The speech of Swami Vivekananda at Chicago conference on September 11th, in 1893 was only for 6 minutes consisting of 887 words but what he stirred up with that has been echoing across continents for 120 years and will continue to echo for centuries to come.
Indians rediscovering India
This short speech recreated an interest about India in the west for the 20th century. It also helped Indians discover Swami Vivekananda and through him Indians were able to discover themselves, the strength of their tradition, culture and the respect for their own spirituality. The awakening of Indians among the American intelligentsia had resonance back in his homeland in India. This strength later paved the way for the Indian independence movement. In many a ways, 11th September is the day the Indians through Swami Vivekananda rediscovered their own strength.
Swami Vivekananda at the Parliament of Religions, Chicago, 1893
Harbinger of yoga and spirituality in the west
This speech also gave impetus to Indian yoga and spirituality. Today, yoga is a thriving industry in the west but its seeds were laid by Swami Vivekananda in the west.
People today talk of religious tolerance. The seed of this idea of religious tolerance and the idea of religious tolerance was sown by Swami Vivekananda at this speech.
4 years in America
After this speech, Swami Vivekananda kept getting invitations to speak at different occasions and was compelled to stay on in America for 4 years. This momentous speech catapulted Swami Vivekananda, an unknown swami of the orient to become one of the most powerful thought providers.
A true prajapathi, a thought leader in every sense!
The word dhana has a root syllable, dha which means to give. It is interesting to note that the word donate also comes from the same root. To give, to donate is an intrinsic part of human nature exhibited in every civilization that has flourished. The Indian civilization on its part had been a prosperous one. This prosperity here forth is manifest in the munificent practice of donation, dhana, an act where one shares the prosperity with an open heart.
This word dhana can be seen not only in India but also in South East Asian languages. In every place of worship, in Indonesia, Bali, Thailand and other places, there is a dhana box to offer donations, much like the hundi that one sees in temples and other religious places of India.
Donation box at a temple in Indonesia
Mother’s offering every day
Every day, when a mother makes food, she ensures that the first handful is kept aside for the birds, street dogs and other domestic animals. This has been the practice from Punjab in North India to Tamil Nadu in deep south.
The land of India has been vast from time immemorial. People have been walking to and fro, all over this land, to various Punya Tirtha, the holy spots. Chatram were built as a tradition of the land in almost every village, where these pilgrim travelers could rest in clean surroundings, partake free food offered by the local community and continue with their pilgrimage.
These Chatram dotted the land, from Peshawar in northwest to Kanyakumari in the south. They are also known as Sarai in North India. From this word, we get the words, Caravan Sarai and Mugal Sarai.
These Sarai were not only on main road but were also along the rivers. The best example is the Taj Mahal. We know it as the wonder of the world and a mausoleum, but what is little known is that Taj Mahal was also a Sarai on the banks of Yamuna for people going on boats up and down the Yamuna River.
These Sarai were not only for the poor pilgrims. It was the custom of e land even for the kings to partake the food in Sarai, Chatram during their travel across the land. That was the high quality of accommodation and food that was provided as dhana to the travelers. These are precursors to the travellers inn and present day hotels.
The key difference is that while the Chatram and Sarai were free for one and all, the travelers in hotels have to pay for its use.
At the time of this important astronomical event, eclipse, there is a popular saying, “de dhan, chute grhan”, meaning after the event of eclipse, it would be prudent to give dhana.
Dhana, the very ethos of this land
Like this, for every occasion like marriage, festivals, graha pravesham – house warming, after death ceremonies, the giving of dhana has been an integral part of the rituals. The giving of dhana has been interwoven into the tradition of the land, like Anna Dhana, Go Dhana, Bhu Dhana, Vastra Dhana and so on, including Shrama Dhana, volunteering.
This civilization has had this practice of dhana, charity for every occasion throughout the year. A beautiful concept of sharing the prosperity that the land has to offer and living in harmony with one another and society!