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Chicago pays tributes to Swami Vivekananda on his 150th birth anniversary

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By J.V. Lakshmana Rao

Chicago: Hundreds of residents of Chicago, its suburbs and neighborhood states gathered at the picturesque Hindu Temple of Greater Chicago (HTGC) complex perched on a hill in Lemont for two days —  January 12 and 13 — to pay their tributes to Swami Vivekananda, the 19th century Hindu monk, who brought Hinduism to the West, to mark his 150th birth anniversary.

The nearby Sri Ramakrishna Universal Temple located on a wooded serene campus in Homer Glen also celebrated the occasion with Shiva nama Sankirtanam on January 12.

At the Hindu Temple of Greater Chicago, the celebrations began in the Samarathi Auditorium on January 12 with a day-long East West Yoga Conference that consisted of workshops on Raja Yoga, Vedanta and Ayur Yoga, followed by group participation in Jnana Yoga, Karma Yoga, Dhyana Yoga and Bhakthi Yoga, and a discourse by Swami Jyotirmayananda  on “Vivekananda as Rama Bhakta and proponent of Vedanta.” The group Yoga Asana demonstrations were held under the guidance of yoga teacher Prasad Palicharla.

On January 13, which was also the Makara Sankranti day, the program began with a poorna kumbha reception to Swami Chidananda of Sri Ramakrishna Universal Temple of Vivekananda Vedanta Society, at the Ganesh temple of the HTGC complex. A procession led by Swami Chidananda and followed by Swami Jyotirmayananda, Tilak Marwaha, president of HTGC, Bhima Reddy, vice president of HTGC, Amrish Mahajan, chairperson of Vivekananda Spiritual Center, and a host of devotees moved to the larger-than-life size bronze statue of Swami Vivekananda. While Tilak Marwaha garlanded the imposing statue, the devotees paid their obeisance to Swami Vivekananda. Then the procession moved to Vivekananda Spiritual Center where there was a brief kirtana singing session.

The main program — Remembering Swami Vivekananda — started at the Samarathi Auditorium with temple priests’ invocative chants of mantras. Minnu Purushotam and party sonorously rendered Bhajans.

Amrish Mahajan as emcee welcomed Consul General Mukta Dutta Tomar, Swami Chidananda, Swami Jyotirmayananda  and others on to the stage to inaugurate the program with the lighting of a traditional oil lamp.

Welcoming the gathering, Tilak Marwaha said that HTGC, with a membership of 2,000 families, was a center of worship, having abodes for Lord Sri Rama, and other deities.  “It is an honor to  have the tallest statue of Swami Vivekananda and Vivekananda Spiritual Center on the HTGC campus,” he added.

Giving details of the difficult circumstances that he and his team had undergone in firming up then existing weak foundation of the Viveka-nanda statue, constructing a beautiful canopy for it,  and building the Vivekananda Spiritual Center, Bhima Reddy  expressed his happiness over diligently bringing down the cost and completing the construction of the projects within the targeted timeframe.  He specially thanked the Bisla family for its  substantial financial support, which enabled the temple to initiate and complete the Vivekananda Spiritual Center project.  He said: “Now we plan to have a beautiful garden around the Vivekananda Spiritual Center to give its surrounding a serene look.”

Describing Chicago was truly a remarkable city, which had a special place in the hearts of all Indians, Mukta Dutta Tomar reminded the audience of the extraordinary speech by Swami Vivekananda at the World’s Parliament of Religions in 1893.  She also mentioned about the various landmarks created in Chicago in his honor and memory like placing a plaque in the Art Institute of Chicago, naming of an important stretch of Michigan Avenue as Vivekananda Way and a proposal to set up Swami Vivekananda Project for Museum Excellence. She said the University of Chicago was in the process of establishing  the Swami Vevekananda Chair, a gift from India’s Ministry of Culture.

The Consul General said: “We sincerely hope that this Chair will promote an ongoing study of the cultures and way of life of the peoples of these two great democracies, so that our two countries understand each other better and come closer together. This permanent endowment will help spread the message of harmony of religions, understanding between nations and the spiritual oneness of humanity, which Swami Vivekananda worked for.”

Perhaps as a reminder to hotly discussed topic of women’s travails in contemporary India, Mukta Dutta Tomar  spoke at length about their empowerment, and  said Swami Vivekananda’s views on women in society was based on the Vedanta philosophy. Swamiji believed in equality of men and women. He was highly sympathetic towards the oppressed position of Indian women and insisted on their regeneration, and argued for gender equality. His theory towards that equality was of gender interdependence so that both genders could live peacefully in society.

She said that to Vivekananda, women were living images of Shakti – the Divine Mother. He said that mother was the first manifestation of power and was considered a higher ideal than father.  Swamiji found education as the way to solve all problems of women and thereby emancipate them.

The Consul General concluded by saying: “I do believe that we need to commemorate the teachings and wisdom of Swami Vivekananda, and make them universal.  That will be the greatest tribute we can pay to Swami Vivekananda.”

Stating that Vivekananda Vedanta Society contributed $35,000 for the erection of the Statue in the HTGC complex, Swami Chidananda said that from the childhood, Swami Vivekananda was full of love and compassion for the less fortunate people.  Swami Vivekananda, as a young boy,  used to give away his clothes to Sadhus and poor children, and his mother’s saris to poor women. Calling Jeeva Seva is Shiva Seva, Swami Viveka- nanda always helped the people in distress.

Stating that by sitting in meditation on the Divine, one could improve one’s will-power and self-confidence, Swami Chidananda said: “Swami Vivekananda believed that  concentration is power and fear debilitates one’s faculties. He also believed in reasoning, logic and one’s confidence in one’s self. He called on people not to believe anything without logic and reasoning.  Therefore, Swami Vivekananda always called for strengthening one’s self-confidence and will-power.”  Here Swami Chidananda  narrated  a couple of anecdotes about Swami Vivekananda, who  successfully faced a cobra and a tiger separately on different occasions  without being harmed by them.

Swami Chidananda said that the Vedanta, which was the message of Upanishads, integrated all people, and Swami Vivekananda conquered American people with his simple but forceful speech — addressing the gathering as “Sisters and brothers of America.” Swami Vivekananda said that it was a sin to call a man a sinner. “Atma is sacred and immortal. We are all part of that universal soul. Different paths take us to Thee. Religions must integrate all people. Spirituality is important.  Purity, patience and perseverance are important. This is the essence of the Vedanta.  This is the message of Swami Vivekananda,” concluded Swami Chidananda.

With the help of a PowerPoint presentation, Dr. Cindy Visscher, who is on the faculty at Western Michigan University in the Comparative Religion Department, and Dr. Indra Makhija, a Vivekananda scholar, who is a regular speaker at Vivekananda Spiritual Center, showed with examples   how Western views could agree with Eastern views of Vedanta with reference to teachings of Swami Vivekananda.

Swami Jyotirmayananda, author and publisher of Vivekananda – His Gospel of Man-making,” said that Swami Vivekananda, who was initiated into the Vedanta philosophy by Sri Ramakrishna,  was a great devotee of Lord Sri Rama. “This little known fact must be told to all because, I am speaking from the podium of Sri Rama Temple,” he added.

Swami Jyotirmayananda said: “Rama mantra — ‘Om Sri Rama, Jaya Rama, Jaya Jaya Rama’ —  has great significance. Om means unmanifest, Sri means power or dynamism and Rama is manifestation of whatever is cognizable to five senses and whatever is comprehensible to mind.  Rama is not an individual.  Rama is Cosmic Truth.  Man cannot live without God like lamp does not burn without oil. Chanting of name of God is the easiest way to realize God.  Call Him Rama or with any other name.  Behind all forms, the Divine is one. Surrender to that Divine or God.  In you do so, you will not find fault with anyone; your mind becomes free from all thoughts.”

With  a special reference to the youth, Swami Jyotirmayananda said that Swami Vivekananda always said that the youth was his hope. Swami Vivekananda wanted the youth to usher in a new era of peace and stability, mutual respect and not mere tolerance, and harmony in the community. “Man-making was the mission of  Swami Vivekananda. Ultimate reality is Truth and world is one family. Mutual respect and universal acceptance were the central themes of his message. His message is relevant even  today.  His spirit is still alive today. He was a bridge between the East and West,” Swami Jyotirmayananda concluded.

A Bhajan group of  Sacred Waters Center from South Bend, Indiana, composed of Western singers and musicians presented devotionally inspiring Bhajans invoking blessings of  “Jai Ganesha”  and “Shiva.”

Amrish Mahajan, as emcee,  intermittently narrated interesting anecdotes from the life of Swami Vivekananda and also the history of HTGC complex.

A short movie on life and message of Swami Vivekananda was screened. Earlier on January 12, it was screened at the Art Institute of Chicago as part of the 150th birth anniversary of Swami Vivekananda.