“Sisters and brothers of America. . .“, these were the first few words of Swami Vivekananda‘s first lecture delivered at the Parliament of the World’s Religions at Chicago, United States on 11 September 1893. In this website when we made a collection of Swami Vivekananda’s top 10 most famous quotations, this “Sisters and brothers. . .” quote was the number one quotation of the list.
In this article or topic is Swami Vivekananda‘s historic words “Sisters and brothers of America. . .”.
1893 World’s Parliament of Religions
The first World’s Parliament of Religion was held in Chicago in 1893, as a part of Chicago World’s Fair to commemorate 400th anniversary of Columbus’ voyage and discovery of America. The Parliament ran from 11 to 27 September at World’s Congress Auxiliary Building which is now known as The Art Institute of Chicago, on the shore of Lake Michigan. This event marked the first formal gathering of representatives of Eastern and Western spiritual traditions. 41 religious groups from different nations participated in this event.
These were the 10 objects proposed for the event—
- To bring together in conference, for the first time in history, the leading representatives of the great Historic Religions of the world.
- To show to men, in the most impressive way, what and how many important truths the various Religions hold and teach in common.
- To promote and deepen the spirit of human brotherhood among religious men of diverse faiths, through friendly conference and mutual good understanding, while not seeking to foster the temper of indifferentism, and not striving to achieve any formal and outward unity.
- To set forth, by those most competent to speak, what are deemed the important distinctive truths held and taught by each Religion, and by the various chief branches of Christendom.
- To indicate the impregnable foundations of Theism, and the reasons for man’s faith in Immortality, and thus to unite and strengthen the forces which are adverse to a materialistic philosophy of the universe.
- To secure from leading scholars, representing the Brahman, Buddhist, Confucian, Parsee, Mohammedan, Jewish and other Faiths, and from representatives of the various Churches of Christendom, full and accurate statements of the spiritual and other effects of the Religions which they hold upon the Literature, Art, Commerce, Government, Domestic and Social life of the peoples among whom these Faiths have prevailed.
- To inquire what light each Religion has afforded, or may afford, to the other Religions of the world.
- To set forth, for permanent record to be published to the world, an accurate and authoritative account of the present condition and outlook of Religion among the leading nations of the earth.
- To discover, from competent men, what light Religion has to throw on the great problems of the present age, especially the important questions connected with Temperance, Labor, Education, Wealth and Poverty.
- To bring the nations of the earth into a more friendly fellowship, in the hope of securing permanent international peace.”
11 September 1893
11 September 1893, Monday, was the first session of the Parliament. The event began at 10 o’clock in the morning and the participants of the Parliament marched into the Hal, hand in hand. It was accompanied by the striking of the Columbian Liberty Bell, which toll 10 times as a symbolic honour towards the participating religions— Buddhism, Christianity, Confucianism, Hinduism, Islam, Jainism, Judaism, Shintoism, Taoism, and Zoroastrianism.
Charles Carol Bonney said in the opening address to the Parliament of World’s Religions—
The very basis of our convocation is the idea that the representatives of each religion sincerely believe it is the truest and the best of all.
After that the following speakers gave their speeches on that day—
- John Henry Barrows, Chairman of the General Committee of the event
- Archbishop Feehan, Catholic Church
- Augusta J, Chapin, D.D., Pastor of Oak Park Universalist Church
- H.N. Hinginbotham, President of the World’s Columbian Exposition
- Dionysios Latas, Archbishop of Zante, Greece
- P.C. Mozoomdar, Brahmo Somaj, Calcutta, India
- Prince Serge Wolkonsky, Russian Empire
- Reuchi Shibata, Shinto, Japan
- Graf A. Bernstorff, Germany
- Archbishop Redwood, New Zealand
- Virchand A. Gandhi, Jaina, Bombay, India
- Minas Tcheraz, Armenian, London
- C.N. Chakravarti, Theosophist, Allahabad, India
- Alfred Williams Momerie, D.D., London, England
- Swami Vivekananda, Bombay, India
- Miss Jeanne Sorabji, Parsee, Bombay, India
- B. B. Nagarkar, Brahmo-Somaj
- Benjamin W. Arnett, Bishop of the African Methodist Church
Swami Vivekananda’s speech
Swami Vivekananda was one of the last speakers of the day. He noted that almost every participant of the Parliament had brought prepared lectures with them, but Vivekananda took no preparation. The Chairman called Vivekananda few times to speak, but every time Vivekananda replied, “no, no yet.”. The Chairman was puzzled whether he would deliver lecture at all.
In the afternoon, the Chairman once again pressed Vivekananda to give his speech. Now, Vivekananda agreed and rose. He was initially a bit nervous. He mentally bowed to Saraswati and began his speech. Just before beginning the lecture, he felt someone or something else had occupied his body– “The Soul of India, the echo of the Rishis, the voice of Ramakrishna, the mouthpiece of the resurgent Time spirit”.
“Sisters and brothers of America. . .”
Actually our this article’s topic is neither 1893 Parliament of Religions, nor the events of the Parliament. We’ll write separate articles on these in future, if possible. Our topic is only the first few words of Vivekananda’s lecture.
Swami Vivekananda began his lecture with—
Sisters and Brothers of America,
It fills my heart with joy unspeakable to rise in response to the warm and cordial welcome which you have given us. I thank you in the name of the most ancient order of monks in the world; I thank you in the name of the mother of religions; and I thank you in the name of millions and millions of Hindu people of all classes and sects.
These few words had an electrifying effect on the audience. They started cheering and clapping. Vivekananda received a two-minute standing ovation from the crowd of seven thousand.
And with that, before he had uttered another word, the whole Parliament was as if taken by a great storm of enthusiasm. A thrill passed through the whole assembly. Hundreds upon hundreds rose to their feet and sent up deafening notes of applause over and over again
From notable Swami Vivekananda biographies
Almost all Swami Vivekananda biographies highlighted and discussed these few words of Vivekananda.
Swami Nikhilananda wrote in Swami Vivekananda – A Biography—
At last he came to the rostrum and Dr. Barrows introduced him. Bowing to Sarasvati, the Goddess of Wisdom, he addressed the audience as ‘Sisters and Brothers of America.’ Instantly, thousands arose in their seats and gave him loud applause. They were deeply moved to see, at last, a man who discarded formal words and spoke to them with the natural and candid warmth of a brother.
From Shashi Bhushan Sahai’s The Hindu Civilisation—
Bowing to Sarasvati, the Goddess of wisdom, he addressed them as “Sisters and Brothers of America”. It touched the hearts of the assembled thousands who rose in their seats and gave him loud applause which lasted for about two minutes.
From Gopal Shrinivas Banhatti’s Life And Philosophy Of Swami Vivekananda—
The first sentence Vivekananda uttered has since been hailed as a hymn inaugurating a new epoch of friendly relations bet-ween the two nations. “Sisters and Brothers of America, I greet the youngest nation in the name of the oldest nation in the world.”
From Swami Vivekananda’s own writings
Later Swami Vivekananda himself recalled the day too.
In a letter written to Alasinga Perumal from Chicago, dated 2 November 1893, he wrote—[Source]
I addressed the assembly as “Sisters and Brothers of America”, a deafening applause of two minutes followed, and then I proceeded; and when it was finished, I sat down, almost exhausted with emotion. The next day all the papers announced that my speech was the hit of the day, and I became known to the whole of America. Truly has it been said by the great commentator Shridhara—
“मूकं करोति वाचालं —Who maketh the dumb a fluent speaker.”
His name be praised! From that day I became a celebrity, and the day I read my paper on Hinduism, the hall was packed as it had never been before. I quote to you from one of the papers: “Ladies, ladies, ladies packing every place — filling every corner, they patiently waited and waited while the papers that separated them from Vivekananda were read”, etc. You would be astonished if I sent over to you the newspaper cuttings, but you already know that I am a hater of celebrity. Suffice it to say, that whenever I went on the platform, a deafening applause would be raised for me. Nearly all the papers paid high tributes to me, and even the most bigoted had to admit that “This man with his handsome face and magnetic presence and wonderful oratory is the most prominent figure in the Parliament”, etc., etc. Sufficient for you to know that never before did an Oriental make such an impression on American society.Swami Vivekananda told Sister Nivedita—[Source]
In my first speech in this country, in Chicago, I addressed that audience as ‘Sisters and Brothers of America’, and you know that they all rose to their feet. You may wonder what made them do this, you may wonder if I had some strange power. Let me tell you that I did have a power and this is it — never once in my life did I allow myself to have even one sexual thought. I trained my mind, my thinking, and the powers that man usually uses along that line I put into a higher channel, and it developed a force so strong that nothing could resist it.
- As registered at the Parliament. Vivekananda started his journey to the West from Bombay on 31 May (1893)
- The Hindu goddess of knowledge and learning
- In the “books” page we have an e-book on Swamiji’s lectures at the Parliament. You may read the full speech there.
- You may ignore “almost”. We have not read each and every published biography of Vivekananda, that’s we told “almost all”.
We have studied the following books—
- Banhatti, Gopal Shrinivas (1 January 1995). Life And Philosophy Of Swami Vivekananda. Atlantic Publishers & Dist. pp. 28–. ISBN 978-81-7156-291-6.
- Bhide, Nivedita Raghunath (2008). Swami Vivekananda in America. Vivekananda Kendra. pp. 10–. ISBN 978-81-89248-22-2.
- Materialien zum Neobuddhismus (Note: It is an excellent document on the Parliament. Some parts are written in German. You may use Google Translator.)
- Nikhilananda, Swami (1953). Vivekânanda: A Biography. Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Center. ISBN 978-0-911206-25-8.
- Sahai, Shashi Bhushan (2010). The Hindu Civilisation. Gyan Publishing House. pp. 136–. ISBN 978-81-212-1041-6
- Singhvi, L. M. (26 July 1996). A Tale of Three Cities: The 1993 Rede Lecture and Related Summit Declarations. Cambridge University Press. pp. 7–. ISBN 978-0-521-57818-9