The talk given by Swami Vivekananda at the Parliament of Religions in Chicago in September 1893 is now part of history. Most Indians relate Swamiji to this talk and historians agree that it was possibly a key milestone in introducing Swami Vivekananda to the world stage. Many also know of Prof Wright’s contribution in getting Swamiji an opportunity to attend and present his thoughts at this Parliament.

But very few people know of Swami Vivekananda’s first public discourse in the United States of America. It was August 25th, 1893 and many professors, artists, clergymen and writers from Boston and other cities including Chicago had come to a quite village called Annisquam on the Massachusetts coast. They were assembling in one of the village’s largest boarding houses called Miss Lane’s Boarding House which had many spacious rooms and a large dining room. People here were coming at the invitation of Professor John Henry Wright of Harvard University. Prof Wright had mentioned that he would be coming with a young Hindu monk whom he had recently met. He knew that he was in the presence of a force, the dimensions of which he could barely fathom but which had captivated him. The melodious voice, the leonine bearing, the spiritual glow in the great dark eyes of this young man of twenty-nine attracted all who approached him and when he spoke, there was a strange and compelling reverberation felt within all who heard him. Mrs Wright recording this visit to Annisquam wrote, “He walked with a strange, shambling gait, and yet there was a commanding dignity and impressiveness in the carriage of his neck and bare head that caused everyone in sight to stop and look at him; he moved slowly with the swinging tread of one who has never hastened, and in his great dark eyes was the beauty of an alien civilization…”

Annisquam Church

On that chilly Sunday, the Hindu monk was asked to speak at the Annisquam Universalist Church at the invitation of its pastor, Rev G W Penniman. Elva Nelson who researched this visit of Swami Vivekananda had this to say of his first public discourse in America. “It marked the beginning of his unprecedented work in the West. It was in this quiet village, Annisquam, from where ships had sailed to China and India before revolutionary times that another revolution was so quietly begun.” This first talk given on that Sunday in a little church was to mark the beginning of Swami Vivekananda’s work in the West. This heralded the approach of a spiritual storm which spread across the entire country. It lasted less than five years in all, but history will one day record how this quiet revolution was to lay the foundation for the beginning of the regeneration of people who were called upon to find their true inner selves.

Kannada version in Prajavani (03-May-12)