Wednesday 30 January 2013

Swamy Vivekananda and the story of the stone bench of Bangalore

They are so common that nobody gives a second thought to them. They are  there everywhere-in parks, playgrounds, houses, malls, schools, hospitals and even in the most remote places.
However, not much attention is paid to them unless they have a history of their own or they have a tale to narrate.
They are the stone benches. These benches are designed in the most simple manner. There are plenty of them in and around Bangalore. But this one located in the Ramakrishna Matha in Bangalore is a special one.
This is the very bench on which one of India’s greatest citizens, Swamy Vivekananda sat.   
The Ramakrishna Ashrama in Basavanagudi is at the Bull Temple road and it is a well-known landmark of Bangalore. However, what is not well-known is that the Ashrama houses some of the rare exhibits or artifacts such as the stone bench.
The stone bench was not originally the property of the Ashrama. The bench was in Majestic locality n Bangalore till 1997 after which it came to the Ashrama.
This is the story of the stone bench.
It was 1892 and Bangalore then comprised of  the old petes and the Cantonment area. Majestic was developing then and the railway station was constructed there.
Swamy Vivekananda had come to Belgaum in 1982 and he arrived in Bangalore in December the same year from Belgaum via Dharwad. He stayed in the Kalappa Choultry near Majestic for a few days.
Kalappa Choultry in the 1890s was an alms house. Since he knew nobody in Bangalore,  he decided to stay on in the choultry. However, soon after his arrival, he became infected with chicken pox.
According to then Municipal laws, infections could only be treated by authorised doctors Since  Dr. P. Palpu, the Municipal Medical
Officer, was available, he was called in.
When the doctor met the Swamy, it took him just a few minutes to relies that Vivekananda was no ordinary person or monk. He then persuaded the young monk to leave the alms house and stay with him in Majestic area.
Coincidentally, Dr Palpu, an acquaintance of  K. Seshadri Iyer, the Dewan  of Mysore State. When the doctor met the Dewan, he told him about the extraordinary monk.
The Dewan, whose curiosity was aroused, met the monk and even he came under the influence of Vivekananda. Very soon, the Dewan introduced the monk to the aristocracy and the intelligentsia of Bangalore. He affectionately called Vivekananda  “Young Acharya”.
The Dewan then decided to personally introduce Vivekananda to then Maharaja of Mysore, Chamarajendra Wodeyar. He then invited Vivekananda to visit Mysore and be his guest.
By then, Vivekananda was cured of chicken pox and Dr. Palpu declared him fit to travel. Vivekananda travelled to Mysore, stayed for some time at the Niranjana Matha near Narayana Shastri Road and then shifted to the Dewan’s house on Seethavilas Road. He then called on the Maharaja and confounded him with his knowledge and expertise on all subjects.
The Maharaja, himself a scholar, was moved to remark,“Such
brilliancy of thought, such charm of personality, such wide learning and such penetrating religious insight”.
It was at Mysore that Vivekananda resolved to visit Chicago ad attend the World meet on Religions. He then left Mysore for Trivandrum and then to the United States.
Well, Vivekananda went to Chicago where he gave a stirring speech on September 11, 1893. The world then woke up to the greatness of Vivekananda. India too received news of  Vivekananda’s greatness. It was only then that Sugappa, a jeweler of Majestic in Bangalore, decided to preserve a stone bench in front of his house.
The bench was placed near the house of  Sugappa adjacent to the Kalappa choultry and Sugappa had noticed a young and handsome person sitting n the bench for several days. It appeared to him that the person liked the bench. However, after a few days, he noticed that the handsome person had disappeared. He thought nothing of it and it was only when new of Vivekananda taking the West by storm reached India that the jeweler realized that the young and handsome person who so frequently sat on the bench was none other than Vivekananda.
Sugappa and his descendents preserved the bench and in January 1997 they handed over the bench to the Ramakrishna Ashrama in Bangalore.
The ashrama decided to preserve the bench and its link to one of its most illustrious monks. On March 27, 2009, the bench along with a statue of Vivekananda was consecrated at a special function presided over by Swamy Bhaumananda, president, of the Pune branch of the Ramakrishna Matha.
The bench can still be seen today along with some other relics belonging to Sharada Devi.

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