A Biography by His Eastern and Western Disciples


The home-coming of Swami Vivekananda may be regarded as a great event in the history of modern India, for a united India rose to do him honour. Looming as he did upon the national horizon as the Arch-Apostle of the Hinduism of his age, and regarded as the Prophet of a re interpreted Hinduism — an “Aggressive Hinduism”, new in statement, and new in courageous consciousness — Swami Vivekananda was the Man of the Hour and the Harbinger of a new era. It is no wonder, therefore, that his coming was awaited eagerly by millions of his fellow-countrymen. For more than three years the Indian public-had been made aware that the Swami was doing the great work of presenting and interpreting Hinduism to the Western nations, with signal success. All India looked to him as to some mighty Acharya of old, born again to revivify the fading glories of the Religion Eternal, and to carry her banner throughout the whole civilised world. New forces had been at play in India ever since his triumph at the Parliament of Religions. Through the study of the Swami’s lectures and utterances, the eyes of the educated Indians were opened to the hidden beauties and treasures of their religion, and they came more and more to see how Vedantism alone could claim the supreme position of being a Universal Religion. They had learnt that the Swami possessed tremendous powers and spiritual realisations, and that as a true patriot he had made an absorbing study of India’s complex problems. They were more than eager to see him and hear his message; the Nation had already accepted him as its Guru.

When the news arrived that Swami Vivekananda had left Europe for India, committees were formed in the large cities for his reception. Two of his own Gurubhais (Niranjanananda and Shivananda) hastened to Ceylon and Madras to greet him on his arrival. Others, personal disciples of the Swami himself, made their way from Bengal and the Northern provinces to the city of Madras, and awaited his arrival there. Immediately, the journals throughout the country commenced a series of brilliant editorials, eulogistic of his personality and work. This still further inflamed the national expectancy.

The Swami himself was in entire ignorance of these great preparations in his honour. Quietly and serenely in meditation, or in converse upon the history of nations, or in rest, he spent the time aboard the steamer Prinz Regent Luitpold, his mind occupied with a hundred plans for the re-animation and reorganisation of the Indian Dharma. He was constantly drawing comparisons and reflecting on his experiences in Western lands. While in the West, his mind had always been occupied with the study of the history of the whole world and the relation of the world to Hindusthan, and of the problems and destiny of India herself. More and more the hope of awakening a National Consciousness stirred in him, and he was writing in his letters to his Gurubhais and Indian disciples the method and the means of bringing it about, trying to inspire them with his own fire and enthusiasm. Many months back in the city of Detroit, whilst he was talking with some disciples concerning the overwhelming difficulties he had met with in presenting Hinduism to a Christian public, and telling them how he had spent the best part of his vital forces in creating, among the Western nations, a reverence for what India had given as an intellectual and spiritual inheritance to the world, suddenly his whole body shook with emotion, and he cried out: “India must listen to me! I shall shake India to her foundations! I shall send an electric thrill through her national veins! Wait! You shall see how India will receive me. It is India, my own India, that knows truly how to appreciate that which I have given so freely here, and with my life's blood, as the spirit of Vedanta. India will receive me in triumph.” He spoke with a prophetic fervour, and those who heard him realised that it was not for recognition of himself that he was praying, but for that of the gospel which, he felt, must become for all future times the gospel to all the nations of the world — India’s gospel, the gospel of the Vedas and Vedanta!

Let the records of eye-witnesses in the various Indian journals tell the rest of the story of his reception:

“The fifteenth of January will be a memorable day in the annals of the Hindu Community of Colombo, being the day on which the Swami Vivekananda, a teacher of wonderful abilities and attainments, a member of the most sacred Hindu spiritual Order, the Sannyasins of India, was welcomed by them. His visit is an epoch-making one, heralding the dawn of an unprecedented spiritual activity.

“As the day was closing and the night approached, when the auspicious and sacred hour of “Sandhya”, noted by the Hindu ShAstras as the best suited for devotion, came round as the harbinger of the coming great events of the day, the sage of noble figure, of sedate countenance with large, luminous eyes, arrived, dressed in the orange garb of a Sannyasin, accompanied by the Swami Niranjanananda and others . . . . No words can describe the feelings of the vast masses and their expressions of love, when they saw the steam launch bearing the sage, steaming towards the jetty . . . . The din and clamour of shouts and hand-dapping drowned even the noise of the breaking waves. The Hon. Mr. P. Coomaraswamy stepped forward, followed by his brother, and received the Swami garlanding him with a beautiful jasmine wreath. Then came a rush . . . . No amount of physical force could hold back the great multitude . . . . At the entrance to Barnes Street, a handsome triumphal arch formed of branches, leaves, and coconut flowers bore a motto of welcome to the Swami. All too soon, the splendid pair of horses that awaited his landing in front of the G. O. H., carried away the Swami to the pandal in Barnes Street. Every available carriage was in use and hundreds of pedestrians wended their way to the triumphal panda! which was decorated with palms, evergreens, etc. There the Swami alighting from the carriage, walked in procession attended with due Hindu honours — the flag, the sacred umbrella, the spreading of the white cloth, etc. An Indian band played select airs. A host of persons joined the procession at Barnes Street, and then, together with the Swami, marched on to another beautiful and artistic pandal in front of the bungalow prepared for his temporary residence in Cinnamon Gardens. Both sides of the road leading from the first pandal to the second, a distance of a quarter of a mile, were lined with arches festooned with palm leaves. As soon as the Swami entered the second pandal, a beautiful artificial lotus flower unfolded its petals and out flew a bird. These charming decorations went unnoticed, for all eyes were on the Swami. In their struggle to see him, some of the decorations were destroyed. The sage and his disciples took their seats amidst a shower of flowers. After silence was restored, a musician played a charming air on his violin; then the sacred Tamil hymns the ‘Thevaram’, two thousand years old, were sung; a Sanskrit hymn composed especially in the Swami’s honour was also intoned. The Hon. Mr. P. Coomaraswamy stepping forward, bowed to the Swami in oriental fashion and then read an address of welcome on behalf of the Hindus.

“The Swami rose amidst deafening cheers and responded to the address in an eloquent and impressive style, peculiarly his own. The huge audience were carried away by his words, simple and plain though they were.

“In the course of his reply he pointed out that the demonstration had not been made in honour of a great politician, or a great soldier, or a millionaire. ‘The spirituality of the Hindus’, he said, ‘is revealed by the princely reception which they have given to a begging Sannyasin.’ He was not a general, not a prince, not a wealthy man, yet men great in the transitory possessions of the world, and much respected had come to honour him, a poor Sannyasin. ‘This,’ he said, ‘is one of the highest expressions of spirituality.’ He urged the necessity of making religion the backbone of the national life, if the nation was to live, and disclaimed any personal character in the welcome he had received, insisting that it was but the recognition of a principle.1

“The Swami then entered the house. Here another garland was placed around his neck, and he was escorted to a seat. The people who had taken part in the formal proceedings of the meeting were standing outside and were unwilling to disperse. Finding that many were waiting to see him again, Swamiji came out and after the manner of Sannyasins he saluted and blessed them all.”

During the succeeding days, the bungalow occupied by the Swami (which was henceforth named “Vivekananda Lodge”) was thronged incessantly by visitors. It became, indeed, a place of pilgrimage, the honour and respect shown to the Swami being something of which no conception can be formed by those who are unaccustomed to the religious demonstrations of the East. Among the many visitors were men of all stations in life, from the first officials in Ceylon to the poorest of the poor. An interesting incident may here be mentioned. A poor woman, who was evidently in distress, came to see the Swami, bearing in her hand the customary offering of fruit. Her husband had left her in order that he might be undisturbed in his search for God. The woman wanted to know more about God, so that she could follow in his footsteps. The Swami advised her to read the Bhagavad-Gita and pointed out to her that the best way to make religion practical for one in her station, was the proper fulfilment of household duties. Her reply was very significant. “I can read it, Swamiji,” she said, “but what good will that do me if I cannot understand it and feel it?” — a striking example, first, of the truth of the saying that religion does not rest in books, and secondly, of the amount of deep religious thought to be found even among the poor and apparently uneducated of the East.

In the evening of the 16th the Swami gave a stirring address in the Floral Hall to an audience which overflowed the building. The subject of this first public lecture in the East, after his arrival from his triumphs in the West, was, “India, the Holy Land”.

The following day, Sunday, was again spent in receiving visitors until the evening, when the Swami paid a visit to the temple of Shiva. The crowd which accompanied him was immense, and a most interesting characteristic of the evening was the repeated stopping of the carriage in order that the Swami might receive gifts of fruit, that garlands of flowers might be placed round his neck and rose-water sprinkled over him. It is a custom in Southern India and Ceylon, when an especially honoured guest pays a visit to a house, to burn lights and display fruit on the threshold, and this was done at almost every Hindu dwelling which the procession passed, particularly in Checku Street, the heart of the Tamil quarter of Colombo. At the Temple the Swami was received with shouts of “Jaya Mahadeva!” (Victory unto the Great God!). After worshipping the Lord and holding a short converse with the priests and others who had assembled, the Swami returned to his bungalow where he found a number of Brahmins with whom he conversed until half past two the following morning.

On Monday, the Swami paid a visit to Mr. Chelliah, whose house was decorated for this purpose in a most artistic fashion. Hearing that he was to arrive, thousands of spectators were waiting for him, and when his carriage drew nearer and nearer, the enthusiastic cheering increased more and more, and garlands after garlands and loose flowers were showered upon him. He was seated in a place especially prepared for him, and the sacred waters of the Ganga were sprinkled over him. The Swami then distributed sacred ashes which all received with sacramental joy. A picture of his own Master, Bhagavan Shri Ramakrishna, having attracted the Swami’s attention, he at once got up and with great reverence made obeisance thereto. He then partook of light refreshments and expressed his joy on seeing that the house contained pictures of saints. This interesting meeting was brought to a close by the singing of several sacred songs.

In the evening, the Swami delivered a second lecture to another large audience on the Vedanta philosophy, at the Public Hall of Colombo. The audience listened to a most powerful and lucid exposition of the Advaita philosophy. The central theme of his address was the advocacy of a universal religion, based on the Vedas. In the course of his lecture the Swami’s attention was drawn to the European dress in which many Indians had appeared. He was evidently annoyed, and feeling it his duty, he cautioned them against such slavish imitation. He said that European dress did not suit Orientals. It was not this dress or that which he recommended in particular, but it was the manner in which he found his countrymen foolishly aping foreign ways that called forth his criticism.

In the morning of the 19th the Swami left Colombo for Kandy by train in a special saloon. His original intention was to take a steamer direct from Colombo to Madras, but on his arrival in Ceylon so many telegrams poured in beseeching a visit to Ceylonese and Southern Indian towns, if only in passing, that he was induced to alter his plans and make the journey overland. At the railway station at Kandy a large crowd awaited him with an Indian band and the temple insignia, to convey him in procession to a bungalow in which he was to take rest. When the cheering which greeted his arrival had subsided, an address of welcome was read.

The reply was again brief, and after a few hours’ rest, during which the interesting points of the beautiful town were visited, the journey was resumed and Metale reached the same evening. On Wednesday morning the Swami began a coach-ride of two hundred miles — through a country, the beauty of whose vegetation has placed it among the brightest spots in the world — to Jaffna. A few miles beyond Dambool, a mishap occurred. One of the front wheels of the coach was smashed in descending a hill, necessitating a stoppage of three hours on the roadside. Fortunately, the wheel did not come entirely off, or the carriage would have been overturned. After a long wait, only one bullock-cart was secured from a distant village, and in it was put Mrs. Sevier with all the luggage. Then progress was made but slowly, as the Swami and his companions had to walk several miles before they got other bullock-carts. They passed the night in the carts and reached Anuradhapuram passing through Kanaliari, and Tinpani, about eight hours late.

Under the shade of the sacred Bo-tree the Swami gave a short address, to a crowd of two to three thousand people, interpreters translating, as he proceeded, into Tamil and Sinhalese. The subject was “Worship”, and he exhorted his hearers to give practical effect to the teachings of the Vedas, rather than pay attention to mere empty worship. When the Swami had proceeded so far, a huge crowd of fanatic Buddhists, Bhikshus and householders — men, women and children — gathered round him and created such a horrid noise by beating drums, gongs, cans, etc., in order to stop the lecture, that he was obliged to conclude abruptly. It would have ended in a serious riot between the Hindus and the Buddhists, had it not been for the persuasive appeal from the Swami to the Hindus urging them to practise restraint and patience under such provocation. This led the Swami to speak of the universality of religion, and, in this stronghold of Buddhism, he urged that the God worshipped either as Shiva, as Vishnu, as Buddha, or under any other name was one and the same, thus showing the necessity not only for tolerance, but also for sympathy between followers of different creeds.

From Anuradhapuram to Jaffna is a distance of one hundred and twenty miles, and as the road and the horses were equally bad, the journey was troublesome, saved from tediousness only by the exceeding beauty of the surroundings. Indeed, on two successive nights, sleep was lost. On the way, however, a welcome break was the reception of the Swami with all honour at Vavoniya, and the presentation of an address.

After the Swami had replied briefly, the journey was resumed through the beautiful Ceylon jungles to Jaffna. There was a reception of an informal character early the following morning at Elephant Pass where a bridge connects Ceylon with the Island of Jaffna. Twelve miles from the town of Jaffna, the Swami was met by many of the leading Hindu citizens, and a procession of carriages accompanied him for the remainder of the distance. Every street in the town, nay, every house was decorated in his honour. The scene, in the evening, when the Swami was driven in a torch-light procession to a large pandal erected at the Hindu College, was most impressive. All along the route there was great enthusiasm, and there must have been at least ten to fifteen thousand people accompanying him.

A local newspaper describing the public reception given to the Swami and his visit to Jaffna, says:

“It was arranged by the Reception Committee that the Swami was to be received privately at Uppar on Sunday morning by a deputation of seven members, and that the public demonstration in the town in his honour should be reserved for the evening. But it was found that one hundred persons, the elite of the Hindu society, were collected at Uppar anxiously awaiting bis arrival on Sunday morning. Till 9 a.m., the coach with the distinguished monk and party accompanying him did not make its appearance. It was then resolved to go ahead another five miles and wait at. Chavakachari. No sooner had that place been reached than the Swami and his party arrived by the mail coach. A procession was then formed to drive to the town, with the Swami, his Gurubhai, Swami Niranjanananda, and Mr. Naglingam in the first carriage — a landau drawn by a pair — and the rest following in twenty carriages. It was 11.30 a.m., when the procession reached the town by the Central Road. In spite of the short time at the disposal of the Committee, grand preparations had been made to accord the Swami a fitting reception at the Hindu College in the evening. A magnificent pandal had been put up in front of the institution and most tastefully decorated. The whole way from the town to the College — a distance of about two miles — was festooned and illuminated, more especially that part of the route from the Grand Bazaar. Hundreds of banana palms were planted on both sides of the road, and bunting and flags adorned the whole route. The scene was exceedingly picturesque, and great enthusiasm prevailed among the people. Thousands from all parts of the Island came to the city to get a glimpse of the renowned monk, and gathered all along the route to give him welcome. From 6 p.m. to 12 p.m., the Jaffna Kangesantura Road, as far as the Hindu College, was impassable for carts and carriages. The torch light procession, which started at 8.30 p.m., attended with Indian music, was unprecedentedly imposing. It is estimated that more than fifteen thousand persons, all on foot, took part, in it. The whole distance of two miles was so densely crowded that it looked like a sea of heads, yet perfect order prevailed from start to finish. At the gate of almost every house on both sides of the road throughout the entire distance, were placed Niraikudam and lamps, the inhabitants expressing in this manner the highest, honours that could be offered, according to the Hindu idea, to a great Sannyasin. The Swami alighted from the carriage and worshipped at the Sivan and Kathiresan temples where he was garlanded by the temple priests. Along the way also, many garlands were offered him by the local residents, so that when he reached the College at 10 p.m., he was most beautiful to look upon. The panda! was crammed even hours before the Swami arrived. Hundreds were outside seeking admission. People of all denominations had come. Buddhists, Christians, Hindus and Mohammedans. At the entrance to the pandal the Swami was received by Mr. S. Chellapa Pillai, retired Chief Justice of Travancore, who conducted him to a raised dais and garlanded him.

“An address of welcome was then read, to which the Swami replied in a most eloquent way for about an hour. In the evening of the day following at 7 p.m., he spoke at the Hindu College, on Vedantism, for one hour and forty minutes. There were present about four thousand persons composed of the elite of Jaffna society, and one and all were electrified with the Swami's stirring words. Following the lecture, Mr. Sevier at the request, of the audience addressed the assembly explaining why he had accepted Hinduism and why be had come to India with the Swami.”

With his address at the Hindu College at Jaffna, the Swami’s journey across Ceylon came to a close. So great was the impression created even by this brief visit that urgent requests were made to him at every place to send teachers of the Order to preach the gospel of Shri Ramakrishna in the Island. Further telegrams and letters of invitation from the representative bodies of the various towns in the interior poured in, praying the Swami to pay them a short visit, but he had to refuse them for want of time. Besides, he was tired. “He would have been killed with kindness,” as one of his companions remarked, “if he had stayed longer in Ceylon.”

At the Swami’s request arrangements were made to convey him and his party immediately to his native land. The voyage of about fifty miles, with favourable weather was delightful. On Tuesday, January 26, at about 3 p.rn., the steamer carrying the Swami and his European disciples arrived in Pamban Road. The Swami having been previously invited by the Raja of Ramnad to Rameswaram, was about to leave for Rameswaram when he heard that the Raja had come in person to meet him at Pamban. The Swami was transferred from the ship to the State-boat of the Raja; as soon as he entered it, the Raja and all his staff prostrated themselves before him. The meeting between the Prince and the monk was a most touching one; the Swami feelingly said that as the Raja had been one of the first to conceive the idea of his going to the West and had encouraged and helped him to do so, it was apt that he should meet the Raja first on landing on Indian soil. When the State-boat reached the shore, he was given a tremendous ovation by the citizens of Pamban. Here, under a decorated pandal, an address of welcome was read and presented to him. The Raja added to this a brief personal welcome which was remarkable for its depth of feeling, and then the Swami gave a short reply pointing out that the backbone of the Indian national life was neither politics nor military power, neither commercial supremacy nor mechanical genius, but religion and religion alone, and it was this that India alone could give to the world. He concluded thanking the citizens of Pamban for their kind and cordial reception, and expressing his gratitude to the Raja of Ramnad for all that he had done for him.

The meeting over, the Swami was invited to enter the State-carriage of the Raja of Ramnad and was driven towards the Raj bungalow, the Raja himself walking with his court officials. At the command of the Raja the horses were unharnessed, and the people and the Raja himself drew the State-carriage through the town. For three days the Swami remained at Pamban to the delight of the citizens. The day following his arrival he paid a visit to the great temple of Rameswaram. This visit deeply touched the Swami as he recalled his journey thither five years ago, when as an unknown wandering Sannyasin he had come there footsore and weary, thus bringing his pilgrimage throughout India to a close. How different were the circumstances under which he now visited it! When nearing the temple, the State-carriage in which the Swami was driven, was met by a procession which included elephants, camels, horses, the temple insignia, Indian music, and all the evidence of the respect that the Hindu pays to a Mahatma. The temple jewels were displayed to the Swami and his disciples, and after they had been conducted through the building and shown its many architectural wonders — particularly the galleries supported by a thousand pillars — the Swami was requested to address the people who had assembled. And standing there on the sacred grounds of that famous temple of Shiva, he delivered a stirring address on the true significance of a Tirtha, and of worship, charging the eager listeners, and through them all his co-religionists to worship Shiva by seeing Him not in images alone, but in the poor, in the weak and in the diseased. Mr. Naglingam acted as Tamil interpreter. The Raja of Ramnad was beside himself with the great spirit of the occasion, and the very next day fed and clothed thousands of poor people. And in commemoration of this great occasion, the Raja erected a monument of victory, forty feet in height, bearing the following inscription:

Satyameva Jayate.

“The monument erected by Bhaskara Sethupathi, the Raja of Ramnad, marks the sacred spot, where His Holiness Swami Vivekananda's blessed feet first trod on Indian soil, together with the Swami’s English disciples, on His Holiness’s return from the Western Hemisphere, where glorious and unprecedented success attended His Holiness’s philanthropic labours io spread the religion of the Vedanta.

“January 27, 1897.”

Then came the short trip from Pamban across to the mainland, and after breakfasting in one of the rest-houses provided by the charity of the Raja for the benefit of wayfarers, Tiruppullani was reached, where an informal reception was given to the Swami. It was wellnigh evening when Ramnad came in sight. The journey from the sea-coast proper was made by bullock-cart, but when nearing Ramnad, the Swami and party entered the State-boat which conveyed them across one of the large tanks that abound in Southern India. Thus the imposing reception took place on the banks of a lake, heightening the scenic effect of the great meeting. The Raja, it goes without saying, took the leading part in the ceremony of welcome, and introduced the Swami to the leading citizens of Ramnad.

The firing of cannon announced to the waiting thousands the arrival of the Swami; and at the time of landing numerous rockets shot far into the air, and they continued to be fired at repeated intervals until the procession reached its goal. Marks of rejoicing and festivity were everywhere in evidence. The Swami was driven in the State-carriage, accompanied by the Raja’s own bodyguard under the command of his brother, while the Raja himself directed the course of the procession afoot. Numerous torches flared on either side of the road, and both Indian and European music added life to the already lively proceedings, the latter playing — “See the Conquering Hero Comes,” both on the landing of the Swami and on his approach to the city proper. When half the distance had been traversed, the Swami at the request of the Raja descended from the State-carriage and took his seat in the handsome State-palanquin. Attended with all this pomp, he reached the Shankara Villa.

After a short rest, he was led into the large audience hall where thousands had gathered knowing that he would speak to them in reply to their address of welcome. As he entered the hall, shouts of triumph and joy resounded, renewing the great enthusiasm which had been manifested all along the Swami’s line of march by jubilant crowds. The Raja opened the meeting with a speech in which he highly eulogised the Swami, and then called upon his brother, Raja Dinakara Sethupathi, to read an address of welcome, which was then presented to the Swami enclosed in a massive casket of solid gold of the most exquisite design and workmanship.

The Swami’s reply was characterised as was usual with most of his Indian lectures, by the richness and beauty of his thought and by his fiery eloquence; these in conjunction with the power of his personality roused the people to intense enthusiasm for their religion and the ideal of their national life and their duty to the Motherland.

The Raja closed the proceedings with the praiseworthy suggestion that the visit of the Swami to Ramnad should be commemorated by a public subscription to the Madras Famine Relief Fund.

During his stay at Ramnad the Swami received numerous visitors in addition to lecturing in the Christian Missionary School kindly lent for the purpose, and attending a Durbar at the palace held in his honour. On the latter occasion the great hall was brilliantly lighted, the Raja’s own band playing. Here he received further addresses in Tamil and Sanskrit to which he replied, graciously referring to the large-heartedness of the Raja and to his religious temperament. He conferred on the Raja the title of “Rajarshi”, signifying thereby that the Raja was both a ruler and a sage in one. At the earnest solicitation of the Raja the Swami then gave a short address into a phonograph on the need of Shakti-worship in India. Following on the visit to the palace on the Sunday evening, a fresh start was made at midnight for the journey northwards to Madras.

Paramakudi was the first stopping-place after leaving Ramanad, and there was a demonstration on a large scale, many thousands following him in procession. An address of welcome was given to which the Swami made a touching reply.

At Manamadura, where the next halt was made, the Swami was taken in a long procession to a huge pandal under which, amidst deafening shouts of enthusiasm, an address of welcome, both of the citizens of the neighbouring town of Sivaganga and those of Manamadura, was tendered him. He replied in a few well-chosen words.

Again the journey was resumed — it was one continuous tour of triumph — until Madura, the ancient city famous for its learning and magnificent temples and memories of old kingdoms, was reached. At this place the Swami was housed in the beautiful bungalow of the Raja of Ramnad. In the afternoon an address of welcome in a velvet casket was presented to him to which he replied with great fire and feeling.

Three weeks of continuous travelling, speaking and ovations had tired him physically, but the vigour of his mind and spirit was indefatigable. Though, in some places he visited, he was not fit physically to deliver public speeches and receive visitors at all times of the day, he waived aside all consideration of his body and rose equal to the demands of the occasion. His heart was gladdened to see such tremendous religious zeal and enthusiasm among his people, which led him to hope for great things to come in the future.

While in Madura, the Swami paid a visit to the Minakshi temple, where he was received with marked respect. He spoke most cordially with the temple priests and referred enthusiastically to the marvellous architecture and art the temple embodied. In the evening he entrained for Kumbakonain. All along the way, at each station at which the train stopped, crowds of people were in waiting to welcome him with immense enthusiasm. Even the smallest villages sent their quota of representatives. At every station garlands of flowers and short addresses of welcome were presented, and the people pressed in and about the train to have a glimpse of their hero; it was as though they had come to see a royal pageant. The Swami in a few words replied most suitably to their addresses of welcome and regretted that time did not permit him to accede to their request to stay for a day at every stop. At Trichinopoly, in particular, at four o’clock in the morning, there were over a thousand people on the platform, who presented him with an address. Addresses were also presented from the Council of the National High School, Trichinopoly, and also from the student population of that renowned city. The replies to these addresses were necessarily brief. At Tanjore somewhat later, another large demonstration was made.

It might be imagined, from the previous demonstrations of honour and praise which he had received from all quarters, that his reception at Kumbakonam would be equally spontaneous and imposing. So it was. The citizens knew no bounds to their great enthusiasm and rejoicings. The Swami took rest here for three days as he knew heavy work was awaiting him in Madras. Two addresses of welcome were given to him, embodying the sentiments respectively of the Hindu community at large and of the Hindu students of the town. In reply the Swami delivered one of the most stirring addresses of his whole tour, entitled “The Mission of the Vedanta”.

At all the towns on his way to Madras, the Swami met with the same enthusiastic greetings. At Mayavaram the citizens gathered in huge numbers filling the whole of the station platform, and a committee headed by Mr. D. Natesa Aiyer presented him with an address. In reply the Swami thanked the assembly, saying with humility that he had only fulfilled the mission which the Lord had commissioned him to do. He was grateful, he said, that his small labours should meet with such heartfelt response from the nation. The train steamed off amidst wild shouts of “Jay Swami Vivekananda Maharajjiki Jay!”

A remarkable incident which speaks volumes for the love and adoration in which the Swami was held by the millions of Southern India took place at a small railway station, some few miles from the Madras city proper. Hundreds of people had assembled there to get a glimpse of the “Great Teacher” and pay their homage to him. The train was a “through” train and was not to stop at that station. The crowds importuned the station-master to flag the train to make it stop if only for a few minutes, but to no avail. At last, seeing the train coming in the distance, hundreds of people fell flat upon the railway line, determined by this extreme course to stop the train! The station-master was panic-stricken. The guard of the incoming train realised the situation and at once ordered the train to be stopped. The people crowded round the Swami’s carriage and sent forth shouts of triumph in his honour. The Swami, visibly-stirred by this display of emotion, appeared for a few moments before them, extending his hands lovingly in blessing, and briefly thanked them witli all his heart.

Great enthusiasm prevailed for weeks in the city of Madras and its environs over the home-coming of Swami Vivekananda.

Extensive preparations were being made for the Swami’s reception. The streets and thoroughfares of the great city were profusely decorated; seventeen triumphal arches were erected; blazing mottoes of welcome such as, “Long Live the Venerable Vivekananda! ” “Hail, Servant of God!” “Hail, Servant of all Great Sages of the Past!” “Hearty Greetings of Awakened India!” “Greetings to the Swami Vivekananda!” “Hail, Harbinger of Peace!” “Hail, Shri Ramakrishna’s Worthy Son!” “Welcome, Prince of men!” were everywhere in evidence. Amongst Sanskrit Shlokas was: “Ekam Sad Vipra Bahudha Vadanti!” For days previous, committees of reception and arrangement had been at work and Madras papers were filled with editorials concerning the Swami and the grand preparations that were being made for giving him a fitting reception. On the day of his arrival, representatives of leading papers like The Hindu, The Madras Mail, etc., met him at Chingleput and travelled with him to Madras for interviews. The Madras Times wrote as follows:

“For the past few weeks, the Hindu public of Madras have been most anxiously expecting the arrival of Swami Vivekananda, the great Hindu Monk of world-wide fame. At the present moment his name is on everybody’s lips. In the schools, in the colleges, in the High Court, on the Marina, and in the streets and bazaars of Madras, hundreds of eager persons may be seen asking everybody, ‘When will the Swami Vivekananda come?' Large numbers of students from the moffussil, who have come up for the university examinations, are staying here awaiting the Swami, and increasing their hostelry bills, despite the urgent call of their parents to return home immediately for the holidays. From the nature of the receptions received elsewhere in this Presidency, from the preparations being made here, from the triumphal arches, erected at Castle Kernan, where the ‘Prophet’ is to be lodged at the cost of the Hindu public, and from the interest taken in the movement by the leading Hindu gentlemen of this city, like the Hon. Mr. Justice Subrahmanya Iyer, there is no doubt that the Swami will have a grand reception. It was Madras that first recognised the superior merits of the Swami and equipped him for his journey to Chicago. Madras will now have again the honour of welcoming the undoubtedly great man who has done so much to raise the prestige of his motherland. Four years ago when the Swami came here, he was practically an obscure individual. In an unknown bungalow at St. Thome he spent some two months holding conversations on religious topics and teaching and instructing all comers who cared to listen to him. Even then a lew educated young men with a ‘keener eye’ predicted that there was something in the man, ‘a power’ that would lift him above all others, and pre-eminently enable him to be the leader of men. These young men who were then despised as ‘misguided enthusiasts’, ‘dreamy revivalists’, have now the supreme satisfaction of seeing ’their Swami’, as they loved to call him, return to them with a great European and American fame. The Mission of the Swami is essentially, spiritual . . . . Whatever differences of opinion followers of other creeds may have with him . . . few will venture to deny that the Swami has done yeoman service to his country in opening the eyes of the Western world to ‘the good in the Hindu’. He will always he remembered as the first Hindu Sannyasin who dared to cross the sea to carry to the West the message of what he believes in as a religious peace . . . .”

From the early hours of the morning the city wore a festive air and thousands were making their way to the railway station, many of them carrying flags and dowers, symbols of their joy and triumph. When the train, conveying the distinguished monk, steamed into the Madras Station, the Swami was received with thundering shouts of applause and with an enthusiasm unprecedented in the annals of Madras. After the preliminary reception, an elaborate procession commenced, the horses of the Swami’s carriage were unharnessed and the citizens of Madras took their places. Tens of thousands of people crowded the streets. From windows and verandahs people sought to gain a glimpse of the great procession which wended its way by a circuitous route to the palatial residence of Mr. Billigiri Iyengar, known as the “Castle Kernan”. All along the way the Swami, now sitting, now standing, constantly bowed in recognition of the plaudits of the crowd. The cynosure of all eyes, he appeared in the midst of that procession like a conqueror returning from the battlefield, crowned with glory — not a conqueror of earthly dominions, but a conqueror of hearts, both Eastern and Western.

A leading paper describing the Swami’s entrance into Madras and the public reception accorded to him writes:

“Due to previous information widely disseminated that Swami Vivekananda would arrive at Madras this morning by the South Indian Railway, the Hindus of Madras, of all ages and of all ranks, including young children in primary schools, grown-up students in colleges, merchants, pleaders and judges, people of all shades and varieties, and in sonic instances, even women, turned up to welcome the Swami on his return horn his successful mission in the West. The railway station at Egmore being the first place of landing in Madras, had been well fitted up by the Reception Committee who had organised the splendid reception in his honour. Admission to the platform was regulated by tickets rendered necessary by the limited space in the interior of the station; the whole platform was lull. In this gathering all the familiar figures in Madras public life could he seen. The train steamed in at about 7.30 a.m., and as soon as it came to a standstill in front of the south platform, the crowds cheered lustily and clapped their hands, while a native band struck up a lively air. The members of the Reception Committee received the Swami on alighting. The Swami was accompanied by his Gurubhais, the Swamis Nirunjanananda and Shivananda, and by his European disciple Mr. J. J. Goodwin. On being conducted to the dais, he was met by Captain and Mrs. J. H. Sevier, who had arrived on the previous day with Mr. and Mrs. T. G. Harrison, Buddhists from Colombo and admirers of the Swami. The procession then wended its way along the platform, towards the entrance, amidst deafening cheers and clapping of hands, the hand leading. At the portico, introductions were made. The Swami was garlanded as the band struck up a beautiful tune. After conversing with those present for a few minutes, he entered a carriage and pair that was in waiting, accompanied by the Hon. Mr. Justice Subrahmanya Iyer and his Gurubhais, and drove off to Castle Kernan, the residence of Mr. Billigiri Iyengar, Attorney, where he will reside during his stay in Madras. The Egmore Station was decorated with flags, palm leaves and foliage plants, and red baize was spread on the platform. The ‘Way Out’ gate had a triumphal arch with the words, ‘Welcome to the Swami Vivekananda’. Passing out of the compound, the crowds surged still denser and denser, and at every move, the carriage had to halt repeatedly to enable the people to make offerings to the Swami. In most instances, the offerings were in the Hindu style, the presentation of fruits and coconuts, something in the nature of an offering to a god in a temple. There was a perpetual shower of flowers at every point on the route and under the ‘Welcome’ arches which spanned the whole route of the procession from the station to the Ice-House, along the Napier Park, via Chintadripet, thence turning on the Mount Road opposite the Government House, wending thence along the Wallaja Road, the Chepauk and finally across the Pycrofts’ Road to the South Beach. During the progress of the procession along the route described, the receptions accorded to the Swami at the several places of halt were no less than royal ovations. The decorations and the inscriptions on the arches were expressive of the profoundest respect and esteem and the universal rejoicing of the local Hindu Community and also of their appreciation of his services to Hinduism. The Swami halted opposite the City Stables in an open pandal and there received addresses with the usual formalities of garlanding.

“Speaking of the intense enthusiasm that characterised the reception, one must not omit, to notice a humble contribution from a venerable looking old lady, who pushed her way to the Swami’s carriage through the dense crowds, in order to see him, that she might thereby be enabled, according to her belief, to wash off her sins as she regarded him as an Incarnation of Sambandha Moorthy. We make special mention of this to show with what feeling of piety and devotion Ilis Holiness was received this morning, and indeed in Chintadripet and elsewhere, camphor offerings were made to him and at the place where he is encamped, the ladies of the household received him with Arati, or the ceremony of waving lights, incense and flowers as before an image of God. The procession had necessarily to be slow, very slow indeed, on account of the halts made to receive the offerings, and so the Swami did not arrive at Castle Kernan until half past nine, his carriage being in the meanwhile dragged by the students who unharnessed the horses at the turn to the Beach and pulled it with great enthusiasm. Arrived at the Castle Kernan, Mr. Krishnamachariar, B.A., B.L., High Court Vakil, read a Sanskrit address on behalf of the Madras Vidvanmanoranjini Sabha. This was followed by a Canarese address. At the close of this ceremony, Mr. Justice Subrahmanya Iyer asked the gathering to disperse in order to let the Swami rest after the fatigue of his journey, which was done. The Swami was installed in one of the magnificent chambers in the upper storey of the Castle Kernan.

“Never since its earliest days has Madras witnessed such an enthusiastic reception accorded to anyone, European or Indian. Of all the official receptions that, were ever held in Madras, none could equal the one given to Swami Vivekananda. Such an ovation has not been witnessed in Madras within the memory of the oldest man, and we dare say that the scenes of today will remain for ever in the memory of the present generation.”

A programme was at once drawn by some prominent citizens of Madras to regulate the presentation of addresses by different organisations as well as the addresses to be delivered by the Swami. It was settled that his first public appearance and address was to be in reply to the address on behalf of the people of Madras, after which there were to be four more devoted to a comprehensive and detailed exposition of his message to the world and to India and to the means and method for creating a national spiritual life in India in accordance with its altered conditions, the following suojects were cnosen as topics ior the Swami’s lecture:

(1) My plan of campaign
(2) The Sages of India
(3) Vedanta in its relation to practical life
(4) The future of India

The Swami approved of the programme. He also consented to deliver an address to the Triplicane Literary Society on “Some aspects of my work in India”. In addition, he gave two morning sittings at the Castle to meet people who desired to ask him questions.

The Swami’s stay in Madras was a nine days’ festival, a veritable "Navaratri”. Altogether twenty-four addresses were presented to Swami Vivekananda, in English, Sanskrit, Tamil and Telugu. He also presided at the Annual Meeting of the Chennapuri Annadana Samajam, an institution of a charitable nature, and gave a brief address in which he pointed out the superiority of the Hindu idea of charity to that of the legalised methods of other nations. He also paid a visit to the rooms of the Madras Social Reform Association.

But to return to a detailed account of his activities during his nine days’ stay at Madras. The following account is taken from an extremely interesting article, published in the Vedanta Kesari, by Prof. Sundararama Iyer, M.A, He was, it may be remembered, the host of the Swami at Trivandrum when the unknown monk was there during his pilgrimages.

Shortly after his arrival in response to the demands of some of his followers in Madras, the Swami sang one of Jayadeva’s songs in a marvellous voice and in a Raga (tune) different from any ever heard in that part of the country. “The impression received,” writes the professor, “is one never to be effaced, and the Swami was in one of the lighter aspects of his complex nature.” From the first day to the last of his visit he was besieged at all hours by visitors of all classes and of both sexes. Many women of respectable families came to the Castle Keman as if they were visiting a temple. Their devotional feeling reached its climax when they gained admission and prostrated themselves before the Swami as if he were an Avatar or Acharya revisiting the scene of his labours. There were crowds constantly waiting in front of the Castle at all hours of the day and even after dark. Writes Prof. Sundararama Iyer:

“It had gone forth that he was an Avatara of Sambandha Swami (Shiva) and the idea was taken up everywhere with absolute truthfulness by the common people. Whenever a glimpse of him was caught, as he passed to and fro in the Castle grounds or as he was getting into his coach on his way to one of the meetings, they prostrated en masse before him. The scene on such occasions was as impressive as it was unusual, emphasising as it did that in the heart of the nation was a deep reverence lor renunciation of the world's vanities and its unsubstantial fleeting attachments; that it still regarded it to be the sole means to the attainment of the lotus feet of the Supreme and the resulting liberation from the miseries in the material universe.’

When the appointed day, the third after his arrival, came for the Swami to receive the Madras address, he left the Castle Kernan at about 4 p.m. It was a day of universal and high expectations. The scene in front of the Victoria Hall and along the roads and by-ways leading to it defied description. The Swami’s carriage could scarcely pass, so dense was the crowd. As the Swami and his party alighted from the carriage, there were loud cries of “open air meeting” from the vast throng assembled in front of the Hall. It was arranged that the address to the Swami should be presented inside the Hall. It was filled to its utmost capacity. Sir V. Bhashyam Ayyangar was already in the Chair. The Swami took his seat on the dais by his side, and Mr. M. O. Parthasarathi Ayyangar read the address. Meanwhile loud and continuous shouts of “open air meeting” from outside interrupted the proceedings within. The Swami’s heart was touched; he felt that he could not disappoint the countless young men, eager and enthusiastic, assembled out of doors. So he went forth to meet and mingle with the throng which broke into thundering applause when he appeared. But the noise was so deafening that the Swami could not make himself heard. He was compelled to speak from the top of a Madras Coach2 — “in the Gita fashion”, as he called it, to the mirth of all who heard him, meaning that there was some sort of distant analogy between himself speaking from a coach and imparting his counsel and inspiration to his people at the dawn of a new epoch and Shri Krishna delivering his message of Yoga to a world which had allowed it to sink into oblivion. He spoke briefly, clearly enunciating the central truths of Hinduism, how through renunciation, love and fearlessness souls were to be helped to cross the ocean of Samsara into the joy of Truth and the realisation of the Self; how India had, through love for God or Self, expanded the limited, concentrated and intense love of a family into the love of country and humanity. He concluded by thanking all, urging them to “keep up” their enthusiasm and to give him all the help he “required” from them “to do great things for India” and to carry out all his plans for the revival of the race. This was followed by his four other public lectures delivered on February 9, 11, 13 and 14, two in the Victoria Hall, one in the Pacheyappa’s and the last in Harmston’s circus pavilion. His ideas aroused the latent energies of the Indian nation; he reminded the Indians of their greatness and their weaknesses as well, now pointing to their glorious heritage and the still more glorious destiny they were to fulfil in the future, now admonishing them like a Guru, pointing out the evils of their mistaken course and the dangers ahead on the path to their salvation as a nation. He made them self-conscious, proud of their past and hopeful of their future and at the same time ashamed of their weakness and irnpotency and bade them gird up their loins.

A few interesting events happened during the Swami’s stay in Madras. On February 8, a deputation came to him — all Shaivites, from Tiruppattur to ask him questions about the fundamental points of the Advaita philosophy. The first question was — “How does the Unmanifested become the manifest!”

The Swami replied that the question was illogical for “how” and “why” can be asked only of the relative and not of the Absolute and that he could answer questions only when they were put in a logical form. In the resulting deadlock the questioners felt that they had met their match. Then the Swami said, “The best way to serve and to seek God is to serve the needy, to feed the hungry, to console the stricken, to help the fallen and friendless, to attend and serve those who are ill and require service.” The deputation listened to the Swann’s passionate plea for service to humanity; and as they took their departure, their countenances showed that their hearts had been touched and that a new light had been thrown on life and work.

On the morning of February 12, there came a young European lady of high intelligence, who put to him various questions on the subject of Vedanta. The Swami’s resources of knowledge and argument were displayed in full to the delight and enlightenment of the lady and the entire audience. She expressed her gratitude to the Swami, and told him that she would be leaving for London in a few days to resume her social work among the dwellers in its slums and hoped that it would be her great privilege to meet him again. As she left the room, the Swami rose from his seat and advanced a few steps to see that way was made for her to leave the meeting, and remained standing till she bowed and retired. In the afternoon she returned with her father who was a Christian Missionary in Madras, and sought and obtained for him an interview which lasted nearly an hour. In answer to Prof. Sundararama Iyer’s question as to how he found the strength for such incessant activity, the Swami said, “Spiritual work never tires one in India.”

Another interesting incident occurred the same evening. A Vaishnava Pandit discussed in Sanskrit with the Swami some difficult points in the Vedanta. The Swami patiently listened to the Pandit, then turned to the audience and said in English that he did not care to waste his time in fruitless wranglings on doctrinal details of no practical value. The Pandit then asked the Swami to tell him in precise language whether he was an Advaitin or Dvaitin. The Swami replied in English, “Tell the Pandit that so long as I have this body I am a Dualist, but not afterwards. This incarnation of mine is to help to put an end to useless and mischievous quarrels and puzzles which only distract the mind, and make men weary of life and even turn them into sceptics and atheists.” The Pandit then said in Tamil, “The Swami’s statement is really an avowal that he is an Advaitin.” The Swami rejoined, “Let it be so,” and the matter was dropped.

Meanwhile he was receiving letters from his Western disciples and from the Vedanta Societies in America and England, informing him of the progress of the work and congratulating him on his successful propaganda there. Among other valuable papers which he received was the following address, the signatories to which include some of the most distinguished minds in the history of American thought:


“Dear Friend and Brother,

“As members of the Cambridge Conferences, devoted to comparative study in Ethics, Philosophy and Religion, it gives us great pleasure to recognise the value of your able expositions of the Philosophy and Religion of Vedanta in America and the interest created thereby among thinking people. We believe such expositions as have been given by yourself and your co-labourer, the Swami Saradananda, have more than mere speculative interest and utility, that they are of great ethical value in cementing the ties of friendship and brotherhood between distant peoples, and in helping us to realise that solidarity of human relationships, and interests which has been affirmed by all the great religions of the world.

“We earnestly hope that your work in India may be blessed in further promoting this noble end, and that you may return to us again with assurances of fraternal regard from our distant brothers of the great Aryan Family, and the ripe wisdom that comes from reflection and added experience and further contact with the life and thought of your people.

“In view of the large opportunity for effective work presented in these Conferences, we should be glad to know something of your own plans for the coming year, and whether we may anticipate your presence with us again as a teacher. It is our hope that you will be able to return to us, in which event we can assure you the cordial greetings of old friends and the certainty of continued and increasing interest in )our work.

“We remain,

“Cordially and Fraternally yours,
Lewis G. Janes, D.D., Director,
C. C. Everett, D.D.,
William James,
John II. Wright,
Josiah Royce,
J. F.. Lough,
A. O. Lovejoy,
Rachel Kent Taylor,
Sara C. Bull,
John P. Fox.”

Dr. Janes, as the reader knows, was the President of the Brooklyn Ethical Association; Professor C. C. Everett was the Dean of the Harvard Divinity School; Professor William James of the Harvard University was one of the leading psychologists and philosophers in the Western Hemisphere; Professor Wright was the Harvard Professor of Greek, who, it will be remembered, aided the Swami to secure credentials for the Parliament of Religions; Professor Royce was the Harvard Professor of Philosophy and an extremely able metaphysician, who admittedly owed much to Swami Vivekananda ; Mrs. Bull was the promoter of the Cambridge Conferences and one of the foremost women in America and Norway; Mr. Fox was the acting honorary secretary of the Cambridge Conferences. Still another letter from the Brooklyn Ethical Association, equally eulogistic and much to the same effect, was received by the Swami at this time, addressed, “to our Indian Brethren of the Great Aryan Family", and bearing the signatures of E. Sidney Sampson, President, and Lewis G. Janes, Ex-President, of the Association. Copies of this address were printed and widely circulated in Madras to an eager and grateful public.

Still another address of greeting was sent to Swami Vivekananda, signed by forty-two of his especial friends at Detroit. It reads:

“From this far-away city, in a land, old yet young, ruled by a people who are a part of the ancient Aryan race, the mother of nations, we send to you in your native country — India, the conservator of the wisdom of the ages — our warmest love and sincerest appreciation of the message you brought to us. We, Western Aryans, have been so long separated from our Eastern brothers that we had almost forgotten our identity of origin, until you came and with beautiful presence and matchless eloquence rekindled within our hearts the knowledge that we of America and you of India are one.

“May God be with you! May blessings attend you! May All-Love and All-Wisdom guide you!

“‘Om Tat Sat Om!’”

Among other papers received by the Swami, mention may be made of one, the reading of which delighted him, not so much for its touching tribute to himself, but for the fact that his Gurubhai had been warmly received by his friends and disciples in New York and had made a promising beginning. On the occasion of presenting an address of welcome to Swami Saradananda at the New Century Hall, 509 Fifth Avenue, New York, on January 16, by the students of the Vedanta Society of the City, Dr. E. G. Day was reported to have spoken as follows:

“Among the audience I recognise the faces of many who gathered to hear the sublime teachings of the Vedanta from the lips of the gifted and well-beloved Master, Vivekananda, and of many who mourned when their friend and teacher left, and who earnestly long for his return. I wish to assure you that his mantle has fallen on worthy shoulders in the person of the Swami Saradananda who will now teach the Vedanta studies among us. I am sure that I voice your sentiments when I say that we are ready to extend to him the love and loyalty we had for his predecessor. Let us extend to the new Swami a hearty welcome.”

On Monday, February 15, the Swami left for Calcutta by steamer. To the request that he should remain in Madras and open a centre there he pointed out that it was impossible for him to do so just then, but he promised to send one of his Gurubhais as his representative. Several of his admirers followers and personal friends went to the wharf to see him off. Mr. Tilak had invited the Swami to Poona, and he first thought of going there. But he was in need of rest and pined for the quiet of the Himalayas. At the beach, several merchants of the Arya-Vaishya caste (known as Komattis) met him and presented a formal address or thanks for his services to the holy mother-land. The Hon. Mr. Subba Rao of Rajahmundry presented the address to the Swami on their behalf. The Swami bowed in acknowledgment and spoke kindly with them. Several boarded the steamer, and remained with the Swami until the boat sailed. Professor Sundararama Iyer begged of the Swami the favour of a moment’s interview apart to ask, “Swami, tell me if, indeed, you have done lasting good by your mission to such materialistic people as the American and others in the West.” He replied, “Not much. I hope that here and there I have sown a seed which in time may grow and benefit some at least.” The second query was, “Shall we see you again, and will you continue your Mission work in South India?” He replied, “Have no doubt about that. I shall take some rest in the Himalayan region, and then burst on the country everywhere like an avalanche.”

  1. ^Complete Works, Vol. 3.
  2. ^Complete Works, Vol. 3.