Chicago: Outside India, Chicago occupies an important place in the life and work of Swami Vivekananda, the great Hindu monk. It was here that he got international recognition for himself, for India’s Vedanta and Vedic spirituality and for Hinduism with his maiden powerful “Sisters and Brothers of America” speech at the World’s Parliament of Religions on that historic day – September 11, 1893.
Chicago immortalizes Swami Vivekananda with many landmark monuments like Swami Vivekananda Vedanta Society of Chicago and Sri Ramakrishna Universal Temple in Homer Glen, a larger-than-life size bronze statue of Swami Vivekananda and the Vivekananda Spiritual Center at the Hindu Temple of Greater Chicago in Lemont, a bronze plaque at the Art Institute of Chicago commemorating his historic address at the World’s Parliament of Religions. The City of Chicago has also immortalized Swami Vivekananda by naming a long stretch of prestigious downtown marketplace Michigan Avenue. The stretch in front of the Art Institute has been named as Swami Vivekananda Way.
The places in downtown Chicago where Swami Vivekananda left his strong footprints are:
Art Institute of Chicago: The venue of the World’s Parliament of Religions, where Swamiji delivered the historic address.
The Hale House: Opposite the Hale House, across the street, that Swamiji sat down exhausted after his long walk from the Railway Station on September 10, 1893, where Mrs. Hale welcomed him.
John B. Lyons House: At this house, the Lyons family hosted Swamiji throughout the Parliament and often afterwards at the then 263 Michigan Avenue.
Fine Arts Building: At this building Swami Vivekananda gave several classes in the studio of Florence Adams — a noted devotee and friend.
Lincoln Park: At the entrance of Lincoln Park, near Dearborn Street, Swami Vivekananda used to sit, while staying with the Hales. One mother impressed by his imposing appearance asked if she could leave her six-year-old child in his charge while she was shopping; since he agreed she did so several times. Later that child — Agnes Ewing — became a student of Swami Akhilananda.
Swami Vivekananda was born on January 12, 1863 and his 150th birth anniversary is being celebrated in India and all over the world on January 12, 2013. The government of India has originally planned to celebrate the birth anniversary for a year and launched it on January 12, 2012, but the celebration has been extended for two years ending on January 12, 2014. The government of India has set up a National Committee under the chairmanship of the Prime Minister and a National Implementation Committee under the chairmanship of the Finance Minister and released Rs. 100 crore to the Rama-krishna Math and the Ramakrishna Mission in Belur for the celebration. It also established in 2012 a new visiting professorship in Indian studies with a gift of $1.5 million at University of Chicago to commemorate the legacy of spiritual leaders Swami Vivekananda.
In India, the Ramakrishna Math and the Ramakrishna Mission, and Vivekananda Kendra and the Rock Memorial in Kanyakumari, and other organizations are planning to celebrate the occasion for one year from January 12, 2013. On that day, Dr. Manmohan Singh will also release a movie shot at Sri Ramakrishna Universal Temple in Homer Glen in the USA and other historic places in Chicago connected with the life of Swami Vivekananda.
In Chicago, the 150th birth anniversary of Vivekananda will be celebrated with major functions to be held at Sri Ramakrishna Universal Temple in Homer Glen and at the nearby Hindu Temple of Greater Chicago in Lemont. Other official celebrations are expected to be held at the Art Institute of Chicago and the University of Chicago.
According to an Indian Embassy official in Washington, the Consulate General of India in Chicago is coordinating with all the institutions in the city with the support of the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) and India’s Ministry for Culture.
Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh-USA (HSS-USA) has also chalked out an elaborate year-long celebration with a series of programs involving children, the youth and the elderly. The theme of the celebration is “Universal peace through Dharma and Yoga,” which is the message of Swami Vivekananda.
While the newly-built Sri Ramakrishna Universal Temple of Vivekananda Vedanta Society of Chicago in Homer Glen, with its serene ashram-like ambience, plans to celebrate the 150th birth anniversary with a commemorative Shiva nama Sankirtanam at 6:30 p.m. after Arati on January 12, 2013 (a bigger program will be held in September), the Hindu Temple of Greater Chicago complex, where the imposing statue of Swami Vivekananda stands under a beautifully decorated canopy and the newly constructed and Indianized Vivekananda Spiritual Center are located, will celebrate the event for two days — January 12 and 13 — which coincide with the celebration of the Indian harvest festival of Makara Sankranti or Pongal.
Besides commemorative Shiva nama Sankirtanam on January 12, the month of September has been chosen for the bigger celebration of the 150th birth anniversary of Swami Vivekananda for two reasons by Sri Ramakrishna Universal Temple in Homer Glen. It was on September 21, 2008, Sri Ramakrishna Universal Temple was inaugurated, and it was on September 11, 1893 Swami Vivekananda addressed the World’s Parliament of Religions. The important days for celebrations in the temple will be Septem-ber 8, 15, 22 and 29.
The other events being planned during the yearlong celebration, include conferences to be addressed by scholars and senior monks of the Ramakrishna Mission from around the world; a mini-parliament of religions with participation of representatives from various faiths; a program in honor of Swami Vivekananda at the Art Institute of Chicago; a bus tour of places associated with Swami Vivekananda; a lecture by Asim Chaudhuri, author of “Swami Vivekananda in Chicago;” publication of a calendar featuring photographs of Swami Vivekananda and information about his life; a display on the people and places associated with Swami Vivekananda in Chicago; a guide book with color photos of the places associated with Swami Vivekananda in Chicago; and framing and installing panels on life of Swami Vivekananda.
The day-long program to be organized on January 12, by Vivekananda Spiritual Center Committee at the Hindu Temple of Greater Chicago in Gupta Hall/Rathi Auditorium, Lemont, includes a group yoga conducted by Prasad Palacharla. On January 13, the program starts with an invocation ceremony at 10:00 a.m., followed by an inaugural speech by the Consul General of India, followed by speeches by Swami Chidananda, Swami Jyotirmayananda, Cindy Visscher, Swamy Varadananda, Dr. Indra Makhija, Amrish Mahajan and Bhima Reddy. There will be a screening of a movie on Swami Vivekananda recently shot in Chicago and a bhajan presentation by a group from South Bend, IN.
Following are some of the hallmark events and landmarks in Chicago connecting with the life and work of Swami Vivekananda:
— Swami Vivekananda, who was born on January 12, 1863 in Culcutta, came to Chicago and addressed the World’s Parliament of Religions on September 11, 1893.
— Though the first Vedanta Center was established in New York in 1894, Chicago Vedanta Society was established in 1929-30 by Swami Jnaneswarananda at 120 E. Delaware Place. It moved to 5423 S. Hyde Park Blvd in 1966. The place was purchased with the support from Chester Carlson, the inventor of Xerox.
— Land was purchased and Vivekananda Monastery and Retreat was constructed in Ganges, Michigan, in 1968, under the presidency of Swami Bhashyananda.
— Swami Bhashyananda, who came to Chicago in 1965 headed the Vivekananda Vedanta Society in 1966 and passed away on October 4, 1996.
— Swami Chidananda who came to Chicago in 1991, succeeded Swami Bhashynanda as head of the Vivekananda Vedanta Society in 1996.
— The centenary of the World’s Parliament of Religions was held in the Art Institute of Chicago in 1993.
— A bronze plaque was installed commemorating Swami Viveka-nanda’s historic address to the World’s Parliament of Religions at the Art Institute of Chicago on September 11, 1995.
— A portion of Michigan Avenue in front of Art Institute of Chicago was christened as Swami Vivekananda Way on November 11, 1995.
— A 10 feet, 2 inches tall bronze statue (the largest public statue in the US) of Swami Vivekananda was installed at the Hindu Temple of Greater Chicago on July 12, 1998.
— “Vedanta in third millennium: A conference of monks” was held in Ganges in June 2001.
— Land for Sri Ramakrishna Universal Temple was purchased in Homer Glen in 2003.
— Platinum Jubilee celebrations — Vedanta for the global village: Monks’ conference — of Vivekananda Vedanta Society of Chicago was held in June 2005.
— In September 2008, Vivekananda Vedanta Society of Chicago moved from Hyde Park to present location of 14630, Lemont Road in Homer Glen, where a beautiful Sri Ramakrishna Universal Temple was constructed.
— Vivekananda Spiritual Center at the Hindu Temple of Greater Chicago was inaugurated by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar on July 17, 2010.