First Reception of Swami Vivekananda in Madras
That was 7 February 1897. This day had been appointed for the Swami to receive the main Madras address of welcome. About 4 p.m. he set out from Castle Kernan. It was a day of high expectations for everyone. Over ten thousand people had assembled in and around the Victoria Hall. The scene in front of it, and along the roads and by-ways leading to it, defied description. The carriage taking the Swami and his party could scarcely pass; so dense was the crowd. As they alighted, there were loud cries of “Open-air meeting” from the vast throng that had assembled. The arrangement was that the address would he presented in the hall. This, of course, was filled to capacity.
With great difficulty the Swami made his way to the platform. Sir Bhashyam Iyengar was already in the chair; and the Swami took the seat by his side. Among those present were the Hon’ble Justice Subrahmanya Iyer, the Hon’ble Subba Rao Puntulu, the Hon’ble P. Rajarathna Moodeliar, Col. H. S. Olcott, Parthasarathy Iyengar, and others. Addresses were presented to the Swami by the Vivekananda Reception Committee, the Vaidika Vidvat Katha Prasanga Sabha, the Raja of Khetri, and the Madras Social Reform Association. The Reception Committee’s address was read by M. O. Parthasarathy Iyengar.
Meanwhile, loud and continuous shouts of “Open-air meeting” from outside interrupted the proceedings within. The Swami’s heart was touched; he felt that he could not disappoint the countless, eager young men assembled outside. He suddenly burst out, saying, “I am a man of the people. They are all outside. I must go and meet them”, and rushed from the hall. As soon as he appeared outside, thundering applause broke forth. Then there was a regular stampede. Since no arrangements had been made for him to address the people in the open air, he got on a landau and tried to speak from that. The noise was so deafening that he could not make himself heard. So he climbed into the coachman’s seat, and spoke “in Gita fashion”, as he put it. He had in mind, of course, Shri Krishna’s delivering his message in a chariot ages before.
“Man proposes and God disposes”, he began. “It was arranged that I should address you in occidental fashion; but it was ordained by the Lord that I should address you in Gita-fashion, standing in a chariot.” Each nation, he said, has one particular groove which is its own. For India, that is religion. India has taken the side of renunciation; for without renunciation how can there be religion? The rest of the world has taken the side of enjoyment. Which side is to survive? The melting away of the nations that had enjoyment as their
ideal, and the survival of India with renunciation and love as her ideals, show that India has been right. He went on to tell his hearers that he was intensely pleased with their enthusiasm: only let them “keep it up”; let them give him all the help he required, “to do great things for India”.
At this stage the, crowd became so unmanageable that the Swami could not make himself heard. He finally said, “You have seen me today: you will hear me some other day.” And it was true that, though there was disappointment at the sudden termination of the meeting, those who had come had had the satisfaction of having seen the Swami.