Vivekananda Rock Memorial – 50 Years

Srinivasan Balakrishnan

This is the 50th year of the iconic Vivekananda Rock Memorial in Kanyakumari. It was on 2nd September 1970 that this memorial to the Wandering Monk was dedicated to the nation or, rather, to the whole world, by the then President, Shri V.V. Giri. Surprisingly, the then Tamil Nadu Chief Minister, Shri M. Karunanidhi, an atheist, also participated! It may be because Vivekananda is hailed as the ‘Patriot Prophet’.

This particular rock was chosen because it was here that Vivekananda meditated for three days from Dec. 25 to 27 1892 whence he got divine enlightenment about his life’s mission. Penniless, this sanyasin swam across the 1,600 ft. distance between the shore and this rock, braving 20’ deep sea water, thrashing waves and submerged rocks. It was appropriate that he chose this very rock where Goddess Parvathi (Kanya Kumari) did penance standing on one leg. Hence this rock is originally known as Sri Patham Rock. An impression of a foot (‘patham’ in Tamil) found on this rock is believed to be that of the Goddess. It was appropriate because Vivekananda was an ardent devotee of Kali / Durga, other forms of Parvathi.

After being ordained as a sanyasin in 1886, Vivekananda went on a solitary wandering in the Himalayas (1890) and then undertook Bharat Parikrama as a Wandering Monk (July 1890-Dec.1892), at the end of which he reached Kanyakumari on 24th Dec 1892. After meditation there and upon realizing his life’s mission, Vivekananda sailed for USA on 31 May 1893 to participate in the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago. His address on 11 Sept. 1893 (in response to welcome) began with the unusual “Sisters & Brothers of America”, deviating from the formal “Ladies & Gentlemen”, which touched the heart of those assembled. On September 27, 1893, he again addressed at the final session, leaving an everlasting impression about India’s hoary religious tradition. For the next three years (1893-1896) Vivekananda traveled throughout the USA lecturing on Vedanta and established the Vedanta Society there (1896). Returning on 26 Jan. 1897, a warm and rousing welcome awaited Vivekananda in Rameshwaram, Tamil Nadu. He founded Ramakrishna Mission on 1st May 1897.

To honour this great saint, it was decided in 1962, on the eve of his birth centenary (1963), to construct a befitting memorial. What more an appropriate spot than the very rock where he attained enlightenment! Accordingly, on 17th January 1963 a tablet was installed on the rock and negotiations with Tamil Nadu Govt. started.  With Shri Eknathiji Ranade joining the Committee as the first Organising Secretary on 11th Aug. 1963, things progressed further and, on 12th October 1967, the foundation stone was laid. And, now in 2020, the Memorial is 50 years young, like the dynamic Sanyasin.

The Sri Patham / Vivekananda rock measures 534’x426’ at water level and is spread 4 acres at 55’ above water level where the memorial has been raised.  The memorial has three structures – Sri Patha Mandapam where the foot impression of Goddess Parvathi is found, the Sabha Mandapam where the statue of Swami Vivekananda stands majestically looking directly at the Sri Patham, and a Meditation Mandapam 15’ below Sabha mandapam. Swami Vivekananda’s 7 ½’ bronze statue is based on a portrait by Shri S.M. Pandit of Mumbai and sculpted by Shri N.L. Sonavadekar from JJ School of Arts, Mumbai. Swami stands here in the pose of a Wandering Monk, facing the portraits of Sri Ramakrishna & Smt. Saradha Devi, his gurus. The dhyana / meditation hall has an ‘Om’ symbol installed inside. I just peeped into the meditation hall but did not venture to meditate, because millions of thoughts crisscross my mind in a nano second once I close my eyes. A book-cum-souvenir shop is also located at the base. A Sun Rise Calendar is also etched.

To withstand erosion of the sea wind/weather conditions, granite was the only choice for raising this memorial. Blue and red granite were quarried and brought from more than 60 kms away, totally weighing 6,000 tons. This includes four 12’-tall monolithic pillars each weighing 13 tons with intricate carvings and ceiling beams weighing 9 tons each! The memorial was constructed as per shilpa sashtra under the able guidance of Sthapathi (temple architect) Shri S.K. Achari of Tamil Nadu. With 2081 working days since start to inauguration, the budget then was 1.20 crore rupees. The whole nation was involved in its construction by common people contributing small amounts; 30 lakh people donated a minimum of one rupee each. I remember our family also contributing such a small amount; as a boy of 12-13 years old then living in Madurai I was so excited. As a foresighted plan of action, massive reservoirs have been constructed on the rock for Rain Water Harvesting.  On another nearby smaller rock stands the 133’ tall statue of Tamil Saint Poet Thiruvalluvar whose 2000-year-old Thirukural (in all 1330 couplets in 133 chapters) is one of the most praised works in Tamil language.

As soon as we landed in Kanyakumari a few months back in 2019, we dumped our luggage in the hotel room and rushed to visit this Memorial. As it was Kerala’s Onam holiday season, there was a long queue to board the ferry. My intelligent wife quickly decided to go in for the special ticket to jump the queue of the mortals and also ensured a window seat for us. Oh, thank you, dear! The ferry service to the rock depends on the unpredictable weather / sea wave / tide conditions; hence this ranked top in our itinerary. Despite our planning, we were banned from visiting the Thiruvalluvar statue; blame the ‘low tide’. This was my third visit after a gap of 30 years. The first was with my parents and two elder sisters, probably much before the memorial was raised, because I remember very little about this trip; then in 1989 with my baby boy. 

In 1984, the Government of India declared Swami Vivekananda’s birth day 12th January as the National Youth Day. Let us remember his clarion call ‘Arise, Awake and Stop not till the Goal is Reached.’



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