SWAMI VIVEKANANDA IN KASHMIR
In 1897, Swami Vivekananda was at the peak of his activities. It is definitely impossible for 10 human beings put together to do all that he accomplished during that time. He had just arrived from the USA. He had been received with tremendous enthusiasm. Whether day or night, not caring for his rest or health, people talked and talked to him. Visits, travel in the public transports of those days, long lectures without microphone [which meant almost shouting for two hours], starting the Prabuddha Bharata in the cold Himalayas by literally putting there a printing press, founding the Ramakrishna Mission….not one or ten but hundreds of activities.
At the same time, he travelled. He went to the northern parts of India. His visit to Kashmir makes an interesting reading. During those days, his health was not at all good. Overwork, continuous talking, no proper diet, all told on his health.
Swami Vivekananda reached Bareilly on 9 August 1897. He was not well, had high fever. Yet his work for the world continued. A reception committee waited for him at the train station. He was asked to speak. Then he was taken to a guest house where there were constant meetings. In Bareilly Swami Vivekananda remained four days and, though ill all the time, did much religious discoursing. On the 10th morning, he visited the Arya Samaj Orphanage. The next day, he conversed with a gathering of students on the need of a students’ society that would carry into effect his ideas on practical Vedanta and would work for others. As a result, such a society was formed then and there.
That day, after the midday meal, the Swami told Swami Achyutananda, a monk of the Arya Samaj, that he (Vivekananda) would live only five or six years more. This prophecy, though not taken seriously at the time, came true, for he left his body five years later, on July 4, 1902.
On the morning of August 12 he held religious discussions, although he was unwell. His fever increased after taking food at midday, but towards evening he felt better. He again discoursed on religion to visitors. That night he left by train for Ambala Cantonment, which was reached early next morning At the station he was received by a large number of people, and taken in a horse-carriage to a bungalow that had been arranged for his stay. Here he met Mr. and Mrs. Sevier. They had been at Simla for some three months, following their stay with the Swami at Darjeeling. At Ambala he had religious talks daily at all hours with many people of different creeds — Muslim, Brahmo, Arya Samajist, and Hindu — on scriptural and other matters. On the morning of the 16th, at the request of a professor of the Lahore College who wanted a record of the Swami’s voice, he gave a short lecture into a phonograph.
From there, he visited Amritsar, Rawalpindi, Murree, one after another… Everywhere people, talks, lectures, discussions, visits to schools, etc. Caring the least for his health, Swamiji continued his work. Thus, in October 1897, he visited Kashmir.
On the night of October 20 the Swami was off again, this time to Jammu in response to an invitation from the Maharaja of Kashmir. He reached Jammu next day at noon, was received officially at the station, and was informed that he was a guest of the State. That evening he visited the Maharaja’s library, and on the following day had a long talk with Babu Maheshchandra Bhattacharya, a State officer, on the subject of establishing a monastery somewhere in Kashmir.
With the King of Kashmir
On the 22 October, Swami had a long interview with the Maharaja of Kashmir, Pratap Singh. Two of the Maharaja’s brothers and some principal officers of the State were also present. In the course of the conversation, Swami Vivekananda stressed the foolishness of adhering to meaningless customs and outward observances. He traced the nation’s servitude of the last seven hundred years to this slavery to meaningless customs and to misconceiving the true religious ideals. As Swamiji always said, “Religion has entered the cooking pot.” How many times to wash the hand before touching a spoon, how many times to do this and that. This was all was thought to be Hindu dharma.
Swamiji told Raja Pratap Singh: ‘By committing what is real sin, such as adultery and so, forth, one is not outcasted these days. However, all sin, all offence against society, relates to food only!”
There were countless stupid and ignorant Hindus, who thought superstition and ignorance was all that dharma meant. So they would speak ill of travelling out of India, of “kalapani” etc. The Swami then defended his sea voyage with his usual vigour, and pointed out that without travelling in foreign countries real education was not gained. Finally he dwelt on the importance of preaching Vedanta in Europe and America, and spoke of his own mission and plan of work in India. He concluded: “I deem it a great good fortune if, by doing good to my country, I have to go to hell!”
The Maharaja and others were highly pleased with the interview, which lasted for nearly four hours.
Later in the day the Swami paid a visit to the junior Raja, Raja Hari Singh, who received him with similar honour.
On the next day he gave a public lecture. It pleased the Maharaja so much that he was asked to give another the next day. Further, the desire was expressed that he remain at least ten or twelve days and address meetings every other day. On the 24th he was taken round the municipal power-station. This was the pride of Kashmir of those days. He also had discussions on spiritual subjects. In these he referred to the Arya Samaj, pointing out its shortcomings to Swami Achyutananda, the Arya Samaj monk, in a friendly spirit. He deplored the backwardness of the Punjabis in knowledge. That afternoon, as desired by the Maharaja, he lectured to a large audience. For two hours he spoke on the scriptures from the Vedas to the Puranas, and then on the way of devotion. He paid a visit to the library, and that evening saw the illumination of the city, it being the night of the Diwali festival. The next three days were devoted mostly to receiving visitors. In talks with them he gave out many profound ideas relating to dharma and social ethics. During this tour the Swami spoke and lectured mostly in Hindi. The power and life that he put into the Hindi language was so extraordinary that the Maharaja of Kashmir requested him to write a few papers in that language. On October 29 the Swami paid a final visit to the Maharaja and informed him of his proposed departure for Sialkot (now in Pakistan), from where a deputation had come on October 23 with a pressing invitation. The Maharaja bade farewell to the Swami with regret, requesting him to be his guest whenever he visited Jammu or Kashmir.