Swami Vivekananda in Punjab

Through one of the Sikh yahoo groups I got to know that Swamiji had said great things about Guru Govind Singhji. I went to the Ramakrishna Mission close to home but they did not have book references handy. During that period I got to know a Swami in Brazil who told me about an article published in the Prabuddha Bharata in the 1990’s. Again I went to the Mission and searched their library but we could not find the relevant issue.

I had nearly given up hope by then. However, a friend Rajib Sarkar asked me to speak with brother Tilak, a great admirer of the Guru. Tilak mailed me some links thereafter. Those links took me to Ramakrishna Math Chennai who promptly gave me the references in Swamiji’s Complete Works. Armed with this info went to the main Mission Library at Khar in Mumbai. The Swami there told me that only members could access the library.

Having come this far there was no way I was going back empty handed. I sat opposite the Swami with this very helpless yet determined look. I guess the Swami was testing me because after half an hour he allowed me to access the library. I started with the Prabuddha Bharata issue of January 1990 and eventually found Jasbir’s article in the June 97 issue. I wanted to make a copy but Mission rules prohibit non-members from taking books out of the library. The Swami agreed to photocopy the article and asked me to send my man the next day to collect it. Thanks to Ajay for typing the article.

I present Swamiji’s views in two parts. Part one is the article by Jasbir, part 2 are excerpts from The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda.

                                                                  Swami Vivekanda in Punjab

Courtesy Prabuddha Bharata                                                                                            By Jasbir Kaur Ahuja

Swami Vivekananda’s reverence for the great Guru Nanak and the other Sikh gurus who followed him, especially for Guru Gobind Singh, is generally known. Possibly this is what prompted him accept an invitation to visit the (then undivided) Punjab during his travels in North India after his first return to India from the West. The following article draws our attention to that visit, to some of the inspiring ideas that came from him during his lectures there, and to Swamiji’s influence on Swami Ramatirtha.

The author, a senior Lecturer in English at the Government Junior Service Training Centre, Patiala, Punjab, is an occasional contributor to the PB for the past several years. Recently she has written a short biography of Swamiji in the Punjab language.

Thirteen August 1897 was a red-letter day in the history of the Punjab. It was on this day that Swami Vivekananda, after broadcasting his spiritual message in the West and a whirlwind tour extending from Colombo to Almora, came to Ambala, then a part of the Punjab. He was an unknown monk when he left India for Chicago on 31 May 1893; but when he came back, the whole country rose as one man to welcome him. It was America, which discovered the cyclonic monk and gifted him to India. On his return there were multiple invitations for him from every nook and corner of India to deliver lectures. Heeding the request, the Swami started a series of lectures, which are today known as ‘Lectures from Colombo to Almora’. His first public lecture in the East was delivered on 16 Januray 1897, at Colombo where he had landed the previous day, after his memorable work in the West.

In response to the invitations from the Punjab and Kashmir, the Swami traveled through those ports. He visited Ambala, Amritsar, Dharamsala, Rawalpindi, Murree, Srinagar, Jammu, Sialkot and Lahore, and delivered lectures at most of these places. He stayed in Kashmir and Jammu for over a month, and his work there was very much appreciated by the Maharaja and his brothers. He delivered three lectures at Lahore (of the undivided Punjab) in November 1897, the topic being, ‘Problems Before Us’, ‘Bhakti, and ‘Vedanta’.

S. Puran Singh, a great Punjabi poet and writer, was an eyewitness to these lectures. He writes in The Story of Swami Rama -

“One of the causes, which led him (Swami Rama) to seek the role of a monk, in my opinion, was his meeting with Swami Vivekananda at Lahore.

Swami Vivekananda at Lahore was quite an inspiration to the people of the Punjab; his divine eloquence, his burning renunciation, his strength, his power of personality, his gigantic intellect, all made a deep impression on the people. Perhaps his lecture on ‘Vedanta’ at Lahore was one of the most brilliant pieces of oratory. It was in those days that Swami Vivekananda was made the admiring witness of the Amrita ceremony of Guru Gobind Singh. In his address, Swami Vivekananda spoke of the ‘Punjab of the lion-hearted Guru Gobind Singh’. The Swami was a great admirer of Guru Gobind Singh”.

Puran Singh further writes:

‘The Swami was put up at Dhyan Singh’s Haveli, and I distinctly remember to this moment the huge number of turbaned masses of Lahore that had assembled in the large hall to listen to the Swami. I was then a little boy reading in the college for the intermediate examination of the Punjab University. The scene has been impressed indelibly on my memory. The hall was filled and there was an overflow of people in the courtyard. People eager to see the Swami pressed each other shoulder to shoulder, to pass into the hall. The Swami seeing these earnest unmanageable crowds announced that he would lecture in the open air. The enclosure, the courtyard of the Haveli, is a large one, and there is a temple-like structure with a raised platform in the center. The Swami ascended the platform and there he stood-superb, a giant in his superb physique, robed in orange like a Rishi of old, with his large fiery eyes magnetizing the very air. He had a dopatta swung round him and he had a large orange turban in the fashion of a Punjabi. This lion of Vedanta roared and thundered for hours, keeping the Punjabis spellbound and lifting them up to the delectable heights of his mental eminence.

Lahore was struck by one who owed his inspiration to no less a personage than Paramahansa Ramakrishna. One could see the flame of inspiration burning before him in this great person.

I did not know Swami Rama then, but it was he who arranged all those lectures, and he was of the opinion that Swami Vivekananda was at his best while speaking on Vedanta, for that was his subject. This visit of Swami Vivekananda, no doubt, strengthened the silent ambitions of the young Swami Rama for leading the life of a monk and to go round the world, preaching Vedanta like Vivekananda. Swami Vivekananda had already defined Vedanta from a practical point of view, and just as modern educated India, by the contact of the West, has discovered the greatness of Bhagavad-Gita in its gospel of duty, so did Swami Vivekananda interpret Shankaracharya’s Advaita Vedanta philosophy in terms of Bhakti, Karma, and even patriotism and humanity.

Swami Vivekananda was the first to apply Vedanta even to politics. And it was after meeting with Swami Vivekananda that Swami Rama made up his mind definitely. He had found an exemplar and an interpreter of the comprehensive kind of Advaita Vedanta that he was already evolving within himself. It was the example of Swami Vivekananda that gave tongue to his dumb self-realization, and then he went roaming in the Himalayas and he came down preaching the same practical Vedanta, which Swami Vivekananda preached.

Speaking on the ‘Problems Before Us’ the first of his three lectures there, Swami Vivekananda, greeting the brave people of the Punjab, admiring the beauty of the spiritual land of five rivers, and paying tribute to the greatness of Guru Nanak, said:

This is the land, which is held to be the holiest even in holy Aryavarta; this is the Brahmavarta of which our great Manu speaks. This is the land from whence arose that mighty aspiration after the Spirit, may, which in times to come, as history shows, is to deluge the world. This is the land where, like its mighty rivers, spiritual aspirations have arisen and joined their strength, till they traveled over the length and breadth of the world and declared themselves with a voice of thunder. This is the land, which had first to bear the brunt of all inroads and invasions into India; this heroic land had first to bare its bosom to every onslaught of the outer barbarians into Aryavarta. This is the land which, after all its suffering has not yet entirely lost its glory and its strength. Here it was that in later times the gentle Nanak preached his marvelous love for the world. Here it was that his broad heart was opened and his arms outstretched to embrace the whole world, not only of Hindus, but of Mohammedans too.

Swami Vivekananda was greatly impacted by the personality and teaching Guru Gobind Singh. He recognized Gobind Singh as one of the most glory heroes of our race. Towards the end same lecture, referring to the conception of religion as realization, whose fruit is universal love and compassion and eulogizing grandeur of the tenth Guru for his universal love and broad vision, said:

Mark me, then and then alone you are a Hindu when the very name sends through you a galvanic shock of strength. Then and then alone you are a Hindu when every man who bears name from any country, speaking your language or any other language, becomes at once the nearest and the dearest to you. Then and then alone you are a Hindu when the distress of anyone bearing that name comes to your heart and makes you fell as if your own son were in distress. Then and then alone you a Hindu when you will be ready to give up everything for them, like the great example… of Guru Govind Singh… You might see thousands of defects in your countrymen, but mark their Hindu blood. They are the first Gods you will have to worship even if they do everything to hurt you, even if everyone of them send out a curse to you, you send out to them words of love.

In the second lecture on ‘Bhakti’ delivered on 9 November 1897, Swamiji likened Bhakti to a triangle of which the first angle was that love knew no want and the second that love knew no fear. Love for reward & for return service of any kind was the beggar’s religion, the shopkeeper’s religion with very little religion in it. People should not behave like beggars because in the first place beggary is a sign of atheism. Foolish indeed is the man who living on the banks of the Ganga digs a little well to drink water. So is the man who begs material objects from God.

In his third lecture on ‘Vedanta’, delivered on 12 November 1897, Swamiji made an impassioned appeal for making Vedanta practical, for bringing it out of caves and forests where it so long existed as rahasya (secret) and making it applicable to the everyday life of the people. According to Tirtham Goswami,

“..this lasted for full two and a half hours. The listeners were so deeply engrossed and it created such an atmosphere that all ideas of home and space were lost. At times one reached the stage of realization of absolute abheda (non-difference) between oneself and the cosmic Atman. It struck at the roots of ego and pride itself. In short, it was such a good success as you come by once in a way”.

No account of Swamiji’s visit to the Punjab will be complete without reference to a seemingly insignificant incident connected with Swami Rama. Before Swami Vivekananda left Lahore, Swami Rama presented him with a gold watch. Swamiji took it very kindly, but put it back in Swami Rama’s pocket, saying, ‘Very well friend I shall wear it here in this pocket’.

Swami Vivekananda inspired our countrymen to follow the example of Guru Gobind Singh, who sacrificed his all for the sake of religion. It is because of the example set by and inspiration from such saints the India is alive today. Iqbal sang:

sub mit gaye jahan se
Ab tak magar hai bagi
nam-o-nishan hamara
Kuch baat hai ki hasti
mitti nahin hamari
Sadion raha hai dushman
daur-e-zaman hamara.

We are still vibrant even though Greek, Egyptian and Roman culture have ceased to exist. It is not without reason that we have not been obliterated even though for centuries we had enemies around.

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