International Journal of Hindu Studies
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Published By Springer-Verlag

1574-9282, 1022-4556

Gwilym Beckerlegge

AbstractSvāmī Vivekānanda’s (1863–1902) relationship with his guru Śrī Rāmakṛṣṇa (ca. 1836–1886), and his role in the creation of the Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission in the final decade of the nineteenth century, has attracted far more scholarly attention than the meanings invested in Vivekānanda after his death by devotees and admirers beyond the Math and Mission and by the various organizations that have disseminated these meanings. To redress this imbalance, this article examines the message embodied in, and projected by, the Vivekananda Rock Memorial at Kanniyakumari. It explores the Memorial’s contribution to Kanniyakumari’s expanding role as a tourist destination and the problematic nature of the story that has provided the rationale for the Memorial’s location. It shows how evolving versions of this story have fed the different understandings of Vivekānanda’s mission now institutionalized respectively in the Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission and the Vivekananda Kendra, which manages the Memorial. It argues that the creation of the Memorial has directed attention away from Kolkata (Calcutta), the scene of Vivekānanda’s interaction with his guru Rāmakṛṣṇa, and thus away from that seminal relationship. The Memorial presents, instead, Vivekānanda’s experience at Kanniyakumari as the defining moment in his evolving mission as a “spiritual nationalist.” The article concludes by noting implications of this shift for the critical understanding of Vivekānanda, emphasizing the importance of the Rock Memorial’s function as an increasingly popular portal to “Vivekānanda of Kanniyakumari.”

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