Celebrating heritage, promoting tourism, and relocating Svāmī Vivekānanda: a study of the Svāmī Vivekānanda Rock Memorial

Beckerlegge, Gwilym (2021). Celebrating heritage, promoting tourism, and relocating Svāmī Vivekānanda: a study of the Svāmī Vivekānanda Rock Memorial. International Journal of Hindu Studies (In Press).

Abstract

Svāmi Vivekānanda’s (1863-1902) relationship with his guru Śri Rāmakṛṣṇa (c. 1836-1886), and his role in the creation of the Rāmakṛṣṇa Maṭh and Mission in the final decade of the nineteenth century, has attracted far more scholarly attention than the meanings invested in Vivekānanda after his death by devotees and admirers beyond the Rāmakṛṣṇa Maṭh and Mission and by the various organisations that have disseminated these meanings. To redress this imbalance, this article examines the message embodied in, and projected by, the Svāmi Vivekānanda Rock Memorial at Kanniyakumari. It explores the Memorial’s contribution to Kanniyakumari’s expanding role as a tourist destination, and the problematic nature of the story that has provided the rationale for the Memorial’s location. It shows how evolving versions of this story have fed the different understandings of Vivekānanda’s mission now institutionalised respectively in the Rāmakṛṣṇa Maṭh and Mission and the Vivekānanda Kendra, which manages the Memorial. It argues that the creation of the Memorial has directed attention away from Kolkata (Calcutta), the scene of Vivekānanda’s relationship with his guru Rāmakṛṣṇa, and thus away from that relationship. The Memorial presents, instead, Vivekānanda’s experience at Kanniyakumari as the defining moment in his evolving mission as a “spiritual nationalist”. The article concludes by noting implications of this shift for the critical understanding of Vivekānanda, emphasising the importance of the Rock Memorial’s function as an increasingly popular portal to “Vivekānanda of Kanniyakumari”.

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