Wednesday, 16 January 2013

The monk and a monarch

It was November 1892 and the Dewan of Mysore, K, Seshadri Iyer, had fixed an appointment for a monk with the reigning Wodeyar monarch, Chamaraja Wodeyar.
The young monk had come along with six other colleague to Mysore on an invitation from the Dewan who had met them at Bangalore.
The Dewan had been attracted by the language and scholarship of the monk who had stayed in Bangalore in Majestic and given discourses in Vedanta.
The monk stayed in Mysore from November 9 to November 24. He had been initially been put up at the Nirajnana Matha before being asked to shift to the Dewan’s house on Seetha Vilas Road in Mysore.
The Dewan had personally arranged for an interview with the monarch and the monk impressed the royal with his knowledge and fluency. Overcome by his magnetic personality, the monarch-Chamaraja Wodeyar-insisted that the monk stay for a few days in the Palace itself as a State guest.  
During his stay at the Palace, the monarch made every effort to make the monk’s stay comfortable. He also had a range of discussions with the monk over various topics, including religion, philosophy and even statecraft.
One day, both the Dewan and the monk went to the private quarters of the monarch.
The Monarch humbly asked the monk what he could do for him. The monk did not say anything but he began expounding the mission of his life. As the monk became more and more involved in describing his mission, the monarch and the Dewan found themselves spellbound under the oratorical skills of the handsome and erudite ascetic.
The monk covered a variety of issues and said India’s real wealth was its rich culture, history and philosophy. What India now needed was a push in science and technology. India, the monk said, had enough of religion and philosophy to give to the West. “I am, therefore, going to America to give them our religion and philosophy”, he said. “In return, the West must help us improving our social and economic condition”.
The monarch was not only taken aback by the eloquence of the monk and his stirring ideas, but also by the bold and frank manner in which he had expressed himself. He immediately offered to bear the expense of the trip to America. The monk refused politely.
The monk spent several days at the Palace and when the time came for him to leave Mysore, the monarch and the Dewan were unwilling to let him go. “Stay for some more days, they both urged the monk.
The monk pointed to the unfilled task that he had to address immediately and once again urged them to let him go. The monarch then asked for a souvenir. He said he would record the monk’s speech.
The monk agreed and so the monarch decided to record his speech for posterity. The device to record voices then wad called a phonograph and the monarch had the finest device of the age. The monk spoke into the device and even today it is preserved in the Mysore Palace.
The phonograph still survives but the voice has dulled and is at times indistinct. But one cannot fail to note the sincerity and strength of expression that still comes across even after more than a century of its recording.
Another aspect that is worth mentioning here is the enduring friendship between the monk and the monarch. When in Chicago, the monk wrote to the Monarch. And when the monarch died,  the monk, who was in America, mourned his loss.
The monk is none other than Swamy Vivekakanda, who is often described as the greatest Indian of the twentieth century.

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