We all know that Swami Vivekananda’s famous speech in the Parliament of Religions in Chicago made the world take notice of him as a great spiritual master. But his amazing tours and lectures around Midwest and visits to Minneapolis in November and December 1893 are relatively unknown.
While going through old newspaper articles, I learned that Swami Ji was referred to as Vive Kananda or Kananda by most American newspapers. These articles throw light on how the ‘learned Hindoo monk’ was perceived in the West. He was said to have caused a ‘sensation in cultured circles’. He was described as ‘strong and regular featured man of fine presence, whose swarthy skin made more pronounced the pearly whiteness of his even teeth. Under a broad and high forehead his eyes betoken intelligence’. Almost all newspapers remarked on his excellent English and oratory skills that mesmerized the audience.
According to ‘Vivekananda Abroad A Postcard Pilgrimage’, Swami Vivekananda arrived in Minneapolis on November 21, 1893 after taking the night train from Madison, Wisconsin. In a letter to Ellen Isabelle Hale, whom he addressed as ‘Mother’, the great Swami ji wrote with delight –
I am still in Minneapolis. I am to lecture this afternoon, and the day after tomorrow go to Des Moines. The day I came here they had their first snow, and it snowed all through the day and night, and I had great use for the arctics. I went to see the frozen Minnehaha Falls. They are very beautiful. The temperature today is 21º below zero [F], but I had been out sleighing and enjoyed it immensely. I am not the least afraid of losing the tips of my ears or nose. The snow scenery here has pleased me more than any other sight in this country. I saw people skating on a frozen lake yesterday. I am doing well. Hoping this will find you all the same, I remain, Yours obediently,
Ellen Isabelle Hale had gifted the water-resistant Arctic shoes and Vivekananda had come to Minneapolis at the invitation of Rev. Henry M. Simmons.
A Minneapolis Tribune reporter chatted with Swamiji on November 23 and wrote, “He had read Longfellow’s poem far over in his Indian home in Calcutta, and he was delighted to have visited the scene of the legend.” Swamiji was referring to Minnehaha Falls (meaning “Laughing Water”) which was immortalized by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in his poem ‘The Song of Hiawatha’.
The next day, Minneapolis Star reported the Swamiji’s discourse on 25 November 1893, where he talked about Brahminism.
“Brahminism” in all its subtle attraction, because of its embodiment of ancient and truthful principles, was the subject which held an audience in closest attention last evening at the First Unitarian Church [Minneapolis], while Swami Vive Kananda expounded the Hindoo faith. It was an audience which included thoughtful women and men, for the lecturer had been invited by the “Peripatetics,” and among the friends who shared the privilege with them were ministers of varied denominations, as well as students and scholars.
Vive Kananda is a Brahmin priest, and he occupied the platform in his native garb, with caftan on head, orange colored coat confined at the waist with a red sash, and red nether garments. He presented his faith in all sincerity, speaking slowly and clearly, convincing his hearers by the quietness of speech rather than by rapid action. His words were carefully weighed, and each carried its meaning direct.
He offered the simplest truths of the Hindoo religion, and while he said nothing harsh about Christianity, he touched upon it in such a manner as to place the faith of Brahma before all. The all-pervading thought and leading principle of the Hindoo religion is the inherent divinity of the soul; the soul is perfect, and religion is the manifestation of divinity already existing in man.
The present is merely a line of demarcation between the past and future, and of the two tendencies in man, if the good preponderates he will move to a higher sphere, if the evil has power, he degenerates. These two are continually at work within him; what elevates him is virtue, that which degenerates is evil. Kananda will speak at the First Unitarian Church tomorrow morning.”
Swamiji’s second visit to Minneapolis
Swami Vivekananda returned to Minneapolis to give a lecture on the evening of December 14,1893. This time he was hosted by Dr. William Watts Folwell, who had been the first president of the University of Minnesota from 1869 to 1884.
According to Minneapolis Journal on 15 December, 1893 – “A Witty Hindu: SWAMI VIVEKANANDA ENTERTAINS ANOTHER LARGE AUDIENCE. He is of the humorist order and his quick replies and witty sallies rarely failed to evoke applause.”
The Minneapolis Tribune, also reported on 15 December – “Swami Vive Kananda, the Brahmin priest, was greeted by a packed house last evening at the First Unitarian Church, when he appeared before his second Minneapolis audience. Vive Kananda is a bright, quick witted talker, ready at all points to attack or defend, and inserts a humor into his speeches that is not lost upon his auditors. He spoke last evening under the auspices of the Kappa Kappa Gammas of the University, and the audience embraced a large number of earnest thinking men and women, pleased to be enlightened upon the “Manners and Customs of India,” which was his chosen subject.
Robed in his native garb, with his hands for the most part clasped behind his back, Kananda paces back and forth the narrow platform, talking as he paces, with long pauses between his sentences, as if willing that his words should sink into the deepest soil. His talk is not so weighty that the frivolous mind may not appreciate some of his sayings, but he also speaks a philosophy that carries gravest truth. . . .”
I am so glad to know that Swamiji visited Minneapolis long back to impart the Vedic wisdom of India and enthrall with his impressive demeanor and unique, philosophical teachings – something the West had never heard before. Also, I have a feeling that the blessed Minnehaha Falls in Minneapolis will mean so much more to me, considering the great master walked around the area more than a century back.
(Images courtesy Google. Thank you vivekanandaabroad.blogspot.com)