Swami Vivekananda, The Father Of Modern India: Bridging Ancient Wisdom With Modernity

Swami Vivekananda’s legacy continues to inspire generations, reflecting his profound impact on India’s spiritual, social, and intellectual landscape. His synthesis of ancient Hindu philosophies with contemporary ideas, his emphasis on youth empowerment, and his integration of spirituality with social service have left an indelible mark on the nation’s journey.

In a recent development, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has begun a nearly two-day meditation session at the Vivekananda Rock Memorial in Kanyakumari, starting from Thursday onwards. This event coincides with the conclusion of the largest democratic exercise on the planet. But what prompts the Prime Minister to undertake such an exercise, and what significance does Swami Vivekananda hold during these challenging times and in modern India?


A Look Into Swami Vivekananda’s Past

Swami Vivekananda, named Narendranath Datta at birth, was an Indian Hindu monk, philosopher, author, religious teacher, and the primary disciple of the Indian mystic Ramakrishna. He lived from January 12, 1863, to July 4, 1902.

Raised in an aristocratic Bengali Kayastha household in Calcutta, Vivekananda’s early years were marked by a deep-seated interest in matters of religion and spirituality. It was later in life that he encountered his spiritual mentor, Ramakrishna, and embraced the path of monkhood. After Ramakrishna’s demise, Vivekananda embarked on extensive journeys throughout the Indian subcontinent, immersing himself in the realities of life for people under British colonial rule.

Founding The Ramakrishna Math (Monastery)

Following Ramakrishna’s passing, his devotees and admirers ceased their support for his disciples, resulting in accumulated unpaid rent. This circumstance compelled Narendra and the other disciples to seek alternative living arrangements. While many returned to their homes and embraced a family-oriented lifestyle, Narendra resolved to transform a rundown house in Baranagar into a new monastery for the remaining disciples.

The rent for this Baranagar Math was minimal, raised through “holy begging” (mādhukarī). This math became the inaugural structure of the Ramakrishna Math, serving as the monastery for the monastic order of Ramakrishna. Narendra and his fellow disciples dedicated numerous hours to meditation and religious practices daily. Reflecting on those early days, Narendra later fondly reminisced about the monastery’s humble beginnings.

Philosophy Of Swami Vivekananda

During the time when India was struggling for its independence and was grappled under the claw of British rule, Swami Vivekananda emerged as one of the torchbearers of our freedom struggle, presenting a distinct perspective on India and its traditional practices. For long the the Westerners had held an aglisicist view of the world and regarded Western philosophy such as the Greek and the Roman superior to the Orientalist view of Philosophy. An Aglicist and Orientalist debate that had been the epicenter of action at that time.


This Anglican view was used to form the basis of education in India and the main proponents of this view were  Charles Trevelyan and Elphinstone, who thought Western education in India should be imparted using English as a medium of instruction. Such prejudice against the traditional Indian culture was shattered by Vivekananda when he introduced the precepts of Indian philosophy to the Westerners.

Vivekananda was instrumental in modernizing India by making ancient philosophies relevant to the contemporary world. During the nineteenth century, the three Vedantic schools of thought—Dvaita, Visistadvaita, and Advaita—frequently clashed in their interpretations. Swami Vivekananda synthesized these philosophies, portraying them as interconnected stages of the same journey. He elevated Advaita, representing non-duality or oneness, as the pinnacle of this philosophical evolution. “Man must love others because those others are himself,” he said.

While promoting and unifying different strands of Hindu thought, especially classical yoga and Advaita Vedanta, Vivekananda drew inspiration from Western ideas like Universalism, which he encountered through Unitarian missionaries associated with the Brahmo Samaj.

His early beliefs were influenced by Brahmo ideals, advocating for a formless God and the rejection of idolatry, leading to a modern and rational interpretation of the Upanishads and Vedanta. Vivekananda taught that the divine exists within every individual, irrespective of social status, encouraging love and social harmony.

Vivekanada And Spirituality

Vivekananda intertwined spirituality with social service, recognizing their joint significance in shaping India’s evolution as a nation. His approach to religion was characterized by vigor, resilience, and compassion. In his letter to his associate Akhandananda, he wrote ‘No good will come of sitting idle and having princely dishes, and saying Ramakrishna, O Lord!’ unless you can do some good to the poor.”

1893 Parliament Of Religions

Swami Vivekanada’s speech at the Parliament of Religions is something that is recognized and respected worldwide. The Parliament of the World’s Religions commenced on September 11, 1893, at the Art Institute of Chicago, coinciding with the World’s Columbian Exposition. On this historic occasion, Vivekananda delivered a concise address, representing India and Hinduism.

Initially feeling nervous, he humbly paid homage to Saraswati, and initiated his speech with the greeting, “Sisters and brothers of America!” This simple yet profound gesture earned Vivekananda a remarkable two-minute standing ovation from the audience of seven thousand attendees.

Parliament President John Henry Barrows said, “India, the Mother of religions was represented by Swami Vivekananda, the Orange monk who exercised the most wonderful influence over his auditors” Vivekananda garnered extensive press coverage, earning the moniker “the cyclonic monk from India” due to his dynamic and impactful presence.

An Inspiration For The Freedom Fighters

He inspired many freedom fighters in the modern Indian era and one of the most prominent of them was Subhash Chandra Bose, known for his valor and indomitable nature. He has often referred to Swami Vivekananda as the ‘Father of Modern India’.

Swami Vivekananda On The Future Of India And Its Youth

Vivekananda understood that the destiny of India rested in the hands of its youth. Through his stirring lectures and writings, he constantly urged them to rise and take charge. As a trailblazing leader, he instilled in them the value of diligence and work ethic, igniting a fire of determination within each young heart.  ‘What we want are young men who will work, not tomfools’, he said. ‘Fiery young men, intelligent and brave, who dare to go to the jaws of Death, and are ready to swim the ocean across’.

Swami Vivekananda’s legacy continues to inspire generations, reflecting his profound impact on India’s spiritual, social, and intellectual landscape. His synthesis of ancient Hindu philosophies with contemporary ideas, his emphasis on youth empowerment, and his integration of spirituality with social service have left an indelible mark on the nation’s journey. Vivekananda’s teachings and example fostered a sense of national pride and resilience, encouraging individuals to strive for personal and collective growth. His vision of a harmonious, progressive India, driven by dedicated and enlightened youth, remains a guiding light for the country’s future.

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