25 November 2013

Meeting Between Swami Vivekananda And Mangal Singh (Alwar) — Real Meaning Of Idol Worship

Between 1888—1893, Swami Vivekananda widely travelled in India. He first went to North India and then Rajputana, Western India and ultimately South India.


In the beginning of 1891 (most probably February 1891) Vivekananda reached Alwar (currently a district in Rajasthan) where he met the king of the state Maharaja Mangal Singh Bahadur or Mangal Singh. The meeting between Swami Vivekananda and Mangal Singh and the conversation between them has historical significance and has been discussed and analysed by various scholars and biographers. In this post, we'll talk about that meeting between Mangal Singh and Vivekananda.

Mangal Singh Bahadur, the king of Alwar was Westernised in his outlooks and had no respect for Indian and specially Hindu culture and traditions and used to feel proud for his attitude. He used to spend all his time in the company of Westerners, in hunting and other luxuries.


Swami Vivekananda as a wandering monk
Image source: Wikimedia Commons
Swami Vivekananda reached Alwar and went to meet Mangal Singh at his palace. When Mangal Singh met Vivekananda he started making fun of him.
He first asked Vivekananda — "Well Swamiji, I hear you are a great scholar. You can easily earn a living and live a comfortable life, then why are you living a beggar's life and roaming like a vagabond?"

Vivekananda immediately retorted— "Maharaja, tell me why you constantly spend your time in the company of Westerners and go out on shooting excursions, neglecting your royal duties?"

Everyone present in the court was shocked and taken aback. The king too became confused. He tried to give an excuse, "Well, I like it, I enjoy it", he continued, "don't your Indian rishis and munis waste all their lives meditating and worshipping for the same reason?"

Now Vivekananda saw some stuffed animals and paintings of the king's huntings in the court's walls. The king used to consider those as his achievements. Vivekananda criticized Mangal Singh saying, "Even an animal does not kill another animal unnecessarily, then why do you kill them just for amusement? I find it "meaningless"."

Mangal Singh smiled and replied— "The idols you worship are nothing but piece of clay, stones or metals. I find this idol-worship "meaningless"".

It was a direct attack on Hindu belief and Vivekananda had to give a strong reply to it. He started explaining to the king that Hindus worship God alone, using the idol as symbol. But his reply failed to convince Singh. Thereupon, Vivekananda saw a portrait hanging in the wall of the court. Vivekananda approached towards the painting, looked at it, and asked the dewan of the court to take it down from the wall. It was a painting of Singh's deceased father. When the dewan took the picture down from the wall, Vivekananda asked him to spit on it. All were taken back, The dewan was horrified. The king was furious, "How dare you ask him to spit on my father?", he cried, in a tone of demanding an explanation.

Vivekananda saw, the king was gripped. He smiled and quietly replied, "Your father, where is he?  It is a just a painting— a piece of paper, not your father."

Vivekananda's reply followed the logic of the king's previous comment on Hindu idols. So, he was perplexed and speechless and did not know what to say.

Vivekananda once again started explaining to him, "Look Maharaja, this is a painting of you father, but when you look at it, it reminds you about him, here the painting is a "symbol".
Similarly when a Hindu worshipper worships an idol, the idol reminds him about his beloved deity and he feels the presence of the deity in the idol. Here too it is a "symbol". Maharaja, it is all about anubhuti (feelings and realization).

Now Mangal Singh quickly realized the real meaning of idol worship. He apologized to Vivekananda for his frivolity and rudeness and thanked him for giving him the lesson. He also requested Vivekananda to stay at his palace for few days.

In popular culture

The conversation between Swami Vivekananda and Magal Singh was wonderfully depicted in the biographical film "Swami Vivekananda" directed by G. V. Iyer. The characters of Swami Vivekananda and Mangal singh were played by Sarvadama D. Banerjee and Shammi Kapoor respectively. In this website, we do not upload copyrighted works, but the scene may be seen at the official YouTube channel of Vivekananda Kendra (watch from 2 hours 9 minutes of the video).


This page was last updated on: 1 May 214, 4:24 pm IST (UTC+5:30 hours)
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