“A striking figure, clad in yellow and orange, shining like the sun of India in the midst of the heavy atmosphere of Chicago, a lion head, piercing eyes, mobile lips, movements swift and abrupt — such was my first impression of Swami Vivekananda, as I met him in one of the rooms set apart for the use of the delegates to the Parliament of Religions. Off the platform, his figure was instinct with pride of country, pride of race — the representative of the oldest of living religions, surrounded by curious gazers of nearly the youngest religion. India was not to be shamed before the hurrying arrogant West by this her envoy and her son. He brought her message, he spoke in her name, and the herald remembered the dignity of the royal land whence he came. Purposeful, virile, strong, he stood out, a man among men, able to hold his own.

On the platform another side came out. The dignity and the inborn sense of worth and power still were there, but all was subdued to the exquisite beauty of the spiritual message which he had brought, to the sublimity of that matchless truth of the East which is the heart and the life of India, the wondrous teaching of the Self. Enraptured, the huge multitude hung upon his words; not a syllable must be lost, not a cadence missed! ‘That man, a heathen!’ said one, as he came out of the great hall, and we send missionaries to his people! It would be more fitting that they should send missionaries to us!’ ”


Annie Besant (1847-1933)

Annie Besant was a half-Irish woman of boundless energy. Mrs Besant began social reform work in London and joined first the Fabion Society and then the Theosophical Society in 1889. She was elected President of the Theosophical Society in 1907 and held that position until her death. Her life in India began in 1893 with lecture tours and expressed her views through a weekly newspaper, New India. She founded the Home Rule League in 1916 and campaigned in London for constitutional reform.

She was elected President of the Indian National Congress in 1871. The Indian Boy Scouts Association, the Women’s Indian Association, the Society for the Promotion of National Education, and a National University of Adyar near Madras are all her gifts to India.