Swami Vivekananda is one
of the greatest saints and social reformers that India has ever got. He was
born into a Bengali Hindu family on 12 January 1863 at Calcutta (Kolkata).His
birth name was Narendranath Datta, and later in the year 1893, bestowed the title
“Swami Vivekananda” by the king of Khetri, Rajasthan.
Narendranath Datta (Naren)
was born during the festive season of Makar Sankranti, i.e., 12th January
1863, into a Bengali Kayastha family at his familial home, 3 Gourmohan
Mukherjee Street in Calcutta. He and his parents, Vishwanath Datta (father) and
Bhubaneswari Devi (mother) belonged to a traditional Bengali family. Naren had
8 siblings and he was the 9th child of their parents. His
father was a lawyer at the Calcutta High Court and his mother was a sincere
housewife. He also had his grandfather named, Durgacharan Datta who was a
scholar in Sanskrit and Persian language. But despite being a scholar, his
grandfather left the home at an early age of 25 years and became a monk. It is
believed that his father’s realistic and progressive thinking along with his
mother’s spiritual and religious attitude has helped in developing Naren’s
personality and made him so calm and composed as Swami Vivekananda. Though he
started meditating and taking interests in spirituality at a very young age as
a child he was extremely mischief. His parents often failed to control
him as he used to escape from them through the sharp edge. Naren’s childhood
activities were not less than any nightmare for his parents. His mother often
used to say, “I prayed to Shiva for a son but he has sent me one of his
ghosts”. At the age of his 8 years in 1871, he went to the Ishwar Chandra
Vidyasagar’s Metropolitan Institution where he did his schooling for 6 years.
In the year 1877, he and his family shifted to Raipur for 2years and again
returned back to their hometown in 1879. At that time, Narendranath was the
only pupil to get the first division marks in the entrance exam of the
well-reputed Presidency College. He was an ardent student and had interests in
various subjects; history, social science, religion, philosophy, literature,
and arts. Along with the educational studies, he also had a curiosity about the
Hindu mythological books like; the Vedas, the Mahabharata, the Ramayana, the
Upanishads, the Bhagavad Geeta, and the Puranas. He deeply believed in
all-round development, therefore, besides reading books and studying, he also
took a keen interest in Indian Classical Music and involved himself in various
sports activities, physical exercises, etc. Naren further joined the then known
as General Assembly’s Institution to acquire more knowledge about the western
culture and continued studying Western Philosophy, Western Logic, and European
history. He completed his Bachelor’s degree in the field of Fine Arts in 1881.
In late 1881, Naren met
Ramakrishna at Dakshineswar Kali Temple. It was not the first time they met.
They previously encountered each other at a house function in the same year. It
took time for Naren to believe in Ramakrishna’s ideology and follow his
principles. In the initial days, most of the times they involved themselves in
debates as both of their theory of leaving had a huge contrast. Naren belonged
to the Brahmo Samaj and was strictly against the worship of an idol or the
belief in the existence of multiple Gods, whereas, Ramakrishna was a stern
devotee of Kali. But, despite having different philosophies, Naren was
fascinated by Ramakrishna’s persona. Few days after that day, they became close
and Naren couldn’t resist himself and ultimately became an important disciple
of Ramakrishna. The year 1884 was not at all virtuous for Naren as he
lost one of the important persons in his life, his father expired. After the
sudden death of his father, he and his family have to face a drastic financial
crisis as his father was the only person to earn in their family. They were
left with a huge burden of repaying the loans that his father once took. The
creditors kept on bumping the family for money and at the same time, they also
had to resist the bullies of their own relatives as they were continuously
pressuring them to leave the ancestral house. As a normal middle-class boy,
Naren also took the responsibility of his family and tried finding work to earn
money but badly failed every time. It was then when he continued meeting
with Ramakrishna at a regular interval made him his Guru. But, it seemed that
Naren was brutally cursed with bad luck as it was not going to leave him easily
as, after one year of his father’s death, Ramakrishna fell ill and was hit hard
with throat cancer which was incurable. Naren was totally broken and shattered
from his inside as after his father, Ramakrishna was his only guide. Soon
Ramakrishna was shifted to Calcutta where he was treated and Naren himself and
some of his other disciples took the responsibility to look after their Guru.
After two years of treatment, in the year 1885, Ramakrishna took his last
breath in the early morning of 16th August. One crucial thing
Naren learned from his Guru is that “service to each living being is the
ultimate way to worship God”. With this ideology of his Guru in his mind, he
kept leading the other disciples of Ramakrishna and successfully founded the
first Ramakrishna Math at Baranagar.
From the year 1888 to
1899, he did a lot of travel around the country as well as across the border.
In the year 1888, he left the Monastic Math and became a Parivrajaka who had no
fixed home or destination and no family. He used to loiter around the country
carrying a water pot, the Bhagavad Geeta, and The Imitation of Christ with him.
Till 1893, he kept visiting different places in India and trying to learn and
getting into the diverse culture and heritage, giving them lessons on how to
lead life peacefully and how to take care of each living being in this world.
He mainly stayed with the lower-caste people and tried to uplift them and
overcome their poverty which was very much necessary for the country at that
time. From 1893 to 1897, he was touring the West. He traveled to Chicago in
1893 and gave a short speech at the Art Institute of Chicago, representing
India. And in the year between 1897 to 1902, he kept traveling between India
and other countries in the West. On 4th July 1902, the soul
left Swami Vivekananda’s body at 9:20 p.m while meditating inside his room. The
cause of his death is reported due to a crack of a blood vessel in his brain.
The funeral ceremony was carried out in a lavish and respectful manner.