Swami Vivekananda and Tamilnadu - 2


Here is the full story as Swami Vivekananda himself recounted, during a conversation with his disciple Sharat Chandra Chakravarty and Swami Yogananda (another direct disciple of Sri Ramakrishna): 

Swami Yogananda to Swamiji: “Well, why don’t you narrate to our Bangal (East Bengali disciple) that incident of yours in Madras when you met the famous ghost-tamer?” 

Swamiji: “Once while I was putting up at Manmatha Babu’s place, I dreamt one night that my mother had died. My mind became much distracted. Not to speak of corresponding with anybody at home, I used to send no letters in those days even to our Math. 

The dream being disclosed to Manmatha, he sent a wire to Calcutta to ascertain facts about the matter. For the dream had made my mind uneasy on the one hand, and on the other, our Madras friends, with all arrangements ready, were insisting on my departing for America immediately, and I felt rather unwilling to leave before getting any news of my mother. 

So Manmatha who discerned this state of my mind suggested our repairing to a man (whose name was Govinda Chetti) living some way off from town, who having acquired mystic powers over spirits could tell fortunes and read the past and the future of a man’s life. 

So at Manmatha’s request and to get rid of my mental suspense, I agreed to go to this man. 

Covering the distance partly by railway and partly on foot, we four of us – Manmatha, Alasinga, myself, and another – managed to reach the place, and what met our eyes there was a man with a ghoulish, haggard, soot-black appearance, sitting close to a cremation ground. 

His attendants used some jargon of South Indian dialect to explain to us that this was the man with perfect power over the ghosts. At first the man took absolutely no notice of us; and then, when we were about to retire from the place, he made a request for us to wait. 

Our Alasinga was acting as the interpreter, and he explained the requests to us. Next, the man commenced drawing some figures with a pencil, and presently I found him getting perfectly still in mental concentration. 

Then he began to give out my name, my genealogy, the history of my long line of forefathers and said that Shri Ramakrishna (Swami Vivekananda’s divine guru who had by then left his body) was keeping close to me all through my wanderings, intimating also to me good news about my mother. He also foretold that I would have to go very soon to far-off lands for preaching religion. 

Getting good news thus about my mother, we all travelled back to town, and after arrival received by wire from Calcutta the assurance of mother’s doing well.” 

Swamiji turning to Swami Yogananda: “Everything that the man had foretold came to be fulfilled to the letter, call it some fortuitous concurrence or anything you will.” 

Now the story does not end here. About four years after this incident, upon returning back from his historic voyage to the United States, Swamiji once more graced the soil of India at a town called Kumbakonam, situated about 275 kms from Madras. 

In this town he once more recognized the ghost tamer, Govinda Chetti, among the crowds who had come to greet him. What followed next is beautifully chronicled in the book Life of Swami Vivekananda by his Eastern and Western Disciples – Volume 2 (page 185). 

Now, when the Swami was being welcomed by the people of Kumbakonam, he recognized Govinda Chetti in the crowd, and asked him to meet him later. When the ghost charmer came, the Swami said: “I know you have psychic power. It has given you money and honour; but from the spiritual point of view, are you not where you started? Has your mind progressed towards God?” 

The man replied, “No it has not progressed.” 

Then the Swami said to him: “If that has not happened, what have you gained by this psychic power? Once you taste the bliss of God, you will see that all these things are nothing.” 

Saying this the Swami embraced him. To everybody’s astonishment, the man’s psychic powers disappeared from that day, and in their place came tremendous hankering for God, as a result of which he renounced the world. 


Swami Vivekananda, after wandering through the length and breadth of India to study the condition of her people, reached the Kanyakumari Rock on 24 December, 1892. After meditating for 3 days at the Rock, Swamiji left for Rameswaram. Going on foot, he stopped on the way at Madurai, where he met the Raja of Ramnad, Bhaskara Sethupathi (1868-1903), to whom he had a letter of introduction. The devout prince, one of the most enlightened of the Indian rulers, at once acknowledged Swamiji as “the Coming Man of his Motherland” and became his admirer and disciple. The Raja invited Swami Vivekananda to be a state guest of the Ramanathapuram palace. Swamiji stayed in the Shankara Villa for a week and visited Rameswaram temple, though the official documents in this regard are not yet traceable. Perhaps, a scrutiny of the palace records may clarify this speculation. 

To the Raja, Swamiji expressed many of his ideas about the education of the poor, the improvement of agriculture, and about the problems and potentialities of India. The Raja persistently urged Swamiji to go to the Parliament of Religions in Chicago, saying that it would be a very favourable opportunity for drawing the attention of the world towards Indian spiritual thought, and for laying the foundation for his future work in India. 

Raja Kumaran Sethupathy, the present Raja of Ramnad informs us that Raja Bhaskara Sethupathi met Swamiji again at ‘Woodland Palace’ in Royappettai, Madras, in January 1893, to impress upon him the paramount need to address the Parliament of Religions. 

After his epoch-making address at Chicago and the West, Swamiji returned to India on 26 January 1897. The place of his landing was at Pamban, now called kunthukal. Kunthukal literally means ‘setting foot’. The place is so called because Swamiji first set his feet in India at this place after return from the west. This place was under the rule of Bhaskara Sethupathi who accorded him a rousing reception. To quote from Swamiji’s biography: 

“On Tuesday, January 26, about 3 p.m, the steamer carrying the Swami and his European disciples arrived in Pamban. The Swami had been invited by the Raja of Ramnad to Rameswaram and was about to land and proceed to that place when he heard that the Raja was coming in person to meet him. On the Raja’s arrival, the Swami and party transferred from the vessel in which they had come to the state boat. As soon as he entered it, the Raja and all his staff prostrated before him. The meeting between the prince and the monk was a touching one. The Swami feelingly said that, as the Raja had been one of the first to conceive the idea of his going to the west and had encouraged and helped him to do so, it was apt that he should meet the Raja first on returning to the Indian soil.” 

The Raja placed Swamiji in a throne-like seat in the state-boat, put sandals at his feet and remarked that he deemed it a high honour and privilege to have been in a position to do this than to wear the richest diadem on his head. 

When the state boat reached the shore, Swamiji was given a tremendous ovation by the people of Pamban. Under a decorated pandal, an address of welcome was read out and presented to him. The Raja added to this, a brief personal welcome which was remarkable for its depth of feeling. Then Swamiji gave a short reply, pointing out that the backbone of Indian national life was neither politics nor military power, neither commercial supremacy nor mechanical genius, but religion and religion alone; and India alone could give spirituality to the world. He concluded by thanking the people of Pamban for their kind reception, and expressed his gratitude to the Raja of Ramnad for all that he had done for him. 

Swamiji was accompanied by his brother disciple, Swami Niranjanananda, Mr. and Mrs. Sevier, J.J. Goodwin and Mr. Harrison of Ceylon. 

The Raja commemorated the spot where Swamiji set foot on the Indian soil after return from the west, by erecting a monument, forty feet in height, bearing the following inscription: 

Satyameva jayate 

The monument erected by Bhaskara Sethupathi, the Raja of Ramnad, marks the sacred spot, where His Holiness Swami Vivekananda’s blessed feet first trod on Indian soil, together with the Swami’s English disciples, on His Holiness from the western Hemisphere, where glorious and unprecedented success attended His Holiness’ philanthropic labours to spread the religion of Vedanta 

January 27, 1897 

The monument does not exist now. When asked, Swami Tathagathananda, a senior monk of the Ramakrishna Order, who was the Chief Warden of Ramakrishna Mission Students’ Home, Mylapore, said, “For a long time, there has been no trace of this monument. Our Mission conducted relief work near the Rameswaram temple in 1958. At that time our monks tried hard to trace it out. None could tell them anything about it”. It is believed that the local fishermen broke down the sthupa monument. 

An imposing palatial structure has been built at this place by the Government of Tamil Nadu. This monument is being maintained by Ramakrishna Tapovanam, Tirupparaitturari. Hundreds of tourists visit this holy spot every day. 


It was during January-February of 1893 that Swami Vivekananda traversed the southern districts for the second time after his historic Chicago Address. His earlier visit was in December 1892 when he sat in meditation on the present Vivekananda Rock in Kanyakumari. His second visit began on the Pamban shore on January 26, 1893, where the steamer carrying him and European disciples from Ceylon anchored. The Raja of Ramnad, who had earlier sponsored his trip to the US to participate in the World’s Parliament of Religions, accorded a grand reception to the monk. He also drew the carriage carrying Swami Vivekananda. 

From Pamban, Swami Vivekananda travelled to Rameswaram, Ramanathapuram, Paramakudi and Manamadurai before reaching Madurai on February 2. Here he stayed as the guest of the Raja of Ramnad. He visited the Meenakshi Sundareswarar Temple and addressed a reception accorded to him by the people of Madurai at the present Madura College Higher Secondary School. 

In his address, Swami Vivekananda said: “Being in Madura, as the guest of one of your well-known citizens and noblemen, the Raja of Ramnad, one fact comes prominently to my mind. 

Perhaps, most of you are aware that it was the Raja who first put the idea into my mind of going to Chicago, and it was he who all the time supported it with all his heart and influence. 

A good deal, therefore, of the praise that has been bestowed upon me in this address, ought to go to this noble man of Southern India. I only wish that instead of becoming a Raja he had become a sanyasin, for that is what he is really fit for.” 

During the course of the function at Ramnad, Swamiji conferred on the Raja, the title Rajarshi, meaning that he was both a King and Sage at the same time. Swamiji has not conferred any title to anyone, anywhere in the world except to the Raja of Ramnad. This speaks volumes of the glory of the Raja of Ramnad. 

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