Nehru recalled what Swami Vivekananda had said of Islam and Hindu ‘upper classes’

He quotes from a letter Swamiji wrote to a Muslim friend: ‘For our own motherland a junction of the two great systems, Hinduism and Islam —Vedanta brain and Islam body — is the only hope’

India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru
India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru

NH Web Desk

On 12 November 2020, Prime Minister Modi unveiled a statue of Swami Vivekananda in the University named after Jawaharlal Nehru. In the same forecourt, less than 100 metres away, stands a statue of Jawaharlal Nehru, installed many years ago. The unspoken symbolism of this act is to suggest that the University will now uphold the ideals of Swami Vivekananda, which are assumed to be contrary to those of Nehru. How wrong is this assumption is shown by the extracts reproduced here from Nehru’s own adulatory and insightful writings on Swamiji and his Guru, Ramakrishna Paramahansa. He quotes from a letter Swamiji wrote to a Muslim friend: ‘For our own motherland a junction of the two great systems, Hinduism and Islam —Vedanta brain and Islam body — is the only hope’.

About the same period as Swami Dayananda, a different type of person lived in Bengal and his life influenced many of the new Englisheducated classes. He was Shri Ramakrishna Paramahansa, a simple man, no scholar but a man of faith, and not interested in social reform as such. He was in a direct line with Chaitanya and other Indian saints. Essentially religious and yet broad-minded, in his search for selfrealization he went to Moslem and Christian mystics and lived with them for years, following their strict routines…. Opposed to all sectarianism, he emphasized that all roads lead to truth….

His personality impressed itself on all who saw him and many who never saw him have been influenced by the story of his life. Among these latter is Romain Rolland who has written a story of his life and that of his chief disciple, Swami Vivekananda.

Vivekananda, together with his brother disciples, founded the nonsectarian Ramakrishna Mission of service. Rooted in the past and full of pride in India’s heritage, Vivekananda was yet modern in his approach to life’s problems and was a kind of bridge between the past of India and her present….He was a fine figure of a man, imposing, full of poise and dignity, sure of himself and his mission, and at the same time full of a dynamic and fiery energy and a passion to push India forward….

….Passionately, Vivekananda condemned the meaningless metaphysical discussions and arguments about ceremonials and especially the touchme-notism of the upper castes. ‘Our religion is in the kitchen. Our God is the cooking-pot, and our religion is: “don’t touch me, I am holy” ‘ .…

But again and again he laid stress on the necessity for liberty and equality and the raising of the masses.

“Liberty of thought and action is the only condition of life, of growth and well-being. Where it does not exist, the man, the race, the nation must go’ ‘The only hope of India is from the masses. The upper classes are physically and morally dead’ ….

He once wrote “I am a socialist not because I think it is a perfect system, but half a loaf is better than no bread The other systems have been tried and found wanting. Let this one be tried — if for nothing else, for the novelty of the thing.’

Vivekananda spoke of many things but the one constant refrain of his speech and writing was abhay — be fearless, be strong….

In the Letters [of Swami Vivekananda (1942)], p. 390, there is a remarkable letter written by Vivekananda to a Muslim friend. In the course of this he writes: ‘…the truth is that Advaitism is the last word of religion and thought and the only position from which one can look upon all religions and sects with love. We believe it is the religion of the future enlightened humanity… On the other hand our experience is that if ever the followers of any religion approach to this equality in an appreciable degree in the plane of practical work-a-day life —it is those of Islam and Islam alone.’

‘For our own motherland a junction of the two great systems, Hinduism and Islam —Vedanta brain and Islam body — is the only hope. ‘I see in my mind’s eye the future perfect India rising out of this chaos and strife, glorious and invincible, with Vedanta brain and Islam body ’ This letter is dated Almora, June 10th, 1898. Excerpts from Jawaharlal Nehru, The Discovery of India, Asia Publishing House, 1960 edition, pp 336-39.

Selected and edited by Mridula Mukherjee, former Professor of History at JNU and former Director of Nehru Memorial Museum and Library

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