While a lot of information is available in The Life of Swami Vivekananda (Advaita Ashrama) and A Comprehensive Biography of Swami Vivekananda (Vivekananda Kendra), smaller biographies, reminiscences, in English and Bengali, there is still no parallel to Marie Louise Burke's New Discoveries (6 vols., Advaita Ashrama, 1983-1986) regarding the Swami's Indian life. I have already abridged Burke's New Discoveries and critically commented on them in my own Swami Vivekananda in the West (K. P. Bagchi, 1994). The present work is a logical continuation, undertaken to provide a complementary Indian biography that can stand critical examination and scrutiny. This was much, more challenging compared to the western counterpart, precisely because there existed no single authoritative source, but many. The otherwise good, detailed biographies contain a lot of misinformation, tendentious statements, apologetics and plain lies. Swamiji's Indian life had no dearth of recorders once he became famous - the only big problem being, much of it was written down many years after the incident. My job through this maze of stories has often been to separate the wheat from the chaff to point out inconsistencies and inaccuracies, and suggest solutions when possible, without repeating redundant information available in the well—circulated books.
The first chapter briefly reviews India as she was known in the West before Vivekananda. The next three chapters are about the family in which Narendranath Datta (premonastic name of the Swami) was born, his early life and formative influences. For these chapters I have translated a lot of material from the Bengali originals written by his younger brother Mahendranath Datta.
The next four chapters (5 to 8) comprise the kernel of this book, as well as the most important years in Swami Vivekananda‘s (abbreviated as (SV) Indian life. His meetings with Sri Ramakrishna have been exhaustively and chronologically arranged, through my own translation from M's Kathamrita, rather than Nikhilananda’s bowdlerized but readable translation (chapter 5). The interactions of Narendranath with Sri Ramakrishna are also portrayed from two other authentic sources - Saradananda's Leelaprasanga and Abhedananda's Amar Jeevem Katha, pointing out how they agree or disagree mutually or with M's Kathamrita. The sixth chapter takes the myth out of SV's travels and sheds light on hitherto uncertain itineraries and their epicurean nature. It is shown repeatedly that his travels were like those of a typical Bengali Babu using the extensive Indian railroads not that of a parivrajaka with a staff in hand going from door to door for alms on foot through villages. The seventh chapter charts the way in which SV successfully engineered his own publicity in India and thus what the Indians read about him. For this I have used mainly Vivekananda in Indian Newspapers, 1893-1902. The pattern of reprinting of American newspaper reports in India has led me to formulate what I have termed the forty—day rule. Using this newly discovered methodology it is possible to correlate seemingly disconnected events and most important, the role SV played in his own propaganda. He appears not a truly spiritual man unconcerned about praise or blame, but a clever politician who believes in self-help and utilizes his devoted followers to do his bidding. In both the seventh and eighth chapters, it is shown again and again that the LM of Swami Vivekananda and other pious biographies have purposely painted a distorted picture by monopolizing with the help of selected quotes from The Indian Mirror, whereas other contemporary newspapers tell quite a different story. The peak of his entire public career was in Madras in 1897, when he returned from the West. This was made possible in part by the enthusiastic Madras people who are more prone to hero-worship (also heroine- worship, as accorded to chief minister Dr. J. Jayalalitha through numerous bigger-than-life posters today in that city) than others. Victoria Hall, where he delivered three of his public lectures, still stands today about 200 metres to the west of Madras Central Station and belongs to the Madras Corporation; about a hundred Madrasi gentlemen pass their time playing cards there in the evenings. Compared to Madras, the reception in Calcutta was on a smaller scale. The eighth chapter also describes the receptions and lectures elsewhere in India in 1897.
The founding and the activities of the Ramakrishna Mission, and his days with his brother disciples and junior monks are described in the chapters to follow (9 to 11). Reports in Indian papers during his second visit to the West form chapter ten. In many books Vivekananda has been lionized at the cost of his brother disciples readers will find that I support them and often agree with them against SV. Sarada Devi, not SV, was the greatest, of all of Sri Ramakrishna's disciples and lived the spiritual life without much ado. Personally I relish SV’s biography most till Sri Ramakrishna's Mahasamadhi. But after Amarnath and Kshirbhavani, we do find a more serene Vivekananda in a mood of self- surrender. In the end, he was transformed into a helpless child, eager for peace and quiet, like his guru, though no longer enthusiastic to teach others unlike the latter, who sought and taught visitors till the end. Other than his epistles, memoirs of admirers and a few recorded conversations, he hardly lectured after his second visit to the West the emphasis was on overseeing the monastery (chapter 11). Steadily deteriorating health put an end to a spiritually noble life with a touch of sorrow as he was not forty yet.
The biggest chapter of all is the twelfth, containing my reviews and notes of important books on SV. The quantity of the literature may be staggering to many, hence they would help the reader to obtain an historical overview. Follies and errors in some well- known biographies are pointed out so that readers would no longer, I hope, be misled by them.
I would like to thank Prof Narasingha P. Sil and Prof. Surath Chakravarty, with whom I have discussed some of the contents of this book before publication, and acknowledge their help in providing useful reference books and ideas. I also thank my Friends Dr. Pinakpani Chakravarti and Dr. Hiranya S. Roychowdhury for fishing out rare reports from libraries on my request.
From the Jacket:
Swami Vivekananda in India: A Corrective Biography attempts to inform the reader accurately about his life both before and after his historic visits to the West. Much material has been translated anew from original Bengali books. At the same time it challenges current popular and pious notions held about this humanitarian-monk. The four major chapters in this book are about his meetings with Sri Ramakrishna, his travels in India during him in India, and his triumphant return from the West in 1897. Analysis of original eyewitness reports in both Indian and Western newspapers and periodicals forms an integral part of this biography. Many myths accumulated about the subject's accomplishments are corrected in this biography.
About the Author:
Rajagopal Chattopadhyaya (b. 1957) did his Master's in Chemistry from I.I.T. Kanpur and his Ph.D. from the University of California, Los Angeles. He studied Ramakrishna-Vivekananda literature from 1975 and was initiated by the president of the Ramakrishna Order in 1978. In 1993, his first book Swami Vivekananda in the West, was published in America; it has been reprinted in India (K.P. Bagehi and Company, 1994). His second book, World's Parliament of Religions, 1893, was published in 1995 (Minerva Associates) - removing the century old ignorance and myths propagated in India. He has also myths propagated in India. He has also published in Mythmukta Vivekananda (1998) a summary of his findings in Bengali. In the present book he presents an accurate story of Vivekananda's life in India, both before and after his Western mission. His scientific work at Bose Institute earned him a mention in the Encyclopedia Britannica Book of the Year, 1996.
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