Chaplinesque irony? Remembering Vivekananda’s words on tolerance

March 17th, 2009 - 11:15 am ICT by IANS  

By Joydeep Gupta
New Delhi, March 17 (IANS) The irony is inescapable. A Karnataka filmmaker was stopped by fanatical Hindu activists from putting up a statue of Charlie Chaplin near a temple on grounds he was a Christian. The activists instead wanted to commemorate Swami Vivekananda - the visionary who carried the message of a tolerant Hinduism to the world.

In his epochal address at the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago on Sep 11, 1893, Swamiji, as he was fondly called by thousands of followers, had said: “I am proud to belong to a religion which has taught the world both tolerance and universal acceptance. We believe not only in universal toleration, but we accept all religions as true.”

Vivekananda, a disciple of reformist Hindu religious leader Ramakrishna Paramhans, told the delegates at the parliament: “I am proud to belong to a nation which has sheltered the persecuted and the refugees of all religions and all nations of the earth.

“I am proud to tell you that we have gathered in our bosom the purest remnant of the Israelites, who came to Southern India and took refuge with us in the very year in which their holy temple was shattered to pieces by Roman tyranny. I am proud to belong to the religion which has sheltered and is still fostering the remnant of the grand Zoroastrian nation.”

Swamiji quoted a popular hymn: “As the different streams having their sources in different paths which men take through different tendencies, various though they appear, crooked or straight, all lead to Thee.”

He said the global conference he was addressing was “in itself a vindication, a declaration to the world of the wonderful doctrine preached in the Gita: ‘Whosoever comes to Me, through whatsoever form, I reach him; all men are struggling through paths which in the end lead to me’.”

Vivekananda warned the leaders of all religions against “sectarianism, bigotry, and its horrible descendant, fanaticism”. He said they “have long possessed this beautiful earth. They have filled the earth with violence, drenched it often and often with human blood, destroyed civilisation and sent whole nations to despair. Had it not been for these horrible demons, human society would be far more advanced than it is now.”

Swamiji hoped that the convention may toll the “death-knell of all fanaticism, of all persecutions with the sword or with the pen, and of all uncharitable feelings between persons wending their way to the same goal.”

(Joydeep Gupta can be contacted at

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