This study seeks to cover various aspects of Swami Vivekananda's life including the environment in which he was born, the social urges during his early youth and his role in the making of modern India. His full family pedigree has been given in the book. To this have been added accounts of certain incidents in Swamiji's early life as gathered from Mahendranath Datta, the writer's elder brother.
Produced in the text there are certain documentary proofs bearing on Swamiji's hand in awakening the spirit of nationalism in India. Various quotations from his works have been given to elucidate his plans for revitalization of our society and formation of a united India. The part played by Sister Nivedita in fostering our national aspirations and helping the Indian revolutionaries has also been discussed.
In the book will be found the social and economic history given in some detail of the time of Vivekananda's advent. It also depicts the socio-political cross- currents in the days of his boyhood and youth. His words and deeds have been dealt with in it from the historical-dialectical-materialistic standpoint. The work is thus a study of his life and activities from an angle of vision different from that found in traditional biographies of Swami Vivekananda.
The reader is sure to find a correlation between Swamiji's exhortations to his countrymen and the sub-sequent rise of militant nationalism in India. His triumph in the West had a startling effect on our people then steeped in inertia. His plans and programs have to be viewed in the context of his time. His dream of a new civilization to be ushered in by the toiling masses has a special significance for those engaged in the task of building the New India of to-morrow.
The present book is a study of Swami Vivekananda in relation to national problems. This study contains Swamiji's views regarding national reconstruction of India and the part played by him in its great reawakening. The basis of this study is the dialectical analysis of the Indian society of the nineteenth century.
Here it should be acknowledged that all the family incidents and the incidents of the early life of Swami Vivekananda have been put down in the book after consultation with the writer's elder brother Sri Mahendranath Datta.
The writer owes his great debt of gratitude to Brahmachari Amar Chaitanya of Ramakrishna Vedanta Math for helping him in all possible ways for the publication of the book. He also owes thanks to the Ramakrishna Vedanta Math, Calcutta, for putting at his disposal all the literature dealing with the Ramakrishna movement and to the Trustees of Prabuddha Bharat, Mayavati, for their kind permission to quote from the writings of Swamiji.
Finally, the writer expresses his thanks to those who in various ways have helped him in bringing out the book.
The influence of Swami Vivekananda on nationalist India is well-known. His lectures collected in the book entitled From Colombo to Almora came to inspire greatly the youth of our country. His words, "Heaven is nearer through football than through Gita", and "We want men of strong biceps", became the slogans of ardent nationalists of that time.
Swamiji wanted freedom and upliftment of the Indian people, their material and moral advancement. His statements show that he divided Indians into two classes, the rich-the upper class and the poor-the lower class. The latter constitutes the overwhelming majority of our people and he referred to them as the 'masses'. And he was never tired of drawing the attention of the youth towards the urgent need to work for the betterment of their condition. He also laid down a positive program for this work. But how many of us have understood what he said and how many have actually acted in accordance with it?
It seems that our youth perhaps did not fully realise the true import of Swamiji's advice in this matter. To them his call for upliftment for the Indian masses was an appeal for philanthropic and charitable work only. But Swamiji did not merely lay down an ameliorative program. He also wanted and spoke of a radical cure for the chronic distress of our people. He was not for keeping up the status quo of the Indian society, but wanted a complete overhaul of the whole thing.
A Marxist will be amazed at seeing his ideas anticipated in the sayings of Swamiji. He will be more amazed when he finds that Swamiji openly called himself a 'Socialist'. And it is here that the key to Swamiji's advice to the youth of his country lies. He not only used Marx's phrase that "the poor are getting poorer and the rich are getting richer", but also spoke about proletarian culture. He predicted that 'Proletocult' (proletarian culture) of the Indian masses would be the future culture of New India! The following pages will show that he was saturated with the ideas of the social revolutionaries of the West and was well acquainted with their literature and ideals.
To many an admirer of Swamiji this might seem strange. Some might even say that this is blasphemy. But truth is stranger than fiction. Some part of his life is not known to the Indian public. Very few people know that in the beginning he had political ideas revolutionary in character. He wanted to free the country from the foreign yoke. But he failed in his attempt, and seeing the cause of his failure, tried a different remedy and turned his attention to another channel. He shifted the venue of his work for India.
A year before his death two of his foreign admirers,-one of whom was his disciple,-started a nationalist group with the collaboration of some noted citizens of Calcutta. This was to become the nucleus of the later revolutionary movement in Bengal. Swamiji restrained his disciple from joining this group. On being asked by Sister Christine why he had asked his disciple to keep aloof from Indian politics, he answered, "What does Nivedita know of Indian conditions and politics? I have done more politics in my life than she! I had the idea of forming a combination of Indian princes for the overthrow of the foreign yoke. For that reason I have tramped all over the country from the Himalayas to Cape Comorin. For that reason I made friends with the gun-maker, Sir Hiram Maxim. But I got no response from the country. The country is dead." And he narrated his further attempts at achieving his end in other directions. Again he said, "India is not only dead, it is in a putrid state. What I want today is a band of selfless workers who will educate and uplift the people". Swamiji spoke further of his doings to Sister Christine. But she declined to divulge to the author the details of what he had said.
It should be mentioned here that this aspect of Swamiji was not unknown to the first batch of Indian revolutionaries. Swamiji himself dwelt on this in course of a dialogue with Pandit Sakharam Ganesh Deuskar at Belur. Pandit Deuskar himself was an active member of the revolutionary party formed to win India's freedom. On being asked by Deuskar to give his views on the country's future, Swamiji said, "The country has become a powder magazine. A little spark may ignite it. I will see the revolution in my lifetime". On being further asked to define the nature of this revolution and to say whether Indians would seek foreign help he answered, "No, the Indians will not make this mistake for the fourth time. I know several princes of the' native states who can successfully carry on the revolution". The conversation was later divulged by Deuskar to some leading revolutionaries of Bengal in 1904. This information regarding Swamiji came to them as a revelation and gave them immense moral strength.
Education for the masses was the keynote of Swamiji's attitude towards the Indian national question. He clearly discerned that there could be no regeneration for the country if the majority of people remain dormant and debased and wanted the masses 'to develop their lost identity'. He clearly saw our degradation to be not so much due to political enslavement as to our loss of heritage and cultural tradition. That religious, social and economic slavery have dehumanised the Indians was the burden of his utterances on India's upliftment. He wanted to disturb the status quo in the Indian society and described it as 'horrid, diabolical'. As remedy to the ills it generated, he prescribed, "No priestcraft, no social tyranny! More bread, more opportunity for everybody!"
So far as is known Swamiji was the first Indian to call himself a socialist. Yet his socialism is not of the same brand as of to-day. A Marxist may well say that Swamiji's socialism does not tally with that of Lenin and falls short of the socialist ideal of the West and it was more of the reformistic school. Yet one must not forget that socialism had not taken to the path of revolution when Swamiji wrote and spoke. The Bolsheviks had not become prominent as yet and the world had not heard anything about the 'dictatorship of the proletariat'. But one will find that Swamiji did prophesy the coming of such dictatorship when he said,"Yet a time will come when there will be the rising of the" Sudra class ... a time will come when the Sudras of every country ... will gain absolute supremacy in every society". Swamiji's American disciple, Sister Christine, told the author, "It was in New York during Swamiji's last visit to America that he told us these things. Swamiji was walking up and down the floor and saying-'first came the rule of the Brahmins, then the rule of the Kshatriyas. At present the world is being ruled by the Vaishyas. Next to come will be the rule of the Sudras. I am wondering where the first Sudra state will be established. It must either be in Russia or in China. In both these countries the huge masses of people are oppressed and down-trodden".
To an Indian fed with the cud of antiquated English ideologies and obsolete world-views of his countrymen this might sound strange. And to many a Westerner this might sound queer when he remembers that Karl Marx had said that the cause of Russian people's freedom was a hopeless one. But Swamiji prophesied the uprise of the Russian masses and the possible establishment of their rule. There was no mass movement in Russia when Karl Marx expressed his opinion as stated above. But when Swamiji was in the West, Peter Kropotkin was living as an exile in London (Swamiji met Kropotkin at the Paris International Exhibition) and Plekhanov's party was very active though Lenin had not seceded from him as yet. Nobody knows what conversation took place between Swamiji and Kropotkin at Paris. They met there only once. But some of Swamiji's Western disciples were ardent admirers and friends of Kropotkin. They often spoke to the author about him. From this it does not necessarily follow that Swamiji was under the spell of Kropotkin. But the former had extensively travelled across the civilized world and had met savants with different ideals. This made him alive to the problems of the modern world and he could see the problems of his country with the eyes of a modern man.
Those of our fellow-countrymen who have been chewing the cud of mid-Victorian ideologies and saying that the class-patriotism of the British capitalists known as 'nationalism' is the cure-all of India's woes should take a lesson from what Swamiji said regarding the Indian situation. Those who exploit Swamiji's name for the cause of 'Indian nationalism' must take note of what he actually said regarding India's problems. Swamiji denounced in clear terms the exploitation of the Indian masses by the anstocrats. He called the arguments of those who believe in keeping the masses down as 'demoniacal and brutal.' He said that 'the first step to become a patriot' is to feel for the starving millions. He emphatically said that there should be "no privilege for anyone, equal chance for all. The young men should preach the gospel of social raising-up, the gospel of Equality". To those who shout for freedom, yet deny it to others, he said, "Our young folks hold meetings to get more power from the English. None deserves liberty who is not ready to give liberty." The class character of our patriotism was unmasked by Swamiji long ago in unmistakable terms.
That Indian nationalist movement has been a class movement cannot be gainsaid. It has been the movement of the Indian bourgeoisie to get the political control, of the country. But Swamiji was explicit in his opinion that this could not bring about the betterment of the condition of the Indian people. Without the emergence of the masses the majority of the Indian people will remain where they have always been since times immemorial as 'hewers of wood and drawers of water.' The nationalist movement in India up to the time of independence has been reactionary in character. It demanded political freedom only and has been silent on social, religious and economic freedom. But Swamiji demanded all-round freedom for man.
Indian nationalists in their hatred of British rule have hated everything that is foreign. They have been emphatic that the institutions in their own country are the best in the world. And they have exploited Swamiji's name while saying this. But they should take heed of what Swamiji had to say on the subject. He said, "Modern India admits spiritual equality of all souls-but strictly keeps the social difference." He also said, "A country where millions of people live on flowers of mahua plant and a million or so of sadhus and the hundred million or so of Brahmins suck the blood of these poor people ... is that a country or hell? Is that a religion or the devil's dance?"
Those who think that Swamiji talked only of spirituality and of India's spiritual civilisation should take note of his following words:
"We talk foolishly against material civilisation...Material Civilisation, nay, even luxury is necessary to create work for the poor."
Swamiji was not dead to the fact that without satisfaction of material wants higher thoughts and ideals cannot develop. Therefore he said: "I do not believe in a god who cannot give me bread here, giving me eternal bliss in heaven!"
Swamiji was opposed to exploitation of all kinds. He was the first Indian to discern that our religiosity and patriotism have taken the shape of exploitation. He denounced the class character of our civilisation and wanted to uplift the masses. He saw that in them lies the hope of India. It was a New India he wanted to create on the basis of equality. He preached that 'proletocult' would help to create the New India of his dreams. The future India would not be wedded to sectarianism. The only practical way to unite the masses of divergent sects and communities is through a new culture which will not bear any class or communal character. It would evolve out of the psychology of the masses and come as the solution to the complex communal and sectarian questions that have been tearing India asunder in our times.
Swamiji expected much from the youth in India. In addressing the youth of his own province he said, "You, young men of Bengal,...come up, you can do everything and you must do everything."
India is now passing through a period of intellectual transition. The youth of this country should awake to the new consciousness of a new world-view and see Indian problems from new angles of vision. If the Indian youth wants liberty for himself, he must be ready to give it to others. If he aspires for freedom, he must aspire for it in all spheres of life. If he wants to serve his country, he must serve the teeming millions suffering from chronic poverty who constitute the majority of his fellow- countrymen. Swamiji said, "The only hope of India is from the masses." His words once inspired the patriotic-minded youth of India. May they inspire them to do service to that one-fifth of humanity long exploited and enfettered! May the line of work for the masses as advised by Swamiji further the cause of his country so that his prophecy about the Russian and the Chinese masses may be fulfilled in India too in the course of time.
My book entitled Vivekananda the Socialist was written at the request of comrades in the youth movement which was in full swing during 1928-29. In it were collected for the guidance of workers in the labour and the peasant front Swamiji's utterances and exhortations to the youth of India to strive for the upliftment of its masses. The name of the book provoked ridicule among many who regarded Swamiji as only a mystic and Hindu revivalist of the orthodox pattern. But it created a stir among young workers in the field of mass movement. In course of time the book made its mark on the public mind and it came to be highly in demand in all parts of the country. As a result the book went out of market long ago. But there has been a constant demand for it and the writer's friends have urged him to revise the book in the light of recent developments in free India.
The book was originally written to inspire workers in various fields striving for India's independence. But independence has been achieved and our country to- day is a democratic republic. India, that is Bharat, is a secular state. There is, however, a great deal of confusion in the country about what our national ideal should be. Everyone seems to be at a loss regarding a clear conception of Bharat that is in the making. Some say that we must go back to the good old days of the past; some say we must copy Soviet Russia and some want us to imitate the USA Constant wranglings born of such confusion are hindering the progress of free India. Dialectical contradictions in the country's historic materialistic field are preventing the emergence of the form of the new India of our dreams. Instead of India one and indivisible we got at the time of independence a partition of the motherland and Mahatma Gandhi, the Father of the Nation, had to lay down his life in the hands of a political fanatic. Gandhi's dream of Ramraj (whatever it might have meant) gave place to a democratic republic. And our democracy is bourgeois democracy which is fast evolving into plutocracy, i.e., rule of the capitalist class. In the zigzag course of the politics of present-day India are discernible the dialectical contradictions of historical materialism.
It is in the context of these developments that the utterances of Swamiji are once again being put before those engaged in the task of nation-building. This is done in the hope that they might be of help in clearing the blurred and confused vision of the new Bharat. They are meant to emphasise that the ideals which should guide us lie near at home and that we need not seek them outside the country.
There are young men with a smattering of Marxism who call Swamiji a 'reactionary'. A reactionary he was dubbed by many a social reformer of his time because he did not advocate that re-marriage of widows and inter-caste marriages were enough to bring about India's regeneration. Such things, according to him, did not fully meet the crying need of the time. The foremost task in his opinion was to raise the masses, to educate them and to elevate them in the scale of advanced humanity.
During his travels all over India the thing that struck him most was the grinding poverty of the masses and their degradation. It is to be noted that none of the reformers and politicians of his time condescended to think and work for these masses. In anguish he cried out, "Do you feel that millions and millions of descendants of gods and of sages have become next-door neighbours to brutes? 'Do you feel that millions are starving for ages?" (My Plan of Campaign).
In his time articles used to be published in papers justifying caste system in the name of science and untouchability often found its support from conservative people in the name of the doctrine of 'Karma'. In this context Swamiji said, "With all our boasted education of modern times, if anybody says a kind word for them, I often find our men shrink at once from the duty of lifting them up, these poor down-trodden people. Not only so, but I also find that all Sorts of most demoniacal and brutal arguments culled from the crude ideas of hereditary transmission and other such gibberish from the Western World are brought forward to brutalise and tyrannize over the poor all the more." (The Mission of the Vedanta). Again, as an admonition he says, "Aye, in this country of ours, the very birthplace of the Vedanta, our masses have been hypnotised for ages. To touch them is pollution, to sit with them is pollution. Hopeless they were born, hopeless they must remain". Finally, he gives his program: "But above all, let me once more remind you that here is need of practical work and the first part of that is that you should go to the sinking millions of India and take them by the hand." (The Vedanta). Further, 'in order to explain his program he says, "A hundred thousand men and women fired with the zeal of holiness ... will go over the length and breadth of the land, preaching the gospel of salvation, the gospel of help, the gospel of social raising-up,-the gospel of equality." (The Life).
In order to elucidate the program he says, "The only hope of India is from the masses. The upper classes are physically arid morally dead." (Works of Swami Vivekananda). Do these utterances sound like reactionary ones?
Progress and reaction are relative terms. A social or political stand much acclaimed to-day might become an obstacle in the path of advancement under a changed economic and social set-up. The rule of the English East India Company was behind the rise of the bourgeoisie in Bengal which came under British rule earlier than other parts of India. A socio-economic change took place in it which produced a great deal of stir in the still waters of the old and moribund Hindu society. The Hindus were the first to welcome Western culture and system of education. Imbued with Western thought and ideas they became flushed with a new light as it were. They began to compare Indian society with Western society and found that the former stood at a much lower level than the latter. They also found that in the name of religion gross superstition, meaningless rites and ceremonies were reigning supreme in the minds of men in India and that in the name of holy scriptural injunctions wanton brutalities were perpetrated on women. The inhuman rite of Sati which had an economic motive behind it was foisted on ignorant and superstitious people as sanctioned by the Vedas regarded by the Hindus as the revealed scripture. The newly arisen bourgeoisie looked askance and said, "What is going on in the society in the name of religion?" This question led them thinking and they soon found out that what was passing for religion was often contrary to the scriptures. Deliberate alteration was made in a certain passage of the Rig-Veda to give sanction to the barbarous custom of Sati to meet the economic greed of the vested interests. In the name of the Vedas and other religious works crass superstitions and meaningless rites were often encouraged in our society. The ignorant and unscrupulous priests exploited the masses to the utmost. What Swamiji called 'hideous Vamachara' was widely practised among the upper classes. Sakti Puja was wrongly sup-posed to have been sanctioned in the Rig-Veda and a sukta of the Rig-Veda came to be called Devi-sukts. The situation was natural in a country where in Swamiji's words "millions of people live on flowers of the mahua plant." In sheer disgust he asked, "Is that religion or the devil's dance?"
The dialectics of this sad state of things gave rise to Rammohun Roy and his associates. It is this group that heralded the new awakening of Bharat and set the ball of the Renaissance rolling. Aptly has Rammohun been called by Swamiji 'the first man of new regenerate India.' He has also been called the 'Prophet of New India' by others.
It should, however, be mentioned in this connection that Rammohun had his predecessors engaged in the noble task of eradicating the cruel practice of Sati. Long before his advent in the public field a group of liberal men in Calcutta had formed themselves into a committee to persuade widows not to burn themselves to death in the funeral pyre of their husbands. Brahmin pandits of the committee used to visit burning ghats (where cremation takes place) to dissuade the widows from committing self-immolation and to tell them that the practice of Sati is contrary to what the scriptures say.
Religious reforms initiated by the nineteenth century Bengalee liberal bourgeoisie led in their turn to various social reforms. These reforms got more and more impetus as the bourgeoisie further broadened its base. It came to be realised that child marriage, enforced widowhood of girls who had lost their husbands at a very tender age, widespread polygamy among a class of Brahmins known as Kulins, invidious distinction between man and man under caste system were all impediments to healthy social growth. The liberal bourgeoisie led by Rammohun Roy was inspired by the spirit of the French Revolution. It was watching the national struggle of the Italians and had come to know that Greece had become free from foreign yoke. The impact of all this was great. But still a political fight against the foreign rulers was quite beyond its pale of thought. The fortunes of the newly evolved Bengalee bourgeoisie were tied up with the fortunes of the alien ruling class. Hence any talk of political right leading to political reforms or political freedom found no place in the program the Indian bourgeoisie set before itself. It busied itself first with religious reforms and later with social reforms. The forces of dialectical materialism, however, impelled the Indian society to advance further and further till the radical section of the middle class landed in the fight for political rights.
But it is strange that the reformers referred to above did not care to enquire about the condition of the people at the bottom of the society. Rev. J. Long in his Report of the Sociological Section of the 'Bethune Society' (April 26, 1861) circulated among its members a questionnaire in which he observed, "In England much interest has been taken in the working classes as great pillars of the social system. My own experience leads me to the conviction that in the present state of things the working classes afford fine field for education and social improvement." Then he asks, "Do any of the working classes meet for combination to keep up wages as the ryots have with respect to indigo?"
About the same time the secretary of the same society, late Kailash Chandra Basu, said in a speech that Bengal could not prosper if the economic condition of the peasantry was not bettered. But this went unheeded and the bourgeoisie took little interest. The middle class went on increasing its strength by collaborating with the imperial bourgeoisie. The Indian bourgeoisie was loyal to the imperial bourgeoisie and did not demand freedom from foreign yoke. During Swamiji's time it was only demanding a few privileges and concessions. Dialectical contradictions were not ripe as yet for a fight for freedom. It is in this context that Swamiji said, "Alas! Nobody thinks of the poor of the country. They are the backbone of the country, who by their labour are producing food ... But there is none to sympathise with them, none to console them in their misery."
Swamiji was convinced that without freedom of the people there cannot be any solid progress. So he said, "There cannot be any growth without liberty. Our ancestors freed religious thought and we have a wonderful religion. But they put a heavy chain on the feet of the society and our society is, in a word, horrid, diabolical. In the West the society always had freedom, and look at them. On the other hand, look at their religion. Liberty is the first condition of growth. Just as man must have liberty to think and speak, so he must have liberty in food, dress and marriage and in every other thing as long as he does not injure others."
Does this utterance sound reactionary or counter-revolutionary? Is it not clear from his saying that Swamiji is for the overthrow of the status quo of the present moribund Indian society and that he advocates social reform? Sister Nivedita also testifies that Swamiji wanted a complete change of the society. (The Master As I Saw Him)
While summing up the Indian conservative attitude to life Swamiji said, "We talk foolishly against material civilisation. The grapes are sour...". Does this evaluation of the conservative Hindu mind and Swamiji's frequent castigation of priestcraft sound in any way like that of a counter-revolutionary? Who in his time had the boldness to say that he "does not believe in God who cannot give his daily bread?" In this terse saying did he not condemn the current notions of his time about religion and priestcraft? Did he not in this pithy saying give the lie to those who say that Swamiji only talked about the other-worldliness of Hindus?
Swamiji's direct political attempts during his wanderings all over India have been referred to in the Foreword. Failing to move the Indian notables to work for the freedom of the country, he turned towards the masses in whose hands he was sure India's salvation lies. That is why he said, "I do not expect anything from the rich people of India. It is best to work among the youth in whom lies our hope patiently, steadily and without noise." And it was the youth of Bengal that after Swamiji's demise in 1902 began to work for the freedom of the county "patiently, steadily and without noise."
The middle classes were the dominant force in the society in British India. Historical-materialistic forces of the society impelled the middle class youth to respond to Swamiji's call to work. Dialectical contradictions in the society made the members of the upper bourgeois class to gravitate towards the Indian National Congress which was then an extremely moderate and vegetating organisation. Dialectics of the time made the rich extremely loyal and the prosperous men of liberal bourgeoisie moderate in their demands for loaves and fishes from the table of the imperial masters. On the other hand, the petty bourgeoisie, that is, the members of the lower middle class were restless. The educated section among them was desirous for a change. Life presented a dismal picture to them and they had to fight a bitter struggle for existence. And they wanted freedom as the remedy to all the evils they found confronting them.
|Publisher's Preface to The Second Edition||v|
|Bhupendranath Datta: A Brief Life-Sketch||vii|
|List of Works By Bhupendranath and Mahendranath||xiv|
|Author's Preface to The First Edition||xix|
|List of Plates.||xxvi|
|I||Social Heredity of Nineteenth Century||14|
|II||Nineteenth Century and Renaissance||21|
|III||Family Pedigree and Related Matters||46|
|VIII||Swami Vivekananda on National Issues (1)||131|
|IX||Swami Vivekananda on National Issues (2)||149|
|X||Swami Vivekananda: Religious Views||171|
|XII||Swami Vivekananda: Sociological Views||189|
|XIII||Swami Vivekananda: A Litterateur||203|
|XIV||Swami Vivekananda : An Art-Critic||219|
|Sayings of Swami Vivekananda With Author's Commentary||229|
Item Code: NAN901 Author: Dr. Bhupendranath Datta Cover: Hardcover Edition: 1993 Publisher: Navabharat Publishers, Kolkata Language: English Size: 8.5 inch x 5.5 inch Pages: 354 (16 B/W Illustrations) Other Details: Weight of the Book: 455 gms