It may be of considerable interest in these days of national awakening to consider in brief the theory of nationalism propounded by Swami Vivekananda, one of the greatest of India’s national leaders in modern times. Under the state of affairs obtaining at present in our country, We are accustomed to equate a national leader with a leader of a political party or With one who has distinguished himself by lighting the Government and by courting jail and sufferings of Various kinds. Swami Vivekananda was not, however, the leader of any political party, nor had he led any political agitation.
Yet in the evolution of Indian nationalism Swami Vivekananda occupies a very important place. For the occasion when the Swami appeared before the Indian public for the first time when anything like national enthusiasm manifested itself in considerable volume in India ever since she had lost her political freedom a century back. In all the big cities that the Swami Visited after his return from the West, crowds, unprecedented in the histories of these cities, gathered to listen to the Swami’s addresses.
At the present day we are accustomed to mammoth meetings held in open air in connection with the visits of well-known political leaders ; but in those days such things were unknown, and except for some important Government functions and for religious festivals, any gathering that could be called huge was practically very rare in India. That the Swami could for the first time evoke an enthusiasm of such a magnitude without the help of any all-India organisation or planned propaganda, shows positively that there was in the personality and message of the Swami something that had a startling appeal to the conscience of India.
There was no doubt a strong religious strain in this appeal, but there was something more in it. Very large sections of people who were attracted to the meetings that the Swami addressed were not perhaps much interested in the philosophical doctrines expounded by him, but they felt that he stood for something of much wider interest than abstract philosophies.
If we would enquire into what this wider interest was, we would be led to the spirit of nationalism that the Swami represented. Before the Swami’s time many an Indian had gone to the West ; but all of them had gone there to learn, to admire everything that was of the West, and to come back and tell their countrymen that they were a worthless lot and that their only hope lay in following the footsteps of the West.
Our educated men, who had been educated into this state of mind, watched with wonder the fortunes of this strange young monk in the West, and were surprised to see how he contradicted ail their preconceived notions by his example. For he went to the West not to learn but to teach, and his teachings were listened to with respect by large numbers of cultured men belonging to that very race which dominated India politically and whose cultural domination too educated India was gradually learning to accept.
In the very centres of Western civilisation they found him declaring quite fearlessly, and with the conviction of a prophet, how India had plenty to teach the West, and how India alone, of all nations in the World, could do this particular work. It was in fact this bold stand that the Swami took, the courage with which he declared a truth which no one till his time was bold enough to declare, that created a stir wherever he went, and reused the sleeping Indian nation to a state of self-consciousness once more. And it is on the basis of this – his re-assertion of India’s cultural self-respect – that the claim of Swami Vivekananda to be one of the greatest national leaders of modern India rests.
Extracts from Vedanta Kesari, an English monthly of the Ramakrishna Order, published from Sri Ramakrishna Math, Chennai.