A teacher, king & monk enter an alliance...

Stupendous speech

Swami Vivekananda at the anathalaya in Mysuru.

It was 125 years ago on September 11 that Swami Vivekananda delivered his epoch-making speech at the Parliament of World’s Religions in Chicago.

When Swami Vivekananda began addressing the gathering of over 5,000 religious officials, scholars, and historians representing major world faiths as ‘Sisters and Brothers of America’, there was a standing ovation that lasted more than a minute. He spent the next two years touring the US and Great Britain, delivering lectures. He returned to India in 1897 and founded the Ramakrishna Mission.

Less than a year before going to Chicago to deliver his speech, Swami Vivekananda was in Chennai.

The roving monk crossed paths with a Chikkmagaluru-born Vaishnavite, and a humble teacher, Alasinga Perumal, and his friends.

Alasinga became Vivekananda’s devotee and realised the monk was the right person to represent the ideals of Hinduism and Vedanta in the Chicago meet. Vivekananda opposed the idea proposed by Alasinga. But he eventually relented.

The school teacher and his friends went door-to-door to raise money for the monk’s passage. Alasinga also persuaded the monk to visit Mysuru, for he had a plan.  Vivekanada went to Mysuru the same year — from November 4 to 24 — with a few of his followers. He stayed at the anathalaya started by M Venkatakrishnayya or thathayya, the grand old man of Mysuru.

The anathalaya was located behind Dewan Seshadri Iyer’s bungalow facing the Narayana Sastry road. (The Commercial Tax office is housed in this bungalow now.)  During his stay, the monk delivered two lectures in Sanskrit at the Sadvidya School there, not far away from the anathalaya. The gathering comprising scholars and leading personalities of Mysuru was impressed by the monk’s eloquent words. And Dewan Seshadri Iyer came to know of this.

Impressed after meeting the monk, the dewan arranged a meeting with Maharaja Chamarajendra Wadiyar X in the palace.

The monk and the maharaja had an engrossing conversation on Vedanta, and when the latter asked him of his plans, Vivekananda said he wished to go to America to spread the message of Vedanta.

The maharaja sponsored his trip.

When Vivekananda landed in financial troubles in the US, Alasinga borrowed money and even sold his wife’s jewellery to help the monk. A wave of enthusiasm swept over Indians as reports of the speech and the success of his mission in America reached the country.

A meeting was held in Bengaluru at the Central College in August 1894 to thank the people of America for the cordial reception they had accorded to Vivekananda as the representative of the Hindu religion in the Parliament of Religions. Seshadri Iyer presided over it. 

In Chicago, Vivekananda wrote in his letter, dated June 23, 1894, to the maharaja, “Through your Highness’s kind help, it has been possible for me to come to this country... after seeking help in my own country and failing to get any sympathy from the rich, I came over to this country through your Highness’s aid.” On August 31, 1894, Vivekananda sent his photograph and the recorded speeches to the maharaja. After receiving the maharaja’s reply, Vivekananda wrote, “...the Raja wrote to me a nice letter on that.”

While the 125th year of the monk’s speech was celebrated elsewhere, it went almost unnoticed by the powers at the helm of affairs in Karnataka. In 2018, the then governor of Illinois State, Bruce Rauncer, in his signed Proclamation, announced the recognition of September 11 as Swami Vivekananda Day.

 

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