Vivekananda Rock Memorial
|Vivekananda Rock Memorial|
Vivekananda Rock Memorial is a monument and it is a popular tourist attraction in Vavathurai, Kanyakumari, India. The memorial stands on one of two rocks located about 500 meters east off mainland of Vavathurai, India's southernmost tip. It was built in 1970 by the Vivekananda Rock Memorial Committee in honour of the visit of the Hindu spiritual teacher Swami Vivekananda to Shripada Parai during the month of December 1892. It is claimed that he swam to this rock and meditated. It is said that he attained enlightenment on the rock, and henceforth became a reformer and philosopher.
According to legend, it was on this rock that Goddess Kumari performed austerity.
A meditation hall (Dhyana Mandapam) is also attached to the memorial for visitors to meditate. The design of the mandapa incorporates different styles of temple architecture from all over India. It houses a statue of Vivekananda. The merger of three seas - Bay of Bengal, Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean can be seen from these rocks.
The memorial consists of two main structures, the Vivekananda Mandapam and the Shripada Mandapam.
This monument was hit by the Indian Ocean Tsunami of 26 December 2004.
Initiation of the Memorial
In January 1962, on the occasion of Swami Vivekananda’s birth centenary, a group of people formed the Kanyakumari Committee whose objective was to put up a memorial on the rock and a pedestrian bridge leading to the rock. Almost simultaneously, the Ramakrishna Mission in Madras had similar thoughts.
However, this news was not taken in good taste, by a sizable population of the local Catholic fishermen. They put up a big Cross on the Rock, visible from the shore.
This led to protests by the Hindu population who said the Rock was a place of worship for Hindus. A judicial probe ordered by the Madras (now Tamil Nadu) government stated in unequivocal terms that the rock was Vivekananda Rock, and that the Cross was a trespass. Amid all this acrimony, the Cross was removed secretly in the night. The situation turned volatile and the Rock was declared a prohibited area with armed guards patrolling it.
The Government realised that the Rock was turning into an area of dispute with Hindus claiming it to be the Vivekananda Rock and Christians that it was St. Xavier’s Rock. It decreed that although the rock was Vivekananda Rock, there would be no memorial constructed on it. The then Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, Shri M. Bhaktavatsalam, said that only a tablet declaring that the rock was associated with Swami Vivekananda could be put up, and nothing else.
With government permission, the tablet was installed on the Rock on 17 January 1963. But the voices clamouring for a full-fledged Memorial on the Rock did not die. In May that year, those seeking vengeance for the removal of the Cross, demolished and threw away the tablet into the sea.
The Kanyakumari Committee, realising its limitations as a mere District Committee in dealing with the Government, formed an All India Committee consisting of prominent persons in the country. But they felt the need of an important person at the helm of affairs, who could approach and wield his influence in both the Central and State governments.
Role of Eknath Ranade
The day the tablet was installed on the Rock, Shri Eknath Ranade was in Calcutta (now Kolkata) releasing his book Rousing Call to Hindu Nation on the message of Swami Vivekananda. Thus Shri Eknath Ranade was already familiar through and through with the life and teachings of Vivekananda.
The first step he took on being asked to take charge of the Rock Memorial work, was to ascertain that this effort had the full support of the Ramakrishna Math and Mission. Next, he was made the Organising Secretary of the Vivekananda Rock Memorial Committee so that he was officially in charge of the Rock Memorial mission.
The immediate obstacles were Shri Bhaktavatsalam’s stand that he would not allow the memorial to come up as Shri Humayun Kabir, the Union Minister for Cultural Affairs, had said that the natural beauty of the Rock would be spoiled.
Shri Kabir’s constituency was Calcutta. When Shri Ekanth Ranade publicised in Calcutta, that it was Shri Kabir who was against the creation of Memorial of one of the greatest sons of Bengal, there was such a hue and cry that Shri Kabir had to do a volte-face. However, to prevail over Shri Bhaktavatsalam, only the Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s support would do.
To that end, on Shri Lal Bahadur Shastri’s advice, Shri Eknath Ranade camped in Delhi. In three days, he collected the signatures of 323 Members of Parliament in a show of all-round support for the Vivekananda Rock Memorial, which was presented to the Prime Minister. Shri Bhaktavatsalam had no option now but to allow the construction of the Rock Memorial.
Shri Bhaktavatsalam had given permission only for a small 15’ x 15’ shrine. Knowing his reverence for the Paramacharya of Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham, Shri Eknath Ranade approached the latter for suggesting the design of the Rock Memorial. Shri Bhaktavatsalam unhesitatingly agreed to the larger design (130’-1½" x 56’)approved by the Paramacharya!
Once all the political hurdles were removed, construction was underway. Shri Eknath Ranade was in the forefront facing all the challenges that came his way: to establish scientifically that the Rock was structurally sound and could support such a huge structure on it; the logistics of quarrying and transporting large blocks of stone from great distances, and from the shore to the Rock; provision of water and power supplies; the growing demand for skilled artisans, craftsmen, and labour; building of jetty platforms on the rock and the shore (the pedestrian footbridge idea to the Rock was dropped); the de-silting around the jetty platform areas to enable bigger crafts to approach the shore, and so on.
The biggest and everpresent challenge, however, was that of financing the whole operation. Shri Eknath Ranade’s belief in the success of the Rock Memorial mission was so strong, that he never slowed down the pace of work when funds were in paucity. He brushed aside the discouragement of others whose belief was not as strong and started a fund-campaign.
Shri Eknath Ranade believed that as the Vivekananda Rock Memorial was a national monument, every Indian should be invited to contribute to its construction. He approached (and succeeded) almost every State government and asked for their contribution, making a special effort to go to the north-eastern states of Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh so that they could also feel a part of the national endeavour.
But the bulk of the contributions came from the general public. Shri Eknath Ranade launched the campaign of one-rupee folders throughout the nation, which were used to mobilise the donations of the common man, starting from as tiny an amount as a rupee. Thus so many people visiting the Rock Memorial could feel with justified pride that they too had contributed to that monument.
It is solely due to Shri Eknath Ranade that the Vivekananda Rock Memorial mission never became a political agitation, which would then have caused parties and people to take sides simply due to political expediency, and not based on the merit of the issue.
Ultimately, within the unbelievably short period of six years, the Vivekananda Rock Memorial was inaugurated in 1970, and dedicated to the nation. Without the leading role of Shri Eknath Ranade, it is extremely doubtful that this grand national monument could have been built.
The Living Memorial
The second phase of the Memorial for Swami Vivekananda was not an afterthought in Shri Eknath Ranade’s mind. The establishment of Vivekananda Kendra—the Living Memorial alongside the stone structure of the Rock Memorial—was mentioned as early as 1964.
After the groundwork of about nine years, Vivekananda Kendra was officially founded on 7 January 1972 (the 108th birth anniversary of Swami Vivekananda by the Hindu calendar). On that day, as the sun rose, a saffron flag with Om inscribed on it was unfurled in the serene atmosphere on the Vivekananda Rock Memorial to herald the founding of the Vivekananda Kendra: a spiritually oriented service mission of non-monastic order.
The tradition of penance was to be continued by young men and women coming as Karyakartas of Vivekananda Kendra to spread the immortal message of Swami Vivekananda: A hundred thousand men and women, fired with the zeal of holiness, fortified with eternal faith in the Lord, and nerved to lion’s courage by their sympathy for the poor and the fallen and the downtrodden, will go over the length and breadth of the land, preaching the gospel of salvation, the gospel of help, the gospel of social raising up, the gospel of equality.
Since then, everyday, at sunrise the saffron flag with Om is hoisted on the Rock Memorial and lowered at sunset.
The twin objectives of Vivekananda Kendra are man-making and nation-building. With great foresight, Shri Eknath Ranade decided that Vivekananda Kendra was to be a cadre-based organisation. Young men and women whose hearts long to serve the nation would be provided the opportunity and the right platform to serve God in man.
They would be properly trained and would be posted to different parts of the country. After their training of five years, they would be called as Jeevanvratis—those who have taken the vow of service for life. These Jeevanvratis would work without any salary. However, their wellbeing—Yogakshema—would be taken care of by society. For that purpose, Eknathji devised a patron scheme, where patrons would donate regularly for their Yogakshema. The Jeevanvratis would be the backbone of the organisation.
When Swami Vivekananda Rock Memorial was blueprinted, it was modelled by a college student of Nagercoil, kerala. His name was E. Thanumalayan alias E. Iyappan, Commerce student of the S. T. Hindu College, Nagercoil, Kerala. He modelled it by paraffin wax. The Memorial is the fusion of West Bengal and Tamil Nadu architecture and the design of Ramakrishna Math, Belur, West Bengal. He was deelply appreciated by the then Madras Chief Minister Bhaktavatsalam for its aesthetic quality.
This Mandapam erected in honour of Vivekananda consists of
- Dhyana Mandapam - The meditation Hall with six adjacent rooms
- Sabha Mandapam - The Assembly Hall including Pralima Mandapam (statue section) two rooms, a corridor and an open prakaram(outer courtyard) round the Sabha Mandapam
- Mukha Mandapam
- Front Entrance - The steps with two rooms and a corridor below the steps.Prajakta
This square hall consists of the following structures.
- Garbha Graham - The sanctum sanctorum
- Inner Prakaram
- Outer Prakaram
- Outer Platform
Both the Mandapams are so designed that the vision of Vivekananda in the statue would be seen direct towards the Shripadam.
There is also Sri Padaparai (Padam-feet; Parai - rock) Mandapam which is a shrine erected at the spot where the footprint of the Virgin Goddess is seen on the rock.
Despite the widespread belief that Swami Vivekananda swam across the ocean to reach the rock and meditate there, it is debated as a mere myth and an attempt to dramatize and glorify the life of Swami Vivekananda. Rajagopal Chattopadhyaya in his book 'Swami Vivekananda in India - A Corrective Biography' (page 100, ISBN 81-208-1586-6, Motilal Banarasidass Publishers Private Limited, Delhi) has explained how an erroneous report in a biography published by Advaita Ashrama resulted in this myth.
He argued that Vivekananda reached so far as Kanyakumari (Cape Comorin). Vivekananda himself had written, "At Cape Comorin sitting in Mother Kumari's temple, sitting on the last bit of Indian rock — I hit upon a plan…" (19 March 1894; letter written to Ramakrishnananda from Chicago). There is no mention of swimming to a rock across the Indian Ocean. Further, Kumari's temple is on mainland India, and not on an island.
The said rock is about 200 metres east of Kumari’s temple. Therefore, it is not the southernmost tip of India and cannot be regarded as the 'last bit of Indian rock'.
Mr. Manmatha Bhattacharyya accompanied Swami to Cape Comorin. He never mentioned any such feat. Also, he paid for Swami’s food, shelter and transport. He could have easily paid for a ferry in case Swami wanted to go to that rock.
It was a cold winter day (24 or 25 December 1892), highly unlikely for someone to take a swim. Also, since 1889, Swami was suffering from rheumatism down his waist. It is highly unlikely for him to swam across an ocean in such physical condition.
The legend says that he meditated on this rock for three days before receiving enlightenment. Rajagopal argued that Swami could not have survived the cold winter weather for three days in wet cloths. Also, Swami mentioned to Manmatha that he was in a hurry to get back to Madras (Chennai). Hence he would not have spent three days on the rock.
The first edition of 'The Life of Swami Vivekananda', a biography published by Advaita Ashrama in 1914 mentioned, "He plunged into the ocean and in spite of numerous sharks swam across to the temple". Since the temple is situated on mainland India and there was no need to swim, it is now considered that the author of this biography had never been to Comorin and added this as an element of drama. The second edition of the book published in 1933 removed this. But by that time, the myth had spread and had become a legend.
- "Bharatanatyam". Tamilnadu.com. 27 October 2012.
- "Swami Vivekananda in India - A Corrective Biography".
- "Swami Vivekananda - Complete Works".
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