I shall explain to you the motive behind the whole project: Vivekananda Kendra (referred to VK henceforth). To begin the story, we will have to go back to 1962. Swami Vivekananda was born in January 1863. The entire period from the 100th to the 101st birthday of Swamiji as proposed to be celebrated as the Centenary Year. The Ramakrishna Mission planned it on an all India scale. During the whole year there were discourses & speeches about the life / teachings of Swami Vivekananda. Till then Swamiji’s works were published in English & Hindi. Now the publications were taken up in all languages because the government gave a very good subsidy.
Beginnings - In January 1962, the people of Kanyakumar thought that as Swamiji’s Birth Centenary was being celebrated, it would be in the fitness of things if they put up some memorial on the Rock where he meditated & discovered the mission of his life. It occurred naturally to everybody there must be access to the place esp. As it was known as “Saripada Parai” where Goddess Kanyakumari meditated, did her Sadhana to obtain the hand of Lord Shiva so that they also could go & sit as the sacred spot.
Some people in Kanyakumari came together. Shri Velayudhan Pillai, President of Haindeva Seva Sangh, took the lead and with others thought of forming a committee for the purpose. They thought: “Let us have a Memorial & also put a pedestrian bridge so that people can commute across”. At that time they could not define what type of memorial should be made. Almost simultaneously there was a public meeting at Madras with a lead by the Ramakrishna Mission. They thought on the same lines.
Some Divergent Forces - when these two groups got together, news spread that some memorial on the Vivekananda Rock was being contemplated. A section of the Catholics at Kanyakumari did not take kindly to the contemplated scheme & thought something should be done to thwart it. You may be knowing that Kanyakumari has a sizeable population of Christian fishermen. They were Hindus earlier, 400 years ago. But they claim that St Xavier converted their ancestors when he went there. In this situation, a section of the Catholics put up on the Rock a big Cross which was visible from the shore.
It has its natural repercussions. The people immediately convened protest meetings and sent telegrams to the Collector, Chief Minister, President & PM that this Rock, where the Sripadam is imprinted, is a place of worship for Hindus and putting up a Cross was a trespass.
At that time, the Kanyakumari temple Devaswom claimed that the Rock was its property because of the Sripandam impressed on it. Perhaps, long ago, the Rock was a part of the mainland. If Goddess Kanyakumari did Her Sadhana on the Rock, there must have been a connection between the temple & the Rock. On the basis of this legend, the Devasom staked its claim.
The first thing that Kanyakumari District Committee referred to above did was to apply on 19/8/1962 to the Devaswom Board for permission to put a Memorial on the Rock & to have a pedestrian bridge joining the mainland to the Rock. It also sought permission to put up a Memorial on the Rock and to have a pedestrian bridge joining the mainland to the Rock. It also sought permission to start a free boat service till a bridge was constructed. That time there was no ferry service as compared to day.
The Board felt that people might like to go to the Rock to see the place where Swamiji meditated, where Kanyakumari did her Meditation & Sadhana. So the Board immediately permitted the Committee to run a free service, put up a Memorial & also to have a bridge & everything else provided, on completion, these were handed over to them. The Committee also agreed to do so.
Taking advantage of the permission, the Committee wanted first to start a ferry service. But from where was it to get the boatmen? The people in the surrounding areas were all Christian and they would never cooperate. So the Committee members went to Kerala, to Calicut and persuaded 10 to 20 people on the premise that they would not only have to run the boats but fight with the locals too. The people were now able to go daily to the rock except when the sea was rough.
People’s emotions were stirred when they saw the Cross-of recent origin. Meanwhile the Madras govt ordered a judicial probe and declared that the Cross be removed. It also declared in unequivocal terms that this was Vivekananda Rock. The Revenue department was ordered to remove the Cross. A section of the Christians in Kerala raised a chorus that a Cross was there for the last four hundred years and it was removed by some Hindus. Here, I must tell you one significant fact. Kanyakumari district was a part of Travancore state. Because it has a predominance of Tamil speaking people, following the States Reorganization on linguistic basis, it became part of Tamil Nadu.
One fine morning, people noticed there was no cross on the Rock. Now Hindus & Christians assembled there were virtually arrayed against each other as if in a battle formation. The police reached there, promulgated section 144, declared that the Rock was a prohibited area & posted an armed guard on the Rock.
Eager to avoid a confrontation the State govt asked the Devaswom Board to write to the Committee that though it had taken permission from the Board, it must get concurrence of the State govt also. The Committee sought the State Govt’s approval but it was refused. If the Committee wanted to have a Memorial it could be on the shore, but not on the Rock. 3 or 4 months elapsed in this process and January 1963, the 100th birthday of Swamiji was approaching. People were eager that something must be done by January 1963.
Shri Bhaktavatsalam, CM said: “I will not allow the Memorial. It is also true that this is Vivekanand Rock and a seal must be put there that it is Vivekanand Rock, so that there must be no confusion in the minds of the people, and no controversy comes up later that it is St Xavier’s this or that. I suggest that there should be only a tablet on which will be written that Swami Vivekananda visited this Rock on such & such a date, meditated here and all that”. Since matters had taken a different turn committee members felt the need to have an All India Committee. Several prominent people were approached, they agreed and thus the Committee was registered in March 1963.
So, when Shri Bhatavatsalam insisted that there should be only a tablet put on the Rock, the district committee people thought, “Let us accept this for the time being. Let us establish a claim on the Rock. Let the tablet be established there. We shall continue to negotiate with the Government for the Memorial. But let us accept this”.
Accordingly a tablet was installed on the Rock on 17/1/1963 but people felt that there should be a statue, they had their own plans for the memorial. In February 1963, the General Body of the All India Committee met at Madras. In that body were Swami Chinamayananda, Guruji Golwalker, Shri Mannath Padmanabhan amongst others. After the Committee Meeting, there was a public meeting and all in one voice demanded that there should be a full-fledged memorial on the Rock. In that meeting, Swami Chinamayananda made the first donation of Rs 10,000/ from Chinmaya Mission. By & by a number of important persons came to be closely connected with our work.
In the meantime, to wreak vengeance on us for the removal of the Cross from the Rock, some of the Catholics on 16/5/1963 demolished the tablet and threw it into the sea.
How Eknathji came into the Picture? - It was in August 1963 that I came into the picture. I was general secretary of the RSS & in that capacity was going round the country & that time I had gone to Kanyakumari too. In 1962 I laid down my office as General Secretary of the RSS since my appointment was a stopgap arrangement. There were celebrations all over the country on account of Swamiji’s Birth Centenary. Some people thought that there should be a small book on Swamiji. Since I was free at that time people also thought that I should take up the work. I also liked the idea, went to Calcutta and compiled a book to be released on Swamiji’s 100th birthday in January 1963. I presented the book to Shri Madhavananda Maharaj, the President of the Ramakrishna Mission. The book was titled as Rousing Call to Hindu Nation. The book was quite popular and was translated in almost all the languages.
So when this whole thing became hot and the Committee people knew that the Madras govt would not budge an inch and would not allow a memorial on the Rock, they were in a fix as to what to do. They thought of an agitation but the atmosphere was not congenial for a Memorial at Kanyakumari for a Swami Vivekananda from Bengal. So the Committee were in a fix. At that time I was in Nagpur. After our meeting in July, I was going to leave Nagpur for a tour. At that time some important people of the Committee approached Guruji Golwalkar and said: “Now that Shri Ranade is free, why not ask him to help? He has some effective contacts in Delhi & Calcutta. He has contacts, let him meet the persons who matter in Delhi, and let them influence Shri Bhaktavatsalam, let them influence Shri Kamaraj to give us permission for putting up the Memorial on the Rock”.
Since I had already compiled a book on the teachings of Swami Vivekananda they thought I was in tune with the work. They talked to Guruji who asked me casually, “These people are saying that your services could be useful, so what do you think about it? I also casually said: “I will have to study the whole problem. I must know & study the whole thing, and if you think that I can be of any use, I will go there, study the situation & then I will be able to tell you whether I will be of any use”.
So I agreed to go to Kanyakumari & Madras at the earliest, study the papers & then give my final word. But I thought first let me sound the Ramakrishna Mission and know what it has to say about it. So I went to Calcutta met the Respected Madhavananda Maharaj on 22/7/1963. When I was in Calcutta from 1950 to 1953, I was a regular visitor to Belur and used to meet Swamiji there every fortnight. I told him that some people proposed to do something about the Vivekanand Rock Memorial. But first of all the President Maharaj should tell me whether he was interested in this.
Swami said something very significant: “As a matter of fact, the Mission should have taken up this work. But we know the mind of the Central Govt. We know the mind of the Tamil Nadu govt and we know how they react in such a situation. Now that some Christians have put up an opposition, the Tamil Nadu govt will never agree and so will the Central Govt. So what is the use? If we sannyasins put a word, we know what is going to be the fate. We, an organization of sannyasins, can’t agitate and cannot mobilize public opinion. Thus we cannot come into the picture. But if a person like you is prepared to take up the work and if the whole Committee is behind you, I assure you that though the Ramakrishna Mission will not be in any way officially connected with you, you can be rest assured, the entire mission will be at your back all the time”.