By Saswat Panigrahi
September 11, 2013
One hundred and twenty years ago, on this day, Swami Vivekananda delivered a model speech at the Parliament of World Religions held in Chicago. The world celebrates this day as World Brotherhood Day as a mark of respect to that sterling speech.
Bowing to goddess Saraswati, Vivekananda had begun his speech with “sisters and brothers of America!” At those words, he received a standing ovation of two minutes from an audience of 7,000. When silence restored, Vivekananda responded, “I thank you in the name of the most ancient order of monks in the world; I thank you in the name of the mother of religions; I thank you in the name of millions and millions of Hindu people of all classes and sects.”
Representing India, Vivekananda introduced the greatness of Hindutva and the eternal values of Indianness to the West. “I am proud to belong to a religion which has taught the world both tolerance and universal acceptance. We believe not only in universal toleration, but we accept all religions as true. I am proud to belong to a nation which has sheltered the persecuted and the refugees of all religions and all nations of the earth,” he said.
Vivekananda quoted two illustrative passages from the ‘Shiva Mahimna Stotram’. “As the different streams having their sources in different places all mingle their water in the sea, so, O Lord, the different paths which men take, through different tendencies, various though they appear, crooked or straight, all lead to thee!” and “Whosoever comes to me, through whatsoever form, I reach him; all men are struggling through paths that in the end lead to me.”
It was in that model speech, Vivekananda presented the ancient teachings of India in its purest form. While other speakers spoke simply on their own faith, Vivekananda stressed upon the essence of interfaith awareness and religious tolerance.
One hundred and twenty years after Vivekananda delivered the Chicago address; its intriguing message is still relevant to the present society. “Sectarianism, bigotry, and its horrible descendant, fanaticism, have long possessed this beautiful earth. They have filled the earth with violence, drenched it often and often with human blood, destroyed civilisation and sent whole nations to despair. Had it not been for these horrible demons, human society would be far more advanced than it is now,” he said.
Vivekananda’s speech channeled the spirit and sense of universality of the Parliament of the World’s Religions. The saffron monk became an instant rage. “India, the mother of religions, was represented by Swami Vivekananda, the orange-monk who exercised the most wonderful influence over his auditors,” Dr Barrows, the president of the parliament had said.
The American press dubbed Vivekananda as ‘handsome oriental’, the ‘cyclonic monk from India”, the ‘greatest figure in the Parliament of Religions’ and the ‘most popular and influential man in the Parliament’.
The New York Critique wrote, “Swami Vivekananda is an orator by divine right, and his strong, intelligent face in its picturesque setting of yellow and orange was hardly less interesting than those earnest words, and the rich, rhythmical utterance he gave them.”
“Vivekananda is undoubtedly the greatest figure in the Parliament of Religions. After hearing him we feel how foolish it is to send missionaries to this learned nation,” wrote The New York Herald.
The Boston Evening Transcript said, Vivekananda was “a great favourite at the Parliament…if he merely crosses the platform, he is applauded”.
Vivekananda’s Chicago speech marked the beginning of Western interest on Indian values. The content of the speech has an irresistible appeal even today.