Swami Vivekananda, the Architect of Modern Indian Nation
Post independence history has shaped around a cult - the cult of Gandhism, the myth of Ahimsa as a potent force that has shaped the freedom movement of India. Court historians of different hues, Red or Green, have been too hasty to conclude that the founding father of Indian Nation had been Gandhi as his ideal of non violence brought forth the much cherished freedom. However a careful analysis reveals that the assertion is deeply flawed. In the first place, we have already seen, that while Gandhi's movements made important contributions to the freedom movement, they on their own were not enough to force the British to leave India. In fact almost all of the major movements launched by Gandhi failed to achieve their objectives. Gandhiji also could not achieve his primary goal of Hindu Muslim unity. Despite his weak remonstrances, India was mercilessly partitioned into fragments by the British Raj, in connivance with Congress leaders, on the explicit demand of the Muslim League. We also know for sure that Gandhi's ideal of passive resistance is impractical in shaping the destiny of a modern Nation. A Nation needs its army to defend its border, it needs weapons to fight its many adversaries, it has to be strong and powerful in order to remain peaceful. A weak, destabilized Nation, that relies only on spiritual force as Gandhi had envisaged, cannot sustain on a physical plane. To be frank, Gandhism has been discarded in India after the disastrous failure in the 1962 war with the Chinese. While it is true that Mahatma Gandhi played a significant role in raising the political consciousness of the masses against the various injustices of the British rule and esp. rallied the farmers against the heavy burden of taxation, he could not influence the great thinkers and the intellectuals, nor could he mobilize the youth. A section of them, being disillusioned with the passive resistance and the intellectual vacuum of Gandhism, embraced revolutionary activities and borrowed foreign born ideals like Marxism and Russian brand of Communism, which proved to be disastrous in the long run to the individual as well as to the society. The Godless creed of Communism was never in sync with the deep cultural values of India that have spirituality as its backbone and are rooted in her rich legacy of Ramayana, Mahabharata, Puranas, Vedas and the Vedanta - the Upanishadas, and the Hindu sacred text of Bhagavat Gita. Only one person who shaped the ideals, the thoughts and the destiny of modern India was Swami Vivekananda. Therefore it is to him that the epithet, "Architect of the Nation" should rightly go to, while founding fathers of modern India could be many, starting from Rammohan Roy, Bankimchandra, Aurobindo, Bagha Jatin, Rashbehari Bose and Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose. In this analysis we are deeply indebted to the magnum opus of Shankari Prasad Basu, eminent Vivekananda scholar - Bibekananda O Somokalin Bharatbrasha (Vivekananda and Contemporary India - five volumes) and Swami Purnatmananda's book on Swami Vivekananda's influence on the freedom movement - reminiscences of Hemchandra Ghosh, a famous revolutionary leader.
It is to be noted that by describing Swami Vivekananda as the founding architect of Modern India we have not tried to reduce his stature. He is the World Teacher who shaped the thought process of the entire world and by his gigantic spiritual power changed the course of history. However India occupied a central place in his thoughts and actions and it was India's welfare that was foremost in his mind when he went to the Parliament of Religions in Chicago. He raised the sunken Hindus, just as Varaha Avatara had raised the Vedas from underneath the water with his tusks. As per Romain Rolland, like Christ rejuvenating a dead Lazarus, Vivekananda brought back India from the brink of death by his clarion call - "Lazarus, come forth." India listened and even though still half asleep, it tried to wake up from a thousand year slumber into which it had been thrown by the evil fairy of karma. Hindus had sunken too deep in their rituals, in their caste system, into forced slavery, too enamoured by everything coming from a foreign rule - forgetting India's own glorious past, its roots, its culture, civilization and its contribution. With one sweeping gesture, Vivekananda removed the veil of self hypnotism that had engulfed the Nation. A father brings forth a child, rears and brings it up and is one of the great teachers. Vivekananda brought forth in front of Indians their ancient ideals that would emancipate them all bondages - be it in the physical or in the spiritual plane. He understood the problems, he empathized with the people, esp. the poor - he became one with them in their sorrow in the deepest sense that Advaita Vedanta can offer. He provided the vision, the meaning, the goals, the ideals, and he therefore set in motion a creative and formative process that would shape the new Nation, which, though intensely modern in thought and outlook, would be deeply rooted in its glorious past, in dharma, and would be shining in the spiritual lights of the many masters who had come to help her in different times. Unlike Gandhism that is too much rooted in superstition, in traditional in place of modern, in simplicity and austerity and in meekness in place of bravery, the Vedanta Kesari had shunned all weaknesses and put absolute emphasis on strength. Non Violence is no doubt the highest ideal, but its not the ideal of the householder. One size cannot fit all - that's where Gandhism, like any other dogmatic "ism", is deeply flawed. Swamiji was intensely practical, his methods were applicable for all and sundry, under all conditions and therefore truly helped the Nation in its journey. The present problems and the woes of the Nation are entirely because its leadership had abandoned Vivekananda's path for petty selfish narrow political interests. The people who had followed their leaders had been foolish enough not to be able to distinguish gold from imitation. The historians, the intellectual forces and the academics who normally influence the thoughts of the people were themselves misdirected and misguided by foreign born ideals that would not work for India. The result was - andhenaiva niyama yatha andhah - blind leading the blind.
It is to be noted that Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose first called Gandhiji as the Father of the Nation. But years later a great man claimed that it was a tactical move to win over the Indians who were still enamoured by Gandhi and his value system, just as Subhas Chandra Bose used Holwell Monument agitation and a tactical tie up with the Muslim League in order to win over the Muslim support to act as a counter balance against the British Divide and Rule. Gandhiji put Ahimsa, his pet ideal, above the interest of the Nation and thus let the Nation suffer to protect his ideal - not something a real father would do to his child.
But the key question that can be asked - Can any real father of the Nation behave in the way as Gandhi and his followers like Patel, Rajendra Prasad, Kripalani, Rajagopalachari, Nehru, G.B Panth behaved with Subhas Chandra Bose in 1939 in the Tripuri Congress and in its aftermath? Can a true father be a dictator, a lover of sycophancy? The answer is a resounding NO. And in this respect Gandhi's fall is huge. Vivekananda on the contrary has no such blemishes. He was a pure mass of love, who loved his Nation and its people so dearly that he was much above such petty meanness and selfish agenda. A real father cannot be mean, selfish, agenda driven.
Gandhi even could not resolve the Hindu Muslim problem, which was so dear to his ideal. He was accused of being partial and biased towards the Muslims and on many occasions had asked the Hindus to sacrifice more, while he could not or would not make the similar demands to the Muslims. Gandhi was not trusted by the Muslims. Chittaranjan Das and of course Subhas Chandra Bose had far greater acceptability among Muslims than Gandhiji. Gandhiji failed the Hindus on the occasion of the Noakhali and other similar genocides in East and West Pakistan.
Swami Vivekananda, the patriot prophet on the other hand was much above the narrow definition of Nationalism. He was as broad as the sky and as deep as the ocean. His Nationalism was firmly rooted in Advaita. He suffered with the millions of the suffering people of India who were burdened with an extremely oppressive, outright evil foreign yoke that had sucked the last drop of their blood and had got themselves materially enriched, while millions of Indians had perished from starvation and deprivation. Vivekananda traversed through the length and breadth of the country and saw the degradation of the masses. The country was in deep state of Tamas - darkness, with no hope. Casteism and other superstition reigned supreme. Religion was in kitchen - purity of food and don't touchism. Learned scholars were engrossed with social reforms and the orthodox were busy in strengthening the societal rules that had caused the degradation. There was no true spirituality anywhere. People were devoid of true education. They were ignorant of their great legacy. They had accepted the present state of decadence and slavery with stoic non-chalance. They had no strength left to challenge the monstrous British rule and its injustices. Many of them were willing collaborators to the destruction of their own country. And what did Swamiji do? Sitting on a rock in an ocean he contemplated and meditated on the problems of the country and its future. He then decided on a course of action and followed it up through his journey to participate in the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago. The rest was history. On September 11, 1893, the world saw India and Hinduism in a new light, a light that was hitherto denied to the Nation. The people of the Nation found a message of hope, for the first time they tried to shake off the state of stupour. One young sannyasi had in a single handed combat destroyed the machinery of an extremely powerful organized religion that had conspired to undermine the Nation and its religion that he had represented. He presented a picture of Universalism that characterized India as a Nation - not a secular Nation, but an ardently spiritual Nation that would provide succour and support to the persecuted, that had proclaimed since time immemorial that paths to enlightenment are many, that realization of one's divine nature is the goal of human life. As the news of his conquering the Christians spread, people of the country were excited and proud. They saw in his conquests the rise of a new India, a rejuvenated India. The youth were esp. jubilant. When the cyclonic monk thundered across America and Britain preaching the message of Vedanta to their people, who sat at his feet for hours together to gather the precious jewels of ancient Indian philosophy, India regained her prestige and position as the world's teacher. When Vivekananda returned to India in 1897, he received an unprecedented welcome. Maharajas drew his carriage and people rushed to have a glimpse of the live Shiva. He roamed from Colombo to Almora, from Calcutta to Kashmir and Lahore, exhorting the youth to shed all qualities of darkness and "Arise, awake and stop not till the goal is reached." He said that for the next fifty years the only God worthy of worship was the Mother India. He asked people to worship the living God in the Indians. His pranaam mantra should have been part of every school curriculum - Oh my beloved Bharata, forget not your ideals.....every fellow Indian is my brother, be it ignorant, poor, outcaste or Brahmin...Oh Divine Mother, please eliminate my weakness and fill me with strength, make me a man. Manliness was what he sought - muscles of iron and nerves of steel. He preached the mantra of "Abhih, Abhih" - Fearlessness. Only the knowledge of Advaita can make man fearless and thereby open the door for liberation. When the countrymen, the youth stopped fearing the real danger came for the British rule. The Chapekar brothers courted death in 1897. Exactly 10 years later Khudiram, Kanailal, Satyen Bose, Anant Lakshman Kanhare, Madanlal Dhingra followed their footsteps. Aurobindo and Tilak were greatly impressed by Vivekananda. Tilak met him in his lifetime, atleast twice. Bagha Jatin, Hemchandra Ghosh and a host of other revolutionaries were inspired to take up arms to fight a diabolic foreign rule by coming under Vivekananda's influence. As per Bhupendranath Datta - Swami Vivekananda's youngest brother, in his book Patriot Prophet, Swamiji had thought of fomenting a revolution using the help of some of the princely states but could not get satisfactory response. He also tried to purchase arms with help from his American disciples like Josephene Mcleod. In a response to the editor of Tribune Swamiji boldly declared that he was ready to go to jail if needed for India's freedom. He even said that if the British dared to shoot him India would flame up like a wildfire. Even though he could not publicly denounce the British, he was under the scanner of the Government and there were attempts to link him to sedition by Christian Missionaries. In private conversations however he was seething with anger against the British rule. He however to protect the newly formed Math, prohibited any political activity by any of its members. But possibly it was his instructions that prompted Sister Nivedita to take up the battle with the British even at the cost of her immense personal sacrifice of leaving the Ramakrishna Order. She could not have done that without her Guru's blessings. The British Police report mentioned that every revolutionary in the early stage of the movement carried Gita, Bankimchandra's Anandamath and Works of Swami Vivekananda. In a response to a disciple the Holy Mother Sri Sarada Devi had said years later that if "Naren were around Company (implying the British Government) would have put him in jail." This was a true assessment. Vivekananda raised the Nation from its stupour and gave it a hard push so that it was aware of its inherent strength. And then there was no looking back. In the language of Rabindranath "age keba pran karibek dan tari lagi karakari" - clamour for sacrificing lives for the sake of the Nation - a continuous journey towards bravery and martyrdom started. After Aurobindo came Rashbehari Bose and Jatin Mukherjee, followed by Jadugopal Mukherjee, Chittaranjan Das, Subhas Chandra Bose, Jatin Das, Surya Sen, Binoy Bose, the young revolutionaries of Bengal Volunteers and Sri Sangha who killed the notorious Peddie, Douglas, Berge and other magistrates, the Chattagram uprising and so on. Women revolutionaries were not left behind. Swami Vivekananda had said that two cardinal offenses of Hindus were to oppress the lower castes and women. And it would seem that women rose gallantly to the call - Shanti and Suniti killed Stevens, Bina Das shot Stanley Jackson, Ujjwala Majumdar, Leela Nag, Kalyani Das, Matangini Hazra, Nanibala Devi and many other women rose in unison to fight, often shoulder to shoulder. Some of them took up arms while others followed the path of non violence responding to Gandhiji. There was one huge fire - Vivekananda, that emanated so many sparks. This was corroborated by a statement of Sarala Ghoshal, an early rebel daughter who wanted to imbibe the fighting spirit and who knew Vivekananda personally. Vivekananda foresaw the awakening. He said, "the seeming corpse appears to be awakening...India, this motherland of ours...from her deep long sleep. None can resist her any more; never is she going to sleep any more; no outward power can hold her back anymore. (CWSV Vol 3)"
Swami Vivekananda admirably solved the problem of Hindus and Muslims and paved the way for a future broad based spiritual country. In a letter to his Muslim disciple Sarafraj Hussain in Nainital, he said that India of future should be based on Vedantic brain and Islamic body. Much has been said about this statement. Muslim League and other such fundamentalist Muslim organizations had taken strong objection as they felt that by equating Islam to body and Vedanta, a Hindu philosophy to the brain Swamiji had insulted Islam. However Swami Vivekananda as a prophet made a clear distinction between political and spiritual side of a religion. He had no qualms in attacking and condemning the political Islam for its fundamentalism, hatred and bigotry that had resulted in much bloodshed. He harboured no such illusion as the modern day secularists would harbour - that Islam is always peaceful. He however pointed out that the spiritual Islam can not only cohabitate with spiritual Hinduism based on the common Vedantic ideals, but also can contribute actively towards the practical side of its through its philosophy of Universal Brotherhood, based on service towards fellow Muslims, charity and community based living. Political Islam is discriminative not only against Infidels but also against its own brothers. But Spiritual Islam, seen among the Sufi sages, can ensure that bridges are built across religions to embrace the ideals of love and tolerance. Such attempts were made for instance by Dara Shikoh and several other mystics belonging to the Islamic tradition like Kabir and Dadu. Vedantic ideal of seeing the God in every living being is too difficult for a majority. The best surrogate can be the spiritual Islamic idea of a Universal Brotherhood, something which sadly had been lacking among the Hindus. If Hindus are able to embrace that ideal within themselves and if spirituality provides a bridge between Hinduism and Islam which politics failed to provide, Vivekananda's ideal is bound to be realized.
Granted that Swami Vivekananda was a patriot prophet, who loved intensely his country and thought about the welfare of the countrymen. But does that make him the Architect of the Nation? There are other aspects as well. Swami Vivekananda was a modernist embedded in the traditional values. He was a sannyasin but that does not mean that he rejected the modernity in favour of traditional as Gandhi for instance did. Swami Vivekananda was of scientific temperament. He was logical and rational and was well acquainted with the modern scientific thoughts. In fact he tried to prove how Sankhya and Vedanta philosophy are in perfect harmony with the principles of modern science. He wanted every Indian to imbibe the scientific spirit and forego all superstitions. To him, superstitions were weaknesses to be rejected. The Nation needed strength through modern scientific discipline and ideas, the rationalism that would help people to think and thereby develop courage, confidence and self belief - atma sraddha. He laid emphasis on education as the only means for development and progress. All reforms he believed will come from within, not without. The women are as much entitled to education as men. Men need not patronize women but let them grow, develop and solve their own problems. He also denounced in the strongest possible terms the social evils like caste system which he proclaimed had outlived its usefulness and therefore should be rejected like poison. He knew that the true casteless society can only be developed on the basis of the spirit of equality, universal brotherhood, of treating fellow human beings as manifestation of the God in the Advaitic spirit. Any political reforms will only result in more divisiveness. He proclaimed in no uncertain terms that spirituality is the basis of modern India and the new India will emerge from the so called lower strata of the society. "The whole world requires light. It is expectant!. India alone has that light....in the teaching of the glories of the spirit of the new religion - of the highest spiritual truth." He provided a guideline to the Nation to solve the problems and cautioned against blindly aping and imitating the Western culture, their political system and their zeal of reformation in every sphere. India has to evolve in her own way, not by the ways envisaged by the European thinkers and their desi followers. India cannot forget her glorious past, her legacy, culture and civilization, but she has to achieve much more than what she had done in the past. That was his vision. He saw in his prophetic eyes a glorious future for India and in no uncertain terms he laid out the path for her to make that vision a reality. At the same time he started several instruments for uplifting people, to carry out his vision - a group of selfless souls, sannyasins who would not merely take refuge in forests and caves but would go to the cities and villages imparting education, treating the sick and tending to the needs of the poor and distressed, in the true Vedantic ideals. Practical Vedanta was his medicine for all the evils plaguing the Nation and mankind. Through that selfless work people will be able to become better and better and will be the fit instruments for ensuring progress of mankind towards that highest goal - of realization and manifestation of the divinity in every form of the Universe - from the tiniest worm to the highest - Brahman, the Supreme Being. India, with the jewels hitherto hidden in her bosom, will distribute the treasures to the world that is thirsty of such knowledge and will become the spiritual teacher. In return she will get the knowledge of the science and technology from the world, for her material prosperity. That is exactly where we stand today. Today we stand at the threshold of greatness that Vivekananda saw hundred and twenty five years ago. But we still need to go a long way to realize that vision.
Swami Vivekananda had inspired the earliest industrialist of India J.N Tata when they were going together in his first journey to America in 1893. Swami and J.N Tata were co-passengers of the ship SS Empress that was going from the port of Yokohama in Japan to Vancouver. They had discussed at length on India's condition, her industrial prospects and Swamiji had told him that instead of importing matches from Japan, India should have her own match factory in order to provide livelihood for the rural poor. Swamiji also discussed about the need for higher education in science and technology. Swami himself was vastly acquainted with the then scientific thoughts and progress. As per reminiscences he had better knowledge than an electrical expert in the field of electrical technology as he proved in Mysore in front of Wodeyars. He had studied all the modern thoughts on physics, chemistry and biology and could talk like experts on those subjects. Great scientists like Nicola Tesla used to hear his lectures for hours together on the parallels between modern scientific thoughts and the Sankhya philosophy. Swamiji taught Raja of Khetri astronomy and physics. Years later when J.N Tata wanted to form a technical institute for higher education he invited Swami Vivekananda to be its director. Swami as monk naturally refused but he blessed the project wholeheartedly. Even though J.N Tata's vision could not be realized during his lifetime owing to the resistance of British Government in general and Lord Curzon in particular, it bore fruit by the relentless effort of Sister Nivedita, that led to the establishment of one of the finest institutes of India which came to be known as the Indian Institute of Science. In this way it was Swamiji who like the Bhagiratha of the yore, brought the Ganga of higher scientific education to India. Swamiji's disciples Sarah Bull and Sister Nivedita extensively helped Sir Jagadish Chandra Bose when the latter was struggling against a hostile Imperial regime that had severely constrained his research. It is little known that Sarah Bull donated the initial lumpsum amount that led to the foundation of one of the finest scientific and educational research institute - The Bose Institute.
Much has been made about Gandhiji's battle to eradicate caste system. Gandhiji took up crusade against untouchability in a religious zeal, by dubbing the so called untouchables and lower castes as "Harijan." He even spent most of his political effort post the failure of the Round Table Conference, in highlighting and trying to eradicate the caste system, even at the cost of the Nation's desire to fight against the British and gain independence. To him, battle against caste system became more important than gaining freedom. In the process he did not realize that he was playing to the British ploy, of diverting the international attention from the evil diabolical British rule to internal problems of Indian society that could have been addressed post independence. Vivekananda on the other hand had a much broader and deeper outlook. He acknowledged that the caste system needed to go, but not in the manner that the reformers wanted it to go (including Gandhi). Vivekananda, like his Guru Ramakrishna, believed that caste system should not be forcefully uprooted by political movements. There has to be a spiritual basis and that basis rests on the Vedantic ideal of divinity being present in every being. Brahman should be a knower of God, and every caste should aspire to become a Brahman i.e. manifest the divinity, cultivate wisdom and knowledge and thus become empowered. Vivekananda called Malabar a lunatic asylum because of the caste prejudices that he encountered there. According to an account, he met Chattampi Swami in Ernakulam and Chattampi Swami, who was a Guru of Narayan Guru, noted spiritual leader and social reformer in Kerala was extremely impressed. Narayan Guru, by his own account was inspired by Swami Vivekananda. Swami Nirmalananda, one of the disciples of Swami Vivekananda and Sri Ramakrishna, had been at the forefront of eradicating caste distinctions in Kerala through spiritual upliftment. Vivekananda predicted Shudra Jagaran, i.e. how the so called lower castes would undergo social upliftment and would rule. He foresaw the future based on the past history of India that had been ruled in succession by Brahmans, Kshatriyas and Vaisyas. He did not believe in breaking the system like the reformers, but knew that every system had a purpose. The caste system was also necessary for India for various reasons. He said that it was the Hindu caste system that had stopped the Islamic aggression and conversion of the masses. Caste acted as a citadel against aggressors. In absence of the caste system Buddhism was totally absorbed within Islam in the West Asia and in Indian subcontinent. He however said that now it was time for caste system to go as it had lived its purpose. Now it was time to eliminate the social distinctions and prejudices in the wonderful light of spirituality of Vedanta - that Man is God.
In the book Universal Symphony of Vivekananda, Swami Ranganathanandaji states that, "for the first time in her long history India got in him an outstanding spiritual leader tackling vigorously the pressing problems of the secular life of a man, and pleading for what he terms a toned down materialism for his country. He traced the downfall of India to the forcing down the throats of one and all the mystical heights of religion with its neglect of social feeling and action and emphasis only on renunciation and contemplation (CWSV Vol 3). " Ranganathanandaji opines that Vivekananda was a social revolutionary and a practical visionary as he understood the power of organization as practised by the West and encouraged Indian youth to learn from the practical side of West - their sciences, technological advancements, efficiency, obedience with self respect instead of petty jealousy and rivalry, and the secret of organized action. He wanted education to focus on man making and character building, not the basis for getting jobs or making a career that is so prevalent in the modern times. Swamiji emphasized on knowledge, strength and fearlessness, compassion and large heartedness, and practical efficiency. Writes Swami Ranganathanandaji, "This is the touch of free India, of caste free Hinduism, of the dynamic humanistic Indian culture, that will enliven and energize the entire body politic of India, rousing the national consciousness of every group, every tribe, and making their members privileged participants in the Indian national experiment." Ranganathanandaji had first hand experience of how Vivekananda's message was being received enthusiastically by even the tribal folks of the North East, like the Nagas, who had been politically brain washed by the Christian Missionaries of the worst kind for decades
Hopefully someday historians will do a sincere and truthful evaluation and assessment of Swami Vivekananda's contribution in shaping the Nation and would disagree with the court historians by denouncing their assessments completely.