Swami Vivekananda in one of his letters once said I am more interested in the small daily habits of great people. I feel the same way as well.  One gets access to long discourses and teachings of the great ones. But it’s always the small details of their lives that actually bring forth a different dimension to their characters. In todays blog I wanted to share with you small episodes of Swami Vivekananda which show his human side. These are all collected from information from his various devotees and their correspondences. I had a rather good time reading them and I hope you all enjoy this side of this rather dynamic monk of India.

Swamiji has a plethora of photographs, which was not common for people those days. And thank god for that. So one gets a fair idea about what he looks like. But a bit about his gait and personality comes forth from how people viewed this figure from the physical point. S. Iyer one of his devotees, describes him not too flabby like most Bengalis.:)). He had a sturdy built and had a coppery hue. He is was even said to have a bit of temper that could be associated with a sage. In more than one account of people who have met him, they all describe him as magnetic. They all speak of a stillness that would captivate them when he entered a room. And they all speak of his mesmerizing  voice. He had a warm smile and could narrate stories that would mesmerize his audience. He even had a bit of an Irish accent, that was perhaps because his favourite professor in college was from Dublin. He would walk up and down New York wearing a bright ochre robe, least bothered about the prying eyes. It was later Mrs Waldo his beloved disciple convinced him to tone down his street clothing a bit:).

His personality was such, often many young women would vie for his attention. That caused a bit of concern to one of his older devotees who he used to treat as his grandmother. She warned him of this. To this warning Swamiji laughed and told her not to fear,

“My dear American mother do not be frightened for me. I often sleep under a banyan tree with a bowl of rice given by a peasant, but it is equally true that I am sometimes a guest at a maharaja’s palace with a girl appointed to fan me all night. I am used to temptation, you need not fear for me.”

He was child like. And it was here in USA, this very grandmother taught him how to count money that he received from his lectures. He would come and give her the pennies tied in a hanky as he never owned a purse and he would be grateful for the money which he sent for the work back home to India. There is an incident where he once asked Maud a disciple of his to teach him how to draw. He wanted to keep his hands busy. Later in a memoir Maud reflects on this incident “Many great men would probably enter that room again, but never again a child like man toiling over his crayons with a single mind and heart.” 

He loved ice cream and often he would excuse himself from the table right after salad, excusing himself for a smoke or something and head straight to where the ice cream was being served. He was like a big loveable boy. Often his habits would shock the people who would come to listen to him. One such incident is mentioned by G.S Bhate. Swamiji was in Belaguam and he asked for betel nuts and paan. Next night he wanted tobacco for chewing. To top it he took food from everyone. In a society that was still structured around the caste system this was shocking for most people. He would often have guides who were Muslim, and he always insisted they were served first. It was only after he would start speaking that the greatness of this man would captivate the listeners.

There are many stories of Swamiji cooking for his disciples. Mary Funke a disciple speaks of how he used to cook for them. Albeit his food was a bit too spicy. He would stand with a white napkin draped around his arm and call ” Last call for the dining cah”, in the perfect NY accent.

Wonderful cook but food was too hot. But I made up my mind to eat it, even if it strangled me. Which it nearly did. If a Vivekananda can cook for me, the least I can do is eat it”.

There is a rather poignant account where Sister Nivedita met him for the last time and after she had finished her meal, he stood by pouring water for her to wash her hands. Sister Nivedita hesitated, but her Master said, “But even Jesus washed the feet of his disciple”. The thought that crossed her mind that time was but that was the last time before he was crucified. She didn’t voice it however. The very next day Swami Vivekananda gave up his body.

There are many many stories which I hope to share with you again. But I will end with two stories that I absolutely love, because it brings forth the depth of this great man.  Swamiji was travelling through Cairo with Madame Calve(well known opera singer). As they were walking through the streets, some prostitutes started calling out to him. Swamiji looked at them unperturbed and said “Poor children they have put their divinity in beauty”. 

And he walked up to them. One of the woman stared at him and then fell on her knees  cried and kissed the helm of his robe and said “Humbre di dios” (Man of God). The other one just covered her face with her hands as if unable to see him and ran away with tears streaming down. Swamiji’s was completely unaware of his own personality. There is a beautiful incident that Ellen, another devotee of his writes about.

In NY each house had a narrow drawing room with high folding doors at one end and windows at the other. And between them a mirror from  floor to ceiling. He stood before it and walked up and down lost in thought. Now the bubble is going to burst, he is full of personal vanity , Ellen thought. She had seen a lot of God men already. And a thought of disappointment crossed her mind, Swamiji would turn out to be the same as them. But Swamiji turned around and said , “Ellen it is the strangest thing I cannot remember how I look. I look and look at myself in the glass but the moment  I turn away I forget completely what I looked like”.

There is another sweet episode recorded by Jo Macleod. Swamiji had just delivered a lecture on Jesus of Nazareth and his entire body was glowing with an aura. There was a kind of halo and stillness around him. And after the lecture Jo dared not disturb the stillness by speaking. Suddenly Swamiji turned to say something Jo thought he was going to say something deep and profound the moment was such.

“I know how it is done”


“Mulligatwany soup, they put bay leaf in it“, he said. :))) This was the utter lack of self consciousness he seemed to own.

He had predicted he would die before his 40th birthday. He had the boon of leaving his body when he desired. When asked why he was speaking like this he said ” Because other trees cannot grow under the shade of a big tree … I must move to make way”. And just a few hours before he gave up his body a monk heard him mutter to himself “Only another Vivekananda will know what this Vivekananda has done”.

Like  I said there are numerous anecdotes which I cannot possibly fit in to one blog. But I do hope you all enjoyed reading something of a different facet of this rather dynamic monk.