Swami Vivekananda - Wandering Monk


Vivekananda House

Vivekananda House
Chennai, India

(Commonly known as the “wandering monk” pose) Photos 7 and 8 were probably taken on the same day in Jaipur, 1891. The Life mentions: “At Jaipur the disciple [perhaps Lala Govinda Sahai whom Swamiji initiated in Rajputana in 1891] insisted on the swami’s posing for a photograph. The swami, much against his wishes, finally consented. This was the first time that a photo of him as a wandering monk was taken.”10 Another reference to photo no. 7 having been taken in Jaipur appears in Swami Vivekananda: A Forgotten Chapter of His Life, by Beni Shankar Sharma: “Furthermore, very few people know that the turban that the swami always wore . . . was worn at the suggestion of Ajit Singh [the Maharaja of Khetri]. Swami Vivekananda being a Bengali did not wear a turban, or any headgear, and in the first of his photographs, which was taken at Jaipur at the request of his Alwar friends in 1891, before he met the Maharaja of Khetri, we find him without his now inseparable turban. It was after his meeting with the Maharaja and his visit to Khetri that we find him with his characteristic turban. When Swami Vivekananda visited Khetri as Vividishananda for the first time, it was summer and the loo, or hot winds of Rajasthan, during this period are well-known. Besides, from Swamiji’s letters, we find that he was mortally afraid of the loo. When the Maharaja saw his discomfort, he advised him to wear a turban, just as he himself and all the people of the locality wore, to save himself from the loo, a suggestion which the swami readily accepted. The Maharaja in fact himself taught him how to wind the turban.”11 In all the subsequent photos of Swamiji during his wandering days he is, in fact, pictured wearing a turban. Photograph7 (continued) These photos (nos. 7 and 8) have sometimes been identified as having been taken in various places other than Jaipur such as Trivandrum, Bangalore, or Mysore, 1892, and sometimes as Chennai, 1893. Photo 7 appears as the frontispiece in the 1901 edition of Inspired Talks published in Mylapore, Chennai, during Swami Ramakrishnananda’s stay in Chennai. It bears the caption: “From a photograph taken just before leaving Chennai for the Parliament of Religions at Chicago, showing the swami in the orange robe and with the shaven head of the sannyasin.” It is not known where this information originated. Some are of the opinion that the photo was taken in Chennai simply because it appeared in a book which was published during Swami Ramakrishnananda’s time. It should be noted, however, that Swami Ramakrishnananda was not in Chennai in 1893 when Swamiji was there, but was sent there after Swamiji returned from the West the first time in 1897. Another reference to the possibility of this photo having been taken in Chennai can be found in the reminiscences of A. Srinivas Pai, who was a student in the Presidency College, Chennai, in 1893. He mentions: “The bare-headed photographs in the book, Swami Vivekananda’s Speeches and Writings, published by Messrs. G. A. Natesan & Co. give a good idea of the appearance of the swami. But no photograph or description can give a correct idea of the power of his eyes. They were wonderful. Like the ‘Ancient Mariner’ in Coleridge’s famous poem he ‘held you by the eye.’ ”12 This is one of the photographs that appears in that book. Clearly there are diverse interpretations as to where these photos (7 and 8) were taken. ❊ ❊ ❊ Throughout his wandering days Swamiji was asked a variety of questions about himself. While in Rajputana in 1891 someone said: “Sir, why do you wear gerua [ochre cloth]?” He would reply, “Because it is the garb of beggars. Poor people would ask me for alms if I were to wear white clothes. Being a beggar myself, most times I do not have even a single pice to give them. It causes me pain to have to refuse one who begs of me. But seeing my ochre cloth, they understand that I also am a beggar. They would not think of begging from a beggar.” (LSV [Kolkata, 1979] 1:266)


  • Title: Swami Vivekananda - Wandering Monk
  • Date Created: 1891-01
  • Location: Jaipur
  • Subject Keywords: Swami Vivekananda, Swami Vivekananda the wandering monk, Swami Vivekananda the monk, Swami Vivekananda at Jaipur
  • Type: Photograph
  • Publisher: Sri Ramakrishna Math & Mission, Belur Math
  • Rights: Sri Ramakrishna Math & Mission, Belur Math
  • Accession ID: Photograph 07

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