On January 12th 1863, a son was born to the upper middle-class Datta family in Calcutta. They named him Narendranath. He grew up to become a very important figure in India and abroad. We now know him as Swami Vivekananda.
As a young man, Narendranath got interested in social reform, and worked against evils like child marriage. He became a disciple of Shri Ramakrishna, a famous sage who tried to show that all religions are essentially the same.
Later, he travelled throughout India, trying to understand the many religious traditions here. He developed a deep sympathy for the underprivileged. When he reached the southernmost tip of India he wanted to go to a large rock protruding from the sea, believed to have been blessed by the Goddess Kanyakumari. He didn’t have money to pay for a boat ride, so he swam to the rock. There, he meditated, and received enlightenment. Now, a beautiful building on the spot marks this event. Known as the Vivekananda Rock Memorial, it is a big tourist attraction.
In 1893, Swami Vivekananda travelled to Chicago to attend the Parliament of World Religions. His speech beginning with the words ‘Sisters and brothers of America’ captivated his audience. He explained Hindu philosophy to the West and impressed not only religious leaders but also scientists, writers and politicians. After his travels abroad, he returned to India to found the Ramakrishna Mission at the Belur Math near Calcutta.
He died in 1902, but left a deep impression on India and the world. In the words of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, “Swamiji harmonized the East and the West, religion and science, past and present.”
Swami Vivekananda urged young people to serve the country selflessly. His birth anniversary is celebrated as National Youth Day.