Early Life of Swami Vivekananda

From Childhood to Becoming a Monk

Bhuvaneswari DeviVivekananda House

Parentage

Swami Vivekananda, known in his pre-monastic life as Narendra Nath Datta, was born in an affluent family in Kolkata on 12 January 1863. His father, Vishwanath Datta, was a successful attorney with interests in a wide range of subjects, and his mother, Bhuvaneshwari Devi, was endowed with deep devotion, strong character, and other qualities.

Swamiji Ancestral HouseVivekananda House

Master of all Trades

A precocious boy, Narendra excelled in music, gymnastics, and studies. By the time he graduated from Calcutta University, he had acquired a vast knowledge of different subjects, especially Western philosophy and history. Born with a yogic temperament, he used to practice meditation even from his boyhood and was associated with Brahmo Movement for some time.

Swami Vivekananda's Hand X-Ray (1895-04-06)Vivekananda House

Swami Vivekananda's Palm

In his boyhood, Vivekananda used to tell his friends, I must become a sannyasin (a monk), a palmist predicted it', and he would show them a particular straight line on the palm of his hand.Later a famous palmist Cheiro also predicted the same about his becoming a monk.

William HastieVivekananda House

The Visionary

About Narendra, his college Principal William Hastie said, "Narendranath is a genius. I have travelled far and wide, but I have never yet come across a lad of his talents and possibilities, even in German universities, amongst philosophical students. He is bound to make his mark in life!"

Sri Ramakrishna in Samadhi at a KirtanVivekananda House

The First Meeting of Sri Ramakrishna

One day in November 1881, Narendra went to meet Sri Ramakrishna who was staying at the Kali Temple in Dakshineshwar. He straightaway asked the Master a question which he had put to several others but had received no satisfactory answer: “Sir, have you seen God?”

Without a moment’s hesitation, Sri Ramakrishna replied: “Yes, I have. I see Him as clearly as I see you, only in a much intense sense.”

Sri Ramakrishna's Studio PhotoVivekananda House

Rapid strides

Apart from removing doubts from the mind of Narendra, Sri Ramakrishna won him over through his pure, unselfish love.

Thus began a guru-disciple relationship which is unique in the history of spiritual masters. Narendra now became a frequent visitor to Dakshineshwar and under the guidance of the Master, made rapid strides on the spiritual path.

Swami Vivekananda seated, rare photo (circa 1886)Vivekananda House

Afflictions

After a few years two events took place which caused Narendra considerable distress.

One was the sudden death of his father in 1884. This left the family penniless, and Narendra had to bear the burden of supporting his mother, brothers and sisters.

The second event was the illness of Sri Ramakrishna which was diagnosed to be cancer of the throat.

Bhavatarani KaliVivekananda House

Sri Ramakrishna sent Vivekananda to pray personally with Mother Kali to manage his family crisis, and he later expressed his experience thus: ‘Reaching the temple, as I cast my eyes upon the image, I found that the Divine Mother was living and conscious.’ I prostrated myself before the Mother and prayed, “Mother, give me discrimination! Give me renunciation! Give unto me knowledge and devotion!”

Sri Ramakrishna's RoomVivekananda House

Serving the Master

In September 1885 Sri Ramakrishna was moved to a house at Shyampukur, and a few months later to a rented villa at Cossipore. In these two places the young disciples nursed the Master with devoted care. In spite of poverty at home and inability to find a job for himself, Narendra joined the group as its leader.

Cossipore Garden HouseVivekananda House

At Guru's Deathbed

At the time of passing away of Sri Ramakrishna, he wrote on a piece of paper, "Narendra(later Vivekananda) will teach others." Sometime before he had told Naren, "My Siddhis [powers] will manifest through you in time," meaning that in later years as a teacher, Naren would turn many of the worldly-minded to spiritual life.

Swami Vivekananda with the disciples of Sri Ramakrishna (1886-08-16)Vivekananda House

The New Monastic Order

Sri Ramakrishna instilled in these young men the spirit of renunciation and brotherly love for one another. One day he distributed ochre robes among them and sent them out to beg food. In this way he himself laid the foundation for a new monastic order. He gave specific instructions to Narendra about the formation of the new monastic Order.

In the small hours of 16 August 1886 Sri Ramakrishna gave up his mortal body.

Swami Vivekananda at Baranagore Math (1887-01)Vivekananda House

The First Monastery

After the Master’s passing, fifteen of his young disciples (one more joined them later) began to live together in a dilapidated building at Baranagar in North Kolkata. Under the leadership of Narendra, they formed a new monastic brotherhood, and in 1887 they took the formal vows of sannyasa, thereby assuming new names. Narendra now became Swami Vivekananda.

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Ramakrishna Math and Mission, Belur Math
Ramakrishna Math and Mission, Adviata Ashrama
Ramakrishna Math and Mission, Chennai

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