Kanyakumari, the southern-most tip of India, is around 90 km away from Trivandrum and is located in Tamil Nadu. It is 20 km from another famous temple town called Nagercoil. Kanyakumari has now become a famous tourist spot and anyone who goes there does not miss visiting the Vivekananda Rock Memorial. Swami Vivekananda himself visited Kanyakumari in December 1892. He had just been to Trivandrum and spent several days there, and on 22nd Dec 1892 went to Nagercoil along with a person called Manmathababu. After staying at Nagercoil for a couple of days, he is said to have reached Kanyakumari on the 24th or 25th. One can understand how Swamiji must have felt on reaching Kanyakumari. He had by now traveled extensively across the length and breadth of India, through jungles, the Himalayas and through large towns and cities. He had met and interacted with a wide cross-section of people – from the maharajah to the man on the street. His love for India and her people was limitless and he had by now spent nearly two and half years traveling through the country by foot, bullock cart and rail.

He first visited the temple of Kanyakumari (Parvati) and prayed and meditated for a while. He then came out and stood on the oceanside, gazing at the sea. Some two furlongs away he saw two large rocks. According to the Puranas, the larger and farther of these two rocks is the one that has been sanctified by the blessed feet of the Divine Mother. Swamiji was seized with the desire to reach those rocks. He asked a few boatmen whether he could be ferried to the rock. They were ready to take him there but Swamiji did not have a single paisa to pay them. What happened next was something remarkable. Without much ado, Swamiji plunged into the roaring waves and swam across. The experienced boatmen were shocked to see him do this and screamed out to him to return to the shore. They warned him of the stormy waves and the sharks in the ocean. But Swamiji swam safely across and stepped onto the rock. He spent three days and three nights on that rock. The roaring ocean was all the company he had. There, sitting on the last stone of India, he passed into a deep meditation on the present and future of his country. He sought to understand the root of her downfall. With the vision of a seer, he understood why India had been thrown from the pinnacle of glory to the depths of degradation. He reflected on the purpose and achievement of the Indian world. He perceived the realities and potentialities of Indian culture. He saw religion to be the life-blood of India’s millions. He realized in the silence of his heart that India shall rise only through a renewal and restoration of that highest spiritual consciousness that has made her, at all times, the cradle of the Nations and cradle of the Faith. He saw her greatness; he saw her weaknesses as well, the central one of which was that the nation had lost its individuality.

The single-minded monk had become transformed into a reformer, a nation-builder and a world-architect. His soul brooded with tenderness and anguish over India’s poverty. What use is a religion, he thought, from which the masses are excluded? Everywhere and at all times he saw that the poor had been oppressed by whatever power the changes of fortune had set over them. The dominance of the priesthood, the despotism of caste, the merciless divisions which these created in the social body, making outcasts of religion the majority of its followers – these the Swami saw as almost insurmountable barriers to the progress of the Indian nation. His heart throbbed for the masses, great in their endurance. In their sufferings he found himself sharing; by their degradation he found himself humiliated. He longed to throw in his lot with theirs. Agony was in his soul when he thought how those who prided themselves on being the custodians of religion had held down the masses through the ages.

In his letter of March 19 1894, written to Swami Ramakrishnananda from Chicago, one catches something of the ardour of Swamiji’s meditation on the rock: “In view of all this, especially of the poverty and ignorance, I got no sleep. At Cape Comorin, sitting in Mother Kumari’s temple, sitting on the last bit of Indian rock, I hit upon a plan. We are so many sannyasis wandering about, and teaching the people metaphysics – it is all madness. Did not our Master say “An empty stomach is no good for religion”? That those poor people are leading the life of brutes, is simply due to ignorance. We have for all ages been sucking their blood and trampling them underfoot.”

But what was the remedy? The clear-eyed Swami saw that Renunciation (Tyaga) and Service (Seva) must be the twin ideals of India. If the national life could be intensified in these channels, everything else would be taken care of. And it was here after three days of continuous and intense meditation that he drew up plans for his work, which was to unfold in the decade that followed.

Kannada version in Prajavani (16-Aug-12)