Swami Vivekananda’s Visit to Kerala and its impact (Extracts from the forthcoming book of the same title by Prof. S.Radhakrishnan)
Swami Vivekananda’s pilgrimage to India lasting four years was the result of his keen desire to know and understand India, at first hand. He learnt the past glories of the country, but wanted to know the causes of its present degradation in order to work for its regeneration. It was during these wanderings all over the country as an unknown mendicant that he came to the present day Kerala, the southern most State of India. It was in early November, 1892 that the Swami came to Mysore where he made acquaintance with the Maharaja and his Dewan, K. Seshadri, a native of Palakkad, Kerala.
The Swami’s plan was to go to Rameshwaram through Tamil Nadu. At first Kerala and Kanyakumari did not then figure in his itinerary. It was his friendship with Dr. Palpu in Bangalore that made him change his plan. Himself a victim of caste discrimination, Dr. Palpu persuaded Swamiji to change his travel plan and suggested his visit to Kerala to see for himself the plight of the oppressed castes there. Swamiji’s inspiration was behind the silent social revolution in Kerala organised under the leadership of Sri Narayana Guru. In fact he had advised Dr. Palpu to launch a movement against atrocities like untouchability suffered by the lower castes under the leadership of a saint and the Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana Sangham, (S.N.D.P) was the outcome.
At the time of his departure, the Maharaja, who was much impressed by the erudition and divinity of the Swami, knelt at his feet while his Dewan tried unsuccessfully to put a roll of currency notes into his pocket. But all that Swamiji would accept was a second class railway ticket to Shornur, as it was then the railway terminus. Seshadri also gave him a letter of introduction to Shankariah, the acting Dewan of Cochin. He made friendship with a few youngmen at Shornur and with their help he took a bullock cart to Trichur. He got down near the Thiruvambadi temple in Trichur town and was on the lookout for a place to refresh himself. One D.A. Subramania Iyer, an employee of Cochin Educational Department, who was so much impressed by the Swami’s gait and eminence, took him to his house nearby and looked after his needs. As the Swami was suffering from acute sore throat, he was taken to the District Hospital and was treated. He stayed only for a very few days and left for Ernakulam via Kondungallur in a boat, as that was then the mode of transport.
It is believed that Swamiji stayed for three days at Kondungallur. He was engaged in learned arguments with the scholars of the Palace there. Vivekananda was amazed to find a few women there speaking Sanskrit fluently. Swamiji reached Ernakulam in early December, 1892. He was the guest of W. Ramiah, the Secretary of the Dewan Shankariah.At Ernakulam, Swami met and had religious talks with Chattambi Swami, the great saint and scholar of the land.At the request of Swamiji, Chattambi Swami explained in detail the neurodynamics of ‘chinmudra’ and made him understand with the help of Tamil works how it helps in self realization. Swamiji was so impressed by Chattambi Swami that he called him a ‘remarkable man’. Chattambi Swami on his part considered Swamiji a divinely inspired person. They were unanimous in their vehement opposition to caste discrimination. During his stay there, Swamiji was appalled to see the plight of the lower castes, who were the victims of the worst type of exploitation. The practice of untouchability and unapproachability made him sad and furious. He found Kerala a priest-ridden country and saw for himself how the Christian missionaries took advantage of caste tyranny to convert vast numbers of the people into Christianity.
Swamiji left Ernakulam for Trivandrum on 6th December 1892, in a boat accompanied by a Muslim peon of the State. It took seven daysfor them to reach Trivandrum. He was taken to Professor Sundararama Iyer, the tutor of Aswathi Thirunal Marthanda Verma Ilaya Raja. Prof. Iyer found his guest was ‘a mighty man’ and wrote an excellent account of the nine days stay of the Swami with him. (Mr. Ramaswami Shastri, his eldest son, who was then fourteen years old, also gave a brief account of the Swami). Swamiji got introduced to a number of prominent people of the place and was particularly drawn to Prof. Rangacharya, a scholar and a man of science. Prof. Iyer introduced the Swami to the Prince and also to the ruler. The interview with the Maharaja lasted only two or three minutes!. From whatever little he saw and heard were enough for the Swami to form a mental picture of the social conditions prevailing in the state. He also had the experience of facing the first rumblings of the storm that was to gather momentum later – the cry of the Dravidian South against the domination of the Brahmin (Aryan). He himself was a witness to the arrogance and pride displayed by upper castes and those who occupied high places.
A photo taken by Aswathi Thirunal Ilaya Raja (Crown Prince) at that time adorns the outside wall of Vivekananda's room in Belur Math. Swamiji met his former friend and classmate Manmathnath Bhattacharya in Trivandrum and spent much time with him. Many tried to measure Swamiji’s erudition and scholarship, but without exception all later accepted defeat. Once he was invited to speak in public; but he politely refused. When he was asked how then would he speak in Chicago at the World Parliament of Religions (for the news of the Mysore Maharaja’s request to Swamiji to go to Chicago for the purpose had then be known to some), Vivekananda replied, “If God wills to make me His representative, if He wants me to be His instrument to be of service to Truth and Purity, then He Himself will give me the requisite blessings and capabilities.”
After staying for 9 days with Sundararama Iyer, Swamiji left for Kanyakumari, the southernmost extremity of India, on 22 December 1892. He reached Kanyakumari on Decembeer 24 and prostrated himself before the image of the Virgin Goddess and prayed for the welfare of his motherland and for humanity. He plunged into the swirling and shark infested waters and swam across the sea and reached the ‘Shripada Shila’, two furlongs away from the mainland. There he meditated for three days and nights and returned to the shore on the fourth day. There this last bit of the Indian rock- from where one has the vision of our entire motherland spread up before one’s eyes- helped the Swami to visualize his darling motherland - her past glory, her present degeneration and the vision of its resurrection in future. His search came to an end and his mission became clear to him. As he himself said, ‘the thing in the search of which he had been wandering both physically and mentally for years, he had achieved on that spot.’ This was the crowning glory of his parivrajaka life and the beginning of his stupendous mission of ‘man-making’ reawakening his Motherland and through her the entire world. The rest is history. The grateful nation paid its homage to her greatest son by erecting a fitting memorial there.