January 12 is celebrated as National Youth Day on the occasion of Swami Vivekananda’s birthday, who had deep faith in the power of India’s youth
India of 19th century conjures up a sorry picture in our minds - a culturally rich nation in the confines of a colonial subjugation, at the mercy of our masters , as if the soul of our nation had been incarcerated. The urge to free ourselves of this bondage was the only focus. Swami Vivekanand’s birth in such times seemed like a providential event, as if he was here to liberate India, morally and socially.
As a child, he was called Narendranath Datta. His father Vishwanath Datta was an adherent of Western culture. Ironically, in coming times, his son became one of the greatest proponents of Vedanta philosophy. He freed himself from the vestiges of his upbringings to develop his own ideology. This dichotomy of his upbringing and his own reflections allowed him to create his own identity. French Nobel laureate Romain Rolland has described Narendra’s transition in his words –“His childhood and boyhood were those of a young artist prince of the Renaissance.”
When Narendranath was 21 years old, lost his father. The responsibility to look after the family fell on him. He was torn between his earthly needs and the desire to go beyond materialistic realms. He rummaged through many philosophies, delved deep into spirituality and questioned everything around him. If God exists, where is he? What does he look like? If He exists, why is this world full of tragedies? Moral compass of young Narendra was slowly tilting towards Herbert Spencer’s agnosticism.
On the other hand, new offshoots of spirituality were emerging, freeing themselves from the orthodoxies – Prarthana Samaj, Brahma Samaj, Arya Samaj, Theosophical Society, etc. Narendra was going through an emotional turmoil. It was during this time that he met Ramakrishna Paramhansa, a mystic and a devotee of Goddess Kali. Unlike everyone, young Narendra wasn’t enchanted by the mystic’s metaphysical acts; rather what enticed him was Ramakrishna’s philosophy of God-realisation. He once asked ‘Thakur’: “Have you seen God?” Paramhansa smiled: “Yes, just as I am seeing you.” Asked for porrf, Thakur touched him touched him in his chest and Narendra fainted. Finally Naren accepted Kali and his only prayer was: “Ma, just ensure that my family manages to get minimum of food and clothes.” He surrendered himself to Paramhansa.
To understand more about the state of humanity in the country, he travelled across the contours of India. He stayed at the Baroda palace with same impassivity as he stayed at a mud-house. When he attended the Parliament of the World’s Religions at Chicago in 1893, his speech was graced with the values of universal kinship Sisters and Brothers of America…” The speech changed the perceptions of western world towards India. The copuntry which was considered as a land of snake-charmers and magicians, took centrestage in the auditorium filled with around 7,000 scholars and intellectuals.
It was a coming of the age moment for Vivekananda, he was barely 30 then. He became synonymous with the youthful progressiveness of the time. For him, Indian independence, liberation of millions of Indians from penury and blind faith, the nation’s continuous emancipation weren’t mutually exclusive – they all were different paths to the same goal. “I am no metaphysician, no philosopher, nay, no saint. But I am poor and I love the poor. I see what they call the poor of this country and how many there are who feel for them!” He urged Indians to wake up from centuries of slumber and walk ahead with confidence. He believed that education, especially for Dalits and women, would be the most crucial factor in their holistic development and empowerment. Many western philosophers were drawn towards his thoughts – Nikola Tesla, Leo Tolstoy, Nelson Rockefeller, Romain Rolland to name a few. Back home, Rabindranath Tagore, Aurobindo Ghosh, Mahatma Gandhi, Subhas Chandra Bose, Jamsetji Tata were amongst his follower.
Slowly, India was moving towards a renaissance of its own kind and Vivekananda was the chief apostle. On May 1, 1897, he founded the Ramakrishna Mission in Calcutta (now Kolkata) and established Belur Math on December 9, 1898. It was a spiritually alive service-oriented organisation, not just a religious one.
On July 4, 1902, Swami Vivekananda took his last breath in Belur Math. But, he remains immortalised as a symbol of progression, as a symbol of young and fervent India. The young saint dreamt of an India, free of blind ‘guru’ worship, which is strongly attached to its roots and is yet surging ahead.
“You will be nearer to heaven through football than through the study of the Gita” – his call to the youth of nation was way ahead of its time. During the freedom movement, when most of the leaders had a one-dimensional approach towards independence, Vivekananda talked about the most holistic meaning of independence. He placed deep faith in the “youths of character, intelligence, renouncing all for the service of others and obedient – good to themselves and the country at large”. The path shown by Vivekananda will provide the guiding light for decades to come. His clarion call was “Rise and stop not till the goal is reached.”
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