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Paper Presentation: Swami Vivekananda's views on National Identity by Sri Ramakrishna Prasad

Sri Ramakrishna Prasad, Prantha Boudhik Pramuk addressed a gathering at Prabodhan Varga and spoke on Swami Ji's views on National Identity at Karyalaya. The paper presentation of Prasad Ji is here.


A major cross-country race in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, was to cover a seven-mile course.  Two hours after the race began, there were no runners in sight, and the officials became concerned that something had happened.  They set out in their automobiles to find the runners and discovered that all were six or more miles away, running in the wrong direction.  Some had actually covered more than ten miles.  A.J.Rogers, a race official, said the mix-up apparently occurred when the runner leading the pack took a wrong turn at the fifth checkpoint and the rest followed him.

            In a lifetime, the average person directly or indirectly influences ten thousand other people.  Those who are in leadership positions influence many, many more.  That’s the reason leadership carries such an incredible responsibility – namely, that of making certain you’re heading in the right direction, that the decisions you make are character-based and the route you choose is a good one.  

Swami Vivekananda was one such leader who profoundly influenced the psyche of our nation thereby changing the course of our nation.  In H.G.Wells’ famous book ‘The Outline of History’ there is chapter entitled, “The Intellectual Revival of Europeans”.  The chapter describes how the collective mind of the Europeans underwent an awakening in the twelfth, thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, as a result of which love for knowledge and efforts to acquire knowledge began to spread among the common people. 
  What caused this awakening was the Europeans’ coming into contact, through the Crusades, with the advanced civilization in the Middle East.  Through this contact the Europeans rediscovered the ancient Greek philosophy and Greek classics, learned the so-called Arabic numerals, and the method of making paper. It is an irony of history that, just when the Europeans mind woke up, the Indian mind went to sleep.  This national slumber lasted nearly seven hundred years.  It is well known that until the twelfth century, India was the wealthiest nation in the world, producing one third of global GDP.  But after it succumbed to foreign invasions from the 11th century onwards, its economy began to decline, and in the 16th century its share in global GDP was only 25 percent.  China overtook India, and Western Europe’s share began to increase.  After 1700, with British occupation, India became one of the poorest nations in the world.  After the tenth century the Indian mind ceased to have interest in nature and to be open to the natural world.  As the British writer V.S.Naipaul has stated, a kind of “collective amnesia” seem to have overtaken the Indian mind.  Till the end of the eighteenth century India appeared to be a sleeping giant.
In this context several basic questions arise. What are the forces which govern historical changes? What are the causes of the decline of civilizations, and what are the means by which some civilizations renew or rejuvenate themselves? Eminent thinkers and philosophers of history like Hegel, Arnold Toynbee, Oswald Spengler, Pitirim Sorokin and others have tried to provide answers to the above questions.  From a study of their works we come to some basic conclusions about historical progression.    
Humanity is divided into several civilizations.  Each civilization has a particular bent, a common interest and characteristic features.  The main interest of Greek civilization was enquiry into the nature of the physical world.  Hebraic civilization is centered around monotheism and moral questions; the Chinese civilization was concerned chiefly with the society and social relationships; the Indian civilization has spirituality for its main characteristic.
 2. Each civilization has passed through several stages known as epochs or eras.  Each epoch or era is dominated by a particular zeitgeist or “time spirit”. By zeitgeist is meant the general intellectual, moral and cultural climate of a particular period in history – the ideas, beliefs, and values which dominate the minds of the people of that epoch. 3. Every civilization passes through periods of decline caused by moral degeneration of the people, foreign invasions, civil wars and social conflicts within the country.  According to Toynbee, those civilizations which have developed adequate reserves of moral, cultural and spiritual resources are able to overcome such crises and undergo rejuvenation. 4. Such rejuvenation may be brought about by the following factors: (a) the declining civilization’s encountering a more vigorous and advanced civilization. (b) the rise of a great spiritual leader, known as a Prophet or Avatara, who gives a new message suited to the needs and conditions of the new age which he inaugurates.  He inspires a group of his followers who spread his message among the common people.  They are at first constitute what Toynbee calls a “creative minority”. But as more and more people come under the influence of the new message, the rejuvenation of national life or civilization takes place.
Swami Vivekananda who had a deep understanding of history has referred to the above historical processes in several of his speeches and writings.  Introducing his lecture on the “Great Teachers of the World”, delivered in California in 1900, Swamiji said: “The universe…is moving in cycles of wave forms…What is true of the universe is true of every part of it.  The march of human affairs is like that.  The history of nations is like that: they rise and fall. …In the religious world the same movement exists.  In every nation’s spiritual life, there is a fall as well as a rise.  The nation goes down, and everything goes to pieces.  Then again it gains strength and rises.  A huge wave comes, sometimes a tidal wave – and always on the topmost crest of the wave is a shining soul, the Messenger.  Creator and created by turns, he is the impetus that makes the wave rise, the nation rise.  AT the same time, he is created by the same forces which make the wave, acting and interacting by turns.  He puts forth his tremendous power upon the society; and the society makes him what he is.”

It was Swami Vivekananda who rekindled the spirit of our nation and thus aroused the sleeping giant.  How could he do it? Firstly he identified the reason for the nation going to sleep.  The chief reason being that our nation forgot its mission.  So he time again said that, “Just as there is an individuality in every man, so there is a national individuality. As one man differs from another in certain particulars, in certain characteristics of his own, so one race differs from another in certain peculiar characteristics; and just as it is the mission of every man to fulfil a certain purpose in the economy of nature, just as there is a particular line set out for him by his own past Karma, so it is with nations”.

Take for example a tiny incident of an insect falling inside a glass of apple juice.  The reactions/responses by varied from individual to individual.
Event: An insect falls into a mug of apple juice…
Englishman: Throws his mug away and walks out
American: Takes the insect out and drinks the apple juice
Chinese: Eats the insect and throws the apple juice away
Japanese: Drinks the apple juice with insect as it is coming free
Indian: Sells the apple juice to the American and the insect to the Chinese and gets a new mug of apple juice
Pakistani: Accuses the Indian for throwing insect into his apple juice Relates the issue to Kashmir. Takes a loan from the American to buy one more mug of apple juice

            Though the above joke has been said in a lighter vein, this shows the typical mind of persons belonging to each nation.  Let us now look at a real incident.  Sri Balbir Mathur who belonged to an orthodox family of Allahabad had his education in English and as a result of which had high admiration for the Britishers and condemned everything that was Hindu.  He went to America to work and settled there after marrying an American woman.  He came to his native place to cover the Kumbh Mela in 1976 on behalf of an English magazine.  As usual he covered all the negative aspects of the Kumbh Mela.   One day it rained.  Realizing that the Sadhus will declare that God has blessed the occasion he decided to meet the common man and highlight that the rains had affected them badly.  He first went to a barber and asked how much money he usually get daily.  He replied that he would get Rs.100/- per day.  When questioned how much he had got that day, he replied that he got only Rs.20/-.  Sri Balbir Mathur asked him is it not correct that the rains had affected his livelihood.  The barber replied that rain is an act of God and who is he to decide whether it is right or wrong.  Sri Balbir Mathur literally froze on hearing the reply and wondered what made the barber to reply like that.  He met 63 persons on that day comprising of people belonging to the lower strata of society and was surprised that everyone of them replied in more or less the same fashion as that of the barber.  He decided on that day that he had to learn something about the Hindu way of life.  He went to America, resigned his job and came back to his native place and started a moment called ‘Trees for life’ and was instrumental in planting of thousands of trees in the Northern part of India.  This religious mind is present not only amongst the lower strata of people in India but also in higher strata. That is why Alan Watts of Harvard University said, “It is, indeed, a remarkable circumstance that when Western civilization discovers Relativity it applies it to the manufacture of atom-bombs, whereas this Oriental civilization applies it to the development of new states of consciousness.”

The same is the case with nations.  So Swamiji said that, ‘Each nation has a destiny to fulfil, each nation has a message to deliver, each nation has a mission to accomplish. Therefore, from the very start, we must have to understand the mission of our own race, the destiny it has to fulfil, the place it has to occupy in the march of nations, the note which it has to contribute to the harmony of races.’

             The strength of the lion lies in its teeth and claws and once it loses it nobody will fear the lion.  The story of lion, farmer and his daughter. Similarly, every nation has its own inherent strength and the inherent strength of India is spirituality.  This forgetting of the nation’s inherent strength was the second reason for the sleep of the great nation.  Swami Vivekananda rightly identified the soul of our nation and where its strength lied and kindled it.  Hence he declared, ‘Hindu Dharma is the quintessence of our national life, hold fast to it if you want your country to survive, or else you would be wiped out in three generations.’

It was not only Swami Vivekananda but many others who have spoken about religion being the soul of our nation in later years.  One such person was Dr.Annie Besant who said, “During the early life of a Nation, religion is an essential for the binding together of the individuals who make the nation. India was born, as it were, in the womb of Hinduism, and her body was for long shaped by that religion. Religion is a binding force, and India has had a longer binding together by religion than any other Nation in the world, as she is the oldest of the living Nations.” 

             But unfortunately the ideas/ideals propagated by Swami Vivekananda were not enshrined in our constitution, educational system etc., after independence which resulted in another change in the course of our history.  The fault for this is attributable to lack of proper leadership vision.  How America as a nation was built though it was very difficult as there were no native Americans and everyone went there for business interest and settled there? For e.g., during 1900s they invited Italians for starting restaurants as Americans were not knowing how to cook.  The Americans insisted that they should learn English and should converse only in English in public places.  They should learn the etiquettes of serving the Americans.  They can cook any dish in their houses daily but one dish should be American.  This they made is compulsory.  Within a short period the Italians started feeling that they are Americans.  Such effort was not made in our country when we gained Independence though it should have been easy for us as our forefathers have already evolved a system.  One primary thing that could have been done was including a lesson at the primary level on what makes an Indian.  No effort was made to bring out the pride in our country.  E.g., No mention about the Tamil Kings who built the biggest temple in the world viz., Angkor Wat in Cambodia.  The Balbek temple in Lebanon was built by Indians 4300 years ago.  The Lebanon students knows it where as an Indian student doesn’t know it.  Similarly, though the Constitution of India is the longest written constitution of any sovereign country in the world, the architects of Indian constitution were most heavily influenced by the British model of parliamentary democracy. In addition, a number of principles were adopted from the Constitution of the United States of America, including the separation of powers among the major branches of government, the establishment of a supreme court, and the system of having a President as well as a Prime Minister. The principles adopted from Canada were Unitary government with strong center and also distribution of powers between central government and provinces along with placing residuary powers with central government. From Ireland, directive principle of state policy was adopted. From Germany the principle of suspension of fundamental rights during emergency was adopted. From Australia the idea of having of Concurrent list of shared powers was used as well and some of the terminology was utilized for the preamble.

Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, who took over the reins of the country after independence, had diametrically opposite views on the core ideas of Swami Vivekananda. As a result, he used to say, ‘The ideology of Hindu Dharma is completely out of tune with the present times and if it took root in India, it would smash the country to pieces.’ The reason for such utterances can be gauged from his own observation about himself.  He used to say, ‘By education I am an Englishman, by views an internationalist, by culture a Muslim, and a Hindu only by accidental birth.’  He didn’t heed to the warning of Swami Vivekananda who had said: “In everything, religion and religion alone is the life of India and when that goes India will die, in spite of politics, in spite of social reforms, in spite of Kubera’s wealth poured upon the head of every one of her children.”  Hence, without mincing words, he had said, “Every improvement in India requires first of all an upheaval in religion.  Before flooding India with socialistic or political ideas, first deluge the land with spiritual ideas.”  However, the development model envisaged by Sri Nehru negated religion completely.  One consequence of this dominance of the Nehruvian approach was that our Independence turned out to be a mere transfer of power, not freedom from the British; Independence came to represent merely a change of the rulers with almost no change in the character of the rule or the attitudes of the rulers to the people of India and to the ideas and things Indian. The Anglo-Saxon values and norms continued to be the soul of the Indian state that came into being after Independence. There was little of indigenous ways in the polity of India following Independence. Whatever was native was made the subject matter of ridicule. Secular India virtually targeted the traditional and religious India. The irony is that this negation of religion was officially incorporated in our constitution by Pandit Nehru’s daughter Smt.Indira Gandhi. To make matters worse, we took to the socialist form of economy and so whatever tradition remained, that became a prey to the leftist and socialist onslaught.

As a result, though the nation has progressed in various fields and small section of the people have become prosperous, the values for which the nation/people stood eroded gradually.  Increase in wealth without increase in wisdom or spirituality is generally seen to lead a person to immorality and ruin.  This is true of nations also.  This was pointed out long ago by Swami Vivekananda.  Swamiji said: “The education which will procure more pleasure, more food, will become glorious at first, then that will degrade and degenerate.  Along with the prosperity will rise to white heat all the inborn jealousies and hatreds of the human race.  Competition and merciless cruelty will become the watchword of the day.”  Swamiji says, “Now comes the question: Can religion really accomplish anything? It can.  It brings to man eternal life.  It has made man what he is, and will make of this human animal a God.  That is what religion can do. Take religion from human society and what will remain? Nothing but a forest of brutes…”  Not only the values were eroded, an identity crisis seeped into the psyche of the people.   

But the nation started regaining its national identity after 1990s because of the repeated onslaughts on the soul of our nation.  This revival movement pushed ‘Hindutva’ to the centre stage which opened up a spate of debates for and against it.  Many failed to understand the reasons for the revival.  Hindu Dharma or Hinduism was never organised. But when it was faced with the onslaught of the Abrahamic faiths which rejected other thoughts, considered their followers as kafirs and heathens, and denied them even the right to live, Hinduism slowly assumed a kinetic form. Hinduism had to acquire this form to secure its defence against the thoughts that used physical might against Hinduism. In short, Hindu Dharma represents the potential energy of the Indian people and Hindutva is the kinetic aspect of Hindu Dharma.

 A Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court held in 1977 that Hinduism is a non-conflicting religion. Later, when the political idiom of India began to be influenced by Hindu Dharma through the kinetics of Hindutva, the Supreme Court had to consider the meaning of Hindutva. After considering the meaning and content of Hinduism and Hindutva, the Court held in 1994 that Hindutva, the kinetic effect of Hinduism, too is a non-conflicting and secular idea. So conceptually and practically, Hindutva, which is the kinetic effect of Hindu Dharma, is a non-conflicting idea.  It is an irony that though Encyclopedia Britannica, a compilation that perceives the world from a Christian standpoint, gives the best definition for Hinduism, our so called secularists turn a blind eye to the richness of Hinduism.  On Hinduism, the Encyclopaedia says: “In principle Hinduism incorporates all forms of belief and worship without necessitating the selection or elimination of any. The Hindu is inclined to revere the divine in every manifestation, whatever it may be, and is doctrinally tolerant, leaving others – including both Hindus and non-Hindus – to whatever creed and worship practices suit them the best. A Hindu may embrace a non-Hindu religion without ceasing to be a Hindu, and since the Hindu is disposed to think synthetically and to regard other forms of worship, strange Gods, and divergent doctrines as inadequate rather than wrong or objectionable, he tends to believe that the highest divine powers compliment each other for the well being of the world and the mankind. Few religious ideas are considered to be finally irreconcilable. The core of the religion does not even depend on the existence or non-existence of the God or whether there is one God or many. Since religious truth is said to transcend all verbal definition, it is not conceived in dogmatic terms. Hinduism is then both a civilisation and a conglomerate of religions with neither a beginning, nor a founder, nor a central authority, hierarchy or organisation.” 

Swami Vivekananda making a comparative analysis of French, English and Hindu character said that political independence is the backbone of the French character and social independence is the backbone of the English character and religion is the backbone of the Hindu character.  Elaborating this, Swamiji said that the French, English and Hindu will tolerate anything but if their essential character is touched they will revolt.  This is exactly what happened in the 1990s in our country and is continuing the happen even now.  The hue and cry of the so called secularist intellectuals and media is because of the revival that is taking place.  They are repeatedly saying that this revival is dangerous to the secular polity of our country.  May be Swamiji had foreseen this situation and hence had declared without mincing words that, “I am not going to discuss now whether it is right or not, whether it is correct or not, whether it is beneficial or not in the long run, to have this vitality in religion, but for good or evil it is there; you cannot get out of it, you have it now and forever, and you have to stand by it, even if you have not the same faith that I have in our religion. You are bound by it, and if you give it up, you are smashed to pieces. That is the life of our race and that must be strengthened.” Justifying his stand he says, “You have withstood the shocks of centuries simply because you took great care of it, you sacrificed everything else for it. Your forefathers underwent everything boldly, even death itself, but preserved their religion. Temple alter temple was broken down by the foreign conqueror, but no sooner had the wave passed than the spire of the temple rose up again. Some of these old temples of Southern India and those like Somnâth of Gujarat will teach you volumes of wisdom, will give you a keener insight into the history of the race than any amount of books. Mark how these temples bear the marks of a hundred attacks and a hundred regenerations, continually destroyed and continually springing up out of the ruins, rejuvenated and strong as ever! That is the national mind, that is the national life-current. I do not mean to say that political or social improvements are not necessary, but what I mean is this, and I want you to bear it in mind, that they are secondary here and that religion is primary.”

During Swami Vivekananda’s time the people were ashamed to call themselves ‘Hindu’ as if the word was dirty due to onslaught of Western civilization.  However, as a result of the efforts of Swamiji the people started feeling proud in calling themselves ‘Hindu’.  The same situation continues even now.  The word ‘Hindu’ became dirty in the hands of the so called secular intellectuals and secular media.  What Swami Vivekananda told about the word ‘Hindu’ at that time was relevant not only then but also more relevant now.  He had said, “We are Hindus. I do not use the word Hindu in any bad sense at all, nor do I agree with those that think there is any bad meaning in it. In old times, it simply meant people who lived on the other side of the Indus; today a good many among those who hate us may have put a bad interpretation upon it, but names are nothing. Upon us depends whether the name Hindu will stand for everything that is glorious, everything that is spiritual, or whether it will remain a name of opprobrium, one designating the downtrodden, the worthless, the heathen. If at present the word Hindu means anything bad, never mind; by our action let us be ready to show that this is the highest word that any language can invent.”  Let us fulfill what Swamiji wished.

At a time when Western thought was influencing our nation, Swami Vivekananda influenced the Western mind through his Chicago address and also thereafter.  The same situation prevails even now.  Unless India influences the world, the world is bound to influence India. The only way India can neutralise global influence on India is to influence the world and bend it towards its way. This is a huge challenge. While the world, which means the West, ceaselessly and comprehensively influences Hindu India, there is hardly a matching Indian influence on the world or the West. This is because the main vehicle of Western influences on India in the last century was not the West outside India, but the English-educated elite and the leftists within India. They do the work of the West in India. They influence India towards the Western views and ways. They make India believe that it has nothing worthwhile with which to influence the world and it has every reason to be influenced by the world. They continue to dominate the Indian debate even now. This great challenge too needs to be met. The response to this challenge lies in establishing an acceptable language and style of communication to get across to the important, vulnerable and critical segment of Hindu society comprising of the English-educated elite. We must understand that the English-educated population in Bharat is more than the total population of England. It is this segment which controls and handles the levers of power and influence in the society. Their influence over the Indian establishment, including the government, business, finance, media, politics, academics and public discourse in general, is totally disproportionate to their numbers. Their understanding of the real Bharat, its history and traditions, its values and culture, is minimal, and often wrong. Some among them even detest all ideas and things Indian. Following the Western view of gender relationships and under the influence of feminism – which has nearly destroyed the institution of the family in the West – some of them are even apologetic about being women in the normal sense of the term.  To meet this challenge, it is high time that we flood our nation with Swami Vivekananda’s ideas thereby rouse the national consciousness.    
Swami Vivekananda aroused the sleeping nation through touching the soul of our nation viz., religion and Sri Jawaharlal Nehru changed the course of our nation by negating religion resulting in identity crisis in India.  Sri M.A.Jinnah paved the way for identity crisis in Pakistan. Jinnah exploded India by expounding his two-nation theory at the All India Muslim League meet at Lahore on March 22, 1940, claiming that Hindus and Muslims look to ‘different sources of history for inspiration’, to ‘different epics’, and to ‘different heroes’. His theory is now found to be bogus by his very creation, the Pakistan establishment. Its official version of history affirms that Muslims too trace their cultural ‘inspiration’ to Gandhara and Takshasila, their ‘epics’ and literature to Mahabharata and Arthasastra, and their ‘heroes’ to Panini, Chanakya, Chandragupta and Kushana. Islamic Pakistan’s official history claims no other cultural antiquity, no other epic, no other heroes! When even the Government of Pakistan has started tracing their country’s root to India, is it not high time that our Government also trace the nation’s root to its soul which is Hindu Dharma at least at the juncture of Swami Vivekananda’s 150th Jayanthi celebrations, thus paying a rich tribute to one of the greatest souls of our nation?

Let Swami Vivekananda’s following words go deep into each one’s veins and always reverberate in the national consciousness.  Each nation has its own peculiar method of work. Some work through politics, some through social reforms, and some through other lines. With us, religion is the only ground along which we can move. The Englishman can understand even religion through politics. Perhaps the American can understand even religion through social reforms. But the Hindu can understand even politics when it is given through religion; sociology must come through religion, everything must come through religion.”

Video Link on paper presentation at seminar on 31.3.13


  1. All Indians in USA particularly, are requested to bring this page to the knowledege of their school going children.

    Prof Mohan K Muju

  2. An exemplery presentation.I enjoyed studying every letter of this paper.I wouldlike to add only one more sentence:Pandit Deendayal upadhyaya evolved a political philosophy out of this:EKATMA MAANAVA VAADA(Integral Humanism-Vallalaar kanda aanma maeya orumaippaadu in tamil).This philosophy is going to rule the entire future universe.