Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Islamists And Maoists – Two Sides Of The Same Coin

  Youngsters pelting stones at the Army in the Kashmir Valley (Paula Bronstein/Getty Images)

  • The modus operandi of the Maoists in Bastar and Islamists in Kashmir is exactly the same.
    They are opposed to development and fear education.

On 22 February this year, a group of students owing allegiance to leftist student unions raised azadi slogans at Ramjas College, in New Delhi. The video is there on the internet for all to see. The slogans raised were Kashmir maange azadi, Bastar maange azadi among others.
We have heard the slogan Kashmir maange azadi before at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU). But it was the first time that students chanted Bastar maange azadi. And why wouldn't they? It is exactly the same ideology that feeds and nurtures both the separatist groups.
The sinister thread that connects the Islamists in Kashmir and the Maoists in Bastar doesn't stop at mere sloganeering. Both are separatist groups using acts of terror and violence to destabilise the Indian state. The ultimate aim of both Maoists and Islamists is the Balkanisation of India.
The modus operandi of the Maoists in Bastar and Islamists in Kashmir too is exactly the same.
First, they oppose all development in the region by stalling infrastructure projects like the construction of roads and bridges. The attack on the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) battalion in Sukma happened while the soldiers were supervising road construction in Bastar. Maoists have attacked road construction labourers and contractors in the past and have even burnt down construction equipment. Earlier this month, Kashmiri separatists forced a shutdown on the valley because they did not want the Prime Minister to inaugurate the 10-kilometer long Chenani-Nashri tunnel in Kashmir. Both Maoists and Islamists fear infrastructure development, as increased connectivity helps in bringing people into the mainstream, thereby weakening their hold over the local people.
The Islamists of Kashmir and the Maoists of Bastar fear education, too. Young people are the chief recruits for both groups, and it is easier to attract illiterate young people, who have no hope for a future, to the movement than youngsters who see a ray of hope and a bright future in India through education. Maoists and Islamists therefore burn state-run schools or forcefully shut them down. The local population is then forced to depend upon the mercy of these separatist groups to access the most basic of facilities.
They first deny people access to basic infrastructure and education, shutting down every chance of a bright future that they might have, and then argue that local people take to arms as 'there is no development in the region’. This circular argument has been repeated many times by the Islamists in Kashmir and the Maoists in Bastar.
In Kashmir as well as in Bastar, women and children are used as human shields to attack the forces, while the actual arms-wielding assault party follows in the rear. In Kashmir, there is a careful mobilisation of school kids and women as stone-pelters who serve as a cover for the arm-toting terrorists in the rear. The Supreme Court of India had expressed concerns over Kashmiri separatists increasingly using minors as human shields while confronting the forces. In Bastar, when the assault party of the Maoists attacks the forces, they first send women and children ahead, like they did in Sukma yesterday. If the forces fire in retaliation, Maoist and Islamist sympathisers can always cry 'human rights abuse’, which is then taken up by the intellectual back-room boys and girls of the two movements.
Neither the Islamists of Kashmir nor the Maoists of Bastar want to resolve their issues through discussion or negotiations. No matter how hard the Indian state tries to assimilate the local people into the mainstream, Maoists, as well as Islamists, resist it with all their might. It is in their interest that the local population remains uneducated, poor, dispossessed and unhappy.
Lastly, the biggest common factor among the Islamists of Kashmir and the Maoists of Bastar are the people supporting them. It is the same group of ‘left-leaning’ intellectuals ensconced in academic hidey-holes like JNU and the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) and newsroom studios, who provide the Islamists and Maoists intellectual legitimacy.
A successful war depends as much upon ideological warfare as it depends upon the manoeuvres on the battlefield. The job of these urban terrorists is to legitimise the acts of violence by the Maoists and Islamists and lend a romantic halo to their story. Which is why seditious slogans inciting people to break India are passed off as ‘freedom of speech’ and a hardline terrorist like Burhan Wani is humanised as a ‘schoolmaster’s son with a bright future who was led astray’. In the context of Bastar, the urban terrorists’ job is to rationalise the acts of unspeakable violence and terror by the Maoists by inventing catchy phrases like ‘Gandhians with Guns’, as Arundhati Roy once famously described them.
We might get the impression that the battle against the Indian state is being fought in the valley of Kashmir or the jungles of Bastar, but the real war is being fought in India’s cities, thousands of miles away from both Kashmir and Bastar. It is being fought in news studios, in universities and colleges and seminars and symposia. The fingers that pull the trigger might belong to the Maoists or Islamists, but the firepower is provided by the urban terrorists that you will find all around you, in academia, media, films and even in the government. The gun-toting puppets may be in Bastar and Kashmir, but the people who pull their strings are hiding in our midst.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Padmavati: History of Hindu triumph

  • The agitation over Padmavati is only partly about history, but mainly about honour. Dishonour is not an option for many, even unto death.
The Queen of Chittor, history’s heroine and the protagonist of Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s film, has been the subject of much debate and controversy, not to mention threats of dire consequences or even death to those responsible for it. It behoves, therefore, to try to understand the uproar.
Let me, however, clarify at the outset that what follows is not a retelling of the story. In fact, it is not even an exercise in mere re-interpretation. Instead, I would like to offer a hermeneutical methodology or meta-interpretation — how to make sense of Indian stories, especially such stories of incredible courage or sacrifice.
The key is to see these stories, after Frederick Jameson, as allegories, not just national, but civilisational allegories. In other words, Padmavati is not only an Indian story; that would be rather obvious. For there are countless such Indian stories. After all, India is the original home of stories, the veritable Kathasaritasagara. I would argue, in fact, that Padmavati is not an ordinary, but quintessential Indian story. It is the story of India itself. I shall try to demonstrate this in my essay.
Let us try to find out what, keeping this in mind, the Padmavati dispute is really about.
Was Padmavati a historical figure? We don’t know for sure. But what is pretty much uncontested is that Alauddin Khilji did lay siege to Chittorgarh, capturing it in 1303, after eight months of stubborn endurance by the Guhila Rajput ruler Ratan Singh. The earliest account of this military feat is Amir Khusrau’s Khaza’in ul-Futuh. Khusrau, one of the founders of Hindavi literature, better known today for his Sufi songs dedicated to Nizamuddin Auliya, was Khilji’s courtier. What is more, he actually accompanied the sultan on this campaign.
In Khusrau’s account, there is no mention of Padmini, nor of the terrible jauhar, mass immolation, committed by her and the ladies of the fort before it fell into Khilji’s hands. What Khusrau does state is that 30,000 Hindus were “cut down like dry grass” on Khilji’s order. Would Khusrau not have written about Padmini or the jauhar led by her? We cannot be sure, but he does mention that during Khilji’s earlier conquest of Ranthambore, the ladies of that fort performed jauhar rather than be taken as sexual prey to Khilji’s marauding hordes.
Whence springs the legend of Padmini then? The answer is from Malik Muhammad Jayasi’s Padmavat, an Avadhi epic. The poem was composed in 1540, nearly 250 years after the siege of Chittor. Jayasi, moreover, lived in what is today’s Uttar Pradesh, not in Rajasthan. So how did he come to know this story? The likely answer is that he combined the legend of Padmini, which was already prevalent and popular, with known literary antecedents. He, of course, added his own imagination to make the story rich and powerful. Jayasi’s Padmini does commit jauhar to repel Khilji.
The whole story, like the Illiad and the Ramayana, is really one of a conquest which links woman to territory. Padmini, like Helen of Troy and the abducted Sita of Ayodhya, is the trigger of Khilji’s imperial lust not just for a woman, but for territory, and the spoils of war. It would seem that Bhansali’s Padmavati, which most of its supporters or opponents have not yet seen, is based on Jayasi’s fictional rendering. Why then should it bother us so much, threatening to tear apart the social fabric?
The reason is that Padmavati is not about history or Rajput pride or Hindu anxiety or glorification of sati. It is really about splendid, if not solitary, exemplars of resistance. The Muslim conquest of India was as brutal as it was bloody. It also involved temple-breaking, large-scale loot, decimation, enslavement of subdued populations, and, yes, predatory sexual violence and captivity. No attempt to whitewash this history or mitigate its trauma will succeed.
I say this not to ask for retributive corrections or revenge histories; that would be absurd and unfortunate. The wrongs of history cannot be righted by present politics or academics. Itihas, as both legend and history, instead, calls for deep, contextual understanding, combined with corrective self-reflection, so that the errors of the past are not perpetuated into an uncertain future. If I were to slightly tweak what Vishwa Adluri said, “we seek salvation not in, but out of history”. When it comes to Padmini, the legend is more important than history; Padmini quickly escaped from history to be immortalised in legend.
Padmini, like Rana Pratap, who was also from Chittor, symbolises resistance to the Muslim conquest of India. Why are such stories important? Because they show that one part of the Hindu psyche remained undefeated and unvanquished. Indeed, throughout the 800 or so years of Muslim rule, there were always pockets of resistance, some like Chittor, Vijaynagar, the Marathas and Sikh empires, quite glorious and successful. What obtained in India is thus quite different from the other territories of Islamic conquest, whether Arabia, Iran, Africa, Central or South East Asia. In all these places, there are hardly any accounts of such resistance, let alone of jauhar. Padmini is worshipped to this day because she symbolises that die-hard refusal to submit to the evils of greater power.
So, we must understand the difference between Padmini and Padmavati — the historical figure and character in the epic. Though both are related, with the latter based on the former, they are not identical. As to the historical Padmini, unfortunately we know little; she was, as we have seen, soon apotheosised into folklore after the purported jauhar of her martyrdom. Indeed, it was these stories of Padmini’s great sacrifice sung by bards that probably inspired Jayasi.
But that still does not explain why this Muslim Sufi poet, who lived 200 years after the tragic siege of Chittor, chose to write about it. Why did he make it his main theme? I believe that he did so because he too thought he was telling the story of India, the India that he knew and loved. Padmavat, we must acknowledge, is an epic of Hindu-Muslim synthesis and comingling. If anything, it is more Hindu than Muslim. Because it is not simply a tale of Islamist domination and conquest, which was a well-established genre by the time of Jayasi. Nor is it written in Persian, the court language of Muslim rulers, but in Avadhi, the people’s language. In fact, the Padmavat, written about 80 years before what is arguably the most important mediaeval North Indian text, the Tulsi Ramayan, becomes its precursor, readying the vernacular for epic exertions.
Jayasi follows Hindu invocatory and narrative traditions; his epic is steeped in Hindu mythology and metaphor, beginning in Kailash, with a supplication to Shiva. He, moreover, follows Hindu aesthetic and spiritual traditions, chiefly the Kamashastra and the Nath parampara. Dr Anand Kumar, who is working on a new verse translation, believes that Jayasi was an initiated Nath Yogi, though also Chisti Sufi. In that sense, he is a forerunner to the current Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister, Yogi Adityanath. The Nath Yogis, like the tantrikssiddhas, alchemists, daoists, and kabbalists before them, sought physical immortality, a quest that has been revived in recent times by Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, though it is not fashionable to talk about it, or, at least, to take it literally.
Padmavat is thus also an esoteric yogic manual, explaining the mysteries of the horizontal and vertical axes of transformation, contained in the ancient symbols of both the cross and the swastika. Ida (left, feminine, som) and Pingala (right, masculine, agni) represent the two hemispheres of the brain, or reason and passion respectively. Between these poles and balancing them is the sushumna, the central subtle nadi, the channel of ascension of the coiled kundalini shakti from the muladhara to the sahasrara. This is the riddle that Sigmund Freud rediscovered and solved in his psychoanalysis — Id and Superego, with the Ego playing the balancing role. In tantra yoga, when the kundalini reaches the sahasrara, the practitioner attains immortality. But really the underlying structure of synthesis involves the abolishing of duality. Duality is death; non-duality, advaita, is immortality.
In a brief essay, it is be impossible to explain this symbolism in Padmavat fully. But the whole story is set in motion by the search for Padmini, the perfect or the superior type of woman, who is thus described in the Kamashastra text Anangaranga:
“She, in whom the following signs and symptoms appear, is called Padmini, or Lotus-woman. Her face is pleasing as the full moon; her body, well clothed with flesh, is soft as the shiras or mustard-flower; her skin is fine, tender and fair as the yellow lotus, never dark-coloured, though resembling, in the effervescence and purple light of her youth, the cloud about to burst. Her eyes are bright and beautiful as the orbs of the fawn, well-cut, and with reddish corners. Her bosom is hard, full and high; her neck is goodly shaped as the conch-shell, so delicate that the saliva can be seen through it; her nose is straight and lovely, and three folds of wrinkles cross her middle, about the umbilical region. Her yoni resembles the open lotus-bud, and her love-seed (kama-salila, the water of life) is perfumed like the lily which has newly burst. She walks with swanlike gait, and her voice is low and musical as the note of the kokila bird; she delights in white raiment, in fine jewels, and in rich dresses. She eats little, sleeps lightly and, being as respectable and religious as she is clever and courteous, she is ever anxious to worship the gods, and to enjoy the conversation of the learned.”
Such, then, is the Padmini, the perfect “lotus-woman.” Interestingly, Kalyana Malla, the author of Anangaranga had a Muslim (Lodi) patron. Moreover, Padmini corresponds to sayujya-mukti, the highest state that comes about from merging with the essence of the Lord (or ultimate reality). In this “erotic” text, all the women, whether Padmini, Hastini, Shankhani, Chitrini, represent various types of mukti or liberation from human suffering. So wonderfully woman-, life-, and sex-positive are these texts.
Padmini, therefore, refers not only to a specific historic queen, but the ideal type of woman. She also signifies physical, ultimately spiritual, perfection — whoever unites with her will attain immortality. Here’s where the political angle of Jayasi’s story attains prominence. When we read the text as national allegory, we see the Hindu Rajputs as disunited; they fight each other and are therefore weak. An abused and disgraced Brahmin minister in Ratan Singh’s court takes his revenge by defecting to Alauddin Khilji’s court. It is he who, having overheard from the parrot Hiraman, of the fabulous and unearthly beauty of Padmini, plants the idea of ravishing her in the sultan’s head. In the end, two Rajput brothers-in-arms fight over Padmini, both dying in the process. The great fort of Chittor is about to fall to Khilji. The queen, along with the ladies of the court, mass-immolate in the terrifying act of jauhar.
An empty, charred fort, still smelling of burning human flesh, falls into Khilji’s hands. Jayasi mocks him: the Sultan has only the stones and bricks of the ruined citadel to convert to Islam.
So, here’s the moral of the story: no one gets Padmini in the end. Neither the legitimate, but incompetent spouse, who cannot understand her true value, let alone defend her. Nor the pillaging and plundering conqueror. The fort, itself a symbol of Padmini’s virtue and maidenhead, falls, but the queen does not surrender. She prefers death over dishonour. Another princess, who has been offered as booty to Khilji by a neighbouring Rajput king, is at first married to one of his sons, then handed out to others as a sexual trophy.
In contrast, Padmini is the medieval version of Sati, the ancient spouse of Shiva, who jumped into her father’s yagna rather than submit to him. Daksha was often portrayed as a figure of lust, with a ram’s head. Why was his yajna so intolerable to sati that she destroyed it by jumping into it? Her husband then carried the charred remains of her body all over India, till Vishnu cut off bits of them. Wherever these body parts fell became a Shakti Peeth.
The other great exemplar of India, as the phrase Sati-Savitri suggests, is Savitri, the saviour, the symbol of light and higher consciousness, Tat Savitur Varenyam…hence the pair Sati-Savitri, which we trivialise and mock these days, but which actually represents the dyad of Bharat Shakti as martyr or saviour. Between these two is the whole range of happy spouses, equal partners or in many cases, more than equal, in both kama and artha on the one hand, and dharma and moksha on the other. Of these, Radha Rani is the supreme, as paramour of god.
I would suggest that all these Devis and heroines are archetypes of Mother India herself. Bharat Mata, whom Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyaya taught us to worship. In Anandamath he gave us a new mantra, Vande Mataram. Sri Aurobindo took it a step farther in Bhavani Mandir by speaking of Bhavani Bharati and Bharat Shakti.
So…Now let’s try to tie up the loose ends.
Why are we so upset over even an imagined slight to Padmini? That is because we cannot tolerate the rape of Mother India by any foreign conqueror or sexual predator, even if such a narrative is justified by an alien theology of imperialism or substantiated by our unfortunate history.
Just as in real life, many a Draupadi might have been disrobed or worse, as the atrocity to Nirbhaya shows, in our great Mahabharata, Vyasa did not permit such a disruption of the moral order. He literally introduced deus ex machina, the unending sari of our heroine, by the grace of Sri Krishna himself. So also in Jayasi’s epic, as in the traditions of bardolatry which he drew on, such an insult to Padmini was never shown, nor can it be tolerated today, even in the name of freedom of expression.
Bharat Shakti, Bharat Mata, Mother India — in her ideal type — will always prefer death to dishonour. Indeed, that is why despite centuries of Islamic onslaught and relentless oppression, Hindu India was not completely subdued.
There were a million Padminis who preferred death over rape and dishonour. There were a million Rana Prataps who ate grass and slept on rocks in the jungles than accept the vassalage of a foreign power.
Both Padmini and Rana Pratap were the swarajya warriors of India.
We have seen the same saga of courage and sacrifice played out over and over again, right up to our own times. India was not, is not, will not be conquered; she is immortal because she will always prefer death to dishonour.
That is why I would argue that the agitation over Padmavati is only partly about history, but mainly about honour. Dishonour is not an option, even unto death, at least for some of us.
That is why Padmavati is not just an Indian story, but the story of India. That is why Padmini, as the symbol of resistance unto death, cannot be compromised or diluted. At least the people of India will not take very kindly to it.
This is an edited version of the author’s presentation at the Indic Thoughts Festival, Goa, 18 December 2017.
The author is Professor of English at JNU. His latest publications include The Death and Afterlife of Mahatma Gandhi (Penguin Random House, 2015), Cultural Politics in Modern India: Postcolonial Prospects, Colourful Cosmopolitanism, Global Proximities (Routledge, 2016), and Transit Passenger/Passageiro em Transito (University of Sao Paolo Press, 2016).

sabhar from above 

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Hindu Society Contemporary Problems

Hindu Society Contemporary Problems

Hindu Temple
From The Editor's Desk
(Hinduwebsite Editorial - Exploring Truth Amidst Illusions and Distortions)

Everywhere, people face problems. No one is free from them. Problems remain unresolved or become complicated when people do not take responsibility for their lives or their actions, or disregard time tested values. One may blame the governments or the leaders for the ills of the world, but at least in democracies much of what happens or what the governments or the leaders do happen upon people's tacit consent and approval.
People may ignore their own role in the decline of any country, society or religion. They may blame others, without realizing that even passivity or negligence on their part can be a contributing factor. Can anyone enter your house without your permission? Would you let garbage be thrown by others on your front yard? I think that in many parts of India people may not mind much if it happens just outside their houses, because they do not think that the earth and the country are also their homes.

Current problems

Because of such attitudes, the Hindu community in India is currently going through many problems. As people from India migrate to other countries, they carry along with them some basic practices and perpetuate the values associated with them. The following are the most pressing problems faced by the Hindus in India and to some extent in other parts of the world.

1. Ignorance

According to a recent report about 35% of the world's illiterate people live in India. That is, one in three illiterate people in the world live there. Most of them live in the villages and remote tribal areas. Some of them migrate to the cities in search of work. Since the government hardly regulates and monitors the working conditions of poor laborers, they live in makeshift houses or sleep on the pavements in the most deplorable conditions. For them their main sources of education, if you can call it that, are Indian movies and television. You cannot expect them to practice any religion, since survival and feeding their families are their primary concern. They are also easily susceptible to conversion by missionaries who offer them economic incentives, while the educated and wealthy Hindus look away with problems and concerns of their own.

2. Confusion

With ignorance arises confusion of values, beliefs and priorities. Hinduism is a very complex religion. No one can definitely say what Hinduism really is. There are as many versions of Hinduism as there are people. How many gods shall you worship, one, ten, a thousand or millions? What scriptures should one follow, the main texts, commentaries, the sectarian literature or the teachings of gurus and saints? Is it appropriate to worship Gurus as if they are gods and build temples and shrines for them, while the ancient gods of the faith are ignored or given scant attention or offerings?
Many such questions are difficult to answer because in Hinduism there are conventions, customs and practices, but no definitive standards that can be universally applied. People may celebrate the common festivals with a lot of fanfare, but it is just one aspect of religious observance and in most cases very vain and cinematic. Festivals and rituals represent the outer aspects of Hinduism. They provide people with good opportunities to socialize and generate awareness but do not do much good to their souls. A religion can save its festivals, but festivals alone cannot save a religion.

3. Conflicts

Necessity forces people to live in communities, but it is difficult to make them agree to the same ideas and opinions. It should be rightly so. However, beneath diversity there must be unity so that people can largely live in peace and harmony. Hindus are probably the most disorganized, divided and conflicted society in the world today. A hundred years later, historians will probably study how for 60 years people have allowed atheistic and corrupt leaders and families to rule India generation after generation and how democracy has been degraded to such unique levels in the history of democracy itself. Hindus are divided into castes, linguistic communities, economic classes, and regional groups. These divisions and conflicts often escalate into hatred and communal clashes.

4. Corruption

Corruption is a major issue for the Hindu community. Hindus have been bribing rulers, ruling classes, and gods for centuries, but in modern India it has assumed a greater dimension. Corruption has filtered down to the lowest level and infected the society at large. Unfortunately, it is not going to go away anytime soon, because people see corrupt leaders, business people, and employees amassing huge wealth in a short time, and not being punished at all. In a corrupt society, it does not make sense to a common man to live honestly while he has to pay extra for every service. For most of them it is easier to join the looting programs rather than fighting against them. It is a huge problem, so much so that people are now bribing gods also by throwing a lot of black money into temple coffers and seeking favors from them. In most busy temples during rush hours, some people get a priority pass to see the deities, while others have to wait. It is a shame, but it regularly happens in the very presence of God. The income disparities in India are also a problem. On the one hand you have nearly 400 million people with less than five dollars a day income and on the other you have a consumer market that wants to push products at the same prices for which they are sold in the western countries where the per capita income is in the range of $40,000 to $100,000.

5. Declining values

Hinduism places a lot of importance on righteousness (dharma) and morality. The theory of karma implies that if you engage in evil actions, you will suffer from the consequences. The Bhagavadgita is all about cultivating purity (sattva) and manifesting divine qualities. All the scriptures emphasize the importance of selfless living, so much so that even using the mind and body for selfish purposes is considered evil. If you examine Hindu society today, people mostly follow the evil qualities enumerated in the Bhagavadgita rather than the divine qualities. They live very selfishly and pay little attention to the problems of the poor and the backward castes.

How it will impact the future of Hinduism

Will Hinduism survive until the end of this century? Two likely outcomes are possible. Hinduism may become a dominant world religion as more people from different parts of the world becomes its ardent followers, or it may decline and end up like Buddhism as a religion with limited appeal. A lot depends upon how the world shapes up in future and how further inventions and innovation in the field of science and technology will have an impact on the world and the survival of the planet.
Those who are familiar with the history of Hinduism know that it has great tenacity and resilience. Hinduism and its sectarian traditions withstood many challenges in the past and may continue to do so. As civilization progresses, future generation of Hindus may stand up to the challenge and initiate several internal reforms and further consolidation of its tenets and practices, which may build up some rigidity in its doctrine and structure, but may make it stronger and resistant to external threats.
Alternatively, if they fail to save it, many things can happen. The following are the most likely scenarios if Hinduism loses its appeal or fails to adapt to the changing world.

1. Disintegration

If Hindus fail to uphold the core spiritual values of their faith and resort to rituals and superstitious practices, which constitute its lower knowledge (avidya), Hinduism will most likely weaken from within and in a hundred or years or so it may lose a sizable following. Certain sections of Hindus such as the upper castes and privileged groups may remain committed to it and patronize it while the rest may turn to atheism, communism, decadent lifestyles or other religions. If the economy fails to improve the lives of people, especially those who are poor and underprivileged, educated Hindus may continue to migrate from India to other places in search of better living conditions, eroding its strength further and contributing to its decline.

2. Localization

Due to the large-scale migration of Hindus, Hinduism may survive outside India in different parts of the world and gather strength. However, in the process it may develop further diversity and complexity as it adapts to the local conditions and develops distinct beliefs and practices that are specific to the region or the country. The process will be similar to what happened in case of Hindu communities in countries such as Fiji, Mauritius, Nepal, Bali and Cambodia. Those streams of Hinduism may contain its core values but may be different from the one which is currently practiced by the majority. The descendants of the migrant Hindus who grow up in distant lands, with little or no emotional connection to India, will have a different mindset and attitude towards their religion and may be influenced by the cultural trends and lifestyle choices of the countries in which they live, which will in turn affect their religious beliefs and practices.

3. Synthesis

Hindu gurus will continue to dominate Hinduism and contribute to its popularity both at home and abroad. They may build large personal empires with vast fortunes and exert great influence upon the progress of the religion and the community. At the same, they may also impart to it their own distinct brand identity. Going by the current trend, many Gurus may not even like to call their teachings Hinduism to avoid being discriminated against or prefer to incorporate teachings from diverse faiths to attract followers and patrons from other religions. Such strategies by the Gurus will weaken mainstream Hinduism and undermine its influence, while they may gain prominence and further influence as champions and messengers of their own version of spirituality.
It is important to remember that these scenarios emerge, if Hindus collectively fail to save their faith from disintegration from within and attacks from outside. Therefore, in these changing times, there is a huge responsibility on their part to prevent such possibilities and strengthen Hinduism so that it can march into future with greater strength, determination and following.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Freelance Vehicular Jihad

Halloween afternoon got off to an ugly start in New York City as a 29-year-old Muslim Uzbeki man named Sayfullo Saipov drove onto a pedestrian path in lower Manhattan, killing 8 people.

Then came the usual spin. Police sources initially stated that incident wasn’t terror related, but quickly backtracked after multiple eyewitnesses reportedt hat the suspect shouted “Allah Akbar” (God is greatest), the instantly recognizable battle cry of jihadists everywhere.

Notable vehicular jihad attacks have taken place (clockwise from top left) in Nice in July 2016, Berlin in December 2016, and London in March and June 2017.
Then, just a few hours after the attack, came assurances from New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, other officials, and most of the mainstream media that Saipov’s killing spree was a “lone wolf” attack – the go-to misnomer for anyone seeking to disconnect Islam from jihad attacks. This despite the fact that police had discovered a note from the assailant claiming ISIS affiliation and an ISIS flag, hadn’t had a chance to interrogate Saipov (in surgery for much of the afternoon) at any length, and presumably hadn’t investigated his activities before arriving in the US in 2010 on a “diversity visa.”

In fact, no jihadists have ever been true “lone wolves.” Scores of terrorists misidentified by law enforcement as lone wolves shortly after their attacks were later discovered to have significant links to ISIS, Al-Qaeda, or other jihad organizations. Often their social media and email accounts demonstrate that these lone wolves are not lone at all but in fact are part of a cyber pack, directed by jihad ideologues like Anwar al-Awlaki, whose sermons continue to recruit new members via the web years after he was killed by a CIA drone. Such attackers should more appropriately be labeled “freelance jihadists.”

So, what did this particular freelancer need? A rented Home Depot flatbed truck. Trucks are as easy to acquire today as they were when Ramzi Yousef’s cell bombed with World Trade Center in a rented Ryder truck from New Jersey. But Yousef was nowhere near the scene when the bomb went off in the North Tower on February 26, 1993. Vehicular jihad requires a driver, who rarely survives the attack, making it technically a form of suicidal terrorism.

Vehicular jihad seems to have originated in 2006 when Mohammed Reza Taheri-azar drove a rented Jeep into a crowd of students at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Jihad theorists soon recognized that even larger vehicles unleashed on even larger crowds could bring about mass casualties.

Capitalizing on the ease of acquiring vehicular killing machines through rental or theft, and of finding online guidance on technique and targets, freelancers have carried out high-profile vehicular jihad attacks in FranceGermanySwedenEngland, and Spain. And those are just the highlights. The Counter Extremism Project (CEP) documents “at least 34 vehicular terrorist attacks since 2006, collectively resulting in the deaths of at least 194 people and the injury of at least 1,049 others.”

Vehicular jihad has become an ISIS specialty. Issue 7 of Dabiq, an ISIS online magazine, calls for Muslims in the West to kill non-Muslims “whether with an explosive device, a bullet, a knife, a car, a rock, or even a boot or a fist.” Later exhortations to commit vehicular jihad became more explicit. One year ago, Issue 3 of Rumiya (another ISIS online magazine) contained a veritable seminar of vehicular jihad in a feature candidly titled “Just Terror Tactics.” It advised that the most effective weapons are large, load-bearing, heavyweight vehicles, with the rear axles bearing “Double-wheeled, giving victims less of a chance to escape being crushed by the vehicle’s tires.”

It’s a relatively simple and inexpensive way to kill, so more of it is likely. The question is, how to prevent it? Governmental reactive approaches to counterterrorism will lead to more jersey barriers and security bollards appearing around pedestrian areas. Knowing Andrew Cuomo, he’ll be calling for truck control.

But the best first step is to stop looking for lone wolves and start addressing the ideology that creates freelance jihadists. Calling them “cowardly” (as New York Mayor Bill de Blasio did) or “wolves” is no substitute for understanding their thought process and motivation.

By- A.J. Caschetta (Shillman-Ginsburg fellow at the Middle East Forum and a senior lecturer at the Rochester Institute of Technology.)

Monday, October 30, 2017

Swami Vivekananda – A Brief Life Sketch

Swami Vivekananda  (12 January 1863 – 4 July 1902), born Narendranath Dutta  was the chief disciple of the 19th century mystic Ramakrishna Paramahansaand the founder of the Ramakrishna Math and the Ramakrishna Mission. He is considered a key figure in the introduction of Hindu philosophies ofVedanta and Yoga to the “Western” World, mainly in America and Europe and is also credited with raising interfaith awareness, bringing Hinduismto the status of a major world religion during the end of the 19th century C.E.Vivekananda is considered to be a major force in the revival of Hinduism in modern India.[5] He is perhaps best known for his inspiring speech which began: “Sisters and Brothers of America,” through which he introduced Hinduism at the Parliament of the World’s Religions at Chicago in 1893.
Swami Vivekananda was born in an aristocratic Bengali kayastha family of Calcutta on January 12, 1863. Vivekananda’s parents influenced his thinking—his father by his rationality and his mother by her religious temperament. From his childhood, he showed an inclination towards spirituality and God realization. His guru, Ramakrishna, taught him Advaita Vedanta (non-dualism); that all religions are true and that service to man was the most effective worship of God. After the death of his Guru, Vivekananda became a wandering monk, touring the Indian subcontinent and acquiring first-hand knowledge of conditions in India. He later traveled to Chicago and represented India as a delegate in the 1893 Parliament of World Religions. He conducted hundreds of public and private lectures and classes, disseminating Vedanta and Yoga in America, England and Europe. He also established the Vedanta societies in America and England.
150th Birth Anniversary of Swami Vivekananda
Early days: Swami Vivekananda was born in 3, Shimla Pally, Calcutta (presently known as Kolkata) on 12 January 1863, Monday at 6:49 A.M.,during the Makara Sankrantifestival in a traditional Kayastha family,and was given the name Narendranath Dutta. His father Viswanath Dutta was an attorney ofCalcutta High Court. He was considered generous, and had a liberal and progressive outlook in social and religious matters. His mother Bhuvaneshwari Devi was pious and had practiced austerities and prayed to Vireshwar Shiva of Varanasi to give her a son. She reportedly had a dream in which Shiva rose from his meditation and said that he would be born as her son. Narendranath’s thinking and personality were influenced by his parents—the father by his rational mind and the mother by her religious temperament. From his mother he learnt the power of self-control. One of the sayings of his mother Narendranath quoted often in his later years was, “Remain pure all your life; guard your own honor and never transgress the honor of others. Be very tranquil, but when necessary, harden your heart.” He was reportedly adept in meditation and could reportedly enter the state of samadhi. He reportedly would see a light while falling asleep and he reportedly had a vision of Buddha during his meditation. During his childhood, he had a great fascination for wandering ascetics and monks.
Narendranath had varied interests and a wide range of scholarship in philosophy, religion, history, the social sciences, arts, literature, and other subjects.[18] He evinced much interest in the Hindu scriptures like theVedas, the Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita, the Ramayana, the Mahabharata and the Puranas. He was also well versed in classical music, both vocal and instrumental and is said to have undergone training under twoUstads, Beni Gupta and Ahamad Khan. Since boyhood, he took an active interest in physical exercise, sports, and other organizational activities.[18] Even when he was young, he questioned the validity of superstitious customs and discrimination based on caste and refused to accept anything without rational proof and pragmatic test. Narendranath started his education at home then he joined the Metropolitan Institution of Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar in 1871 When his father moved to Raipur in 1877 for 2 years then Narendranath along with the whole family shifted there. At that time there were no good schools in Raipur so he spent his time with his father and had discussions on spiritual topics. Narendranath learned Hindi in Raipur and for the first time the Question of existence of God came to his mind. It is believed that once he experienced an ecstasy during this period of life. The family returned to Calcutta in 1879 but it is believed that these 2 years were the turning point in his life. Raipur is sometimes termed as the “Spiritual Birthplace” of Swami Vivekananda.

College and Brahmo Samaj

In 1879 after his family moved back to Calcutta, he passed the entrance examination for Presidency College, Calcutta, entering it for a brief period and subsequently shifting to General Assembly’s Institution. During the course, he studied western logic, western philosophy and history of European nations. In 1881 he passed the Fine Arts examination and in 1884 he passed the Bachelor of Arts.
Narendranath is said to have studied the writings of David Hume, Immanuel Kant, Johann Gottlieb Fichte, Baruch Spinoza, Georg W. F. Hegel, Arthur Schopenhauer, Auguste Comte, Herbert Spencer,John Stuart Mill, and Charles Darwin.Narendra became fascinated with the Evolutionism of Herbert Spencer, and translated Spencer’s book on Education into Bengali for Gurudas Chattopadhyaya, his publisher. Narendra also had correspondence with Herbert Spencer for some time. Alongside his study of Western philosophers, he was thoroughly acquainted with Indian Sanskrit scriptures and many Bengali works. According to his professors, student Narendranath was a prodigy. Dr. William Hastie, the principal of Scottish Church College, where he studied during 1881-84, wrote, “Narendra is really a genius. I have travelled far and wide but I have never come across a lad of his talents and possibilities, even in German universities, among philosophical students.” He was regarded as a srutidhara—a man with prodigious memory. After a discussion with Narendranath, Dr. Mahendralal Sarkar reportedly said, “I could never have thought that such a young boy had read so much!”
Narendranath became the member of a Freemason’s lodge and the breakaway faction from the Brahmo Samaj led by Keshab Chandra Sen. His initial beliefs were shaped by Brahmo concepts, which include belief in a formless God and deprecation of the worship of idols. Not satisfied with his knowledge of Philosophy, he wondered if God and religion could be made a part of one’s growing experiences and deeply internalized. Narendra went about asking prominent residents of contemporary Calcutta whether they had come “face to face with God”. but could not get answers which satisfied him.
His first introduction to Ramakrishna occurred in a literature class in General Assembly’s Institution, when he heard Principal Reverend W. Hastie lecturing on William Wordsworth’s poem The Excursion and the poet’s nature-mysticism. In the course of explaining the word trance in the poem, Hastie told his students that if they wanted to know the real meaning of it, they should go to Ramakrishna of Dakshineswar. This prompted some of his students, including Narendranath to visit Ramakrishna.
Ramakrishna Paramahamsa
Narendranath’s meeting with Ramakrishna in November 1881 proved to be a turning point in his life. About this meeting, Narendranath said, “Ramakrishnalooked just like an ordinary man, with nothing remarkable about him. He used the most simple language and I thought “Can this man be a great teacher?”. I crept near to him and asked him the question which I had been asking others all my life: “Do you believe in God, Sir?” “Yes”, he replied. “Can you prove it, Sir?” “Yes”. “How?” “Because I see Him just as I see you here, only in a much intenser sense.” That impressed me at once. […] I began to go to that man, day after day, and I actually saw that religion could be given. One touch, one glance, can change a whole life.”[40][41] Even though Narendra did not accept Ramakrishna as his guru initially and revolted against his ideas, he was attracted by his personality and visited him frequently.[42] He initially looked upon Ramakrishna’s ecstasies and visions as, “mere figments of imagination”, “mere hallucinations”. As a member of Brahmo samaj, he revolted against idol worship and polytheism, and Ramakrishna’s worship of Kali.He even rejected the Advaitist Vedantism of identity with absolute as blasphemy and madness, and often made fun of the concept
Though at first Narendra could not accept Ramakrishna and his visions, he could not neglect him either. It had always been in Narendra’s nature to test something thoroughly before he would accept it. He tested Ramakrishna, who never asked Narendra to abandon reason, and faced all of Narendra’s arguments and examinations with patience—”Try to see the truth from all angles” was his reply. During the course of five years of his training under Ramakrishna, Narendra was transformed from a restless, puzzled, impatient youth to a mature man who was ready to renounce everything for the sake of God-realization. In time, Narendra accepted Ramakrishna as guru, and when he accepted, his acceptance was whole-hearted and with complete surrendering as disciple.
In 1885 Ramakrishna suffered from throat cancer and he was shifted to Calcutta and later to Cossipore. Vivekananda and his brother disciples took care of Ramakrishna during his final days. Vivekananda’s spiritual education under Ramakrishna continued there. At Cossipore, Vivekananda reportedly experiencedNirvikalpa Samadhi. During the last days of Ramakrishna, Vivekananda and some of the other disciples received the ochre monastic robes from Ramakrishna, which formed the first monastic order of Ramakrishna. Vivekananda was taught that service to men was the most effective worship of God. It is reported that when Vivekananda doubted Ramakrishna’s claim of avatar, Ramakrishna reportedly said, “He who was Rama, He who wasKrishna, He himself is now Ramakrishna in this body.” During his final days, Ramakrishna asked Vivekananda to take care of other monastic disciples and in turn asked them to look upon Vivekananda as their leader. Ramakrishna’s condition worsened gradually and he expired in the early morning hours of August 16, 1886 at the Cossipore garden house. According to his disciples, this was Mahasamadhi.
As a Sanyasi:
Later, In 1888, Vivekananda left the monastery as a Parivrâjaka—the Hindu religious life of a wandering monk, “without fixed abode, without ties, independent and strangers wherever they go.” His sole possessions were a kamandalu (water pot), staff, and his two favorite books—Bhagavad Gita and The Imitation of Christ. Narendranath travelled the length and breadth of India for five years, visiting important centers of learning, acquainting himself with the diverse religious traditions and different patterns of social life. He developed a sympathy for the suffering and poverty of the masses and resolved to uplift the nation. Living mainly on Bhiksha or alms, Narendranath traveled mostly on foot and railway tickets bought by his admirers whom he met during the travels. During these travels he gained acquaintance and stayed with scholars, Dewans, Rajas and people from all walks of life—Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Pariahs (low caste workers) and Government officials.
Northern India
In 1888, he started his journey from Varanasi. At Varanasi, he met pandit and Bengali writer, Bhudev Mukhopadhyay and Trailanga Swami, a famous saint who lived in a Shiva temple. Here, he also met Babu Pramadadas Mitra, the noted Sanskrit scholar, to whom the Swami wrote a number of letters asking his advice on the interpretation of the Hindu scriptures. After Varanasi he visited Ayodhya, Lucknow, Agra, Vrindavan, Hathras and Rishikesh. At Hathras he met Sharat Chandra Gupta, the station master who later became one of his earliest disciples as Sadananda. Between 1888-1890, he visited Vaidyanath, Allahabad. From Allahabad, he visited Ghazipur where he met Pavhari Baba, a Advaita Vedanta ascetic who spent most of his time in meditation. Between 1888-1890, he returned to Baranagore Math few times, because of ill health and to arrange for the financial funds when Balaram Bose and Suresh Chandra Mitra, the disciples of Ramakrishna who supported the Math had expired.
The Himalayas
In July 1890, accompanied by his brother monk, Swami Akhandananda, he continued his journey as a wandering monk and returned to the Math only after his visit to the West. He visited, Nainital, Almora, Srinagar, Dehradun, Rishikesh, Haridwar and the Himalayas. During this travel, he reportedly had a vision ofmacrocosm and microcosm, which seems to be reflected in the Jnana Yoga lectures he gave later in the West, “The CosmosThe Macrocosm and The Microcosm“. During these travels, he met his brother monks —Swami Brahmananda, Saradananda, Turiyananda, Akhandananda and Advaitananda. They stayed at Meerut for a few days where they passed their time in meditation, prayer and study of scriptures. At the end of January 1891, the Swami left his brother monks and journeyed to Delhi alone.
At Delhi, after visiting historical places he journeyed towards Alwar, in the historic land of Rajputana. Later he journeyed to Jaipur, where he studied Panini’sAshtadhyayi with a Sanskrit scholar. He next journeyed to Ajmer, where he visited the palace of Akbar and the famous Dargah and left for Mount Abu. At Mount Abu, he met the maharaja, Ajit Singh of Khetri, who became his ardent devotee and supporter. Swami Tathagatananda, a senior monk of the Ramakrishna Order, and the Head of Vedanta Society, New York wrote as follows :
At Khetri, he delivered discourses to the Raja, became acquainted with the pandit Ajjada Adibhatla Narayana Dasu, and studied Mahābhāṣya on sutras of Panini. After two and a half months there, towards the end of October 1891, he proceeded towards Rajasthan and Maharastra.[57][64]
Western India
Continuing his travels, he visited Ahmedabad, Wadhwan, Limbdi. At Ahmedabad he completed his studies of Muslim and Jain culture. At Limbdi, he met Thakore Sahed Jaswant Singh who had himself been to England and America. From the Thakore Saheb, the Swami first got the idea of going to the West to preach Vedanta. He later visited Junagadh, where he was the guest of Haridas Viharidas Desai, the Diwan of the State, who was so charmed with his company that every evening he, with all the State officials, used to meet the Swami and converse with him until late at night. From there he also visited Girnar, Kutch, Porbander, Dwaraka, Palitana, Nadiad where he stayed at Diwan Haridas Viharidas Desai’s house Nadiad ni haveli and Baroda. At Porbander he stayed three quarters of a year, in spite of his vow as a wandering monk, to perfect his philosophical and Sanskrit studies with learnedpandits; he worked with a court panditwho translated the Vedas.
He later traveled to Mahabaleshwar and then to Pune. From Pune he visited Khandwa and Indore around June 1892. At Kathiawar he heard of the Parliament of the World’s Religions and was urged by his followers there to attend it. He left Khandwa for Bombay and reached there on July 1892. In a Pune bound train he met Bal Gangadhar Tilak. After staying with Tilak for few days in Poona, the Swami travelled to Belgaum in October 1892. At Belgaum, he was the guest of Prof. G.S. Bhate and Sub-divisional Forest officer, Haripada Mitra. From Belgaum, he visited Panjim and Margao in Goa. He spent three days in the Rachol Seminary, the oldest convent-college of theology of Goa where rare religious literature in manuscripts and printed works in Latin are preserved. He reportedly studied important Christian theological works here. From Margao the Swami went by train to Dharwar, and from there directly to Bangalore, in Mysore State.
At Bangalore, the Swami became acquainted with Sir K. Seshadri Iyer, the Dewan of Mysore state, and later he stayed at the palace as guest of the Maharaja of Mysore, Chamaraja Wodeyar. Regarding the Swami’s learning, Sir Seshadri reportedly remarked, “a magnetic personality and a divine force which were destined to leave their mark on the history of his country.” The Maharaja provided the Swami a letter of introduction to the Dewan of Cochin and got him a railway ticket.
From Bangalore, he visited Trichur, Kodungalloor, Ernakulam. At Ernakulam, he met Chattampi Swamikal, contemporary of Narayana Guru in early December 1892. From Ernakulam, he journeyed to Trivandrum, Nagercoil and reached Kanyakumari on foot during the Christmas Eve of 1892. At Kanyakumari, the Swami reportedly meditated on the “last bit of Indian rock”, famously known later as the Vivekananda Rock Memorial, for three days. At Kanyakumari, Vivekananda had the “Vision of one India”, also commonly called “The Kanyakumari resolve of 1892″.
From Kanyakumari he visited Madurai, where he met the Raja of Ramnad, Bhaskara Setupati, to whom he had a letter of introduction. The Raja became the Swami’s disciple and urged him to go to the Parliament of Religions at Chicago. From Madurai, he visited Rameshwaram,Pondicherry, he travelled to Madras and here he met some his most devoted disciples, who played important roles in collecting funds for Swami’s voyage to America and later in establishing the Ramakrishna Mission in Madras. With the aid of funds collected by his Madras disciples and Rajas of Mysore, Ramnad, Khetri, Dewans and other followers Vivekananda left for Chicago on 31 May 1893 from Bombay assuming the name Vivekananda—the name suggested by the Maharaja of Khetri.
His journey to America took him through China, Canada and he arrived at Chicago in July 1893.[78] But to his disappointment he learnt that no one without credentials from a bona fide organization would be accepted as a delegate. He came in contact with Professor John Henry Wright of Harvard University.[79] After inviting him to speak at Harvard and on learning from him not having credentials to speak at the Parliament, Wright is quoted as having said, “To ask for your credentials is like asking the sun to state its right to shine in the heavens.” Wright then addressed a letter to the Chairman in charge of delegates writing, “Here is a man who is more learned than all of our learned professors put together.” On the Professor, Vivekananda himself writes “He urged upon me the necessity of going to the Parliament of Religions, which he thought would give an introduction to the nation.
Parliament of World Religions:
The Parliament of Religions opened on 11 September 1893 at the Art Institute of Chicago. On this day Vivekananda gave his first brief address. He represented India and Hinduism. Though initially nervous, he bowed to Saraswati, the goddess of learning and began his speech with, “Sisters and brothers of America!”. To these words he got a standing ovation from a crowd of seven thousand, which lasted for two minutes. When silence was restored he began his address. He greeted the youngest of the nations in the name of “the most ancient order of monks in the world, the Vedic order of sannyasins, a religion which has taught the world both tolerance and universal acceptance.” And he quoted two illustrative passages in this relation, from the Bhagavad Gita—”As the different streams having their sources in different places all mingle their water in the sea, so, O Lord, the different paths which men take, through different tendencies, various though they appear, crooked or straight, all lead to Thee!” and “Whosoever comes to Me, through whatsoever form, I reach him; all men are struggling through paths that in the end lead to Me.”[83] Despite being a short speech, it voiced the spirit of the Parliament and its sense of universality.[83][84]
Dr. Barrows, the president of the Parliament said, “India, the Mother of religions was represented by Swami Vivekananda, the Orange-monk who exercised the most wonderful influence over his auditors.” He attracted widespread attention in the press, which dubbed him as the “Cyclonic monk from India”. The New York Critique wrote, “He is an orator by divine right, and his strong, intelligent face in its picturesque setting of yellow and orange was hardly less interesting than those earnest words, and the rich, rhythmical utterance he gave them.” The New York Heraldwrote, “Vivekananda is undoubtedly the greatest figure in the Parliament of Religions. After hearing him we feel how foolish it is to sendmissionaries to this learned nation.” The American newspapers reported Swami Vivekananda as “the greatest figure in the parliament of religions” and “the most popular and influential man in the parliament”.
He spoke several more times at the Parliament on topics related to Hinduism and Buddhism. The parliament ended on 27 September 1893. All his speeches at the Parliament had one common theme—Universality—and stressed religious tolerance.

Back in India (1897-1899)

Colombo to Almora

Vivekananda arrived in Colombo on January 15, 1897 and received an ecstatic welcome. Here, he gave his first public speech in East, India, the Holy Land. From there on, his journey to Calcutta was a triumphal progress. He traveled from Colombo to Pamban, Rameshwaram, Ramnad, Madurai, Kumbakonam andMadras delivering lectures. People and Rajas gave him enthusiastic reception. In the procession at Pamban, the Raja of Ramnad personally drew the Swami’s carriage. On way to Madras, at several places where the train would not stop, the people squatted on the rails and allowed the train to pass only after hearing the Swami. From Madras, he continued his journey to Calcutta and continued his lectures up to Almora.While in the West he talked of India’s great spiritual heritage, on return to India the refrain of his ‘Lectures from Colombo to Almora’ was uplift of the masses, eradication of the caste virus, promotion of the study of science, industrialization of the country, removal of poverty, the end of the colonial rule.These lectures have been published as Lectures from Colombo to Almora. These lectures are considered to be of nationalistic fervor and spiritual ideology. His speeches had tremendous influence on the Indian leaders, including Mahatma Gandhi, Bipin Chandra Pal and Balgangadhar Tilak.
On 1 May 1897 at Calcutta, Vivekananda founded the Ramakrishna Mission—the organ for social service. The ideals of the Ramakrishna Mission are based on Karma Yoga. Its governing body consists of the trustees of the Ramakrishna Math- the organ to carry out religious works. Due to the close association between the two, both have their headquarters at Belur, near Calcutta. This was the beginning of an organized social and religious movement to help the masses through educational, cultural, medical and relief work.
Two other monasteries were founded by him- one at Mayavati on the Himalayas, near Almora called the Advaita Ashrama and another at Madras. Two journals were also started, Prabuddha Bharata in English and Udbhodan in Bengali.The same year, the famine relief work was started by Swami Akhandananda at Murshidabad district.
Vivekananda had inspired Sir Jamshedji Tata to set up a research and educational institution when they had travelled together from Yokohama to Chicagoon the Swami’s first visit to the West in 1893. About this time the Swami received a letter from Tata, requesting him to head the Research Institute of Science that Tata had set up. But Vivekananda declined the offer saying that it conflicted with his spiritual interests.
Vivekananda once again left for the West in June 1899, amid his declining health. He was accompanied by Sister Nivedita and Swami Turiyananda. He spent a short time in England, and went on to America. During this visit, he founded the Vedanta societies at San Francisco and New York. He also founded “Shanti Ashrama” (peace retreat) at California, with the aid of a generous 160-acre (0.65 km2) gift from an American devotee. Later he attended the Congress of Religions, in Paris in 1900. The Paris addresses are memorable for the scholarly penetration evinced by Vivekananda related to worship of Linga and authenticity of the Gita. From Paris he paid short visits to Brittany, Vienna, Istanbul, Athens and Egypt. For the greater part of this period, he was the guest of Jules Bois, the famous thinker. He left Paris on October 24, 1900, and arrived at the Belur Math on December 9, 1900.
Vivekananda spent few of his days at Advaita Ashrama, Mayavati and later at the Belur Math. Henceforth till the end he stayed at Belur Math, guiding the work of Ramakrishna Mission and Math and the work in England and America. Thousands of visitors came to him during these years including The Maharaja of Gwalior and in December 1901, the stalwarts of Indian National Congress including Lokamanya Tilak. In December 1901, he was invited to Japan to participate in the Congress of Religions, however his failing health made it impossible. He undertook pilgrimages to Bodhgaya and Varanasi towards his final days.


His tours, hectic lecturing engagements, private discussions and correspondence had taken their toll on his health. He was suffering from asthma, diabetesand other physical ailments. A few days prior to his demise, he was seen intently studying the almanac. Three days before his death he pointed out the spot for this cremation—the one at which a temple in his memory stands today. He had remarked to several persons that he would not live to be forty.[120]
On the day of his death, he taught Shukla-Yajur-Veda to some pupils in the morning at Belur Math.[121] He had a walk with Swami Premananda, a brother-disciple, and gave him instructions concerning the future of the Ramakrishna Math.
Vivekananda died at ten minutes past nine P.M. on July 4, 1902 while he was meditating. According to his disciples, this was Mahasamadhi. Afterward, his disciples recorded that they had noticed “a little blood” in the Swami’s nostrils, about his mouth and in his eyes. The doctors remarked that it was due to the rupture of a blood-vessel in the brain, but they could not find the real cause of the death. According to his disciples, Brahmarandhra — the aperture in the crown of the head — must have been pierced when he attained Mahasamadhi. Vivekananda had fulfilled his own prophecy of not living to be forty years old
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