Chicago: August is month dedicated to Forgotten Indian Patriot Shree Virchand Raghavji Gandhi (VRG - August 25, 1864 – August 7, 1901), who captivated 1893s’ first ever world religion of parliament organized in Chicago.
As for all Indians, August 15, happens to be a day dedicated to Indian Patriots, August also happens to be the birth and death month of Gujarat’s legend Virchand Raghavji Gandhi.
When people speak about Hindu philosophy one eminent name emerges in front of them, that is of Swami Viveka-nanda and everyone knows that Swami Vivekananda received his recognition primarily for his speech in the first-ever World Parliament of Religions in 1893, where he represented Hinduism. But people hardly know that one more Indian legend at the same event boldly expressed his patriotism by defending Indian culture and Hinduism and represented Jainism — he was Virchand Raghavji Gandhi. His captivating speech was appreciated.
A true patriot is someone, who feels or voices expressions of patriotism, love, and devotion to one’s country. VRG displayed his patriotism, love and devotion for mother India and its spiritual heritage. His speech echoed the true spirit and culture of India. He received equal attention, as did Swami Vivekananda. Hence it is pain-ful that today many do not know about this legend, who was contemporary to Mahatma Gandhi and Swami Vivekananda. Bhagubhai Kar-bhari, a renowned scholar, who was editor of Prajabandhu, Patriot and Samlochak newspapers, wrote in 1910 that Virchand Gandhi was felicitated with a silver medal at the parliament. VRG delivered 535 lectures mainly in Chicago, Boston, New York, and Washington DC, in the USA, England, France, Germany and other European countries and was nationally and internationally felicitated with many medals. His captivating speeches were on the fundamentals of Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Indian culture. He also spoke on a plethora of subjects like Indian international trade system, Indian economic and industrial outlook, real estate, ancient history of Indian civilization, science of eating, yoga, concentration, hypnotism, astral vision and astral body, occultism and vegetarianism.
He may be truly called as father of USA’s NRI Gujaratis, who was first Gujarati to visit the USA when he was just 29 and died at the early age of 37 due to lung hemorrhage. But in short life span, so-called lion of the season, VRG’s immense success was covered by the following list of leading US newspapers, and periodicals like New York Times, St. Joseph Gazette, The Jamestown New York, Editors Bureau, Chicago Daily Sun, Chicago Herald, Chicago Suburban Star, Light of Truth, Cincinnati, Buffalo Times, The Illustrated Buffalo Express, Morning Star, Buffalo Evening Times, Buffalo Express, Buffalo Courier, The Evangelist, Evening Post, Rochester Democrat Chronicle, and The Rochester Herald.
At all the places he was well listened, felicitated and presented with medals. He knew 14 languages and was great scholar in teachings of all world religions and was first in world to translate Unknown Life of Jesus Christ from French to English, a manuscript found from Tibet. VRG was only son of Mahuva’s (Gujarat) business tycoon Raghavji Tejpalji Gandhi. Virchand Gandhi was a visionary too. He talked about economic and political freedom five decades before India became independent. In one of his speeches to the American public, he declared: “You know, my brothers and sisters, that we are not an independent nation, we are subjects of Her Gracious Majesty, Queen Victoria, the “Defender of the Faith.” But if we were a nation in all that that word implies, with our own government and our own rulers, with our laws and institutions controlled by us free and independent, I affirm that we should seek to establish and for ever maintain peaceful relations with all nations of the world.” Today this statement appears as a prophecy that Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948) proved in attaining India’s freedom with peaceful means.
Currently a drama based on his life called Gandhi Before Gandhi has performed 200 shows worldwide and in recent past the government of India had issued commemorative postal stamps to honor this legend. In those days, sea voyage was considered unholy and VRG had to face unjust criticism. At the same time, his vegetarianism in the Amer-ican cold surprised Swami Vivekananda, who wrote from 541, Dearborn Avenue, Chicago, to the Shree Hari-dasji Desai, Diwan of Junagadh in 1894, “Now here is Virchand Gandhi, the Jain, whom you knew well in Bombay. This man never takes anything but mere vegetables even in this terribly cold climate and tooth and nail tries to defend his countrymen and the religion.”
It seems great Swami Vivekanand, through his quote, tried to portray VRG as lion when he used word “tooth and nail” tries to defend his countrymen and religion. Swami Vivekananda and Virchand Gandhi had their own huge fan following. Swami Vivekananda’s work became well-known, but unfortunately not much of VRG’s. One of the US periodicals wrote while paying tributes to both of them when VRG and Swamiji died in 1901 and 1902, respectively, “The influence of Viveka-nanda’s philosophy has been kept alive by his disciples by founding organizations whereas, it is a matter of great pity that no attempt has been made to keep alive VRG’s memory!” Today only 10 percent of VRG details are available due to a gap of 100 years. In India, nobody maintained a detailed history of VRG and his contribution to India and the Indian society.”
As a reformer in the Western countries, he established the Gandhi Philosophical Society and the Society for the Education of Women in India (SEWI) under whose banner several Indian women went to the USA for higher studies, the School of Oriental Philo-sophy, and the Jain Literature Society in London. He sent Rs. 40,000 and a shipload of grains from the USA to India during the worst famine of 1896-97.
He was scholar in Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, Christia-nity, Western philosophies, Yoga, Indian Economics, International Trade, etc. VRG wrote many articles and books in Gujarati as well as in English. He wrote on topics of social and cultural reforms like education for women and custom of repenting.
As a national figure he attended the Indian National Congress session held in Pune as the representative of the then Bombay province in 1895 and was an early leader of the Congress along with his friends Chief Justice Mahadev Ranade and Sr. Narayan Chandavarkar. Former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi (Con-gress president), with top Con-gress politician Vadilal Chitra-bhuj Gandhi met Dhiraj Mohanlal Gandhi, the grandson of VRG (then president of Hindu Mahasabha, Mumbai), and paid homage to VRG.
Virchand Gandhi lectured on the political and industrial outlook in India in Large Hall of William Science building on December 19, 1898. His another international participation as all-India sole delegate was at the international conference of commerce in 1899 where he lectured on the trade relations between the USA and India. He attained Bar at Law at Britain. Virchand Gandhi also succeeded in settling disputes of Palitana on tax, and Sammetshikar on piggery case.
Virchand Gandhi reveals that at several instances Mahatma Gandhi was misunderstood as V.R. Gandhi.
In a June 13, 1931 letter, Mahatma Gandhi clarifies to Miss Emelia Mac Bean of Chicago when she mistook him as VRG, “Madam, I have your letter for which I thank you. You are giving me credit of which I am wholly undeserving. You are thinking of another Mr. Gandhi my namesake but in no way related to me. He and I were, however, friends and lived together for some time. You will be sorry to hear that he died many years ago, leaving an only son. It was he, who visited America and made many friends. I have never had the privilege of visiting your continent.”
Mark Twain, father of American literature, was too impressed by Virchand Gandhi and his philosophy. His newspaper Buffalo Express had widely covered VRG when Mark Twain visited India. VRG displayed his hospitality and accompanied him to Byculla, Mumbai Jain temples on January 25, 1896. In his “Mark Twain on Biblical and Hindu Miracles,” G.B. Singh states that Virchand Gandhi had met Mark Twain on his visit to India but somehow “Inventing Mark Twain: The Lives of Samuel Langhorne Clemens” by Andrew Hoffman mistook Virchand Gandhi as Mahatma Gandhi. Mahatma Gandhi, at this stage of Mark Twain’s travel, was living in South Africa.
In 1964 Param Pujya Shri Chitrabhanu, Shri Vallabh Nidhi Trust, Shri Dhiraj Mohandas Virchand Gandhi, Shri Rasik Mohandas Virchand Gandhi, Shri Pannalal Shah, Shri Kora, Shri Dharampriya and Mumbai Samachar played a major role in reviving about Shri Virchand Gandhi whereby Shri Dhiraj Mohandas Virchand Gandhi and Shri Rasik Mohandas Virchand Gandhi handed over all materials, medals related to Shri Virchand Gandhi to Shri MJV, where Shri MJV and its office bearers responsibility is of care taker for spreading awareness about Virchand Gandhi and to utilize same for Virchand Gandhi museum.
In 1990 a major initiative was done by Shri Nemu Chandaria (UK) and Shri Tansukh Salgia (USA) and Padmashri Kumarpal Desai by installing a statue of Shri Virchand Raghav Gandhi in Chicago and Mahuva.
A coffee table book compiled by Dr. Bipin Doshi and Priti Shah, titled Gandhi before Gandhi, of selected speeches of VRG in the USA and Europe, has also been released by Shree Narendra Modi, Chief Minister of Gujarat.
And from past few years Gurudev Shree Chitrabhanuji (USA), Panalal Shah (Mahuva), Mahesh Vadilal Gandhi(industrialist-Mumbai), Pratap Bhogilal (Batliboi-Mumbai), Pritiben shah (Ahemadabad), Pradip Jain (Patna ), Dr. Bipinbhai Doshi (Mumbai), Prakash Mody (Canada), Gunwant Barvalia (Gunjan - Mumbai) Pankaz Chandmal Hingad (Mumbai) have too contributed in revival of this Gujarati Indian Legend due to their years of selfless service.