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Swami Vivekananda: The monk who shaped India’s secularism [Mains Article]

As Swami Vivekananda said in his inaugural speech at Chicago in 1893, ours is a country that has "taught the world both tolerance and universal acceptance. However, is it appropriate to cite Swami Vivekananda as a Hindutva icon amid government’s action to promote only Hinduism?
By IT's Mains Articles Team
August 24, 2019


  • Why it was in news?
  • What is Secularism?
  • India’ Secularism
  • Current Hindu Nationalism
  • Swami Vivekanada’s Nationalism
  • Swamiji’s Contributions to Hinduism
  • Swami Vivkandna’s overall contribution
  • Swami Vivekananda’s Influence on Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru
  • About World Hindu Congress
  • Excerpt of Swami Vivekananda’s Chicago speech (1893)
  • Key Facts
  • Conclusion

Swami Vivekananda: The monk who shaped India’s secularism

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Why it was in news?


  • Recently Vice President said that tolerance and universal acceptance have been two of the most noteworthy aspects of the Indian culture.
  • His remarks came while addressing the 2nd World Hindu Congress, which was organized on the eve of 125th Anniversary of Swami Vivekananda’s Historic Speech at the Parliament of the World’s Religions in 1893 at Chicago.


What is Secularism?

  • Secularism seeks to ensure and protect freedom of religious belief and practice for all citizens. 

India’ Secularism

  • The practice of Indian secularism has distinguished it from many of its neighbour countries. For instance, India is the nation with the third-highest number of Muslims in the world.
  • India’s ability to consolidate democracy amidst diversity could teach a lesson even to advanced industrial monocultural nation.
  • India’s secular ideals have majorly promulgated by Hindus, as described in Constitution, to respect the ‘Sarva dharma sama bhava (equal respect for all religions). However, the early-day Hindu nationalists were against the idea. For instance, Nathuram Godse assassinated one of its strongest proponents – Mahatma Gandhi.

What is Two-nation theory?

  • The two-nation theory is the basis of the creation of Pakistan.
  • It states that Muslims and Hindus are two separate nations, therefore, Muslims should be able to have their own separate homeland in the Muslim majority areas of India, in which Islam can be practiced as the dominant religion.

Current Hindu Nationalism

  • The two-nation theory suggests that independent India was primarily a land for Hindus, which has, today, gained prominence as never before.
  • This is evident from the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill of 2019 which seeks to grant citizenship to Non-Muslims from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan who entered into India on or before the 31st December 2014.
  • The most recent example of this is the bifurcation of Jammu and Kashmir (India’s only Muslim-majority State) into two Union Territories, with all special provisions taken away from the erstwhile State’s residents.

Swami Vivekanada’s Nationalism

Swami viviekanand iastoppers 2019 2

  • On 11th September 1893, Swami Vivekananda gave a speech and represented India and Hinduism at the Parliament of the World’s Religions at Chicago.
  • This was the first World’s Parliament of Religions. One of the key elements of his message was that all religions lead to the same goal.
  • For his eloquent speech, the American papers described him as “an orator by divine right”.
  • While in Chicago, he stressed three important and novel facets of Hindu life:
  1. i) Indian tradition believed not only in toleration but in acceptance of all religions as true.
  2. ii) In no uncertain terms that Hinduism was incomplete without Buddhism, and vice versa.

iii) Instead of promoting exclusive survival of a single religion and the destruction of others, he emphasised on the concepts of ‘Help and not fight’, ‘Assimilation and not destruction’, and ‘Harmony and peace and not dissension’.

Swamiji’s Contributions to Hinduism


  • It was Swami Vivekananda who gave to Hinduism as a whole a clear-cut identity, a distinct profile.
  • He was the first religious leader to speak about the common bases of Hinduism and the common ground of all sects.
  • He was the first person, as guided by his Master Sri Ramakrishna, to accept all Hindu doctrines and the views of all Hindu philosophers and sects as different aspects of one total view of Reality and way of life known as Hinduism.


  • Before Swamiji came, there was a lot of quarrel and competition among the various sects of Hinduism. Similarly, the protagonists of different systems and schools of philosophy were claiming their views to be the only true and valid ones.
  • By applying Sri Ramakrishna’s doctrine of Harmony (Samanvaya), Swamiji brought about an overall unification of Hinduism on the basis of the principle of unity in diversity.


  • Another important service rendered by Swamiji was to raise his voice in defence of Hinduism. In fact, this was one of the main types of work he did in the West.
  • Christian missionary propaganda had given a wrong understanding of Hinduism and India in Western minds. Swamiji had to face a lot of opposition in his attempts to defend Hinduism.

Meeting the Challenges

  • At the end of the 19th century, India in general, and Hinduism in particular, faced grave challenges from Western materialistic life, the ideas of Western free society, and the proselytizing activities of Christians.
  • Vivekananda met these challenges by integrating the best elements of Western culture in Hindu culture.

New Ideal of Monasticism

  • A major contribution of Vivekananda to Hinduism is the rejuvenation and modernization of monasticism.
  • In this new monastic ideal, followed in the Ramakrishna Order, the ancient principles of renunciation and God realization are combined with service to God in man (Shiva jnane jiva seva). He elevated social service to the status of divine service.

Refurbishing of Hindu Philosophy and Religious Doctrines

  • Vivekananda did not merely interpret ancient Hindu scriptures and philosophical ideas in terms of modern thought.
  • He also added several illuminating original concepts based on his own transcendental experiences and vision of the future.

Swami Vivkandna’s overall contribution:


  • Swami Vivekananda’s interpretation of India’s past was radical and attracted large number of American and European followers, resulting in establishment of the Ramakrishna Mission in 1897.
  • He spent about two years in New York, establishing the first Vedanta Society in 1894.
  • He emphasised that India needed to trade Indian spirituality for the West’s material and modern culture and was firmly behind India’s scientific modernisation.
  • He travelled widely across Europe and engaged Indologists (who study South Asian culture) such as Max Mueller and Paul Deussen.
  • He even debated with eminent scientists such as Nicola Tesla before embarking on his reformist mission in India.
  • He supported Jagadish Chandra Bose’s scientific projects. In fact, Vivekananda’s American disciple helped patent Bose’s discoveries in the U.S.


  • He also invited Irish teacher Margaret Noble, whom he rechristened ‘Sister Nivedita’, to help uplift the condition of Indian women.
  • He opposed untouchability and laid great emphasis on social, welfare and education for women. He preached humanism, freedom, equality and brotherhood.
  • Vivekananda also inspired Jamsetji Tata to establish the Indian Institute of Science and the Tata Iron and Steel Company.

Swami Vivekananda’s Influence on Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru:


  • Vivekananda made a remarkable impact on Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru and Subhas Chandra Bose.
  • He used the term ‘Daridra Narayan’ (service to the poor is service to god) many years before Gandhiji addressed the socially oppressed people as ‘Harijan’ (children of god).
  • The Mahatma in fact said that his love for India grew thousand fold after reading Vivekananda’s thoughts.
  • It is for these reasons that the birthday of Swami Vivekananda is declared as the National Youth Day.

About World Hindu Congress:


  • It is global platform for Hindus toconnect, share ideas and impact the common good. 
  • It is held every four years since 2014.
  • It was last held in 2018 to mark the commemoration of the 125th anniversary of Swami Vivekananda’s historic speech at the Parliament of the World’s Religions in 1893 in Chicago.
  • It is organised by World Hindu Foundation (WHF).
  • It is Inspired by the Hindu principle, ‘Sumantrite Suvikrante’or Think Collectively, Achieve Valiantly.
  • In 2018 meeting, it proposed the setting up of a permanent secretariat to push for the rights of the Hindu community across the world.

It holds seven conferences,

  • World Hindu Economic Forum
  • Hindu Educational Conference
  • Hindu Youth Conference
  • Hindu Women Conference
  • Hindu Political Conference
  • Hindu Media Conference
  • Hindu Organisations Conference

Highlights of the Second World Hindu Congress (2018):

World Hindu Congress 2018

  • Hindus worldwide should become more visible as positive change-makers in their respective countries.
  • It discussed about the importance of asserting a strong political voice especially in countries like the Caribbean, Fiji and the African countries.
  • To create awareness about atrocities committed against Hindus, Hindu youth should leverage their social media skills, speak out against biased portrayals of Hindus etc.
  • Regulatory reforms in India, skill development, building ecosystems providing capital to startups and mentoring programmes for young entrepreneurs is necessary.

Excerpt of Swami Vivekananda’s Chicago speech (1893)


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 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 honor 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 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 honor 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.

Key Facts

  • Hindus contributed 35-49% of the world economy from the 1st to 15th century CE.
  • Manu Dharma, which is derived from the Vedas, was the first constitution and law code established 3500 years ago.


  • India needed a secular monastery from where scientific and technological development would uplift India’s material conditions, for which Swami Vivekanand’s ideals provided a source of inspiration.


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