You are on page 1of 4

THE VIVEKANANDA ASHRAM, BRICKFIELDS, AND WHY WE MUST SAVE IT.

by Jeffery Seow
20 October 2014
The Vivekananda Ashram was built in 1904, an expansion of the Ramakrishna Mission established
in Singapore in 1896.[1] Making an appeal through the New Straits Times in 2004, D. M.
Ponnusamy of Taiping wrote,[2]
"I refer to the letter "Don't move ashram, consider other options" (NST, March 9) and agree with the
writer that the Vivekanda Ashram should not be shifted.
Swami Vivekananda was a great spiritual leader of his time and he visited Malaya in June 1893.
He first dropped by in Penang and later in Singapore when he was on his way to Chicago to attend
the Parliament of Religions.
As a result of his visit, the Ramakrishna Missions were established in Penang and Singapore. The
Vivekananda Ashram in Brickfields, Kuala Lumpur, was built in 1904.
This ashram is now 100 years old. This is a heritage building and the Indian-Ceylonese community
should join hands to preserve it.
The Indian-Ceylonese group lost one heritage site in Kuala Lumpur 25 years ago.
This was the Tamil Physical and Cultural Association, popularly known as TPCA, near the Kuala
Lumpur Hospital. This was the pioneering place where sports began in Malaya, in 1911. Today
there is not TPCA building but the old-timers in Kuala Lumpur still reminisce about the activities of
TPCA."
Who Was Sawmi Vivekananda?
Swami Vivekananda was born, Narendra Nath Datta, on the 12th of January 1863, to the Datta
family of Simla, in Calcutta, and was the grandson of Durga Charan Datta. Durga Charan Datta
was literate in Persian and Sanskrit and inclined towards a legal career but gave everything up for
the life of a monk after the birth of his son, Vishwanath. Durga Charan Datta was twenty-five years
old, at that time. Vishwanath Datt grew up, gifted with the ease of learning. He mastered English
and Persian and delighted in studying the Bible and the poems of Hafiz, the Persian poet. As was his
father, he was inclined towards a legal career and this he did pursue, and became a successful
lawyer practicing his profession at the High Court of Calcutta. Narenda Nath learnt his first English
words from his mother under whom he mastered the Bengali alphabet. His mother was also his first
source of knowledge about the Ramayana and Mahabharata, the first holding the greatest
fascination for the young scholar.[3]
He was sent to primary school at six years old. Shortly, after picking up the wrong sort of
vocabulary from his primary schoolmates, he was removed, and tutored privately. His progress was
fast. He was reading and writing whilst others his age were still struggling with their alphabets. He
had a photographic memory, and learnt just by listening to his tutor. He had memorised almost all of
the Sanskrit grammar, the Mugdhabodha, by seven years of age, which is also when he joined
Pandit Iswar Chandra Vidyasagar's Metropolitan Institution, his intelligence immediately being
recognised by his teachers and classmates there.[4]
When he entered college, first at the Presidency College, Calcutta and then at the Scottish

Missionary Board's General Assembly's Institution, he astounded his Indian and British professors
with his intellect. Principal W. W. Hastie remarked, 'I have travelled far and wide, but I have never
yet come across a lad of his talents and possibilities. He is bound to make his mark in life.' Narenda
Nath, exceeding the limits of his curriculum, mastered Western logic and by his final year he had
mastered Western philosophy, and ancient and modern European history.[5]
When the sage Sri Ramakrishna and Narenda Nath first met, it is said that the great sage broke into
tears of joy, telling him that he had been waiting for him, for a very long time. While Narendra Nath
first thought the sage a madman for his outburst, but soon came to realise that Sri Ramakrishna was
not mad but touched by the divine.[6]
In 1884 Sri Ramakrishna was seated, surrounded by his disciples in the middle of a discussion on
compassion for living beings when he suddenly fell into a transcendental meditative state and from
a translike state asserted that it was service to man, recognising him to be the manifestation of God,
that was paramount rather than compassion for others. In those words a window opened in Narendra
Nath as he saw how they reconciled devotion with non-dualism, Bhakti and Vedanta. He
determined, then and there to make that realisation of the connection between Man and God, the
common property of all.[7]
Not long after, on 16 August 1886, Sri Ramakrishna succumbed to cancer, after leaving the rest of
his students to the care and guidance of Narendra Nath. He remained at Barangore until 1888, when
he left Calcutta for Varanasi, Ayodhya, Lucknow, Agra, Vrindaban, Hatras, and the Himalayas, and
later to other places including Ghazipur. Eventually he broke away from the Barangore monastery
in July 1890 and by February 1891 had become a solitary monk, wandering two years through
India. He shared in the conditions of man, being considered a pariah one day, and a guest of Prime
Ministers and Maharajas the next. In a demonstration using a photograph of the Maharaja, Prince
Mangah Singh, as an analogy, he explained that devotees do not worship stone and metal images of
gods and goddesses, but use those images to bring to provide a focus for their devotional, worship
and meditations. 'They do not worship the stone or metal as such. Everyone, O Maharaja, is
worshiping the same one God who is the Supreme Spirit, the Soul of Pure Knowledge. And God
appears to all according to their understanding and their representation of Him.'[8]
He had become Swami Vivekananda. And the Swami saw the illness that was prevalent throughout
the land. He noted, "We as a nation lave lost our individuallity, and that is the cause of all mischief
in India. We have to give back to the nation its lost individuality and raise the masses. The Hindu,
the Mohammedan, the Christian, all have trampled them underfoot. Again, the force to raise them
must come from inside, that is, from the orthodox Hindus. In every country the evils exist not with,
but against religion. Religion therefore is not to blame, but men.[9]
On 31 May 1893 Swami Vivekananda departed Bombat and from there he journeyed to Ceylon,
Penang, Singapore, Hongkong, Canton, Nagasaki, Yokohama, Osaka, Kyoto, Tokyo. Returning to
Yokohama he sailed to Vancouver from where he travelled by rail to Chicago.[10]
The first session of the Parliament of Religions opened in the great Hall of Columbus on Monday
11th September 1893. In his short address, he said, "If there is ever to be a universal religion, it
must be one which will have no location in place or time; which will be infinite, like the God it will
preach, and whose sun will shine upon the followers of Krishna and Christ, on saint and sinners
alike; which will not be Brahminic or Buddhistic, Christian or Mohammedan, but the sum total of
all these, and still have infinite space for development which in its catholicity will find a place for
every human being, from the lowest grovelling savage not far removed from the brute to the highest
man towering by the virtue of his head and heart almost above humanity. It will be a religion which
will have no place for persecution or intolerance in its polity, which will recognize divinity in every

man and woman, and whose whole scope, whose whole force, will be centered in aiding humanity
to realize its own true, divine nature. Offer such a religion, and all the nations will follow you? The
Christian is not to become a Hindu or a Buddhist, nor a Hindu or a Buddhist to become a Christian.
But each must assimilate the spirit of the others and yet preserve his individuality and grow
according to his own law of growth.'[11]
The Vivekananda Ashram As A Symbol
Malaysia is a land of many cultures, many beliefs, many religions. And, because of all this diversity,
while we should rejoice and celebrate in it, violence instead has come of it. There is no better time
than now and no better place than here to celebrate all the good that can come from being different
and for all of us to see how very similar we are to each other, because of, as much as, in spite of, all
those differences. Swami Vivekananda preached for respect among each other and described a
universal faith, side-by-side with whatever was the belief of the adherent. And he argued that we all
worshiped and prayed to the same God, just not in the same way, and that that was okay. This is
probably one of the most powerful and profound thoughts in all the world. And the Vivekananda
Ashram in Brickfields, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, is the symbol of that thought.
Notes
.
[1] Rajendran 2014 p.30
.
[2] NST 15 Mar 2004 p.13
.
[3] Tejasananda 1995 pp.7-9
.
[4] Tejasananda 1995 p.11
.
[5] Tejasananda 1995 p.17
.
[6] Tejasananda 1995 p.23
.
[7] Tejasananda 1995 p.32
.
[8] Tejasananda 1995 pp.37-42
.
[9] Tejasananda 1995 p.46
.
[10] Tejasananda 1995 p.49-50
.
[11] Tejasananda 1995 pp.52, 56-57.
.
References
.
New Straits Times [Kuala Lumpur] 15 March 2004.
.
Rajendran M., Sarjit S. Gill , Balakrishnan Muniapan, K.Silllalee and S. Manimaran 'A Critical
Analysis Of Siddha Tradition In The Context Of Malaysian Hindu Culture.' Life Science Journal
2014;11(7). 27-32 <http://www.lifesciencesite.com/lsj/life1107/005_22971life110714_27_32.pdf>
.
Tejasananda (Swami). A Short Life of Swami Vivekananda (15th Impression). Kolkata: Advaita

Ashrama Publication Department for Swami Mumukshananda. 1995.