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The other 9/11: When Vivekananda enthralled America 126 years ago

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The other 9/11: When Vivekananda enthralled America 126 years ago

One-hundred-and-eight years before 19 al Qaeda terrorists wreaked havoc in America, 9/11 denoted a message of tolerance, peace and tolerance. The message was delivered by Vivekananda at the parliament of religions in Chicago in 1893 -- on September 11. This was the original 9/11.

While it is not yet indisputably established why 9/11 terror attacks were carried out by al Qaeda, it definitely had the imprint of religious bigotry based on fundamentalism. In his Chicago speech, Vivekananda had warned of the dangers of fanaticism.

"Sectarianism, bigotry, and its horrible descendant, fanaticism, have long possessed this beautiful earth. They have filled the earth with violence, drenched it often and often with human blood, destroyed civilization, and sent whole nations to despair," Vivekananda had said.

"Had it not been for these horrible demons, human society would be far more advanced than it is now," he told the audiences at the Chicago parliament of religions, which had been called to commemorate 400 years of the discovery of America by Italian navigator Christopher Columbus.

Vivekananda expressed hope that time was up for religious hatred sying, "But their time has come; and I fervently hope that the bell that tolled this morning in honour of this convention may be the death-knell of all fanaticism, of all persecutions with the sword or with the pen, and of all uncharitable feelings between persons wending their way to the same goal."

His 9/11 speech was the first of six speeches that Vivekananda delivered in Chicago between September 11 and 27. But this speech turned out to be the most famous and is still quoted by the masses and the classes alike.

The influence of Vivekananda was so immense that the very fact that he was not the sole Indian speakers at the parliament of religions gets lost on many. He was in the Indian delegation of over a dozen religious philosophers invited to Chicago.

In fact, in a comedy of error sort, the organisers had extended invitation to influential spiritual guru of the 18th century, Dulalchandra Pal, who was the leader of Kartabhaja Dharma -- a popular sect in Bengal which allowed religious practices of Hinduism and Islam together. But the invitation had come nearly 60 years after Dulalchandra Pal had died.

Among other religious philosophers invited along with Vivekananda included members of Buddhism, Jainism, the Brahmo Samaj, Islam and Christianity.

Vivekananda's 9/11 speech is reproduced here under:

Sisters and Brothers of America,

It fills my heart with joy unspeakable to rise in response to the warm and cordial welcome which you have given us. I thank you in the name of the most ancient order of monks in the world; I thank you in the name of the mother of religions; and I thank you in the name of the millions and millions of Hindu people of all classes and sects.

My thanks, also, to some of the speakers on this platform who, referring to the delegates from the Orient, have told you that these men from far-off nations may well claim the honour of bearing to different lands the idea of toleration. I am proud to belong to a religion which has taught the world both tolerance and universal acceptance.

We believe not only in universal toleration, but we accept all religions as true. I am proud to belong to a nation which has sheltered the persecuted and the refugees of all religions and all nations of the earth. I am proud to tell you that we have gathered in our bosom the purest remnant of the Israelites, who came to southern India and took refuge with us in the very year in which their holy temple was shattered to pieces by Roman tyranny.

I am proud to belong to the religion which has sheltered and is still fostering the remnant of the grand Zoroastrian nation. I will quote to you, brethren, a few lines from a hymn which I remember to have repeated from my earliest boyhood, which is every day repeated by millions of human beings: 'As the different streams having their sources in different places all mingle their water in the sea, so, O Lord, the different paths which men take through different tendencies, various though they appear, crooked or straight, all lead to Thee.'

The present convention, which is one of the most august assemblies ever held, is in itself a vindication, a declaration to the world, of the wonderful doctrine preached in the Gita: 'Whosoever comes to Me, through whatsoever form, I reach him; all men are struggling through paths which in the end lead to Me.'

Sectarianism, bigotry, and its horrible descendant, fanaticism, have long possessed this beautiful earth. They have filled the earth with violence, drenched it often and often with human blood, destroyed civilization, and sent whole nations to despair.

Had it not been for these horrible demons, human society would be far more advanced than it is now. But their time is come; and I fervently hope that the bell that tolled this morning in honour of this convention may be the death-knell of all fanaticism, of all persecutions with the sword or with the pen, and of all uncharitable feelings between persons wending their way to the same goal.

(Speech source: belurmath.org)