"Sisters and Brothers of America": The lecture that shook the world

    11-Sep-2020
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It’s time for the world to open the gift of Universal brotherhood given by Swami Vivekananda 127 years back. India must show the way. For centuries with diversity in custom and rituals in religion, in the language in appearance and diversity in every other way comprehensible, without having any central authority, this Nation of ours have remained united till today. India must give this mantra to the world’
 
-Nikhil Yadav
 
 
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We saw how much power can be achieved in just five words when Swami Vivekananda stood up to respond to the warm reception he received at the Parliament of the World’s Religions held in Chicago on the 11th of September 1893. He started his speech with these words - “Sisters and Brothers of America” addressing about seven thousand people who had assembled from around the globe under one roof. His speech was followed by applause, which lasted for more than two minutes. These claps were for the monk who came from a slave country and faced troubles in adjusting in America till a day ago. He was racially discriminated, struggled with his eating habits, and didn't have enough clothes to wear during cold days. Even after suffering all this, not a word of hatred or a word of complaint was expressed by Swamiji. Despite all this, words that came from his heart while addressing the crowd was, “My dear Sisters and brothers of America”, which became one of the most prominent or historical events of the 19th century.
 
It was a coincidence that on the same day in the year 2001, around 19 militants associated with the Islamic extremist group al-Qaeda hijacked airlines and caused enormous destruction in the United States of America. Popularly known as the 9/11 attacks, this event killed approximately three thousand people and injured more than 6,000. It was the same land where Swamiji delivered his lecture, but it seems the world did not open the gift
 
In a letter to his Madras disciple, Alasinga Perumal, on 2 November 1893, about his 11 September 1893 speech, Swamiji writes “All the rest of the delegates had prepared the speeches, and I was without preparation. I bowed down to Devi Sarasvati and stepped up”. And everything else became history. Swamiji became famous throughout America. In his speech, Swamiji thanked each and everyone present there on behalf of all the Hindu people of all classes and sects. He placed before the audience the age-old tradition of acceptance of all religions to be true. He said “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 that I am from the country which gave shelter to the oppressed and the refugees of all religions and all countries. 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 great Zoroastrian nation.’’ He reminded the audience what narrow religious ideas could do. He said, “Sectarianism, bigotry, and it’s 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 civilisation, 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.”
 

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According to the book, 'A Comprehensive Biography of Swami Vivekananda' by Sailendra Nath Dhar, the Parliament of World’s Religions had representatives of 10 major religions from around the world which includes - Judaism, Hinduism, Islam, Buddhism, Tao, Confucianism, Shinto, Parsi, Catholic, and Protestant. But, Swamiji’s statement was the most successful one. Parliament’s 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”
 
Why Swamiji’s 11 September 1893 speech even relevant after 127 years and how India has developed with the idea of the Universal Brotherhood.
 
It was a coincidence that on the same day in the year 2001, around 19 militants associated with the Islamic extremist group al-Qaeda hijacked airlines and caused enormous destruction in the United States of America. Popularly known as the 9/11 attacks, this event killed approximately three thousand people and injured more than 6,000. It was the same land where Swamiji delivered his lecture, but it seems the world did not open the gift. Even today, when the world is divided into different religions and sects, and when people impose their belief on each other - Swamiji’s message of universal brotherhood is perceived as a way forward for the welfare of the world. It is a message to everyone - 'not to tolerate but to accept everyone with wholeheartedness'.
 
Swamiji, who spoke about the ‘’Hindu thought of acceptance’’ at the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago in 1893, is appreciated and followed by every Hindu in India today. It is our country 'Bharat' that has celebrated secularism in the true sense and has not only remained in constitutional papers. Even after 1947 partition, when Hindustan was divided into three parts India, West Pakistan (present-day Pakistan), and East Pakistan (present-day Bangladesh), out of the three only India remained secular. It is noted that the majority Hindu religion has declined from 84.1 per cent in 1951 to 79.80 per cent in the 2011 census. In contrast, and the Islamic religion has grown from 9.8% in 1951 to 14.23 in 2011 (according to the 1951 census and 2011 census). Not only the population but in every field - from cricket to business, music to acting, the minority communities in India are growing in every field. However, the picture is not the same in Pakistan and Bangladesh. East Pakistan (present-day Bangladesh) had 22 per cent Hindus in 1951 and 8.3 per cent in 2011 (according to the census). In Pakistan, religious fanaticism has increased since the days of partition. On the one hand, India gave its ancient cultural heritage - ‘Yoga’ to the world which is celebrated every year on 21st June from 2015 onwards as International Yoga Day world. While, Pakistan erased the thousand years old cultural heritage by breaking a hundred years old temples, gurudwaras, and churches resulting in religious fanaticism throughout the country. It was once this same land Lahore, Pakistan (then Hindustan) where Swami Vivekananda delivered his famous lecture, “The Vedanta”, on 12th November 1897.
 
Swamiji, who spoke about the ‘’Hindu thought of acceptance’’ at the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago in 1893, is appreciated and followed by every Hindu in India today. It is our country 'Bharat' that has celebrated secularism in the true sense and has not only remained in constitutional papers
 
We see the earth burning in the fire of communalism more than global warming today, and every sect is vying to show itself over the other. One country is engaged in grabbing the land of another. Amid this situation, this message of universal brotherhood by Swamiji looks like a path to the world which excludes human society from bitterness and gives the vision to see the whole world as one family. I would like to conclude this abstract with Swamiji’s words which he spoke while addressing the final session of Parliament of World’s Religions on 27 September 1893 - “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 law of growth.”
 
(The Writer is a State Youth Head at Vivekananda Kendra, Uttar Prant. He obtained his Masters in History from the University Of Delhi and is pursuing COP in Vedic Culture from Jawaharlal Nehru University)