Both Mahatma Gandhi (1869—1948) and Swami Vivekananda (1863—1902), two of the most notable Indians ever, worked for the welfare of the society, masses and their country and countrymen. While Mahatma Gandhi’s field was politics, Vivekananda clearly told in a letter in 1895— “I will have nothing to do with cowards or political nonsense. I do not believe in any politics. God and truth are the only politics in the world, everything else is trash.” Vivekananda’s field was religion, or more precisely “Vedanta” and “for the happiness of many, for the welfare of many” (बहुजन सुखाय बहुजन हिताय च)
Both Gandhi and Vivekananda identified themselves with the poorest people of the society and served them as Daridra Narayana — “God in the form of poor and downtrodden people” (Site admin’s note: readers may note that there are some confusions on who actually coined the term Daridra Narayana— Gandhi or Vivekananda. Writer Karl Ernst Nipkow, in his book God, Human Nature, and Education for Peace: New Approaches to Moral and Religious Maturity, has written, “Mahatma Gandhi explicitly directed his selfless service and compassion to the downtrodden, coining the term “Daridra Narayana”. . . . . .” etc. Several more authors and biographers have written the same thing— Gandhi coined the word Daridra Narayana. Anyway, Nipkow and the other authors were incorrect. Vivekananda used the term much before Gandhi even entered India’s national politics. In Diary of a Disciple written by Sharat Chandra Chakravarty, we see, sometime in 1902, Vivekananda is saying to a poor Santal man named Keshta— “You are Narayanas, God manifest; today I have offered food to Narayana”. Right after that Chakravarty’s comment— “The service of “Daridra Narayana“– god in the poor — about which Swamiji spoke, he himself performed one day like this.”[Source] If time permits, we wish to to write a separate article on this topic with more details and references to show that it was Vivekananda, and not Gandhi who coined the term. For now we may conclude that Gandhi popularized the term).
Gandhi himself told that he had read the works of Swami Vivekananda, and after reading those books, his love for India became “a thousandfold”.[Source]
Mahatma Gandhi’s comments on Swami Vivekananda
Mahatma Gandhi came to Belur Math on 30 January 1921, to join Swami Vivekananda’s birthday celebration. There he was requested to deliver a speech. Gandhi assented to the request and delivered a brief lecture. In the lecture he told—
I have come here (Belur Math) to pay my homage and respect to the revered memory of Swami Vivekananda, whose birthday is being celebrated here today. I have gone through his works very thoroughly, and after having gone through them, the love that I had for my country became a thousand-fold. I ask you, young men, not to go away empty-handed without imbibing something of the spirit of the place where Swami Vivekananda lived and died.
The above comment shows the influence of Swami Vivekananda on Mahatma Gandhi.
Letter to S. Avinashilingam Gandhi wrote in a letter written to S. Avinashilingam, dated 22 July 1941—
Surely Swami Vivekananda’s writing needs no introduction from any body. They make their own irresistible appeal.