OVER a hundred years ago, a brilliant young boy walked up to Swami Ramakrishna Paramahamsa and asked a straight question: 'Have you seen God, Sir?' Instead of giving a monosyllabic answer, Swami Rama-krishna placed his right foot over the boy's body. 'The touch at once gave rise to a novel experience within me,' the boy was to write later, 'With my eyes open I saw that the walls, and everything in the room, whirled rapidly and vanished into naught, and the whole universe together with my individuality was about to merge in an all-encompassing mysterious void!'
The brilliant boy, who was later to achieve fame as Swami Vivekananda, was born on January 12, 1863, to Bhuvaneshwari Devi a devout lady, and Vishwanath Datta, an attorney-at-law at the High Court of Calcutta. While he was in Mysore, Viveka-nanda heard about the upcoming Parliament of Religions which was to be held in Chicago from September 11 to 27, 1893. His admirers urged him to attend it. The very first sentence that he spoke at the Parliament brought a thunderous applause from the gathering. One Mrs S.K. Blodgett, who was present there, later wrote:'When that young man got up and said, "Sisters and brothers of America," seven thousand people rose to their feet as a tribute to something they knew not what. When it was over I saw scores of women walking over the benches to get near him, and I said to myself, "Well, my lad, if you can resist that onslaught, you are indeed a god!"
Back in India, he became the guiding force behind the spirit of freedom. 'He inculcated a religion of patriotism,' observed Dr. S. Radhakrish-nan, 'not patriotism in the narrow sense of the word, but patriotism as the religion of humanity.' C. Rajagopala-chari went so far as to say that but for Swami Vivekananda we would have lost our religion and would not have gained our freedom. But unlike many spiritual leaders, Vivekananda did not overlook the importance of the material world. "We talk foolishly against material civilisation," he once said. "The grapes are sour. Even taking all that foolishly for granted, in all India, there are seen a hundred thousand really spiritual men and women. Now, for the spiritualisation of these, must three hundred million be sunk in savagery and starvation?" And on January 27, 1900, long before the word feminism was coined, he said: 'No man shall dictate to a woman, nor a woman to a man. Each one is independent. Women will work out their own destinies – much better than men can ever do for them.'