Swami Vivekananda’s vision of Hinduism is endangered by Hindutva

At a time when Swami Vivekananda is being appropriated by forces representing right wing bodies it is pertinent to revisit Swami Vivekananda's worldview which is often twisted to polarise society

Swami Vivekananda’s vision of Hinduism is endangered by Hindutva
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S N Sahu

It was Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi who took the decision to celebrate Swami Vivekananda's birth anniversary on January 12 as national youth day. It is on this day one recalls the yearning of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee who after gruesome riots in Gujarat in 2002 asserted in the Lok Sabha that he preferred the Hinduism of Ramakrishan Paramahansa, Swami Vivekananda, Mahatma Gandhi and Sri Aurobindo and not Hindutva which was invoked to kill innocent people in that State.

So when Swami Vivekananda is being appropriated by the forces representing Hindutva and other right wing bodies for aggressively demonising the Muslims and other minorities and violently targeting them, it is pertinent to revisit the worldview of Swami Vivekananda which is often distorted and twisted to polarise society and serve the political goals based on majoritarianism.

Generations of Indians including the stalwarts of our freedom struggle be it Mahatma Gandhi, Jawharlal Nehru or Netaji Subhash Bose were deeply influenced and inspired by Swami Vivekananda who brilliantly expounded the foundational pillars of Hinduism and spirituality before the western people and cast a spell on them. Representing Hinduism as a monk in the World Parliament of Religions held in Chicago in 1893 he articulated its core values of tolerance and universal acceptance and affirmed that all religions as true. He was equally critical of it and his interrogation of Hinduism by pointing out its shortcomings were evident even before he delivered his famous Chicago address.

In a letter written on August 20, 1893 from the USA to his Tamil disciple Alasinga, he stressed on Lord Buddha’s practical gospel of equality and social raising up and indicted Hinduism by saying “No religion on earth preaches the dignity of humanity in such a lofty strain as Hinduism, and no religion on earth treads upon the necks of the poor and the low in such a fashion as Hinduism.”

So while projecting Swami Vivekananda as their icon, the Hindutva forces are conveniently oblivious of his critical outlook on Hinduism which is imperative to understand and evaluate the role of religion in society and life and the necessity of evaluating it by applying reason and rationality.

It is deeply painful to note that Hindutva leaders have often justified the violent attack on places of worship of people professing different faiths. It is extremely tragic that the Hindutva leaders are now calling for arms, genocide of Muslims and and one of them even mentioned his sinister desire to assassinate Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

It is worthwhile to recall the poignant words of Swami Vivekananda who in his famous Chicago speech delivered on 9/11, 1893 had said, “Sectarianism, bigotry and its horrible descendant, fanaticism, have long possessed this earth. They have filled the earth with violence, drenched it 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.”


The “horrible demons” representing “sectarianism, bigotry and its horrible descendent fanaticism” are now poisoning the body polity of India in the twenty first century and causing all round havoc. The demolition of Babri Mosque by such forces on December 6 1992 subverted rule law, jurisprudence, Constitution and civilisational values. The acquittal of all those charged with the demolition has emboldened them to fuel bigotry and fanaticism.

The Hindutva leaders and their followers who flattened the Babri Mosque on 6th December 1992 mocked at the ideals of acceptance and tolerance which Swami Vivekananda so gloriously articulated in his Chicago speech in 1893 and for which the Americans professing Christianity acclaimed him.

Even as the Supreme Court in its judgement of November 10, 2019 unequivocally observed “The destruction of the mosque and the obliteration of the Islamic structure was an egregious violation of the rule of law” it allowed construction of Ram Temple where once the Mosque stood. In fact a nuanced understanding of Swami Vivekananda’s vision embodied in his writings reveals that such judicial sanction for construction of temple where the mosque was demolished by Hindutva forces constitutes a negation of his vision.

On Swami Vivekananda’s return to India after his historic trip to the World Parliament of Religions he was accorded rousing welcome and he responded by delivering series of speeches compiled in the volume “Lectures from Colombo to Almora”.

In one of those speeches delivered in Madras, now Chennai, he famously said, “It is here in India that Hindus have built and are still building churches for Christians and mosques for Mohammedans.”

He did so to underline the values of universal tolerance and acceptance. In fact, in the same speech Swamiji underlined that Hindus would continue to build mosques for Muslims and Churches for Christians even if they faced scorn and contempt from some people belonging to those communities.

He further added, “...the world is waiting for this grand idea of universal toleration. It will be a great acquisition to civilisation. Nay, no civilisation can long exist unless this idea enters into it. No civilisation can grow unless fanaticism, bloodshed and brutality stop. No civilisation can begin to lift up its head until we look charitably upon one another; and the first step towards that much-needed charity is to look charitably and kindly upon the religious conviction of others. Nay more, to understand that not only should we be charitable, but also positively helpful to each other, however different our religious ideas and convictions may be. And that is exactly what we do in India as I have just related to you. It is here in India that Hindus have built and are still building churches for Christians and mosques for Mohammedans. That is the thing to do”.

Now in several parts of BJP ruled States right wing forces representing Hindutva are attacking Churches, and Christians. The processions organised in some areas inhabited by minorities to collect funds for the construction of Ram temple witnessed violence against Muslims and destruction of their houses. Such willful target of Muslims in the name of construction of Ram temple constitutes a manifestation of “sectarianism, bigotry and its horrible descendant, fanaticism” in twenty-first century India.

In the process the Hinduism of Swami Vivekananda, which Vajpayee preferred over Hindutva has become a casualty. Can the Constitutional vision of India prevail and detoxify the communal ecosystem created by the Hindutva forces? It is hoped that it is in the realm of possibility. Let us recall illuminating words of Swami Vivekananda who flagged the integrated vision of India by combining both Hindusim and Islam and celebrating religious pluralism which remain at the core of our Constitution and secularism. He said, ““Practical Advaitism … is yet to be developed among the Hindus universally… Therefore we are firmly persuaded that without the help of practical Islam, theories of Vedantism, however fine and wonderful they may be, are entirely valueless to the vast mass of mankind…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.”

It is such a vision of India which is in danger and we need to salvage it by invoking Swami Vivekananda and the constitutionally enshrined Idea of India.

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