Story Of Swami Vivekananda’s Little Known First Speech In US, Before His Well Known Speech In Chicago

by PTI - Apr 3, 2022 11:14 AM +05:30 IST
Story Of Swami Vivekananda’s Little Known First Speech In US, Before His Well Known Speech In ChicagoSwami Vivekananda

Annisquam (Massachusetts), Apr 3 (PTI) Nothing much is known about the content and context of Swami Vivekananda’s first speech in the United States, which was about a fortnight before his historic Chicago address in September 1893, but the residents of this quiet seacoast village about 65 kilometers north of Boston, to this day remember him as a Hindu monk whose wisdom and intelligence exceeded that of a Harvard professor.

“I think the impression that he (Swami Vivekananda) left was that here is someone from a culture so different; from a religion so different and yet his wisdom, his intelligence, exceeded even the wisdom intelligence that they thought was here… of the Harvard,” Rev. Sue Koehler-Arsenault, Pastor of the historic Annisquam Village Church, told PTI in an interview.

Rev Koehler-Arsenault is now the Pastor of the historic Annisquam Village Church, where Swami Vivekananda delivered his first speech on American soil on August 27, 1893.

The lectern, from where Swami Vivekananda addressed the jam-packed church on a Sunday in August 1893, is probably the only thing left of the historic day, but his speech continues to resonate in this village and the residents feel that they are part of history.

While the text or content of his speech at this church is not available or has been lost with the tide of history, the pastor observed that it is believed that Swami Vivekananda here spoke about India’s cultural diversity and about the country and his speech at this church was not about Hinduism, which was the theme of his historic speech at the World Parliament of Religion in Chicago on September 11, 1893.

“My understanding is that he was really just trying to paint a picture of India, of the culture and traditions of India, not so much did he speak about religion here; but just about the way of life,” she said responding to a question.

“My understanding is that his talk here was less about Hinduism and, … he wasn't giving a religious speech in so far as he wasn't trying to, address the finer points of Hinduism or of his spiritual worldview, but more about the culture and the practices of the people,” she said.

According to Koehler-Arsenault, Swami Vivekananda came to this village at the invitation of a Harvard professor, with whom the Indian monk struck an instant friendship during a train ride in Boston.

The Harvard professor – Prof John Henry Wright -- had a summer home in this village, like several of his colleagues at the prestigious Harvard University.

During their conversation, Prof Wright figured out that Swami Vivekananda did not have enough resources to get him from Boston to Chicago to address the World Parliament of Religion.

So, the Harvard professor invited him to Annisquam so that he could address the villagers and the occasion could be used to raise funds for his Chicago trip.

“I wish I had answers to,” she said when asked how many people attended that Church meeting addressed by Swami Vivekananda and how much money was raised.

“But the fact that he came back, says to me, it must have been successful. Because I don't think he would've come back, you know, had he not felt supported and had he not been able to achieve his goals here,” said Rev. Sue Koehler-Arsenault. Swami Vivekananda returned to this village a year later, when he stayed for about two weeks in 1894.

A month after his famous speech in Chicago, Swami Vivekananda wrote to the Harvard Professor and addressed him as “Dear Adhyapakji”.

As per a copy of the letter now in possession of the Annisquam Historical Society, Swami Vivekananda first regretted to Prof Wright not having written to him earlier as his Chicago address kept him busy.

“In the first place I dropped in on the Congress in the eleventh hour and (was) quite unprepared and that kept me very, very busy for some time. Secondly, I was speaking almost every day in the Congress and had no time to write, and lastly and greatest of all, my kind friend, I owe so much to you that it wou1d have been an insult to your Ahetuka (unselfish friendship) to have written you business-like letters in a hurry,” Swami Vivekananda wrote to Professor Wright.

“The Congress is now over, and Dear Brother I was so afraid to stand before that great assembly of fine speakers and thinkers from all over the world and speak, but the Lord gave me strength and I almost every day heroically faced the platform and the audience,” he wrote.

“If I have miserably failed- I knew that beforehand for I am hopelessly ignorant. Your friend Professor Bradley was very kind to me, and he always cheered me on and on! Everybody is so kind here to me, there is nothing that is beyond my power of expression. Glory unto Him in the highest; in whose sight the poor ignorant monk from India is the same as the learned divine of this mighty land,” Swami Vivekananda wrote.

Peg Koller from the Annisquam Historical Society said that there is no record of what Swami Vivekananda spoke at the church. “Sadly, there is not a copy of Swami Vivekananda's 1893 speech in the Annisquam Village Church,” she told PTI.

According to the pastor, it is her understanding that Swami Vivekananda arrived at the village by a train from Boston. Over the years, the Church has maintained a relationship with the Vedanta Society.

The church attracts quite a number of visitors every month. Once a year, the Indian American community gathers at the Church to celebrate the first speech of Swami Vivekananda here.

The two houses where the Indian monks stayed during his trip to the village are still there.

“We are just happy to have a relationship … We are so enriched by having conversation and exchange with Hindus, with members here of the Vedanta Society, that it is a gift to us to be able to continue the legacy. It is important to us to continue the legacy. We feel very fortunate that this is where he came,” Rev. Sue Koehler-Arsenault said.

(This story has been published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text. Only the headline has been changed.)

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