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Science and the Sannyasin

March 9, 2012

Swami Vivekananda’s vision went beyond propagating Hinduism to the West. He was keen that India, though religious, also understands the use of Science and Technology. He was concerned that Indians were steeped in ignorance and superstition and this came in the way of both physical and spiritual progress. He constantly urged his devotees not to accept anything without taking it through the test of experimentation. Vivekananda advocated testing thoroughly before making the decision of accepting or denying something. He said, “It is not the sign of a candid and scientific mind to throw overboard anything without proper investigation. Surface scientists, unable to explain various extraordinary mental phenomena, strive to ignore their very existence”.

Very few also know of his contribution in setting up the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore. It was in 1893 that Swami Vivekananda met Sir Jamshedji Tata for the first time. They were traveling together in a ship that sailed from Yokohama to Vancouver. Swamiji was traveling to the US on his ‘life’s mission’ of taking Hinduism to the World. Sir Jamshedji Tata was the doyen of Indian Industry and was visiting the United States in search of equipment and technology needed for his steel plant. Both these extraordinary Indians loved their country and were very concerned about the welfare of their countrymen. Both started talking and Swamiji remarked “How wonderful it would be if we could combine the scientific and technological achievements of the West with the asceticism and humanism of India!” He asked Jamshedji to consider creating an institution that would build the scientific and technological human-resource pool for the country. Though they never met after that journey, these words struck a chord in Jamshedji’s heart. Five years later, Jamshedji’s response came in a letter to Vivekananda in which he mentioned that he was starting such an institution in Bangalore and wanted to know if Swamiji could take on the responsibility of heading it. Swamiji courteously turned down this offer but encouraged him on. Swamiji passed away in July 1902. Jamshedji did not live long either. He died in 1904, unaware that his vision would be realized just five years later. The Indian Institute of Science, a gift from the Tatas, was born in 1909 and is today the pride of the Nation.

Swami Vivekananda always maintained that India needed a scientific temperament for it to develop. He used to goad his disciples to carry a ‘magic lantern’ (projector of those days) and go from village to village teaching science to our rural brethren. He was a visionary who understood that problems of India would need the background of science for them to be solved.

Kannada version in Prajavani (22-Mar-12)

Balu

  1. Govind Pai
    March 11, 2012 at 8:12 am

    Don’t know if you are aware that the only invention of Jagadish Chandra Bose (among the numerous ones of his that made radio possible) that was patented (I think on the use of semiconductor junctions to detect radiowaves) was patented with the direct initiative, insistence and help of Swami Vivekananda. J.C Bose was an idealist and believed that knowledge should be free and not commercialized and was reluctant to patent any of his inventions. (The latest consensus is that Marconi stole most of the ideas for radio from people like J.C Bose and Nikolai Tesla and walked away with the Nobel Prize, the credit, and the material benefits for the invention of radio). The Swami, his advaitic idealism notwithstanding, was enough of a man of the world to realize the implications of Bose’s work and its impact on the image of India.

    • March 11, 2012 at 9:29 am

      Dear Govind Pai,

      Thank you for highlighting this fact, which i was not aware of. Could u please indicate the source of this information and any possible references for the same.

      Regards,

      Balu

      • Govind Pai
        March 11, 2012 at 7:22 pm

        Dear Balu,
        I first came across this fact a year or so ago when I was researching the life of J.C. Bose and his well known resistance to patenting any of his inventions. Though many apparently reliable people on the internet mention the fact that J.C. Bose’s US patent 755840 for “a detector for electrical disturbances” was filed by a Sara Chapman Bull, an American disciple of Swami Vivekananda (and also with the connivance of Sister Nivedita who was also apparently an admirer of J.C. Bose), apparently at the insistence of the Swami, but not necessarily with the acceptance of J.C. Bose, on 30 September 1901 and granted on 29 March 1904, we need to research the sources more carefully to authenticate the Swami’s role in this. Maybe the Ramakrishna Mission has some information in its archives, as may the Bose Institute in Kolkata. Could we request help from a historian like Ramachandra Guha, since it is an important question? I think the IEEE has done a lot of work to authenticate the role of J.C. Bose as one of the inventors of radio and they could probably provide more information. Please check out an article by P.K.Bandyopadhyay, “Under the glare of a thousand suns: the pioneering work of Sir J.C. Bose” in Proceedings of the IEEE (1998) if you can get it. Will revert.

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