“Sectarism, sectarianism and its horrible descendant, fanaticism, have long possessed this beautiful Earth. They filled the earth with violence, flooded it often and often with human blood, destroyed civilization and sent entire nations to despair. Without these horrible demons, human society would be far more advanced than it is now.
These words spoken by Swami Vivekananda at the Art Institute of Chicago on September 11, 1893 have left an indelible mark through generations. While the world reveres and celebrates the historical discourse to this day, very few people know of the role the princely state of Khetri played in Vivekananda’s journey to the United States.
It was Maharaja Ajit Singh Bahadur, the former ruler of Khetri who sponsored the trip for his guru and friend, Swami Vivekananda.
As a sign of respect and gratitude, the spiritual leader traveled to Khetri, now a town in Jhunjhunu district of Rajasthan, on his return.
Born as Narendra Dutta aka Swami Bibidishanand on January 12, 1863 in Kolkata, Vivekananda had very few ties to princely rulers. Meanwhile, Singh, an eighth generation king, had ruled the Shekhawat dynasty for almost 20 years when he met Vivekananda. He was born in Alsisar and adopted by Fateh Singh, who had no son.
An accidental meeting in 1888 gave rise to the special bond between Singh and him when Swami Vivekananda met the Maharaja at the Khetri House in Mount Abu. The duo are believed to have spent time decoding various streams of spirituality, yoga and universalism.
During one such conversation, Singh told Swami Vivekananda to wear a turban as a shield to protect against the dust storms of Rajasthan. The Maharaja too provided a saffron robe – which became Swami Vivekananda’s traditional attire. Interestingly, Singh had given him the name “Vivekananda” as mentioned in the book ‘Living Vedanta’ by Chaturvedi Badrinath.
The monk left after staying at the Khetri house for four months.
A monk and a maharaja
Although Singh and Swami Vivekananda only met three times – in 1891, 1893 and 1897 – they developed an unbreakable bond of friendship over the years and the exchange of several letters between them is testimony to this. link.
The handwritten letters (written in English) were discovered hundred years later in 1999 by Jhunjhunu district administration. Written between 1893 and 1895, they were found during the cleaning of the NCO’s records room.
While some of the letters are in the possession of the Ramakrishna Mission at Belur in West Bengal, some are on display at the Khetri Museum.
In one of the letters, dated March 4, 1895, Singh congratulates Swami Vivekananda on his Chicago speech and thanks him on behalf of the entire state for representing India on a global platform.
“As head of this Durbar (a formal majestic assemblage) held today for this special purpose, I have much pleasure in conveying to you, on behalf of myself and my subjects, the heartfelt thanks of this State for your worthy representation of Hinduism in the Parliament of Religions, held at Chicago, America…..The influence of your speech and behavior abroad has not only spread admiration among men of different countries and of different religions, but also served to acquaint you with them, to help further your selfless cause,” the Maharaja wrote.
Between September and October 1898, Vivekananda wrote three letters inquiring about Singh’s health (even as his own health began to suffer) and also asking for funds.
“Although American friends do all they can to help me, I am ashamed to beg them all the time, especially since the illness incurs eventual expenses. I have no shame in begging from only one person in the world and that is yourself,” he wrote.
Singh quickly sent a money order for Rs 500.
Another letter was about Swami’s mother.
“I address Your Highness today on one of my most important matters, knowing full well that I have not the slightest shame in opening my mind to You,” wrote Swami Vikvenanada in a letter dated November 22, 1898. He goes on to write about financial aid. for his mother in Kolkata. Singh immediately allocated a monthly stipend of Rs 100.
From calling Singh his “true friend,” hesitantly asking for financial help to enlighten him with spiritual wisdom, Saami Vivekananda poured all his feelings into the letters – as any true friend would.
The level of comfort between the two was such that once Swami Vivekananda confessed that he considered Singh his “only friend in this life”.
A little-known moment to cherish, from so long ago.
You can read all the letters here.
(Edited by Vinayak Hegde)