Swami Vivekananda (1863-1902) has been an influential but contentious figure in the history of recent Hindu tradition. From the vantage point provided by the celebration of Vivekananda’s 150th Birth Anniversary during 2013/14, this lecture will explore aspects of Vivekananda’s legacy with particular reference to the Ramakrishna Math and Mission, the movement he founded, and the Vivekananda Kendra, which came into existence in 1972. Greatly influenced by both the Ramakrishna Math and Mission and the RSS, the Kendra promotes its own brand of Hindutva ideology in Vivekananda’s name. Through an examination of these two movements, the lecture will illustrate the diffuse and durable nature of Vivekananda’s influence, and in the process explain why Vivekananda has been judged by some to have been a contradictory and controversial figure.
Professor Gwilym Beckerlegge’s research has centred on the legacy of Swami Vivekananda and the practice of seva within the Ramakrishna Math and Mission and other contemporary Hindu movements, in particular the Vivekananda Kendra. His most recent publications include the entries on the Ramakrishna Math and Mission and the Vivekananda Kendra in the Brill Encyclopaedia of Hinduism (2013), ‘Legacy of Service’ Frontline (The Hindu Newspaper Group, Chennai) 30/2: 25-31, 2013, ‘Swami Vivekananda (1863-1902) 150 years on: critical studies of an influential Hindu guru’ in Religion Compass, Vol.7, No.10, 2013, pp.444-453, and ‘Eknath Ranade, gurus and jīvanvratīs (life-workers): Vivekananda Kendra’s promotion of the ‘Yoga Way of Life’’ in M.Singleton and E.Goldberg (eds.) Gurus of Modern Yoga (2014).