Famous Chicago speech of Swami Vivekananda and its importance

Famous Chicago Speech of Swami Vivekananda and its Importance

The Parliament of the World’s Religions opened on 11 September 1893 at the Art Institute of Chicago. It was part of the World’s Columbian Exposition

On this day, Swami Vivekananda gave his famous, which represented India and Hinduism. But, before we know more about his speech, first we should read his speech.

Speech of Swami Vivekananda

Dated: September 11, 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.

His speech at the final session

Parliament of World Religion, 1893, here Swami Vivekananda given his famous speech of Chicago
Parliament of the World’s Religion, 1893

Dated: September 27, 1893

The World’s Parliament of Religions has become an accomplished fact, and the merciful Father has helped those who laboured to bring it into existence, and crowned with success their most unselfish labour.

My thanks to those noble souls whose large hearts and love of truth first dreamed this wonderful dream and then realized it.

My thanks to the shower of liberal sentiments that has overflowed this platform. My thanks to this enlightened audience for their uniform kindness to me and for their appreciation of every thought that tends to smooth the friction of religions. A few jarring notes were heard from time to time in this harmony. My special thanks to them, for they have, by their striking contrast, made general harmony the sweeter.

Much has been said of the common ground of religious unity. I am not going just now to venture my own theory. But if any one here hopes that this unity will come by the triumph of any one of the religions and the destruction of the others, to him I say, “Brother, yours is an impossible hope.” Do I wish that the Christian would become Hindu? God forbid. Do I wish that the Hindu or Buddhist would become Christian? God forbid.

The seed is put in the ground, and earth and air and water are placed around it. Does the seed become the earth, or the air, or the water? No. It becomes a plant. It develops after the law of its own growth, assimilates the air, the earth, and the water, converts them into plant substance, and grows into a plant.

Similar is the case with religion. The Christian is not to become a Hindu or a Buddhist, nor a Hindu or a Buddhist to become a Christian. But each must assimilate the spirit of the others and yet preserve his individuality and grow according to his own law of growth.

If the Parliament of Religions has shown anything to the world, it is this: It has proved to the world that holiness, purity and charity are not the exclusive possessions of any church in the world, and that every system has produced men and women of the most exalted character. In the face of this evidence, if anybody dreams of the exclusive survival of his own religion and the destruction of the others, I pity him from the bottom of my heart, and point out to him that upon the banner of every religion will soon be written in spite of resistance: “Help and not fight,” “Assimilation and not Destruction,” “Harmony and Peace and not Dissension.”

What happened during the speech?

Swami Vivekananda Ji was initially nervous. He bowed to the Hindu goddess of learning, Devi Saraswati

Then, he began his speech with “Sisters and brothers of America!“. At these words, Swami Vivekananda received a two-minute standing ovation from the crowd of seven thousand.

According to Sailendra Nath Dhar, when silence was restored he began his address, addressing the youngest of the nations on behalf of “the most ancient order of monks in the world, the Vedic order of sannyasins, a religion which has taught the world both tolerance and universal acceptance”.

Vivekananda quoted two illustrative passages from the “Shiva Mahimna Stotram“: 

“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!” 

“Whosoever comes to Me, through whatsoever form, I reach him; all men are struggling through paths that in the end lead to Me.”

According to Sailendra Nath Dhar, “it was only a short speech, but it voiced the spirit of the Parliament.”

What did other people say about his speech?

John Henry Barrows was President of Parliament of World's Religion at the time of Swami Vivekananda's Speech
John Henry Barrows

Parliament President John Henry Barrows said: 

“India, the Mother of religions was represented by Swami Vivekananda, the Orange-monk who exercised the most wonderful influence over his auditors”.

Swami Vivekananda’s speech attracted the attention of the press, and they called him the “cyclonic monk from India“. 

The New York Critique wrote:

“He is an orator by divine right, and his strong, intelligent face in its picturesque setting of yellow and orange was hardly less interesting than those earnest words, and the rich, rhythmical utterance he gave them”. 

The New York Herald noted:

“Vivekananda is undoubtedly the greatest figure in the Parliament of Religions. After hearing him we feel how foolish it is to send missionaries to this learned nation”.

Newspaper of America described Vivekananda as “the greatest figure in the parliament of religions” and “the most popular and influential man in the parliament”.

The Boston Evening Transcript stated that Vivekananda was “a great favourite at the parliament… if he merely crosses the platform, he is applauded”.

Importance of Swami Vivekananda’s Speech

The speech of Swami Vivekananda improved the dignity of India in the court of the world. 

He showed that Hinduism and Indian Philosophy are not inferior to any religion in any respect.

He put the example to the world of how people from different religion can live together.

Vivekananda’s speeches at the Parliament had the common theme of universality, emphasizing religious tolerance.

He soon became known as a “handsome oriental” and made a large impact as an orator.

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