloyed fervour of his patriotism. The young man who had renounced all worldly ties and freed himself from bondage, had but one love, his country, and one grief, its downfall. These sent him into reveries which held his hearers spellbound. Such was the man who travelled from Hooghly to Tamraparny, who bewailed and denounced in unmeasured terms the imbecility of our young men, whose words flashed as lightning and cut as steel, who impressed all, communicated his enthusiasm to some, and lighted the spark of undying faith in a chosen few.”
To many the Swami seemed the very embodiment of the culture of the Darshanas, the Agamas and the Yogas. He was saturated with the living consciousness not only of the Hindu spiritual experience, but also of the philosophical and scientific achievements of the West. One who was highly cultured, and became his disciple in these days, spoke of him thus:
“The vast range of his mental horizon perplexed and enraptured me. From the Rig-Veda to Raghuvamsha, from the metaphysical flights of the Vedanta philosophy to modem Kant and Hegel, the whole range of ancient and modern literature and art and music and morals, from the sublimities of ancient Yoga to the intricacies of a modern laboratory — everything seemed clear to his field of vision. It was this which confounded me, made me his slave.”
Another disciple writes:
“He frequently had to descend to the level of his questioners and to translate his soaring thoughts into their language. He would often anticipate several questions ahead and give answers that would satisfy the questioners at once. When asked how he so understood them, he would say with a smile that Sannyasins were ‘doctors of men’, and that they were able to diagnose their cases before they administered remedies to them.
“At times many men’s thoughts were his. He would answer scores of questioners at one time and silence them all.
“Soft and forgiving as he was to those on whom his grace rested, one had to live in his presence as in the vicinity of a dangerous explosive. The moment a bad thought entered one’s mind, it would flash across him also. One could know it from a peculiar smile that lit his lips and from the words that would casually escape from his mouth in the course of conversation.”
Already he had announced his intention of going to the West. He said about it to all those who knew him in Madras. And those who listened saw with him the imperative need of preaching the Dharma. And they understood the intention of the Swami to sail for the distant shores of the West. Not only did they understand his intention, they themselves intensified it. They went forth eager to raise subscriptions for the cause. He himself had had it long in mind to attend the Parliament of Religions, but he took no definite step in this matter, preferring to abide by the will of the Mother. And those who went forth to raise funds soon collected some five hundred rupees. But the Swami, when he saw the money, grew nervous. He said to himself, “Am I following my own will? Am I being carried away by enthusiasm? Or is there a deep meaning in all that I have thought and planned?” He prayed, “O Mother, show me Thy willl It is Thou who art the Doer. Let me be only Thy instrument.” He, a Sannyasin, inexperienced in the ways of the world, was about to sail for far distant lands, alone, unknown, to meet strange peoples and deliver to them a strange message! And so he said to the astonished disciples, “My boys, I am determined to force the Mother’s will. She must prove that it is Her intention that I should go, for it is a step in the dark. If it be Her will, then money will come again of itself. Therefore, take this money and distribute it amongst the poor.” His disciples obeyed him without a word, and the Swami felt as though a great burden had been taken off his shoulders.
He again settled down to the life of the Teacher, and prayed to the Mother and the Master in the solitude of his soul for guidance and direction. And in these days he meditated intensely. The monk with the prodigious intellect and the fire of patriotism became transformed into a simple child waiting for the Mother’s call, knowing that it would come. His soul grew tense with determination to make the Mother speak Her will.
But while he was in this devotional state, many of those in Hyderabad who had heard of the Swami from their Madras friends, begged him to come on a brief visit. He readily consented, thinking that there must be a hidden purpose in this unexpected call. His host at Madras telegraphed to a friend, Babu Madhusudan Chatterjee, the Superintending Engineer of His Highness the Nizam, that the Swami was to arrive at Hyderabad on the 10th of February and be his guest. On the clay previous, the Hindus of Hyderabad and Secunderabad had called a public meeting to arrange a fitting reception for the Swami. So when he arrived at Hyderabad he was surprised to find on the station platform five hundred people assembled to receive him, including the most distinguished members of the Court of Hyderabad, several of the nobility and many rich merchants, pleaders and Pandits, notable amongst whom were Raja Srinivas Rao Bahadur, Maharaja Rambha Rao Bahadur, Pandit Rattan Lal, Captain Raghunath, Shams-ul-Ulema Syed Ali Bilgrami, Nawab Imad Jung Bahadur, Nawab Dula Khan Bahadur, Nawab Imad Nawaz Jung Bahadur, Nawab Secunder Nawaz Jung Bahadur, Mr. H. Dorabjee, Mr. F. S. Mundon, Rai Hukum Chand, M.A., LL.D., Setts Chaturbhuj and Motilal, bankers, and the host and his son, Babu Kali Charan Chatterjee. Babu Kali Charan, who was known to the Swami in Calcutta, introduced every one to him. Flowers and garlands were heaped upon the monk. Writes an eye-witness as follows: We have never seen such crowds gathered before to receive a Swami! It was a magnificent reception.
On the morning of February 11, a committee of one hundred Hindu residents of Secunderabad approached him with offerings of sweets, milk and fruits, and asked him to deliver a lecture at the Mahaboob College in their city. The Swami consented, fixing the 13th as the date. Then he drove with Babu Kali Charan to the fort at Golconda of historic note and famous for its diamonds. On returning, the Swami found awaiting him a bearer from the Private Secretary to Nawab Bahadur Sir Khurshid Jah, Amiri-i-Kabir, K.C.S.I., the foremost nobleman of Hyderabad and the brother-in-law of His Highness the Nizam, requesting him to come to the palace for an interview on the following morning. At the appointed hour the Swami, accompanied by Babu Kali Charan, went to the palace, where he was received by an aide-de-camp of the Nawab. Sir Khurshid Jah was noted for religious tolerance and was the first Mohammedan to visit all the Hindu places of pilgrimage from the Himalayas to Cape Comorin. He received the Swami warmly.
For more than two hours the interview lasted, the Swami discussing the contents of Hinduism, Christianity and Islam.
The Nawab took exception to the idea of the Personal God as represented in Hinduism, himself believing in the Impersonal Ideal. Then the Swami spoke to him of the evolution of the idea of God, and proved the necessity of the conception of Him as a Person, a pragmatic factor in human experience, the highest conception of human nature. He pointed out that every other religion but Hinduism depended on the life of some person who was its founder, while Vedantism was based upon eternal principles and not upon persons, and that it was on this that it based its claim of being the universal religion. Rising higher and higher in his intellectual flights, the Swami introduced to the mind of the Nawab the whole background of religious ideas as having arisen from the inmost depths of the human nature and out of the perception of the Truth. He said that all ideals were true, and that the different religious systems were but special paths for the attainment of these various ideals, which, when intensified, were certain to draw out the Divinity within man. Then, bringing the ideas of the Absolute and Vedanta into the discussion, he stated that man was the greatest of all beings, for it was out of the human spiritualised intelligence that all the truths of the universe had been discovered, and that he transcended all limitations and was Divine. He then gave out his intention of going to the West to preach the gospel of the Universal, Eternal Religion. His eloquence deeply impressed the Nawab, who said, “Swamiji, I am ready to help you in your undertaking with one thousand rupees.” But the Swami declined to accept the money at that time, saying that he would ask for it when he actually embarked on his mission.
On the morning of the 13th he met by appointment Sir Ashman Jah, K.C.S.I., the Prime Minister of Hyderabad, the Maharaja Norendra Krishna Bahadur, Peshkar of the State, and the Maharaja Shew Raj Bahadur, and all these noblemen promised their support for his proposed propaganda in America. In the afternoon he delivered a lecture at the Mahaboob College on “My Mission to the West”. The chair was occupied by Pandit Rattan Lal. Many Europeans attended this lecture, and more than one thousand persons were present. The Swami's command over the English language, his learning, his power of expression and his eloquence were a revelation to all. On the next day the well-known bankers of the Begum Bazar, headed by Sett Motilal, interviewed him, and they all promised to help him with his passage money. Some of the members of the Theosophical Society and of the Sanskrit Dharma Mandal Sabha also came. On February 15, the Swami received a telegram from Poona, signed by the leading citizens in the name of the Hindu societies of the city, urging him to come on a visit there. But the Swami replied that he could not come then, but that he would be very happy to go when he could. The next day he went to see the ruins of the Hindu temples, the famous tomb of Baba Saraf-ud-din, and also the palace of Sir Salar Jung.
It was in Hyderabad that he met a famous Yogi, gifted with psychic powers. He was a Brahmin of learning and culture who had given himself up to the training of the faculties of the mind and had developed many subtle powers. When the Swami arrived he found the man sick of a high fever, The Yogi seeing a Sannyasin before him asked him to sit near him, and regarding him by his signs to be a highly developed spiritual soul, begged him to put his hand on his head. On the Swami's doing so the fever left, and he sat up. When the Swami told him of the object of his visit he demonstrated some of his wonderful powers. The Swami pondered long over the phenomena he had witnessed, and finally came to the conclusion that they were of a subjective character, and that by the development of the faculties of the mind the greatest and most surprising phenomena could occur. Some of his reflections on this incident and allied subjects were embodied in a lecture he gave in California called, “The Powers of the Mind”.
On February 17, the Swami left Hyderabad. More than one thousand persons came to the railway station to bid him farewell. “His pious simplicity, unfailing self-control and profound meditation,” writes Babu Kali Charan, “made an indelible impression on the citizens of Hyderabad.”
When the Swami returned from Hyderabad to Madras, he was accorded an ovation at the station by his numerous disciples. The Swami seemed more self-confident, for he had tested his oratorical powers before the assembly at the Mahaboob College, and felt that he was able to influence men, that he could sway vast assemblies as well as small gatherings. Indeed, he had told Mr. Mitra at Belgaum that a large audience draws out the powers of a speaker and makes him rise to the very apex of insight and self-expression. In Madras the Swami continued to gladden the hearts of his followers with religious discourses and conversations on an infinite variety of subjects. And each day brought new disciples and new devotees.
As the days passed, the Swami became more and more possessed with the idea of America. Sometimes his whole soul struggled with a feeling of uncertainty about his mission, for he felt that in America he would be greatly handicapped; at other times he would be thrilled with anticipation, delighted at the idea of extending the scope of his work, and eager for new experience. He had at intervals an intuition of the great opportunity and success that awaited him, and he would talk with his disciples about his mission to the peoples of the West. And those who gave money towards his voyage were actuated not only by personal devotion to him, but also by the conviction that he was destined to accomplish great things. They knew nothing of Shri Ramakrishna’s prophecies concerning the Swami's future greatness, for he never spoke of them. Says Mr. Vyisa Rao:
“When the world discovered Vivekananda, it discovered also Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, eight years after his passing away. People understood Shri Ramakrishna through the medium of his disciple, Vivekananda . . . and Shri Ramakrishna was taken for granted on the words of a young Sannyisin who was so strange in himself. . . . It was assuredly not because of Shri Ramakrishna that hopes were entertained of Swami Vivekananda; they were hopes centred in Vivekananda from what the people of Madras had seen of him unknown to reputation as he then was.”
During the months of March and April the disciples of the Swami in Madras took definite steps to raise subscriptions for his passage to America. In fact, some went even to Mysore, Ramnad and Hyderabad for the purpose. Naturally, they visited those whom the Swami had made his disciples, or who were his outspoken admirers. Those, in particular, who had organised themselves into a subscription committee, as it were, were headed by Mr. Alasinga Perumal, a devoted follower of the Swami, who literally went begging from door to door. It was he and the young men under him who collected the major portion of the funds. They went for the most part to the middle classes, for the Swami had told them, “If it is the Mother’s will that I go, then let me receive the money from the people! Because it is for the people of India that I am going to the West — for the people and the poor!”
The Swami was still in a great tumult of emotion concerning the journey. It has been seen, when he was at Madras before his journey to Hyderabad, what steps he took to force the Mother Herself to tell him directly if it were Her will that he should go to the West. When he returned to Madras and found his disciples eager to collect funds and urging him to carry out his intention, he thought, “Well, their readiness is perhaps the first sign!” Then, for some reason, he seemed to pass again through a period of great uncertainty, in spite of being convinced of the necessity and the utility of it.
In this state of mind the Swami prayed to the Mother and to his Master for guidance. His hours of prayer were filled with a certain assurance, yet he demanded actual vision; he desired the direct command. Several days later, one night as he lay half-asleep, the command came to him in a symbolic dream. The Swami saw the figure of his Master, Sri Ramakrishna, walking from the seashore into the waters of the ocean, and beckoning him to follow! He awoke. A great peace and joy filled his whole being; his mind seemed to have been impressed with the authoritative word, “Go!” The vision sustained him. He thought it to be a direct command from On High. All his doubts and misgivings were dissipated and his nervousness left him.
But even as when he first set out upon the Parivrajaka life he had sought the blessings of Sarada Devi, so now he yearned for her blessings on this longer journey. Accordingly he wrote to the Holy Mother, Sarada Devi, for her blessings, requesting her at the ame time to be silent about his plans. The feelings of the Holy Mother, when she received this news, may well be imagined. For many, many months she had not heard from him who had been the most beloved disciple of the Master, and for whom she cherished a special affection. The maternal instinct of the Holy Mother prompted her to prevent his going to unknown distant lands; at the same time she recognised that it was the will of the Master, and she set her personal feelings aside and sent on her blessings together with loving counsel. When the Swami received this letter, he was filled with joy. Now he felt sure of his mission. But just when all arrangements for sailing were made, Munshi Jagmohan Lal, the Private Secretary to the Maharaja of Khetri, appeared on the scene and stopped all plans for the time being.
About two years before, we saw the Swami at the Maharaja of Khetri’s palace. It will be recalled how the Prince had prayed to him to bless him so that a son might be born to him. Now, a son was born, an heir to the ancient Raj of Khetri. And he Prince in his excitement and joy sent his Private Secretary to get the Swami at Khetri for the festivities. He arrived at Madras and saw the Swami at Mr. Bhattacharya’s. The Swami was surprised to see him, and asked why he had come. When Jagmohan Lai explained, the Swami said, ‘‘Dear Jagmohan, I am making preparations to embark for America on the 31st of May, only a month hence! How can I go to see the Maharaja now?” But the messenger persisted, saying, “Swamiji, you must come to Khetri even if only for a day! Rajaji will be overwhelmed with disappointment if you fail to come! You need not trouble yourself about making any arrangement for your going to the West. The Maharaja himself will see to it. You simply must come with me.” The Swami at length consented.
On the way to Khetri the Swami stopped at Vapingana, Bombay and Jaipur. It was late evening when the Swami arrived at Khetri; and the palace was en fete and lit up resplendency. Indeed, the festivities had been going on for three or four days, and the whole city was beautifully decorated. Singing, dancing and music were going on on all sides. The Maharaja was at the time in his State barge surrounded by his State guests, some of whom were the Chiefs of Rajputana. When Jagmohan Lai presented himself with the Swami, the Maharaja rose from his seat and prostrated himself before his Guru. The Swami blessed him and taking him by the hand, raised him up. All present also rose to their feet and bowed before him. The musicians sang a song of welcome as he was led to a seat of honour. Then the Maharaja formally introduced him to the assembled guests, and made known to them how the Swami had blessed him that a son might be born to him, and told them of the Swami's decision to visit the West to preach the doctrines of the Sanitaria Dharina. At this the whole court cheered. Then the babe was brought in to be blessed by the Swami.
After a few days, the Swami informed the Prince that it was now time for him to be off to Bombay to make preparations for the voyage. The Prince and Jagmohan Lai accompanied the Swami as far as Jaipur, where an interesting incident occurred which proved to be a great eye-opener to the Swami. One evening the Maharaja was being entertained with music by a nautch-girl. The Swami was in his own tent when the music commenced. The Maharaja sent a message to the Swami asking him to come and join the party. The Swami sent word in return that as a Sannyasin he could not come. The singer was deeply grieved when she heard this, and sang in reply, as it were, a song of the great Vaishnava saint, Surdas. Through the still evening air, to the accompaniment of music, the girl’s melodious voice ascended to the ears of the Swami.
look not upon my evil qualities!
Thy Name, O Lord, is Same-sightedness,
One piece of iron is in the Image in the Temple,
And another, the knife in the hand of the butcher,
But when they touch the philosophers’ stone,
Both alike turn to gold,
So, Lord, look not upon my evil qualities!” etc.
The Swami was deeply touched. The woman and her song told him something he was forgetting, that all is Brahman, that the same Divinity is back of all beings, ay! even in this woman whom he had despised. And he came to the Hall of audience and joined the party. Speaking of this incident later, the Swami said, ‘'Hearing the song I thought, ‘Is this my Sannyasa! I am a Sannyasin, and yet I have in me the sense of distinction between myself and this woman!’ That incident removed the scales from my eyes. Seeing that all are indeed the manifestation of the One, I could no longer condemn anybody.”
The Swami left Jaipur for Bombay, accompanied by the Prince’s Private Secretary, who had been instructed to pay the expenses of the Swami’s journey and to provide him with everything necessary for his voyage to America. The Maharaja bade the Swami farewell with a heavy heart. It was at his court that the Swami had, at his request, assumed the name of Vivekananda. Before that the Swami had travelled under various names — Sachchidananda, Vividishinanda, etc.
Alighting at the Abu Road station, the Swami spent the night in the house of a railway servant, who had been one of his kind hosts in the days of his wanderings. At the railway station, before resuming the journey, the Swami had rather an unpleasant experience with a European ticket-collector. A Bengali gentleman, an admirer of the Swami, was sitting with him in the compartment, when the man ordered him rudely out of the carriage, citing a railway regulation. The gentleman, who was also a railway employee, mildly protested and pointed out that there was no regulation to compel him to leave; this only enraged the man the more. Then the Swami himself intervened, which did not mend matters, for the man turned on him, saying sharply, “Tum Kahe Bit Karteho?” which means, “Why dost thou meddle?” The Hindi word, “Tum” or “thou,” one uses only with inferiors, while “Ap” is used with one's equals. At this, the Swami became indignant and said, “What do you mean by ‘Tum?’ Can you not behave properly? You are attending to first and second class passengers, and you do not know manners! Why do you not say 'Ap?’” The ticket-collector, seeing his mistake, said, “I am sorry. I do not know the language well. I only wanted this man. . . .” The Swami interrupted him with, “Just now you said you do not know Hindi well. Now I see that you do not even know your own language. This ‘man’ of whom you speak is a gentleman!” The ticket-collector feeling himself to be in the wrong left the compartment. Speaking of this incident to Jagmohan Lal, the Swami said. “You see what we need in our dealings with Europeans is self-respect. We do not deal with men according to their positions, and so they take advantageous. We must keep our dignity before others. Unless we do that, we expose ourselves to insult.”
At the Abu Road station Swamis Brahmananda and Turiyananda met him. Of this meeting, Swami Turiyananda said later on: “I vividly remember some remarks made by Swamiji at that time. The exact words and accents, and the deep pathos with which they were uttered still ring in my ears. He said, ‘Haribhai, I am still unable to understand anything of your so-called religion.’ Then with an expression of deep sorrow in his countenance and an intense emotion shaking his body, he placed his hand on his heart and added, ‘But my heart has expanded very much, and I have learnt to feel. Believe me I feel intensely indeed.’ His voice was choked with feeling; he could say no more. For a time, profound silence reigned, and tears rolled down his cheeks.” In telling of this incident Swami Turiyananda was also overcome. He sat silent for a while, his eyelids heavy with tears. With a deep sigh he said, “Can you imagine what passed through my mind on hearing the Swami speak thus? ‘Are not these,’ I thought, ‘the very words and feelings of Buddha?’ . . . I could clearly perceive that the sufferings of humanity were pulsating in the heart of Swamiji — his heart was a huge cauldron in which the sufferings of mankind were being made into a healing balm.”
We shall make a little digression here to relate another incident indicative of the Swami’s loving heart as told by Swami Turiyananda after the Swami’s return from America. It took place at Balaram Bose’s home at Baghbazar, Calcutta, where the Swami was staying for a time. Swami Turiyananda said, “I came to see Swamiji and found him walking alone on the verandah lost in such deep thought that he did not perceive my arrival. I kept quiet, lest I should interrupt his reverie. After some time, Swamiji with tears rolling down his cheeks began to hum a well-known song of Mirabai. Then with his face in his hands and leaning on the railings he sang in anguished tones, ‘Oh, nobody understands my sorrow! nobody understands my sorrow!’ The sad strains and Swamiji’s dejection seemed to affect even the objects around him! The whole atmosphere vibrated with the sad melody: ‘No one but the sufferer knows the pangs of sorrows.’ His voice pierced my heart like an arrow, moving me to tears. Not knowing the cause of Swamiji’s sorrow I was very uneasy. But it soon flashed upon me that it was a tremendous universal sympathy with the suffering and oppressed that was the cause of his mood.”
To return to our story, the Swami and his companion went on to Bombay, where they were met by Alasinga Perumal, who had come all the way from Madras to bid farewell to the Swami. The Maharaja of Khetri had instructed Jagmohan Lai to make every possible arrangement for the Swami’s comfort. The Swami was therefore outfitted properly, presented with a handsome purse and a first class ticket on the Peninsular and Orient Company’s steamer, “Peninsular”. The few intervening days were passed in silent meditation, in calling on friends and in religious discourses.
But often his mind reverted to the far-off monastery in Baranagore. He wondered how it and the Gurubhais were faring. He hoped that all was well. They did not know definitely where he was. But so great were their hope and faith in him, that when they first heard of a Hindu Monk's great triumph in America, they were almost certain that Swami Vivekananda was no other than he who was their own beloved Naren.
Finally the day arrived May 31, 1893. The ship, the bidding of farewells, the many anxieties of foreign travel, to which the Swami as a Sannyasin was unaccustomed — all these things were new to him. Then, too, at the insistence of his friends he had been made to dress himself in a robe of ochre silk and a turban of the same material. Indeed, he looked like a prince. But his heart was consumed by various emotions. Jagmohan Lai and Alasinga Perumal accompanied him up the gangway and remained until the very last moment when the great gongs of the ship struck. When finally the moment of departure came, there were tears in their eyes. They prostrated themselves at his feet in final salutation and left the ship, which soon after started on its course. Mr. Chhabildas who was the kind host of the Swami at Bombay sailed by the same boat.
The Swami stood on the deck gazing towards the land until it faded out of sight, constantly sending his benedictions to those who loved him and whom he loved so tenderly. His eyes were filled with tears; his heart was overwhelmed with emotion. He thought of the Master, of the Holy Mother, and of his Guru-bhais. He thought of India and her culture, of her greatness and her sufferings, of the Rishis and of the Dharma. And his heart seemed to burst with love for his native land. Slowly he was encompassed by the black waters of the ocean, and he murmured under his breath, “Verily, from the Land of Renunciation I go to the Land of Enjoyment!” But it was to be no enjoyment for him. It was to be work, work, strenuous, terrible work and struggle, and much difficulty and asceticism. That work was to break his body to pieces; he was not to know any rest. He was to have but nine years more of life, and that in service and often in sorrow. He breathed the sacred name of his Master and that of the Divine Mother of the Universe almost audibly. Yes, he, the great Seer of the Vedic Wisdom, was always and everywhere the Child of the Mother, and the Disciple of his Master! The ship moved on its way southward to Ceylon; and the Swami was alone with his thoughts and the vastness of the sea.
Before taking leave of the Swami on his way to the West for the purpose of representing India and its spiritual ideals and culture at the World’s Parliament of Religions at Chicago, it would be appropriate to conclude the chapter with the words of a well-known writer in order to show how well the Swami had fitted himself for his glorious mission:
“During his travels, by turns he realised the essence of Buddhism and Jainism, the spirit of Raamananda and Nischaldas. He had learned all about the saints of Maharashtra and the Alwars and Nayanars of Southern India. From the Paramahamsa Parivrajakacharya to the poor Bhangi Mehtar disciple of Lalguru he had learnt not only their hopes and ideals, but their memories as well. To his clear vision the Mogul supremacy was but an interregnum in the continuity of Indian national life. Akbar was Hindu in breadth of vision and boldness of synthesis. Was not the Taj, to his mind, a Shakuntala in marble? ‘The songs of Guru Nanak alternated with those of Mirabai and Tansen on his lips. The stories of Prithvi Raj and Delhi jostled against those of Chitore and Pratap Singh, Shiva and Uma, Radha and Krishna, Sita-Ram and Buddha. Each mighty drama lived in a marvellous actuality, when he was the player. His whole heart and soul was the burning epic of the country, touched to an overflow of mystic passion by her very name.’ He held in his hands all that was fundamental, organic, vital; he knew the secret springs of life. There was a fire in his breast, which entered into him with the comprehension of essential truths, the result of spiritual illumination. His great mind saw a connection where others saw only isolated facts; his mind pierced the soul of things and presented facts in their real order. His was the most universal mind, with a perfect practical culture. What better equipment could one have who was to represent before the Parliament of Religions, India in its entirety — Vedic and Vedantic, Buddhistic and Jain, Shaivic and Vaishnavic and even Mohammedan? Who else could be better fitted for this task than this disciple of one whb was in himself a Parliament of Religions in a true sense?’’