The Parliament of World’s Religion commenced on 11 September 1893 at the Art Institute of Chicago as part of the World’s Columbian Exposition. Swami Vivekananda went to the conference as the representative of India and Hinduism. Vivekananda bowed to Saraswati, the Hindu goddess of learning and began his speech with salutation, “Sisters and brothers of America!” to which he got a standing ovation from a crowd of 7000 thousand, which lasted for two minutes.
‘That has been the difficulty all the while. I am a Hindu. I am sitting in my own little well and thinking that the whole world is my little well. The Christian sits in his little well and thinks the whole world is his well. The Muslim sits in his little well and thinks that is the whole world.’
When silence was restored he began his address. He greeted the youngest of the nations on behalf of “the most ancient order of monks in the world, the Vedic order of sanyasis, a religion which has taught the world both tolerance and universal acceptance!”
In his speech on 15 September, Vivekananda tried to explain the reason of disagreement between each other and different sects and religions.
He narrated the story of a frog. A frog used to live in a well. It was born there and brought up there and it used to think his well was the biggest water land of the world. One day, a frog from a sea came to that well. When that frog told the frog of the well that the sea is much bigger than that well, the frog of the well did not believe it and drove the frog of the sea away from his well.
Vivekananda concluded: “That has been the difficulty all the while. I am a Hindu. I am sitting in my own little well and thinking that the whole world is my little well. The Christian sits in his little well and thinks the whole world is his well. The Muslim sits in his little well and thinks that is the whole world.”
On 19 September, Vivekananda made a brief speech on the meaning of Hinduism. On the 20th, Vivekananda made a “little criticism” and told that religion was not the most important need of Indians at that moment. He regretted for sending Christian missionaries and trying to save the souls of Indians although poverty had been a much more important issue at that time. He then told that his aim was to join the Chicago Parliament of Religions and to seek aid for his impoverished people.
Vivekananda spoke on Buddhism on 26 September.
He spoke about the origin of Buddhism, the relation between Buddhism and Brahminism, Buddhism and Vedas. He concluded “Hinduism cannot live without Buddhism, nor Buddhism without Hinduism”.
In his last speech on 27 September, he told that the Parliament had become an accomplished fact. He thanked the “noble souls” for organising the Parliament which he felt “proved to the world that holiness, purity and charity are not the exclusive possessions of any church in the world, and that every system has produced men and women of the most exalted character”. He finished his speech with the appeal to “Help and not Fight,” “Assimilation and not Destruction”, “Harmony and Peace and not Dissension”.
Vivekananda’s speeches in the Chicago Conference shook the whole world, specially the west. The Indians were looked down as backward in all matters.
His speeches highlighted the level of philosophy Indians had reached during the Vedic period, the greatness of Indian culture and the virtues like tolerance and acceptance that form the tenets of Hinduism.
After the Conference, Swami Vivekananda emerged as a true patriot and a national leader in the eyes of the masses.
Coordinator, Class X, St Joseph & Mary’s School