The Story of the Vivekananda Rock Memorial

(As told by Shri Eknath Ranade)

About two years I heard the story of how the Rock Memorial came up and Shri Eknath Ranadeji’s role in making it happen. I was told about a book that had the complete story but was not able to lay my hands on it. Then out of the blue I met a very senior person from The Vivekananda Kendra that runs the Memorial. He sent me the book and some pictures too.  Am sharing excerpts from part one of the book i.e. relating to the construction of the Rock Memorial. Content is verbatim from the book. My comments are in inverted commas. Courtesy & Copyright is Vivekananda Kendra Prakashan Trust, Chennai,   or call 91 44 28440042, 28442843. 

The Memorial is on the Rock where Swamiji meditated & discovered the mission of his life. A brief summary of the chapters –

Ch No Chapter Title Contents
1. Preface Excerpts by P Parmeshwaranji, President Vivekananda Kendra.
2. Teething Trouble How did the idea of memorial take shape, opposition of local Christians, political opposition, how Eknathji got involved with Memorial work.
3. Stalwarts Involved Plunge into work, how Eknathji with tact patience won over the politicians, got a petition supporting the Memorial signed by 323 MP’s.
4. Unforeseen Problem Created by Kankaykumari Devaswom Board.
5. Collection Campaign Strategy Vision of new Horizon.
6. To Nagaland For collecting funds, One Rupee folder campaign.
7. Memorial Details E.g. 6,000 tons of granite were used or it took 7,83,767 man-days to construct it.
8. Steer Clear of Politics Was one of the reasons for Eknathji’s success, reasons behind Choice of Pose.

Learning’s from the book that each one of us can use in our day to days lives -
a)    Every problem has a solution. Keep your mind calm & find a way out.
b)    Learn when to speak & keep quiet.
c)    Maintain good relations with all if you do not like some one.
d)    Fight hard with your opponents. Once you win let there not be any bitterness in your heart. Learn to be magnanimous without letting your guard down.
e)    Spirituality must be vibrant. It should be selfless action, rather than simple meditation.
f)    Self-confidence & teamwork are important to create something that will last even after you leave your body.
g)    Look before you leap. Read up matter & think before committing to completing a given tasks.
h)    Cultivate good relations with people, you never know when both of you could need each other’s help.
i)    When someone is being unreasonable to your suggestion you can get him to fall in line by finding his weak points in his hometown or area of influence.
j)    There is a right time for everything so learn to be patient & know when the time is right.
k)    When a person is adamant, does not agree with you, keep the dialogue on.
l)    Always look to create something eternal, deeper than merely a brick & mortar structure.
m)    Do not become rigid and restrict your thinking to compartments or a sect. Always have an open mind.

Publisher’s Note – The famous Vivekananda Rock Memorial (referred to as VRM henceforth) was inaugurated in the year 1970. Marking the 25th year of the event, in 1995 we released the first edition of the book. Considering the intrinsic value of the book, the need to preserve the true story for posterity, the revised edition has been brought out with several multi-color plates.

Some reviews of the first edition – “The VRM, as it stands today, is as much a memorial to Swamiji as to Shri Eknath Ranade whose devotion to the work he had undertaken was inspired but not by mere faith but by intellectual conviction. His work necessarily involved much physical exertion, but much more in demand were his gift of intellectual persuasion, perseverance & tact”.

Preface excerpts

Preface written by Shri P.Parmeswaran, President, Vivekananda Kendra.

What we are reproducing here are not the formal, written words of Shri Ranade. We reproduce his spoken words. He gave a series of ten lectures on the Rock Memorial, to the first band of life workers whom he wanted to train as missionaries of the Kendra. Conceivably, Eknathji formulated his lectures into two almost equal parts. The first part deals with how he grappled with the problems that came in the way & brought into being the Memorial. The second part deals with the mission of the Vivekananda Kendra as he visualized it, its philosophy, ultimate objective etc.

In the first part he describes how he was drawn into the construction of the VRM, how the various obstacles cropped up one by one, and how each one of them was surmounted & finally how the work was accomplished & the dream came true. As he goes on narrating incident after incident, the story of the VRM becomes indistinguishable from Eknathji’s autobiography. They coalesce into each other. There was no problem for which he had no solution To anticipate his own words: “Every strategy has a counter-strategy, every weapon has a counter-weapon”. This truth was conclusively demonstrated by Eknathji in overcoming the seemingly insurmountable obstacles.
The men with whom Eknathji had to cross swords were not ordinary men of clay. They were leaders in their own right. They occupied positions of high power. Bhaktavatsalam was quote a powerful Chief Minister & Humayan Kabir, a Central Minister. They were both opposed to the monument on the Rock. But Eknathji shrewdly outmaneuvered both of them & ultimately brought them round to his point of view. He handled leaders like Annadurai & Jyoti Basu (not idealogical admirers of Swami Vivekananda) in a successful manner and made them partners in the construction of the VRM. This should make even the most experienced experts take a lesson or two from him in the art of human management.

Leaders of every political party, whether in power or in the opposition became willing supporters. Chief Ministers of every state, made handsome donation toward the VRM. The only Chief Minister who sent Eknathji empty handed was the Kerala CM Com. E.M.S. Namboodiripad. Coming out of the interview, Eknathji remarked: “It was like conversing with a sphinx. It was a monologue all the way, on my part. Only an empty stare from the other side”.

It is instructive to know how he made judicious use of various means at his command for the achievement of his end. Both speech & silence were equally effective implements in his hands. To know when to speak & when to keep silent is a rare gift. Eknath Ranade possessed this abundantly. While he raised stormy controversies when necessary, he abstained from them when they served no purpose. He utilized his contact with the Press for raising the right issues at the right time and also not to raise inconvenient issues that would only complicate the situation.

Thus, by bringing into play every God-given quality that he possessed in ample measure, Eknath Ranade was able to successfully accomplish the task that was entrusted to him. While engaged in battle, he was unrelenting & made no compromises – and expected none from the opposite side. But when the battle was over, he saw to it that no bitterness remained. He had the magnanimity to go to his erstwhile opponents and pay compliments to them. He avoided agitations as a matter of principle, because he knew that even if you gain your objective by means of agitations, in the end, there would be no grace in it.

As soon as it became clear to him that the VRM has become an assured fact, he began to think about the second phase. “To put up a Cement & Concrete structure is not the work for which I am born. I am to erect a living & dynamic monument which will be worthy of Swami Vivekananda and which will be capable of bringing into fruition his grand vision of future India” – he began to think. For a close student of the mental make up of Eknathji, it is obvious that the link between the first & second phase, was rooted in organizational & psychological links he had with two great organizations with which he was intimately associated – the RSS & the Ramakrishna Mission. As soon as Guruji Golwalkar expressed to him his desire that it would be good if he took up the challenging task of the construction of the VRM, “from Nagpur I went straight to Calcutta & met with the respected Swami Madhavanandaji to know his mind & seek his blessings”. What did he say? “As a matter of fact, Ramakrishna Mission should have taken up his work, but we can’t deliver the goods. You should certainly take up the work---- you can be rest assured that the entire Mission, will be at your back all the time. Go ahead & Thakur will bless you, Swami Vivekananda will bless you, and you have my blessings also”.

This link had its roots deep in the Psychology of Eknath Ranade. This is clearly evident in his conversation with Sri Govinda Menon, the Home Minister in the Central Cabinet. To a pointed question by the minister as how the work of the RSS could be reconciled with Vivekananda’s philosophy, Eknathji reply was, “It is Vivekananda’s philosophy that made me an RSS worker--. In fact RSS is nothing but an extension of Swamiiji’s work”. The minister was not convinced as it evident from his remark. “It is a very bold statement to make”.

What was the inspiration behind the second phase? What did he actually seek to achieve? It was national reconstruction. Eknathji thought, “If all the religiosity can be converted into activities of public good, there can be all-round national reconstruction”. One very significant dimension of Eknathji’s concept of national reconstruction is that it covered all sections of Hindu society and all parts of the country. He says: “Bhartheeyata in everybody has to be aroused, work should be taken from them.” He firmly believed that “if you scratch sufficiently deep, the Hindu in everybody will be roused, whether one talks of Westernism or Russianism or modernism, he essentially is a child of this soil”.

It is this national vision that took Eknathji to all sections of people during the course of the collection campaign. When the CM of Nagaland questioned him about the wisdom of his spending so much time for a paltry amount, Eknathji’s reply was typical & revealing. He said: “My motive is just not funds. I want your participitation, participation of the Govt and people of Nagaland – because Nagaland is part of the Nation”.

During the course of his campaign for the VRM he had realized that political factionalism & religious sectarianism, had always prevented people from coming together even on issues of national good, about which intrinsically they had no conflicting opinion. Politics being the pursuit of power, could be an instrument of division. But Eknathji was painfully aware that even spiritual movements degenerated into rival sects. As a keen student of history, he found that this had become a national defect with the Hindus and unless it was overcome national reconstruction would remain a mirage. Therefore, he suggested an organization which would be meticulously kept beyond politics & sectarianism.

That was his vision of Vivekananda Kendra. Such an organization could be built up only around a great ideal. Perusing the entire thought of Swamiji, Eknathji discovered that the magic word would be – worship – worship of Man is truly worship of God. But every organization requires Men who are inspired and whose lives are molded by that particular ethos. It is here that Eknathji visualized the creation of a non-sannyasin order of life workers, who will be dedicated to service more than Sadhana. Spirituality must be vibrant. It should be selfless action, rather than simple meditation.

Creation of such an order of life workers was no easy task, considering the prevailing social situation in the country. History of the past many centuries taught Eknathji that the Hindu society has lost its sense of Self-Confidence. They were in the habit of looking for an incarnation to descend save society. What is worse, every great men, who achieved something for the society, was immediately defied and put on a pedestal & worshipped. Eknathji declared that this suicidal trend has to be reversed. He wanted a new generation that believed in themselves, that they can do anything. He accepted Swamiji as an ordinary human being, who raised himself to the highest rung of human evolution, by dint of self-confidence & self-sacrifice.

Eknathji wanted that ideal of Swamiji to be followed by the life workers whom he wanted to man the organization of his dream. So he erected the statue of Swamiji, standing up & starting on his patriotic mission, rather than one, sitting absorbed in deep meditation.

Self-confidence comes from the innate conviction that each man is potentially divine. That was the essence of Hindu heritage from the Vedic times. Eknathji wanted to remind this Vedic mantra – “We are the children of God & immortality”. This realization will automatically give us the super human strength to overcome all fear & weaknesses.

Eknathji realized the importance of teamwork. He reeled off instances after instances from our own history, how a handful of foreign invaders, much inferior to us in every respect, could easily beat us hollow and enslave & rule over us, only because they possessed this great quality of team spirit in abundance, whereas, we Hindus totally lacked this capacity. He pointed out how our Vedic mantras constantly instilled into us this gospel of collective effort – “Yagna”. That made us great in the past.

The twenty-first century will be the century of India – and also that of Hindus. That is what Swamiji has predicted. Let us all work hard to make it a reality. And that alone will make our lives worth living.

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