Unprecedented Welcome

As the ship of Swami Vivekananda was nearing India, in many cities of the South India, people were getting ready to receive Swami Vivekananda with unprecedented honour and to offer him addresses of welcome and gratitude. Swami Niranjanananda, one of his brother-disciples, had come to Ceylon to receive him; others were on the way. There was a great excitement in the country over his long awaited arrival.

Representatives of various religious sects and social bodies had joined the reception committees. Swami Vivekananda was unaware of the degree of enthusiasm with which the people of India awaited his return. Though he knew that people rejoiced over his triumph and would be happy for his return but the scale of enthusiasm, welcome that he was to receive was unprecedented and thus no one could imagine it - the one who was welcomed or even those who welcomed him.

On 15 January 1897 sun rose at Colombo on victorious return of Swami Vivekananda, the Son of Bharatmata. Along with the morning sun, Swamiji shone like Sahasrasurya in the hearts of all Indians. ‘No words can describe the feelings of the vast masses and their expressions of love, when at Colombo they saw the steam launch bearing Swamiji, streaming towards the jetty.... The din and clamour of shouts and hand-clapping drowned even the noise of the breaking waves.’ wrote the reports. For once in front of the enthusiasm of the people the waves of the ocean stood humbled. Perhaps the ocean must have forgotten itself and watched this return of the Hero-the descendant of Agastya Rishi with awe. His jubilant welcome in Ceylon was to be the first public ovation, a glimpse of the grand 'Vijay hi Vijay' march ahead from Colombo in the far south to Almora and later Rajasthan in the distant north almost for one year.

As per the area and the time there were variations in the mode of welcome but not in the enthusiasm. In Ceylon and other south Indian towns the roads for the procession were watered, in front of the houses ‘Niraikudam’ with mango leaves were kept. The whole road was decorated with the banana plants. If it was night then the lighted torches in the procession, lamps lighted in front of the houses gave the literal meaning to the words the ‘Swami Vivekananda brought light to India!’ Umbrellas as these are held on the deities for the procession were held for Swami Vivekananda. To quote one of the witnesses, “Flags and banners were everywhere. I should tell you that the procession was headed by the native band, tomtoms, etc., and the sacred umbrellas and banners brought out only when a god or idol is in procession, were also used.” The Jayghosha of Jai Jai Mahadeva rent the air.

Swamiji was carried in carriages, chariots, palanquins, beautifully decorated boat as was organized by Raja of Ramnad, even on a decorated horse as at Almorah. People including the kings were in ecstasy and his carriage was driven by Raja of Ramnad, by young men at Madras and at Calcutta. As reported: ‘The meeting over, the Swami was seated in the state-carriage and driven towards the Raj bungalow, the Raja himself walking with his court officials. Then, at the Raja's command, the horses were unharnessed, and the people, with the Raja himself, drew the state-carriage through the town.’ In the honour of Swami Vivekananda many welcome addresses were read, hymns were composed. In his honour Thevaram was sung at Colombo, various Indian as well as English songs were played in the processions on the band.’

The enthusiasm was so great that even today when we read the descriptions we are thrilled. Just to quote few descriptions.

At Colombo: “Every available carriage was in use and hundreds of pedestrians wended their way to the triumphal pandal which was decorated with palms, evergreens, etc. There the Swami, alighting from the carriage, walked in procession attended with due Hindu honours -- the flag, the sacred umbrella, the spreading of the white cloth, etc. An Indian band played select airs. …Both sides of the road leading from the first pandal to the second, a distance of a quarter of a mile, were lined with arches festooned with palm leaves. As soon as the Swami entered the second pandal, a beautiful artificial lotus flower unfolded its petals and out flew a bird”

Was it indicating that destiny of India is set free? But these charming decorations went unnoticed, for all eyes were on the Swamiji’s glowing face and flashing eyes. There the people clearly saw the freedom of great Bharat.

At Jaffna:“Thousands from all parts of the Island came to the city to get a glimpse of the renowned monk, and gathered all along the route to give him welcome. From 6 p.m. to 12 p.m., the Jaffna Kangesantura Road, as far as the Hindu College, was impassable for carts and carriages. The torchlight procession, which started at 8.30 p.m., attended with Indian music, was unprecedentedly imposing. It is estimated that more than fifteen thousand persons, all on foot, took part in it. The whole distance of two miles was so densely crowded that it looked like a sea of heads, yet perfect order prevailed from start to finish. At the gate of almost every house on both sides of the road throughout the entire distance, were placed Niraikudam and lamps, the inhabitants expressing in this manner the highest honours that could he offered, according to the Hindu idea, to a great sannyasin.”

At Ramnad: “The firing of cannon announced to the waiting thousands the arrival of the Swami. At the time of landing, and during the procession, rockets shot into the air. There was rejoicing everywhere. The Swami was driven in the state-carriage, accompanied by a bodyguard commanded by the Raja's brother, while the Raja himself, on foot, directed the procession. Torches flared on either side of the road. Both Indian and European music added life to the already lively proceedings. "See the Conquering Hero Comes" was played on landing, and as the Swami approached the state capital proper. When half the distance had been covered, he alighted at the request of the Raja and took his seat in the state-palanquin. Attended with all pomp, he reached the Shankara Villa.

At Almorah: They made him mount a horse dressed in handsome trappings and so seated, head a procession which went on swelling till as Goodwin has written it seemed every citizen of Almorah had joined it. (This was on 10 May. Since January the welcome was going on.) Every house displayed lamps and lights till the town appeared to be in ablaze of light, and the native music with the constant cheers of the crowd made the entire scene most remarkable even to those who had accompanied Swamiji since Colombo. From each house flowers and rice was showered.

Ever since the celebrated address of Swami Vivekananda at the Parliament of Religions the Indian newspapers had been often filled with his praises, and as he landed in Colombo numerous telegrams of invitations, entreaties, requests and congratulations awaited him. He had become India's "national hero", it was as if India had discovered her soul in him and his message, it was as if India had awakened to her purpose it was as if she had regained her voice of benediction.

Swamiji had to change his plans frequently as many invitations and appeals had poured in. He readily agreed for some like the invitation of Raja of Ramnad. It seems ‘the Raja was in such the ecstasy of delight to receive the news that Swamiji would reach there on 27 January that he immediately fed a thousand poor’ After Swamiji had reached Ramnad the Raja had further fed and clothed thousands of poor. When Swami Viveknanda had to go to Khetri at Rewari Junction on 1 December, people from Khetri as well as Alwar were present with horses and palanquins. People from Alwar pressed him so hard that Swamiji ultimately went to Alwar first. Some entreaties he could not acquiesce in like for example, Pune, Trichanapally But as Swamiji could not get down in Trichanapally, at Trichanapally station thousands gathered at 4.00 AM, little later at Tanjore again thousands gathered.

At a small station at Madras, where the train did not halt, it was made to do so by crowds who, after requests to the station-master to make it halt for a while had failed, fell flat on the railway lines at the risk of their lives. A catastrophe was averted by the presence of mind of the guard. Swamiji was moved to see people on the tracks and talked to them. And what did people want? Just a glimpse of the One, who had given back to them their self-respect, who had brought purpose to their national and personal life, who had validated their faith.

Even after a year was over Swami Vivekananda was still being welcomed, invited to various towns and villages. And when he gave in for some of these entreaties it showed on his health and due to that again he had to change his programs thus in the unprecedented enthusiasm of the people some places got added to his schedule and due to that when health deteriorated some got dropped too.

Each town, each village wanted to have glimpse of him, to listen to his life-giving message, to feel purposeful, to get assured that their Vedanta was the most universal spiritual heritage of mankind. Physically, Swami Vivekananda could not go to each and every village and town. But his impact was so great that since then people of India celebrated his birth centenary and centenary of his wanderings, of his Chicago speech, of his Samadhi so that they could again and again feel his majestic personality and listen to his elevating message. As all centenaries of his life are over so now the people of India are again getting ready to celebrate his 150th birth anniversary. The unprecedented welcome to Swami Vivekananda goes on without a full-stop.

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