Swami Vivekanand’s 150th Birth Anniversary Celebration at Palace of Westiminster on 24 January 2013
At the invitation of Seema Malhotra Member of Parliament for Feltham and Heston, Metropolitan Police Hindu Association (MPHA) and Hindu Academy, Lords, Lady, M.Ps Senior Police Officers and staff from Metropolitan Police Service and prominent Hindu community/group representatives came together on 24 January 2013 to celebrate Swami Vivekanand’s 150th Birth Anniversary in the Jubilee Room and the International Parliamentary Union Room at the Houses of Parliament.
The celebration began with the lighting of 15 electric candles mainly by ladies representing each decade of the celebration. This was a fitting tribute to the Swami who was significantly ahead of his years as is indicated by his support to the research of electricity with scientist Nikola Tesla who used ancient Sanskrit descriptions of natural phenomena such as Akasha and Prana whilst drawing inspiration from Vedic science.
Prayers were offered by Metropolitan Police Chaplain Gurudev Rajesh Parmar and Swami Dhavalnarayanacharya from Rajkot, India.
Varsha Mistry, Deputy Chairperson of MPHA , invited Keith Vaz MP for Leicester East to formally open and introduce the event on behalf of Seema Malhotra who was unable to return from the USA.
Keith Vaz welcomed all dignitaries and guests whilst making a special mention of Lord Kamlesh Patel and Craig Mackey Deputy Commissioner of Metropolitan Police Service. Keith proudly announced his constituency had the largest population of Hindus of all cities. He commented on the achievements of the Metropolitan Police Service and highlighted the significantly high regard held by London's communities for Harrow Borough Commander Dal Babu. Keith also thanked MPHA and Hindu Academy for organising the event. He went on to read out a letter from Ed Milliband leader of the Labour Party saying "...This important celebration marks the birth of a man who gave so much to so many and to this very day is respected across the world by people of all faiths.
Swami Vivekanand's address to the Parliament of Religions, in Chicago in 1893 - the world’s first inter-faith gathering-...inspired people from all religions, backgrounds and countries from scientists to leaders of nations......there is much we can learn from his life and teachings. His values of social responsibility and community cohesion will continue to inspire generations to come".
Seema Malhotra, MP for Feltham and Heston, had sent a note to Chairperson of MPHA Satya Minhas thanking him for organising the event adding "Swami Vivekanand lived for only 39 years, but in that time changed the world for the better. He practiced his faith in his actions, and in his belief that service to God could be achieved through service to humankind. He bridged East and West, and is widely credited with the introduction of Vedanta and yoga to the western world. In Chicago at the World's Parliament of Religions in 1893, he represented India and Hinduism. His address, beginning "Sisters and Brothers of America!" took America by storm and led to a standing ovation. He helped change the perception of India and of Hinduism, and promoted a message of inclusivity of all religions that is increasingly important today, and of particular significance for multi-cultural, multi-faith London. I am proud to have been able to support this event, and congratulate you on the work of the MPHA and the Hindu Academy. The work that members of the MPHA do in keeping our streets safe and in promoting community cohesion is part of values in action. The Hindu Academy's work in teaching Hinduism and Vedanta is vital to ensuring future generations have access to the knowledge and principles that inspired Swami Vivekananda, and through him so many of his followers".
Satya Minhas extended a warm welcome to all present and thanked Keith Vaz and Seema Malhotra for their continuous guidance and valuable support. He went on to say of Swami Vivekanand. Satya said that Swami Vivekanand was an extremely forward thinking person. In the 19th century he advocated empowering women and bringing them into public life at the highest level. MPHA has endeavoured to empower all and out of 13 Executive Committee members, it has eight ladies serving and managing the MPHA. Individuals and organisations will thrive and succeed when they actively promote and ensure; equality of opportunity, fairness and also that women are well represented up to the highest level. Swamiji preached equality and fairness and insisted on dignifying humanity, promoting global community cohesion. He also promoting positive intellectual and spiritual progression whilst embracing religious pluralism. He preached that all religions are true and the service to man is the most effective worship of God. Satya concluded by thanking MPHA members, supporters and volunteers for their help mostly in their own time and making the MPHA and Hindu Academy very forward looking and successful organisation.
MPS Deputy Commissioner Craig Mackey in his address to the guests thanked MPHA and Hindu Academy for inviting him to join the special event. He expressed pride towards the efforts of the MPHA. He commented on the responsibility of the Metropolitan Police Service to protect the safety of over 8 million people and among them a great many different communities. He went on to stress the importance of shared responsibility from all communities for keeping London safe. He had read about Swami Vivekananda and was impressed that his messages continue to be valuable 150 years later.
Author, Seeta Lakhani, who has been raised with teachings of Swami Vivekananda from her father Jay Lakhani spoke of her childhood experiences which have led her to study anthropology, become a voluntary teacher of Hinduism, work for a charity and has now established a care service for the elderly. She stressed that the greatest religion is humanity! Seeta clearly demonstrated the essential need for character development alongside academia.
Jay Lakhani, Director of Hindu Academy and first Hindu tutor at Eton College, the keynote speaker who has delivered classes in Hinduism for thousands of youth nationally, spoke about touring universities nationally with Swami Vivekanand presentations and found that the scientific basis of these teachings struck a chord with the youth and propagated interest in exploring Hinduism and pluralism further. He had in recent weeks held a celebration at Eton College and in Leicester on the same day. He stressed the democracy in the UK and systems to give people dignified lives are the goals which Swami Vivekanand hoped for. He emphasised the importance of living unselfishly and serving others as a principle pathway for spiritual progression as opposed to solely focusing on rituals.
He stressed that as Hinduism embraces all religions, there is no need for supremacy or conversion. Divinifying and dignifying humanity combined with welcome for pluralism is the key for global community cohesion.
Commander Neil Basu of the MPS, an active partner and supporter of MPHA initiatives, who is of Bengali origin was invited to deliver the 1893 Chicago address given by Swami Vivekanand. Neil said that he and his father felt great pride for being given this honour. Neil delivered the Swami speech in a majestic manner.
"I am proud to belong to a religion which has taught the world both tolerance and universal acceptance. We believe not only in universal toleration, but we accept all religions as true. I am proud to belong to a nation which has sheltered the persecuted and the refugees of all religions and all nations of the earth. I am proud to tell you that we have gathered in our bosom the purest remnant of the Israelites, who came to the southern India and took refuge with us in the very year in which their holy temple was shattered to pieces by Roman tyranny. I am proud to belong to the religion which has sheltered and is still fostering the remnant of the grand Zoroastrian nation. I will quote to you, brethren, a few lines from a hymn which I remember to have repeated from my earliest boyhood, which is every day repeated by millions of human beings:
As the different streams having there sources in different places all mingle their water in the sea, so, O Lord, the different paths which men take through different tendencies, various though they appear, crooked or straight, all lead to thee.
Sectarianism, bigotry, and its horrible descendant, fanaticism, have long possessed this beautiful earth. They have filled the earth with violence, drenched it often and often with human blood, destroyed civilization, and sent whole nations to despair. Had it not been for these horrible demons, human society would be far more advanced than it is now. But their time is come; and I fervently hope that the bell that tolled this morning in honor of this convention may be the death-knell of all fanaticism, of all persecutions with the sword or with the pen, and of all uncharitable feelings between persons wending their way to the same goal."
Secretary of SV150 committee Nilesh Solanki brought part of their Swami Vivekanand exhibition and fittingly displayed this in the International Parliamentary Union Room in the Houses of Parliament to share with guests. He highlighted the successful inaugural event at Bhartiya Vidya Bhavan on 12 January and spoke of the global celebrations including a postage stamp dedicated to the Swami in Malaysia. He warmly invited people to host the exhibition at their chosen locations to maximise the valuable inspiration.
Further guest speakers included Dr Jagdish Sharma HCUK Trustee, Arjanbhai Vekaria Hindu Forum of Britain and the eminent Sunrise Radio presenter Ravi Sharma.
Further dignitaries included Lady Sheikh, Stephen Pound MP for Ealing North and Dr Sathi Ludhianvi radio presenter Kismat radio.
Swami Vivekanand's lectures after the Chicago address drew overwhelming audience numbers. This celebration saw equal enthusiasm, one and a half centuries later, with an entirely full Jubilee room, many standing and many listening intently outside as there was little space remaining in the room.
A great many guests, from various faith groups, commented that they felt the urge/need to further explore the practical and empowering teachings of Swami Vivekanand, who was a stranger to them, prior to the event.
Varsha closed the event by inviting all the guests to view the exhibition and enjoy food and refreshments kindly provided by Atul ji.