03 April 2014

Suniti Kumar Chattopadhyay On Swami Vivekananda

Suniti Kumar Chattopadhyay (Bengali: সুনীতি কুমার চট্টোপাধ্যায়) or Suniti Kumar Chatterji (Bengali: সুনীতি কুমার চ্যাটার্জী) (26 November 1890 – 29 May 1977) was an Indian Bengali linguist, academic and an educationist. Between 1914 to 1919 he worked as an assistant professor of English in the Post-Graduate Department of the University of Calcutta. Then he went to England and studied Phonology, Indo-European Linguistics, Prakrit, Persian, Old Irish, Gothic and other languages at the University of London. In 1922 he returned to Indian an joined the University of Calcutta as the Khaira Professor of Indian Linguistics and Phonetics. He worked at the University of Calcutta till 1952. He was awarded Padma Bhushan in 1955 and Padma Vibhushan in 1963. Some of his notable are— The Origin and Development of the Bengali Language, Bengali Phonetic Reader, Saṃskr̥ta dig-vijaya, Phonetics in the study of classical languages in the East, Languages and the Linguistic Problem, Rabindranath Tagore: Three Lectures Delivered Before the Marathwada University in October, 1963, Bhartiya Aryabhasha Aur Hindi. A detailed biography of Chattopadhyay is available at Wikipedia. In this article you'll find Suniti Kumar Chattopadhyay's quotes and comments on Swami Vivekananda.

Suniti Kumar Chattopadhyay told—
Suniti Kumar Chattopadhyay (Suniti Kumar Chatterji)
Image source: Bangodarshan
Vivekananda appeared to me immediately to be a man who was intensely moved by the sufferings of Humanity, and particularly of Humanity in India. Some of his tirades against middle class and upper class societies in this matter moved us to the depths of our being. He discovered for us the greatness of an, and particularly of men in the humbler walks of life who were the despised and the denied in our Indian society. At the same time, he brought home to us the value of Indian thought at its highest and pristine best, as in the Vedanta. He was able to convince us that what our ancestors had left in the Vedanta Philosophy was of permanent value, not only for us in India but also for the rest of Humanity. This put heart in us, and made us feel a new kind of elation as members of a people who have always had a mission and a sacred task to serve Humanity. The Hindus as a race were losing their nerve, and it was Vivekananda who helped us to regain this nerve which we were losing. There was a lot of unthinking and unsympathetic criticism of our ways and our life, particularly from among Christian missionaries of the older type, and this was demolished by Vivekananda. All this made us hold him very close to our heart, and to think of him as a great master and as a new kind of incarnation who came down to earth to lead us into the good life and the life of the strong man.

Vivekananda, in the first instance, knocked off a lot of nonsense in our Hindu social life, and drew our attention to the Eternal Verities and not to the ephemeral accidentals—social usages and such like—in our life. He was a sworn enemy of what we now call in India Casteism. Untouchability was something which he abhorred both as a sannyasin and as a lay Hindu. He coined the word which is very commonly used in our Indian English—'don’t touchism'. His heart overflowed with love and sympathy for the masses, whom he wanted to serve with religious zeal—serve as a believer in the Vedanta which sees God in all life. He coined a new word for our Indian languages—daridra Narayana or a 'God in the poor and the lowly'. This word has been accepted by the whole of India, and in a way it brings in a sense of responsibility for the average man. He has to look upon the poor and the humble, the suffering ones and the frustrated ones of society, as if they were deities incarnate or fragments of God, to serve whom was to serve God. Mahatma Gandhi's revival of the old expression which was used in Gujarati by the Vaishnava poets of Gujarat, namely, Harijana or 'the Men of God' was a very fine expression ; but daridra-Narayana implied or brought in an element of a sense of duty which was enjoined upon man to serve the poor if they wanted to serve God.

Swami Vivekananda is looked upon as a great religious teacher, and indeed he made a definite contribution to the study of both Hindu religion and philosophy, and also in spreading a knowledge and appreciation of this philosophy and religion. His great works on aspects of Vedanta in theory and practice still inspire hundreds and thousands of enquirers all over the world. But it has also been said that he was more a philanthropist, one who dedicated himself to the service of man, than a religious theorist or preacher. One need not seek to analyse Vivekananda's personality in this way. It is best to take the service of man as a form of serving God, for, from the point of view of all practical religion, God and Man are the obverse and reverse of the same medal. Vivekananda may be said to have been an innovator in two matters. As his great disciple Sister Nivedita suggested—he was the first to formulate the basic character of Hinduism as a system of thought and as a way of life in the modern age. This is the first great thing we as Indians may note about Vivekananda. Secondly, Vivekananda may be said to have brought before the Western World a new point of view in religious thinking—a new approach to the problems of faith— which they needed very badly. To this also might be added as a pendant that Vivekananda, as one of the thought-leaders of modern India, gave the tone to modern Indian culture. He conceived of an integration of all human religion and culture into one entity claiming the homage of all and sundry.

I consider, and many agree with me also, that Swami Vivekananda's participation and his magisterial and at the same time sweet and reasonable pronouncements at the International Congress of Religions at Chicago in 1893 form a very important event in the intellectual history of modern man. There he proclaimed for the first time the necessity for a new and an enlightened kind of religious understanding and toleration, and this was particularly necessary in an America which was advancing so rapidly in science and technology, and in wealth and power, which were not, however, divorced from altruistic aspirations and achievements. But apart from a few of the most outstanding figures, particularly in the New England orbit of the United States, generally the religious background was crude and primitive. It had pinned itself down to a literal interpretation of the Bible, and accepted all the dogmas with a conviction which was pathetic in its combination of sincerity and fanatic faith, of credulity and crudity. This very primitive kind of religion was not satisfying to those who were actuated by the spirit of enquiry in a higher and more cultured plane, and for them Vivekananda's message came like rain on a thirsty soil. ...So in this way, we might say that quite a new type of spiritual conversion has taken place in the mind of a considerable portion of intelligent men and women in the West, beginning with America; and here we see the leaven of Vedanta working through Vivekananda. In a novel on Mexican life by D. H. Lawrence—The Plumed Serpent— where we have the picture of a revival of the pre-Catholic Aztec religion among a section of political workers in Mexico, the mentality displayed by some of the leaders of this movement is something astoundingly modern. Many of the views expressed by one of the characters in this novel, the hero Ramon talking to the Roman Catholic Bishop, might have been taken over bodily from the writings of Vivekananda. In this way, although the ordinary run of people are not conscious of it, the message which was given out by Vivekananda to America and the Western World at Chicago in 1893, and subsequently to people in America, England and India, has been an effective force in the liberalization of the human spirit in its religious approach.

The first point in Vivekananda which I mentioned above, namely, his giving before the world a definition of Hinduism in its essence, was a service which was done not only to India but also in another way to Humanity. ...

Vivekananda was the lover of all those who had suffered through the injustice of others, and he tried his best to restore them to a sense of human dignity. ...It is remarkable how in India in her days of political submission and spiritual inanity, when everything seemed hopeless, and the people had lost all confidence in themselves, a spirit calling us to action like Swami Vivekananda could come into being. That such a person could come at a time when the prospect was bleak, when we seemed to have lost all hope, indicated that God in His mercy never forsakes His people, and this in a way bears out the great idea behind this oft-quoted verse of the Gita that whenever righteousness is on the decline and unrighteousness is in the ascendant, God creates Himself as a great avatara or Incarnation—as a Leader to guide men to the right path of salvation. And in that sense Vivekananda was an avatara, a divinely inspired and God-appointed Leader, not only for Man in India, but also for the whole of Humanity in the present age.


  • Swami Vivekananda Centenary Memorial Volume, 1963, pp. 228-33

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