WTF Fun Fact 12996 – Swami Vivekananda

Anyone who practices yoga in the West today does so because a Hindu monk named Swami Vivekananda traveled to Chicago from India in 1893 to crash the World’s Columbian Exposition.

This world’s fair was held to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ arrival in the New World but gave him an enormous audience at its Parliament of Religions, which was originally meant to celebrate the glories of Protestantism.

Who was Swami Vivekananda?

According to Smithsonian Magazine (cited below), things didn’t get off to a great start for Swami Vivekananda since he hadn’t actually been invited to speak at the event:

“One morning in September 1893, a 30-year-old Indian man sat on a curb on Chicago’s Dearborn Street wearing an orange turban and a rumpled scarlet robe. He had come to the United States to speak at the Parliament of the World’s Religions, part of the famous World Columbian Exposition. The trouble was, he hadn’t actually been invited. Now he was spending nights in a boxcar and days wandering around a foreign city. Unknown in America, the young Hindu man, named Vivekananda, was a revered spiritual teacher back home. By the time he left Chicago, he had accomplished his mission: to present Indian culture as broader, deeper and more sophisticated than anyone in the U.S. realized.”

Recognizing Indian culture

No one at the time thought of India as a vibrant-yet-ancient culture. It was a conquered place, considered backward and largely irrelevant from a cultural standpoint. “So the audience was astonished when Vivekananda, a representative of the world’s oldest religion, seemed anything but primitive—the highly educated son of an attorney in Calcutta’s high court who spoke elegant English. He presented a paternal, all-inclusive vision of India that made America seem young and provincial.”

It turns out Swami Vivekananda was the perfect person to bring Indian culture, including the practice of yoga (which looked quite different at the time), to America. He had attended Christian schools and knew the Bible and was an expert in European philosophy.

While Swami Vivekananda died early, at age 39, he traveled to major cities in the U.S. and shared Indian culture and knowledge about the Hindu religion, opening the door to the practice of yoga (as a spiritual practice at the time) in America.  WTF fun facts

Source: “The Indian Guru Who Brought Eastern Spirituality to the West” — Smithsonian Magazine