Born: January 12, 1863
Died: July 4, 1902
Achievements: Played a major role in spiritual enlightenment of
Indian masses; Spread Vedanta philosophy in the West; established
Ramakrishna Mission for the service of the poor.
Swami Vivekananda was one of the most influential spiritual leaders of
Vedanta philosophy. He was the chief disciple of Ramakrishna Paramahansa
and was the founder of Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission. Swami
Vivekananda was the living embodiment of sacrifice and dedicated his
life to the country and yearned for the progress of the poor, the
helpless and the downtrodden. He showed a beacon of light to a nation
that had lost faith in its ability under British rule and inspired
self-confidence among Indians that they are second to none. His ringing
words and masterful oratory galvanized the slumbering nation.
Swami Vivekananda real name was Narendranath Dutta. He was born on January12,
1863 in Calcutta. His father's name was Vishwanath Dutta and his
mother's name Bhuvaneswari Devi. Narendranath acquired the name of Swami
Vivekananda when he became a monk.
As a child Narendra was very lively and naughty. He was good in studies
as well as in games. He studied instrumental and vocal music and also
practiced meditation from a very early age. Even when Narendra was young
he questioned the validity of superstitious customs and discrimination
based on caste and religion. As a child Narendra had great respect for
sanyasis (ascetics). He would give away anything to anybody if asked
for. Whenever a beggar asked for alms, he would give him anything he
had. Thus from childhood Narendra had the spirit of sacrifice and
In 1879, Narendra passed matriculation and entered Presidency College,
Calcutta. After one year, he joined the Scottish Church College,
Calcutta and studied philosophy. He studied western logic, western
philosophy and history of European nations. As he advanced in his
studies, his thinking faculty developed. Doubts regarding existence of
God started to arise in Narendra's mind. This made him associate with
the Brahmo Samaj, an important religious movement of the time, led by
Keshab Chandra Sen. But the Samaj's congregational prayers and
devotional songs could not satisfy Narendra's zeal to realise God.
During this time Narendra came to know of Sri Ramakrishna Pramahans of
Dakshineswar. Sri Ramakrishna was a priest in the temple of Goddess
Kali. He was not a scholar. But he was a great devotee. It was being
said of him that he had realized God. Once, Narendra went to
Dakshineswar to with his friends see him. He asked Ramakrishna, whether
he had seen God. The instantaneous answer from Ramakrishna was, "Yes,
I have seen God, just as I see you here, only in a more clear sense."
Narendra was astounded and puzzled. He could feel the man's words were
honest and uttered from depths of experience. He started visiting
It was in Narendra's nature to test something thoroughly before he
could accept it. He would not accept Ramakrishna as his guru without a
test. Ramakrishna used to say that, in order to realize God, one should
give up the desire for money and women. One day Narendra hid a rupee
under his pillow. Sri Ramakrishna, who had gone out, came into the room
and stretched himself on the cot. At once he jumped up as if bitten by a
scorpion. When he shook the mattress, the rupee coin fell down. Later he
came to know that it was the doing of Narendra. Narendra accepted Sri
Ramakrishna as his guru and took training under him for five years in
the Advaita Vedanta, the philosophy of non-dualism. Sri Ramakrishna
passed away in 1886 and nominated Narendra as his successor. After his
death Narendra and a core group of Ramakrishna's disciples took vows to
become monks and renounce everything, and started living in a supposedly
haunted house in Baranagore.
In 1890, Narendra set out on a long journey.
He covered the length and breadth of the country. He visited Varanasi,
Ayodhya, Agra, Vrindavan, Alwar etc. Narendra acquired the name of Swami
Vivekananda during the journey. It is said that he was given the name
Vivekananda by Maharaja of Khetri for his discrimination of things, good
and bad. During his journey, Vivekananda stayed at king's palaces, as
well as at the huts of the poor. He came in close contact with the
cultures of different regions of India and various classes of people in
India. Vivekananda observed the imbalance in society and tyranny in the
name of caste. He realised the need for a national rejuvenation if India
was to survive at all.
Swami Vivekananda reached Kanyakumari, the southernmost tip of the
Indian subcontinent on December24, 1892. He swam across the sea and
started meditating on a lone rock. He meditated for three days and said
later that he meditated about the past, present and future of India. The
rock is presently popular as Vivekananda memorial and is a major tourist
In 1893, Swami Vivekananda went to America to attend the Conference of
World Religions in Chicago. He earned wild applause for beginning his
address with the famous words, "Sisters and brothers of America."
Swamiji mesmerized everyone in America with his masterful oratory.
Wherever he went, he dwelt at length on the greatness of Indian Culture.
He spoke with spontaneous ease on every topic, be it History, Sociology,
Philosophy or Literature. He deplored the malicious propaganda that had
been unleashed by the Christian missionaries in India. Swami Vivekananda
also went to England. Many people became his disciples. Most famous
among them was Margaret Nivedita'. She came to India and settled here.
Swami Vivekananda returned to India in 1897 after four years of touring
in the West. He started disseminating the message of spiritual
development among Indians. He realized that social service was possible
only through the concerted efforts on an organized mission. To achieve
this objective, Swami Vivekananda started Sri Ramakrishna Mission in
1897 and formulated its ideology and goal. During the next two years he
bought a site at Belur on the banks of the Ganga, constructed the
buildings and established the Ramakrishna Math. He once again toured the
West from January 1899 to December 1900.
Swami Vivekananda died on July4, 1902 at Belur Math near Calcutta.