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Photo of Swami Vivekananda in Chicago in 1893 with the handwritten words "one infinite pure and holy—beyond thought beyond qualities I bow down to thee"

By Sudeshna Paul

Swami Vivekananda belonged to an upper middle-class Bengali family in Calcutta. He was born in 1863 and was known as Narendranath Datta. Maharaj Ajit Singh of Khetri had given him the name 'Vivekananda' before he left for America to speak about Hindu spirituality.


He had become one of the chief disciples of Ramkrishna and tried to reform the society and make it a better place. Swamiji had also been a part of the Brahmo Samaj and tried to put an end to child marriage and also spread literacy.

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Along with a few other people, he tried to promote the Vedanta philosophy in the western world, mainly America and Great Britain. There were numerous places where he spoke to people through major conferences, the one at Chicago becoming the most important one. On the 11th of September 1893, Swami Vivekananda delivered his iconic speech at the first World's Parliament of Religions in Chicago. Through his speech, he tried to introduce Americans to Hinduism. His speech is as follows,

" Sisters and Brothers of America,

It fills my heart with joy unspeakable to rise in response to the warm and cordial welcome which you have given us. 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, and I thank you in the name of millions and millions of Hindu people of all classes and sects.

Also Read : 'Hinduism' and 'Hindutva' are different

My thanks, also, to some of the speakers on this platform who, referring to the delegates from the Orient, have told you that these men from far-off nations may well claim the honour of bearing to different lands the idea of toleration. 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. I am proud to tell you that we have gathered in our bosom the purest remnant of the Israelites, who came to Southern India and took refuge with us in the very year in which their holy temple was shat­tered to pieces by Roman tyranny. I am proud to belong to the religion which has sheltered and is still fostering the remnant of the grand Zoroastrian nation. I will quote to you, brethren, a few lines from a hymn which I remember to have repeated from my earliest boyhood, which is every day repeated by millions of human beings: "As the different streams having their sources in different paths which men take through different tendencies, various though they appear, crooked or straight, all lead to Thee."

The present convention, which is one of the most august assemblies ever held, is in itself a vindication, a declaration to the world of the wonderful doctrine preached in the Gita: "Whosoever comes to Me, through whatsoever form, I reach him; all men are struggling through paths which in the end lead to me." 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 civilization 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. But their time is come; and I fervently hope that the bell that tolled this morning in honour of this convention may be the death-knell of all fanaticism, of all persecutions with the sword or with the pen, and of all uncharitable feelings between persons wending their way to the same goal. "

Image of Swami Vivekananda Vivekananda on the platform at the Parliament of Religions, September 1893Wikipedia

After his speech, he had been questioned about why India was being ruled by another country which is much smaller in size and follows a totally different religion, if the religious belief of the former happens to be so strong. How could the religion in question be a better way of living life when the people themselves were in servitude? This question had been asked by a missionary supporter, who was in favour of Indians being converted to Christianity. According to the person, people following Hinduism should be made to follow Christianity as the latter one is the correct one. The Hindus should be converted to Christians.

Swamiji responded to it by saying that the terrible condition of the people was not because of the religion that they followed but because of the ignorance and misconceptions that were present. He said that there needs to be an awakening which needs to come from one's within and only then they can lead a better life. People need to realise their true potential and work on it. He hoped that one day, the world would realise the actual potential of a person following the Hindu religion as a superior way of leading life. Also added that he would himself try to ensure that this movement towards betterment takes place.


Keywords : Swami Vivekananda, Chicago, religion, Hinduism, speech, query.


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