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Hindus honour monk's legacy

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by placing a statue in a Winnipeg centre devoted to aboriginal culture and economic development, local Hindus plan to honour the Indian monk credited in founding the modern multi-faith movement.

Members of the Vedanta Society of Winnipeg will install a 1.2-metre painted fibreglass bust of Swami Vivekananda in the rotunda at the Aboriginal Centre, 181 Higgins Ave. in June, says vice-president Suren Mehta.

"The reason we're doing this is that he passed through here," Mehta says of the Hindu monk's overnight stay in Winnipeg in July 1893.

Vivekananda travelled through the city on his way to the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago, spending the night on the floor of the former Canadian Pacific Railway station. That building was demolished in 1904 to make way for the current building on the site.

Vivekananda's message of spirituality and faith inspires people around the world, and his birthday is celebrated as a national youth day in India, says retired Sanskrit professor Laxmesh Joshi, who speaks at a public ceremony today marking the 150th birthday of Vivekananda.

"His message of universal consciousness is for every human being without religious, cultural or geographical barring. We should therefore love all and work together for the welfare of one another," says Joshi, who taught at Gujarat University in Ahmedabad, India.

This is the second time the society has attempted to find a home for a statue of Swami Vivekananda, who introduced Hindu philosophy and yoga to the western world during his three-year tour of North America.

Several years ago, the society purchased a three-metre-high fibreglass statue of the monk but could not find a permanent home for it, says Mehta. As a temporary measure, they stored it at the Aboriginal Centre and brought it out annually to celebrate Vivekananda's birthday on Jan. 12.

The society recently sold the large statue to a group in Seattle and now waits for the smaller $5,000 bust to arrive from India, says Mehta.

Installing the bust in a public place like the Aboriginal Centre means Winnipeggers can learn about Vivekananda and honour his work in promoting the principles of the universal relationship of all people, says Saday Shanker Ghosh, secretary of the Vedanta Society.

"The visual impact (of the bust) is almost more important than what you read" about the swami, says Ghosh.

"Swami was such an international personality. How are people going to know if we don't put his statue out there?"

The Aboriginal Centre is happy to provide a permanent spot for the bust and honoured that Hindus consider their property on Higgins and Main as important to their history, heritage and spirituality, says Wayne Helgason, past chairman of the centre's board.

"We're very proud that every year (people recognize) that such an important person slept on the floor on his way through," says Helgason.

"The building attracts an awful lot of attention based on its architecture and its history."

The CPR closed the building in 1988, a decade after passenger-train service had moved to Union Station at Broadway and Main. The Aboriginal Centre opened in 1992.

Swami Vivekananda, born Narendra Nath Datta in Calcutta in 1863, addressed thousands at the first World Parliament of Religions, held in conjunction with the World's Fair. He promoted a message of universal consciousness and introduced his audience to the philosophy of the Vedas, the ancient scripture of the Hindus.

Joshi says that speech increased understanding between religions and helped people understand that all religions carry the same basic elements.

"Religion or spirituality teaches to live a more energetic and blissful life," he explains.

"It inspires us to love all the beings on the Earth and to serve them all."

brenda@suderman.com

Public ceremony

THE Vedanta Society of Winnipeg celebrates the 150th birthday of Swami Vivekananda with a public ceremony today at 10:30 a.m. at the Hindu Temple, 854 Ellice Ave.

The celebration includes speeches from noted scholars on Vivekananda's teachings, followed by a vegetarian lunch. The society meets monthly to worship and study teachings such as harmony of faith, divinity of souls and service to humanity.

For more information on Swami Vivekananda and the texts of his six speeches to the World Parliament, visit www.belurmath.org/swamivivekananda.htm

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 12, 2013 J13

History

Updated on Saturday, January 12, 2013 at 6:56 AM CST: edit

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