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  Story of Vivekananda Rock and Cross  
 

 

By: V Sundaram, IAS, Retd.
November 11, 2006
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The Vivekananda Rock Memorial at Kanyakumari was inaugurated in 1970. The construction of this memorial started in January 1964 and was completed in 1970. Whenever we think of Benaras Hindu University, the only name that comes to our mind is that of its chief Viswakarma Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya. Likewise, whenever we think of Vivekananda Rock Memorial at Kanyakumari, we think of only one remarkable individual who was the main propelling force behind the conception and speedy execution of this sacred monument. I am referring to Shri Eknath Ranade (1914 - 1982) who was a Swayamsevak of the RSS and who had served in various capacities in the RSS right from 1926 till he was assigned by Shri Guruji Golwalkar, the Sarsangchalak of the RSS, to look after the gigantic task of construction of the Vivekananda Rock Memorial at Kanyakumari in 1962. The story relating to the birth and growth of this great national project reads like an epic story. Eknath Ranade was indeed a Mahapurusha cast in a very grand mould.

In 1962, Shri Dattaji Didolkar was the RSS Prant Pracharak of Tamil Nadu. In the course of his state-wide tour, the Swayamsevaks of Kanyakumari broached the matter to him in these words: "Preparations are going on throughout the country to celebrate the birth centenary of Swami Vivekananda who was born in 1863. It was in Kanyakumari that Swamiji remained in meditation for three days on a mid-sea rock and discovered the mission of his life; what is to be done further. The rock on which he meditated is known as the Vivekananda Rock. Therefore, we should install some worthy memorial on that rock to mark the great occasion".

In January 1962, some leading citizens of Kanyakumari got together and thought of putting up a memorial on the rock off the shore of Kanyakumari where Swami Vivekananda sat and meditated about India's past, present and future for three days on 25, 26, and 27 December 1892. Thus was born the Kanyakumari Vivekananda Birth Centenary Committee and the declared objective of this Committee was to put up a memorial on the rock and a pedestrian bridge from the shore leading to the rock. Almost simultaneously, the Ramakrishna Mission in Madras also announced its plan of a similar project at Kanyakumari.

What is the historical and spiritual significance of the rock on which the Vivekananda memorial has been put up? As an itinerant monk traveling all over India, Swami Vivekananda reached Kanyakumari in December 1892. He had traversed the vast land of India upon the soles of his feet. He had suffered from hunger, from thirst, form murderous nature and insulting man. When he arrived at Kanyakumari, he was exhausted. Having no money to pay for a boat to take him to the end of his pilgrimage, he flung himself into the sea, and swam across the shark-infested strait and reached the top of a mid-sea rock on 25 December, Christmas day, in 1892. He spent three days there, returning to the shore only on 28th December 1892. At last his task was at an end, and then, looking back as from a mountain he embraced the whole of the India he had just traversed, and the world of thought that had beset him during his wanderings. For more than two years earlier he had lived in a seething cauldron, consumed with a fever ; he had carried a soul on fire, he was a storm and hurricane.

Now on this mid-sea rock, There he meditated not on God but on Mother India who for Swami Vivekananda was Divine Durga incarnate. What a strange meditation ! It was as if all the pages of India's history opened up before him. The vast panorama of his experiences during his travels past before his mind's eye. He meditated on the past, the present and the future of India, the cause of her downfall and the means of her resurrection.

He felt in his heart of hearts that India would rise only through a renewal and restoration of that highest spiritual consciousness which had made her, throughout her history, the cradle of religions and cultures. He then, sitting at the last bit of rock in the Indian ocean, took the momentous decision to go to the West to give shape to his life's mission of spreading India's religion and culture throughout the whole world and also to seek help for the poor millions of India.

To come back to the main story relating to the Vivekananda Memorial. When the proposal for a memorial for Swami Vivekananda became known to all in Kanyakumari in the latter half of 1962, suddenly the whole atmosphere in Kanyakumari got surcharged with conflicting emotions between the Hindus and the Christians in the area. The very idea of a memorial to Swami Vivekananda was not taken to kindly by a sizable population of the local Catholic fishermen. Stealthily they managed to put up a big Cross on the Rock which was visible from the shore. This led to strong protests by the Hindu population who said the Rock was a place of worship for Hindus. A judicial probe was ordered by the then Madras (now Tamilnadu) Government and the finding of this Commission was stated in unequivocal terms that the rock was indeed known as Vivekananda Rock, and that the Cross put up by the Catholic fishermen was a clear case of trespass. Amid all this controversy and acrimony, the Cross was one day removed secretly in the night. The law and order situation turned volatile and consequently the Rock was declared a prohibited area with armed guards patrolling it.

The Government of Madras realized that the Rock was turning into an area of dispute with Hindus claiming it to be the Vivekananda Rock and Christians claiming it as St Xavier's Rock. The Government made it clear that although the rock was Vivekananda Rock, there would be no memorial constructed on it. The then Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, Shri M. Bhaktavatsalam, said that only a tablet declaring that the rock was associated with Swami Vivekananda could be put up, and nothing else.

Accordingly, with government permission, a tablet was installed on the Rock on 17 January 1963 to mark the birth centenary of Swami Vivekananda. But the voices clamoring for a full-fledged Memorial on the Rock did not die. In May1963, some Christian elements who were seeking vengeance for the earlier removal of the Cross from the rock, demolished the Vivekananda commemorative tablet and threw it into the sea.

Kanyakumari Vivekananda Birth Centenary Committee, realizing its basic limitations as a mere District Committee, took the initiative to constitute an All India Vivekananda Birth Centenary Committee consisting of prominent persons in the country. This All India Committee felt the urgent need to have an effective and important person to deal with the project and one who could wield his influence in both the Central and State governments. It was at this point of time that Guruji Golwalkar, the Chief of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), requested Shri Eknath Ranade to devote his whole time attention to the proposed Vivekananda Memorial at Kanyakumari. This happened in January 1964. The first step he took on being asked to take charge of the Rock Memorial work, was to ascertain that this effort had the full support of the Ramakrishna Math and Mission. Next, he saw to it that he was made the Organizing Secretary of the Vivekananda Rock Memorial Committee so that he could officially be in charge of the Vivekananda Rock Memorial mission in Kanyakumari. From that moment, this great and sacred project took off with electronic speed, thanks to the dynamic, unshakeable, inspiring and bold leadership of Eknath Ranade.

Another vital management decision that Eknath Ranade took was to requisition the services of a remarkable Swayamsevak Shri Venkataraman in November 1964. Venkatraman had been earlier a Sanghpracharak in Madurai from 1955-57. His name was recommended by Shri.Ramgopalji who today heads the Hindu Munnani in tamil Nadu. If Eknath Ranadeji can be viewed as Kodandarama, Shri.Venkatramanji can be viewed as his Hanuman in every sense of the word.

The first obstacle that Eknath Ranade had to cross was from Shri Bhaktavatsalam who was then Chief Minister of Madras State. He took a stand that he would not allow the memorial to come up on the mid-sea rock on the flimsy ground that it would pose a hazard to the environment by spoiling the natural beauty of the Rock. He was also concerned about hurting the religious sentiments of the Catholic fishermen in the area. Bhaktavatsalam's view was also endorsed by Shri Humayun Kabir, the then Union Minister for Cultural Affairs, who too had to give his clearance for this project.

To that end, on Shri Lal Bahadur Shastri's advice, Shri Eknath Ranade camped in Delhi. In three days, he collected the signatures of 323 Members of Parliament in a show of all-round support for the Vivekananda Rock Memorial, which was presented to the Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru who in turn directed both Humayun Kabir and Shri.Bhaktavatsalam to give their immediate clearance for the construction of the Rock Memorial at Kanyakumari.

Shri Bhaktavatsalam had given permission only for a small 15" x 15" shrine. Knowing his reverence for the Paramacharya of Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham, Shri Eknath Ranade approached the latter for suggesting the design of the Rock Memorial. Shri Bhaktavatsalam unhesitatingly agreed to the larger design (130"-1½? x 56") approved and suggested by the Paramacharya of Kanchi! Thus all political hurdles for the construction of the Memorial were removed in one stroke by the shrewd move of Shri. Eknath Ranade

After clearing up all the political obstacles on the path of his goal of speedy construction of the Vivekananda Rock Memorial at Kanyakumari, Eknath Ranade saw to it that construction activity at the site began in a methodical and organized manner. On 6 November, 1964, the first stone was cut. Eknath Ranade was a man of tremendous faith in his chosen mission, in God Almighty, in Guruji Golwalkar and Dr Hedgewar.

He often used to declare to those around him almost everyday : "All that I have seen teaches me to trust the CREATOR for all I have not seen". He also derived his Himalayan enthusiasm and energy for completing this gigantic task from his own working philosophy which he put in very beautiful words : "You may be deceived if you trust too much, but you will never succeed and live in torment if you do not trust enough".

Swami Vivekananda's meditation as an unknown monk on the mid-sea Rock in December 1892 and the discovery of his life's mission at that spot were all established facts. Against this background, Eknath Ranade was very clear in his mind about his mission and the field of action that lay before him. As if in a flash, the image of Swami Vivekananda that formed itself in the mind of Eknath Ranade was that of the Swamiji who was ready to enter the field of action with gusto in 1892.

Eknath Ranade communicated this idea and image of Swami Vivekananda to some distinguished artists and sculptors. He also exhorted them to read The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda so as to have for themselves a clear picture of Swami Vivekananda in their minds. The famous sculptor D P Roy Choudhry who had sculpted the statue of Mahatma Gandhi on the Marina beach He was a very famous sculptor. But he insisted that once he had made the sculpture, it should be accepted. But Eknath Ranade did not agree to that pre-condition. He said, "If the sculpture is satisfactory, it would be accepted. Otherwise, payment would be made just for the work done."

Accordingly, eight sculptures were got done, out of which two were finally selected. When they were placed on the pedestal on trial, the one with the Kamandlam in one hand was disproportionately taller than the other. That taller figure was installed later in Vivekanandapuram, and the other one with Swamiji"s eyes focused on the Sripadam, was installed on the Rock Memorial facing the Sripadam. This, in short, is the story behind the installation of the majestic statue of Swami Vivekananda in the Rock Memorial. The statue which was finally selected for installation was sculpted by Sonawadekar. The construction of the memorial was entrusted to Sthapathi S K Achari by Eknath Ranade on the considered advice of Shri Paramachariya of Kanchi.

Eknath Ranade threw himself into the forefront facing the multifarious challenges that came his way ? to establish scientifically that the Rock for the memorial was structurally sound and could support such a huge structure on it ; the logistics of quarrying and transporting large blocks of stone from great distances, and from the shore to the Rock ; the provision of water and power supplies ; meeting the growing demand for skilled persons, artisans, craftsmen, and labor ; building of jetty platforms on the rock and the shore (the pedestrian footbridge idea to the Rock was dropped) ; the need to ensure systematic de-silting around the jetty platform areas to enable bigger crafts to approach the shore, and so on ? these and several other unforeseen challenges were met by Eknath Ranade with a resolute determination.

The biggest and the most formidable and ever present challenge, however, was that of organizing the financial resources required for the whole operation. Shri Eknath Ranade"s belief in the success of the Rock Memorial mission was so strong, that he never slowed down the pace of work even when there was an acute paucity of funds from time to time during the course of construction of the memorial from 1964 to 1970. He often used to brush aside the pessimistic discouragement of others around him whose belief in his sacred mission was not as strong as his own and went ahead with his fund-raising campaign repeating to himself the words of a great poet : "Act, act in the living present, Heart within and God overhead". No wonder Eknath Ranade succeeded magnificently where others would have failed.

Eknath Ranade fervently believed that the Vivekananda Rock Memorial was a national monument of timeless significance and that every Indian should be invited to contribute to its construction. Shri Eknath Ranade launched the campaign of sale of one-rupee folders throughout the nation, which were used to mobilize the donations of the common man, starting from as tiny an amount as one rupee. By launching such a national campaign for collecting just an amount of Rupee one from every willing citizen, Eknath Ranade succeeded in raising an amount of Rupees one crore. Thus by his grand vision he ensured that so many common people visiting the Rock Memorial could have a legitimate pride that they too had contributed to that splendid national monument.

He also approached and succeeded in persuading almost every State government to make a decent contribution towards the construction of the Vivekananda Rock Memorial. What is amazing is that he succeeded in making even the States of Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh participate in the work of construction of the memorial . All the State Governments put together made only a paltry a contribution of Rs.35 lakhs. It was solely on account of the outstanding leadership qualities of Eknath Ranade that the Vivekananda Rock Memorial mission never got entangled in any unseemly political controversy or agitation at any stage during the course of construction of the Rock Memorial from 1964 to 1970. All the petty politicians finally surrendered to his unconquerable spirit.

Eknath Ranade has recorded in telling words about his experiences in dealing with the Chief Ministers and politicians of India : "Leaders of every political party, whether in power or in the opposition became willing partners of the Vivekananda Rock Memorial at Kanyakumari. The only Chief Minister who sent me back empty handed without contributing any amount to the Rock Memorial fund was the then Kerala Chief Minister Comrade E M S Namboodiripad. I can say this much about my abortive interview with him. It was like conversing with a sphinx. It was monologue all the way on my part. Only an empty stare from the other side!".

In this context the beautiful tribute paid to Eknath Ranade by Parameswaran, President, Vivekananda Kendra, Kanyakumari is very relevant :It is instructive to know how Eknath Ranade made judicious use of various means at his command for the achievement of his end. Both speech and silence were equally effect instruments in his hands. To know when to speak and when to keep silent is a rare gift. Eknath Ranade possessed this abundantly. While he raised stormy controversies when necessary, he scrupulously abstained from them when they served no purpose. He utilized his contact with the Press for raising the right issues at the right time and also not to raise inconvenient issues that would only complicate the situation. Though he never dabbled in politics, he possessed a high political acumen of which any successful politician would feel envious.

In the beginning, the estimated cost of construction of the Vivekananda Rock Memorial was Rs 30 lakh. Then it increased to Rs 60 lakhs, then later to 75 lakh. Finally the total cost after completion worked out to Rs one crore and thirty five lakh. Just think what a great achievement it was to mobilize such a huge sum of money forty years ago and complete the work in six years!

The Vivekananda Rock Memorial was inaugurated on 2 September, 1970, and dedicated to the nation by V V Giri, the President of India. Kalaigner Karunanidhi presided over the dedication ceremony. There can be no doubt whatsoever that without the catalytic and stellar role of Shri Eknath Ranade, this grand national monument could never have been completed in such a record time. Emerson, the great American thinker of the 19th century said, "A great and timeless institution is the lengthened shadow of one man". If that be so, I have no doubt that the final verdict of history will be that the magnificent Vivekananda Rock Memorial at Kanyakumari is the lengthened shadow of Eknath Ranade.

I had the unique privilege of enjoying the friendship of Eknath Ranade for almost six years from 1976 to 1982. As a District Collector, I met him for the first time at the Collector"s bungalow in Thirunelveli in November 1976 when I was introduced to Eknath Ranade by S G Subramaniam, who was another great stalwart in the RSS. Later I got to know Eknath Ranade more intimately when I became the first Chairman of Tuticorin Port Trust in April 1979. We used to have lunch sessions from time to time at Tuticorin and I remember distinctly his talking with animated passion about the Vivekananda Rock Memorial. He was indeed a Mahapurusha who combined in himself the qualities of gentleness, strength, simplicity and faith. By his life and example he showed that making the simple complicated is common place ; making the complicated simple, awesomely simple, that's indeed creativity. He demonstrated that simplicity of character is the natural result of profound thought and that simplicity of character is no hindrance to subtlety of intellect. He showed that life is not complex. We are complex. Life is simple, and the simple thing is the right thing. True eloquence consists of saying all that should be said, and that only. Eknath Ranade did just that.

Eknath Ranade was a man of tremendous vision and right from day one he had planned to achieve two inseparable objectives. The first major objective was to complete the work of installation of Vivekananda Rock Memorial at Kanyakumari. This work was started in 1964 and completed on September 2nd 1970 when the memorial was dedicated to the nation by V V Giri, the President of India. The second major objective of Eknath Ranade was to establish VIVEKANANDA KENDRA ? the Living Memorial alongside the stone-structure of the rock memorial. After going through a carefully planned process of groundwork for nearly nine years, Vivekananda Kendra was officially founded by Eknath Ranade on 7 January, 1972 which marked the 108th birth anniversary of Swami Vivekananda by the Hindu calendar. On that day, as the sun rose, a saffron flag with Om inscribed on it was unfurled in the serene atmosphere on the Vivekananda Rock Memorial so as to herald the founding of Vivekananda Kendra? a spiritually oriented service mission of non-monastic order.

This second phase of the Memorial for Swami Vivekananda was not just an afterthought which arose in Eknath Ranade's mind. The establishment of Vivekananda Kendra was conceived by him as early as in 1964. To quote the exact words of Eknath Ranade in this context: "As a whole timer of RSS from 1938 to 1962 , for about 24 years, I had a fund of experience. I had come across many people who were not full-timers as they were leading family life. But all the same, there was a great dedication in their lives. Sometimes it occurred to me, "This person is having a family ? is having children ? is in service ? is doing business. Still, with what a great dedication he is leading a householder's life? Suppose he was free of all domestic worries, what great amount of work he would have put in? We can have a particular order of workers in whose case marriage need not be barred and who can marry if they want. If we can provide for all their basic needs, we may get a fine class of workers out of such dedicated people we see all around". But what that work could be? I started discussing this proposal with Swami Ranganathananda, Secretary of the Institute of Culture. He welcomed the establishment of a LAY ORDER of life-time workers to work for the cause of Sanatana Dharma as expounded by Swami Vivekananda by his life and example. Likewise I had discussions with Dr.Radhakrishnan, the President of India, Shri Jayaprakash Narayan, Shri Lal Bahadur Shastri and several other national leaders and all of them applauded and approved of the idea. The then President of the Ramakrishna Mission gave his concurrence to my proposal for the establishment of VIVEKANANDA KENDRA".

Great faith is not like an exact mathematical formula which can be agreed to if the weight of evidence favors it. Vigorous questioning can always propel a restoration and deepening of conviction. Paradoxically, it is the very questioning that causes the rubbing that polishes the pearl. This is what exactly happened with Eknath Ranade whose faith in his mission was invincible. He passionately shared Einstein"s affirmation that anyone who is not lost on the rapturous awe at the power and glory of the mind and the spirit behind the universe "is as good as burnt out candle".

During his last meeting with me in June 1982 when he was fighting against the machinations of some Christian clerics in Kanyakumari, he told me with calm determination: "It is your own assent to yourself, and the constant voice of your own reason, and not of others, that should make you believe. For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also. Faith has to be kept alive in us so that it gathers strength, more from practice than from speculations. Faith is not a series of gilt-edged propositions that you sit down to figure out, and if you follow all the logic and accept all the conclusions, then you have it. On the contrary, it is crumpling and throwing away everything, proposition by proposition, until nothing is left, and then writing a new proposition, your very own, to throw in the teeth of despair". As it was for his master Shri Guruji Golwalkar and in turn his master Dr Hedgewar, faith was the antiseptic of Eknath Ranade"s soul. Vivekananda Kendra was an outgrowth of such a kind of faith.

Thanks to the faith and vision of Eknath Ranade, the glorious tradition of penance established by Swami Vivekananda on the mid-sea rock in December 1982 has been continued by young men and women coming as Karyakartas of Vivekananda Kendra to spread the immortal message of Swami Vivekananda: "A hundred thousand men and women, fired with the zeal of holiness, fortified with eternal faith in the Lord, and nerved to lion's courage by their sympathy for the poor and the fallen and the downtrodden, will go over the length and breadth of the land, preaching the gospel of salvation, the gospel of help, the gospel of social raising up, the gospel of equality". Everyday, at sunrise the saffron flag with Om is hoisted on the Rock Memorial and lowered at sunset.

The twin objectives of Vivekananda Kendra are man-making and nation-building. With great foresight, Shri Eknath Ranade decided that Vivekananda Kendra should be a cadre-based organization. Young men and women whose hearts long to serve the nation should be provided the opportunity and the right platform to serve God in man. As envisaged by him, carefully chosen lifetime workers called Jeevanvratis are properly trained and posted to different parts of the country. They work without any salary. However, their upkeep and wellbeing? Yogakshema ? are taken care of by Vivekananda Kendra. The mission statement of Vivekananda Kendra was given by Eknath Ranade in these words: "The remedy for the ills of our country, therefore, lies in launching a mighty movement of right thought sweeping the entire country. It has to be a two-pronged move. On the one hand, it is to be aimed (I) transforming our people's inherent God-wardness into right spiritual urge rising out of the teachings of the Upanishads , namely, (a) each soul is potentially divine and (b) faith in God, in turn means faith in one"s self, ie. In one's potentiality to rise to divine heights. On the other hand, it is (II) to convert the spiritual fervor thus released into works of national reconstruction".

During the last 34 years Vivekananda Kendra has grown from strength to strength covering different parts of India like Tamilnadu, Kerala, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Madya Pradesh, Rajasthan, New Delhi, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh. Developmental and Welfare activities in the field of pre-education, primary education, secondary education, public health and various other aspects of rural development have been undertaken to initiate a new process of development in the remote and backward areas in order to open out to the poor people in those areas opportunities for a richer and fuller life.

There are two mid-sea rocks off the shore of Kanyakumari. One of the rocks is the Vivekananda Rock, on which a memorial has been constructed and nearly 12 lakh of people visit this memorial annually. There is another smaller rock, not very far from the Vivekananda rock, and many of the Christian missionaries laid their claim for constructing a small church or a statue of Jesus Christ on this rock in 1979. Eknath Ranade showed his clairvoyant vision by persuading Dr MGR, the then Chief Minister of Tamilnadu, agree to the installation of Thiruvalluvar statue on this rock. The foundation stone for the Thiruvalluvar statue was laid by Morarji Desai, the Prime Minister of India on 15 April, 1979. Eknath Ranade was a great statesman and he used the good offices of Prabhudas Patwari, the then Governor of Tamilnadu to make Dr MGR agree to this proposal. Like Mahakavi Bharathi, Eknath Ranade was a true nationalist and a true Tamilian rolled into one. Prabhudas Patwari was persuaded by the inspiring words of Eknath Ranade. "Let us have faith that right makes might; and in that faith let us dare to do our duty as we understand it". Eknath Ranade dared and succeeded.

After leading a glorious life of unexampled service and selflessness as a Karmayogi, Eknath Ranade passed into immortality at Madras on Vinayak Chaturthi day on 22 August, 1982. The main theme of Eknath Ranade"s life was to take the message of Sanatana Dharma to every home and pave the way for launching in a big way the man-making programmes preached and envisaged by great seers like Swami Vivekananda. By establishing the Vivekananda Rock Memorial at Kanyakumari and by creating Vivekananda Kendra, Eknath Ranade has indeed made the following words of Swami Vivekananda come true in letter and spirit: "We want thousands of men and women, who will spread like wild fire from the Himalayas to Kanyakumari, from North Pole to South Pole ? all over the world. Let those who have come for child's play be off now, while there is time, or they will surely come to grief. We want an organization. Off with Laziness ! Spread ! Run like fire to all place. Who will give the world light? Sacrifice in the past has been the Law, it will be, alas, for ages to come. The earth's bravest and best will have to sacrifice themselves for the good for man, for the welfare of all".

V Sundaram, IAS, Retd.

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