Saturday, January 10, 2015

Anandam Vivekanandam

This post was written by me originally in Malayalam on Nov 24 2012. (

I was requested by many Non-Keralite friends to do a transalation to english. This is my humble attempt to do so.


Wonderful are the ways in which life makes us smile. Like a Santa, it gives surprise gifts every now and then. They might be small, but the fragrance they carry fills our innermost worlds. They creep from a fraction of a second to a whole lifetime as the vital force in us.. They remain forever as an image tattooed in our hearts...

The books I kept in my backpack without fail while departing for USA, were these:
SreeRamakrishna Karnamrutham by Ottoor Unni Namboodirippad, The Bhagavad Gita, Soundarya Lahari, Sahasranamam, Compiled works of Swami Vivekananda and My India - The India Eternal by Swami Vivekananda.
I was not sure of reading any of these, but I firmly believed that they would guard me from falling, that they would fill me with energy I needed in an unknown strange land. As I landed in Chicago, I remembered the name of a Sanyasin who landed here more than one hundred years ago and returned victorious back to his motherland. The day I remained there was too busy that I could not manage to take any time out. Hence, I carried on my journey for work.

The fourth Thursday of November is the Thanks Giving Day for Americans. It emerged as a way to express gratitude for the new harvest. There are arguments regarding the origin of this festival as the expression of gratitude to the native Americans who received the forefathers of this country with hospitality, and as expressing gratitude for reaching safe on a coast after miles of sea travel.
Whatever the historical reason be, this day is a big family celebration here in USA. The highlight of this day is the feast arranged by cooking Turkey in a special way.

Had four days of vacation for Thanks Giving and an open invitation to visit Chicago, So I started off Wednesday night. I had a clear intention for this travel. I had to kneel down before the memories of that great son of India, that roaring youth, that Monastic Lion covered in saffron, who on 1893 September 11, exploded up on America as a Vendata shell, That lad of Sri Ramakrishna, who opened the flow of the Omakara, the sound eminating for thousands of years from the heart of India, to the ears of the west deafened by the jingling sound of dollars. I had to visit the Ferrington Hall of Art Institute of Chicago, which was sanctified by the presence of one of the greatest personalities of all times, Swami Vivekananda.

I reached here on Thursday. Two days passed by visiting some shopping malls, and going out for pleasure. My host here had already intimated me that he may be preoccupied during the holiday season as he had to cover for the American friends who were on vacation. Yet, he took me out during evenings and showed me the nearby places and temples. I had contacted one of my friend too, who stays here. Today morning he also was caught up in some work. I was afraid I couldn't wait any more. So today morning, I started off alone to Chicago downtown. My cousin, gave me proper instruction, gave the train pass and dropped in the railway station.

I stepped out into the cold Madison street from Ogilvie Transportation center where the train ends. As I pushed my hands to the pocket of my coat and headed down the street, I remembered an old forefather of mine, who wandered through these streets with out the protection of a jacket, not even of a glove. But who always stayed warm by the burning fire of knowledge with in, by the sparkles he carried in his eyes, by the embers of the pain of millions of Hindus he saw throughout India. He might have walked down these same streets, these trees might have been fortunate to get his gentle touch, the wind might be standing shocked and amazed even after centuries, as it touched the edges of the flowing saffron robes of that electrifying youth.

America hasn't changed.. Not a bit from those old days. Communism has been buried deep, but Capitalism hasn't accepted it's defeat. Tall buildings guard the streets, holding their head high, with the ego of ruling the world's economy. The capital forces, smoke outside their fortresses. Buildings waving the American flag stood all through my way announcing the progress made through human endeavor and technological advancement.
The old racist America, which viewed oriental nations with disrespect might have changed, but those advaitic diamonds that Swamiji showered on this country is still hidden under the dollar bundles. When both communism and capitalism breaths its last, then the world may eagerly listen to the soulful music of Omkara. Then, these great business tycoons will bow before this penniless wanderer.

As you walk straight crossing the iron bridge across River Chicago, you would be able to see beautiful Millennium Park in the Michigan Avenue, where East Madison street ends. Just besides that, the Art Institute of Chicago beckoned me in. I walked down the road towards left and got into the queue extending outside the premises.

There were tourists flocking in, without bothering the biting cold. The queue slowly moved, so did I. The entry fee to the institute was 18$. I just thought that even if they would ask me 180$ for this purpose, i would have happily given. As I approached the ticket counter and provided my card for one ticket, she asked me my whereabouts and the intention of the visit. I told her that I am from India and my sole intention was to visit the hall where Vivekananda gave his speech. To my surprise she intimated me that for seeing the hall, no ticket is necessary, and it is quite near if I would enter through another entrance to the institute. I thanked her from my heart, and hurried myself to the entrance opening to Michigan avenue. The royal entrance guarded by two huge Lion statues was also crowded. I went in and inquired in the information counter.

They directed me to a security guard. As soon as I explained my intention, he called another security and instructed him to open the Ferrington hall for me. The new security warmly welcomed me inside. Just besides the entry point, there was a room towards the left. He opened the room and told with a smile "This is Ferrington hall". My mind was overwhelming with a thousand emotions. Finally I am going to make it. With a prayerful mind, I entered the room.

"Sisters and Brothers of America........." A huge applause that lasted for several minutes. That Saffron robed young Swami, is standing in the middle of the stage, as the ultimate example of Manliness. He stands with Majestic figure in front of 7000 odd delegates, as they rose on their feet to revere this man. Bold and strong body, electric sparkles in the eyes, heart pouring out with love for humanity and the blessings of the God-Incarnate Sri Ramakrishna in his head....

He continued in bold but compassionate voice..

"It fills my heart with joy unspeakable to rise in response to the warm and cordial welcome which you have given us. l 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 the millions and millions of Hindu people of all classes and sects. 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 honor 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 the 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 there sources in different places all mingle their water in the sea, so, O Lord, the 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 honor 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."

Again, applause shakes the hall like a thunder. With a smile that bold youth is returning to his chair. With unquenchable will,with unfailing love, with ego-less self esteem, holding the immortal Saffron flag of India high up in the world.

This whole story flashed before my eyes for a moment. an unforgettable event in the Indian history. A prestigious moment to cherish for ever, for the "Rishi Parampara" India has given birth to. I stood with folded hands, bowed head and wet eyes....

After asking permission again to spend some time and to take photographs, I walked towards the center of the hall. Chairs seemed like audience beholding their breath. Stage was empty as if it had nothing more to listen. The Semicircular hall and stage is ornamented on top by an art in glass. The electric bulbs lighten up the empty stage made of wood. I touched the stage with my hand and stepped on to it. Prostrated on a spot in stage assuming that to be the place where Swamiji stood. An astonishing flow of energy I could feel in my body. The whole universe was narrowing down to that spot, in which my forehead was touching. All the images of a wonderful life was filling that moment with its grace....
I sat in the chair with an electrified body, overflowing eyes and a contemplative mind. Again, that divine voice echoed in my heart.

As I wiped my tears off and got up, I could see the security watching me with curiosity. I gave a wholehearted smile and took few more photographs. I slowly walked outside, and there I could see a plaque with Swamiji's photo and signature, with a brief description about him. My heart started to pound again. 

Took few more photos, expressed my sincere gratitude to the security guard and I walked down to the busy street of Chicago named after Swami Vivekananda...

As I was walking back, the heart was full. Body was tired, but the mind contained an energy sufficient enough to carry me through my cycles of life and death. I looked up the sky and the sun was smiling at me. I looked around and my own self were reflecting smiles back on me. I looked with in and I could find the Grace of Bhagawan Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekananda blooming with in me...

I walked down the cold street of Chicago, merrily singing these lines of Swamiji...

"They know not truth who dream such vacant dreams
As father, mother, children, wife and friend.
The sexless Self! whose father He? whose child?
Whose friend, whose foe is He who is but One?
The Self is all in all, none else exists;
And thou art That, Sannyasin bold! Say –
    ‘Om tat sat, Om!"


PS: After my initial visit, I had opportunities to go a couple of more times with friends and family. Sharing this information helped few friends to plan their visit to this site. Last time when I visited, I was charged for the entry. It seems, the free entrance was due to the 150th Birth Anniversary celebrations.

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