In January 1962, the people of Kanyakumari thought that as Swami Vivekanandas birth centenary was being celebrated, it would be meet if they put up some memorial on the rock where he had meditated and discovered the mission of his life. They also naturally concluded that there must be access to the rock from the shore.
A few people in Kanyakumari came together for this purpose and formed the Kanyakumari Committee whose objective was to put up a memorial on the rock and a pedestrian bridge leading to the rock. Almost simultaneously, the Ramakrishna Mission in Madras had similar thoughts.
When the Kanyakumari Committee and the Madras people joined together, the whole atmosphere in Kanyakumari was surcharged with the idea of the memorial. However, this news was not taken kindly to, by a sizable population of the local Catholic fishermen. They put up a big Cross on the Rock, visible from the shore.
This led to protests by the Hindu population who said the Rock was a place of worship for Hindus. A judicial probe ordered by the Madras (now Tamil Nadu) government stated in unequivocal terms that the rock was Vivekananda Rock, and that the Cross was a trespass. Amid all this acrimony, the Cross was removed secretly in the night. The situation turned volatile and the Rock was declared a prohibited area with armed guards patrolling it.
The Government realised that the Rock was turning into an area of dispute with Hindus claiming it to be the Vivekananda Rock and Christians that it was St. Xaviers Rock. It decreed that although the rock was Vivekananda Rock, there would be no memorial constructed on it. The then Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, Shri M. Bhaktavatsalam, said that only a tablet declaring that the rock was associated with Swami Vivekananda could be put up, and nothing else.
With government permission, the tablet was installed on the Rock on 17 January 1963. But the voices clamouring for a full-fledged Memorial on the Rock did not die. In May that year, those seeking vengeance for the removal of the Cross, demolished and threw away the tablet into the sea.
The Kanyakumari Committee, realising its limitations as a mere District Committee in dealing with the Government, formed an All India Committee consisting of prominent persons in the country. But they felt the needed an important person at the helm of affairs, who could approach and wield his influence in both the Central and State governments.
At the behest of Guruji Golwalkar, the chief of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), Shri Eknath Ranadehaving just stepped down as the General Secretary of RSSagreed to fill in the required role.
The day the tablet was installed on the Rock, Shri Eknath Ranade was in Calcutta (now Kolkata) releasing his book Rousing Call to Hindu Nation on the message of Swami Vivekananda. Thus Shri Eknath Ranade was already familiar through and through with the life and teachings of Vivekananda.
The first step he took on being asked to take charge of the Rock Memorial work, was to ascertain that this effort had the full support of the Ramakrishna Math and Mission. Next, he was made the Organising Secretary of the Vivekananda Rock Memorial Committee so that he was officially in charge of the Rock Memorial mission.
The immediate obstacles were Shri Bhaktavatsalams stand that he would not allow the memorial to come up as Shri Humayun Kabir, the Union Minister for Cultural Affairs, had said that the natural beauty of the Rock would be spoiled.
Shri Kabirs constituency was Calcutta. When Shri Ekanth Ranade publicised in Calcutta, that it was Shri Kabir who was against the Memorial to one of the greatest sons of Bengal, there was such a hue and cry that Shri Kabir had to do a volte-face. However, to prevail over Shri Bhaktavatsalam, only the Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehrus support would do.
To that end, on Shri Lal Bahadur Shastris advice, Shri Eknath Ranade camped in Delhi. In three days, he collected the signatures of 323 Members of Parliament in a show of all-round support for the Vivekananda Rock Memorial, which was presented to the Prime Minister. Shri Bhaktavatsalam had no option now but to allow the construction of the Rock Memorial.
Shri Bhaktavatsalam had given permission only for a small 15 x 15 shrine. Knowing his reverence for the Paramacharya of Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham, Shri Eknath Ranade approached the latter for suggesting the design of the Rock Memorial. Shri Bhaktavatsalam unhesitatingly agreed to the larger design (130-1½ x 56)approved by the Paramacharya!
Once all the political hurdles were removed, construction was underway. Shri Eknath Ranade was in the forefront facing all the challenges that came his way: to establish scientifically that the Rock was structurally sound and could support such a huge structure on it; the logistics of quarrying and transporting large blocks of stone from great distances, and from the shore to the Rock; provision of water and power supplies; the growing demand for skilled artisans, craftsmen, and labour; building of jetty platforms on the rock and the shore (the pedestrian footbridge idea to the Rock was dropped); the de-silting around the jetty platform areas to enable bigger crafts to approach the shore, and so on.
The biggest and everpresent challenge, however, was that of financing the whole operation. Shri Eknath Ranades belief in the success of the Rock Memorial mission was so strong, that he never slowed down the pace of work when funds were in paucity. He brushed aside the discouragement of others whose belief was not as strong and started a fund-campaign.
Shri Eknath Ranade believed that as the Vivekananda Rock Memorial was a national monument, every Indian should be invited to contribute to its construction. He approached (and succeeded) almost every State government and asked for their contribution, making a special effort to go to the north-eastern states of Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh so that they could also feel a part of the national endeavour.
But the bulk of the contributions came from the general public. Shri Eknath Ranade launched the campaign of one-rupee folders throughout the nation, which were used to mobilise the donations of the common man, starting from as tiny an amount as a rupee. Thus so many people visiting the Rock Memorial could feel with justified pride that they too had contributed to that monument.
It is solely due to Shri Eknath Ranade that the Vivekananda Rock Memorial mission never became a political agitation, which would then have caused parties and people to take sides simply due to political expediency, and not based on the merit of the issue.
Ultimately, within the unbelievably short period of six years, the Vivekananda Rock Memorial was inaugurated in 1970, and dedicated to the nation. Without the leading role of Shri Eknath Ranade, it is extremely doubtful that this grand national monument could have been built.
The second phase of the Memorial for Swami Vivekananda was not an afterthought in Shri Eknath Ranades mind. The establishment of Vivekananda Kendrathe Living Memorial alongside the stone structure of the Rock Memorialwas mentioned as early as 1964.
After the groundwork of about nine years, Vivekananda Kendra was officially founded on 7 January 1972 (the 108th birth anniversary of Swami Vivekananda by the Hindu calendar). On that day, as the sun rose, a saffron flag with Om inscribed on it was unfurled in the serene atmosphere on the Vivekananda Rock Memorial to hearld the founding of the Vivekananda Kendra: a spiritually oriented service mission of non-monastic order.
The tradition of penance was to be continued by young men and women coming as Karyakartas of Vivekananda Kendra to spread the immortal message of Swami Vivekananda: A hundred thousand men and women, fired with the zeal of holiness, fortified with eternal faith in the Lord, and nerved to lions courage by their sympathy for the poor and the fallen and the downtrodden, will go over the length and breadth of the land, preaching the gospel of salvation, the gospel of help, the gospel of social raising up, the gospel of equality.
Since then, everyday, at sunrise the saffron flag with Om is hoisted on the Rock Memorial and lowered at sunset.
The twin objectives of Vivekananda Kendra are man-making and nation-building. With great foresight, Shri Eknath Ranade decided that Vivekananda Kendra was to be a cadre-based organisation. Young men and women whose hearts long to serve the nation would be provided the opportunity and the right platform to serve God in man.
They would be properly trained and would be posted to different parts of the country. After their training of five years, they would be called as Jeevanvratisthose who have taken the vow of service for life. These Jeevanvratis would work without any salary. However, their wellbeingYogakshemawould be taken care of by society. For that purpose, Eknathji devised a patron scheme, where patrons would donate regularly for their Yogakshema. The Jeevanvratis would be the backbone of the organisation.
To know more about the activities and publications of this Living Memorial, visit Vivekananda Kendra