(Last Updated on : 15/01/2009)
"My dear Brothers and sisters of America, the long night is at last drawing to a close. Miseries and sorrows are disappearing. Ours is a sacred country. She is gradually waking up, thanks to the fresh breeze all around. Her might no one can overcome".
This was the magical speech that Swamiji made in the Conference of World Religions held at Chicago. It all started in Mysore when Swamiji got to know Diwan Swshadri Iyer and also the Maharaja of Mysore. The Swamiji`s discourse in Sanskrit at a gathering of scholars deeply impressed the Maharaja. One day on being questioned about his future plans, Swamiji replied "India is the land of many religions and schools of philosophy. The Western world has progressed in science. Human welfare is possible only by a reconciliation of the two. Therefore, I want to go to America in order to propagate Vedanta". Impressed by Swamiji`s plans, the Maharaja of Mysore decided to fund his trip. Swamiji thanked the Maharaja and said that he would make use of the offer when needed and took leave of him.
Swamiji next visited Ramanad. Bhaskara Setupati was the ruler of Ramanad at that time. He discussed with Swamiji the problems that the country was facing. The prince treated him with great respect. He came up with the idea to send Swamiji to the Conference of World Religions in America. The prince promised of taking care of Swamiji`s all expenses. Assuring the prince that he would give a serious thought to his offer, he left for Rameshwaram and finally to Kanyakumari. He swam towards the rocks and sat on it.
Surrounded there by the sea, he reflected on the state of affairs in India. The thought of the poverty of the masses in this country made him miserable. He decided that unless casteism was rooted out, there could be no salvation for his countrymen. He concluded that his first task was to go Western countries and expose the spiritual values of India. He would then return to awaken his own sleeping land. It was in Madras that pressure mounted on him to go to America. The fame he won in Madras traveled to Hyderabad. Thousands gathered at the meeting addressed by him there. It was here that Swamiji addressed the first ever-public meeting.
After he returned to Madras from Hyderabad, he started making preparations for his tour abroad. Contributions towards his travel expenses poured in from all parts of the country. But he kept with him only as much money as he needed for the journey. He returned the rest of the money to the donors. When Swamiji reached the city of Chicago, he went into a hotel and enquired about the conference of World Religions to which he realized that the conference was three months away. Swamiji was soon loosing on his money owing to his stay at Chicago. Chicago being a big city and very expensive, Swamiji moved to the nearby city of Boston.
On the way he met a lady. She was from Boston. She was amazed at Swamiji`s strange attire, his magnificent physique, and his bright eyes. She decided that he was no ordinary man. She begged Swamiji to be her guest. He agreed. Occasionally he addressed meetings at small clubs. The subject of his talk was Indian Culture and the Hindu Dharma. Gradually many scholars became his friends. One of them was John Henry Wright. He was greatly impressed by Swamiji`s scholarship. Swamiji went back to Chicago with no money. He later resided at the residence of Mrs. George Hails.
The conference started on 11th September 1893. Thousands of delegates belonging to deferent countries of the world had gathered at the conference. Vivekananda was the youngest of them all. When it was his turn to speak, his throat went dry. Besides, he did not have, like the other delegates, a prepared speech. He requested the President to let him be the last speaker, His turn did come as the last speaker, he prayed fervently to Sri Ramakrishna and Mother Sharadadevi, and stood up to speak. When he began his address in his pleasing voice with the words "Brothers and Sisters of America," there was a thunderous applause; that lasted for a full three minutes. When it subsided at last he continued his short speech. He said that people born in different religions finally reach the same God, as river born in different places finally reaches the sea. He empathetically stated that no religion is superior or inferior.
Everyone was impressed by Swamiji`s speech. He became the darling of the crowds. Whenever he rose to speak there was deafening applause. Even as the conference was in session, many institutions and associations extended invitations to Swami Vivekananda. Infact he was complimented for having certain traits that were similar to that of Jesus Christ. The perception of the foreigners about India being a `country of ignorant people` changed after post-Chicago speech given by Swamiji.
Meanwhile, Swamiji received pressing invitations from England. A rousing reception awaited him in London when he arrived there. The newspapers were all praise for the Hindu Yogi`s oratory and outlook. Many became his disciples. Among them was Margaret Nivedita. She came to India and settled here. Swami Vivekananda returned to India after his foreign tour lasting four years.