The young monk was also emotionally fragile. This was apparent when he for the first time came in close contact with adult women in the West. He had of course little problem in dealing with the elderly and the very young. His early patrons, Mrs. George Hale of Chicago and Miss Kate Sanborn of Massachusetts were maternal figures, while the Hale sisters--the two Marys and the two Harriets, daughters and nieces of the Hales--were like his own younger sisters with whom he could be friendly and mischievous--"elder brother, sage, and child combined," in Marie Burke's elegant prose.76

There was some uneasiness in respect of a mature devotee in the person of Josephine MacLeod of New York. A comparatively young woman, though a few years older than Vivekananda, Josephine was strangely and strongly fascinated by him. Her feelings toward him at first sight had more to do with how he looked--"the fiery missionary whose physique was like a wrestler's [the Swami's plump body covered by his gorgeous robe made him look bigger than he actually was] and whose eyes were deep black"77--than what he said ("He said something, the particular words of which I do not remember. . .".78) She also admired Vivekananda's "long, thick black hair" and even once "crept behind him with a pair of scissors and cut off a lock of it," to the utter befuddlement of the embarrassed ascetic.79 The impulsive Tantine (her nickname preferred by Vivekananda) so "identified herself completely with Vivekananda" that she even appropriated the Swami's mischievous humor and applied it on his monastic brother Swami Brahmananda (Rakhal Ghosh, 1863- 1922) at the Ramakrishna Math in Bangalore. She surprised the shy and unsuspecting Rakhal who tried his best to avoid seeing her on a daily basis by suddenly leaping in front of him and exclaiming: "Naughty boy, now how will you escape?"80

Swamiji's relations with Josephine were marked by a mixture of Platonic affection and harmless erotic friendliness, although from her standpoint, his physical appearance loomed larger than his spiritual or intellectual qualities. Recalling his lecture on the Bhagavadgita sometime in 1895, she wrote: ". . .I saw with these very eyes (she pointed to her own eyes) Krishna himself standing there and preaching the Gita. That was my first wonderful vision. I stared and stared. . . .I saw only the figure and all else vanished."81 M. Rolland perhaps rightly observed that she had little concern for "the God of Vivekananda" but "was very intimate with Vivekananda. . .looking after him and entertaining him." She "never tires of pointing out his beauty, his charm, the power of attraction which was radiating from him."82

In one sense, Vivekananda's relations with his women devotees and admirers could be characterized as madhura bhava--a kind of divine love having all the qualities of the erotic except the carnal--which could also describe his mentor Ramakrishna's relations with his young male devotees.83 On his own admission, Vivekananda was somewhat spoilt by one sister Jeany, who could "jump and run and play and swear like a devil and talk slang at the rate of 500 a minute" and who did not "much care for religion." Another woman, one Miss Phillips, got him quite excited about starting a monastery at her mountain resort.84 This kind of relationship--reminiscent of the Great Master's madhura relationship with Pratap Hazra, Girish Ghosh, Sivanath Shastri, Vijayakrishna Goswami, or Keshab Sen--seemed to have a quasi-erotic aspect85 which, in the Swami's case, seemed to be a surrogate for normal heterosexual relationship.

The Paramahamsa had sustained the interest of his male admirers in his erotic community of Dakshineshwar by his frenzied kirtans (erotic devotional songs), dance, nudity, and samadhi (trance). The Swami's attracti on consisted in his sharp repartee, fluent speech, colorful sermons, and above all his sheer personal charm. Ramakrishna had been the cynosure of the male eye; Swamiji became the apple of the female eye. While the Master was Kali the Divine Mother to his admirers and devotees, his great disciple turned on scores of women by his maiden speech at the World's Parliament of Religions in Chicago. "Ladies, ladies, ladies, packing every place, filling every corner, they patiently waited and waited. . .", the exuberant sannyasi wrote home citing from a newspaper report.86 This triumphant beginning of the conquest of heart by an Indian patriarchal monk with progressive rhetoric to inspire Western women would have transformed Swami Vivekananda into an American icon but for a concatenation of events which cruelly destroyed the ataraxia of a monk who had once seemed "inly-pleased" to many admirers.87


The most notable development in the Swami's career in the West is the advent of Margaret Noble in his life at the apex of his world-wide reputation as a spiritual leader, which unfortunately coincided with his rapidly declining health.88 His odyssey with the Sister is a tragic story of the gradual disintegration of his personality after an initial desperate effort to project the profile of a troubled titan or a pained Prometheus. Both his monastic vows and his physical health militated against the Swami's search for stability. He could neither overcome nor transcend the sentiment that spontaneously erupted for a woman who was, in many respects, his alter ego--flamboyant, rhetorical, energetic, and possessed of immense personal charm and charisma.89

While with her Western upbringing Miss Noble was free and frank in making her mind known to the Hindu monk, the latter, with his social-cultural background, lack of experience, and the monastic taboo against kamini-kanchana, remained ambivalent, equivocal, and ultimately frustrated and angry. To quote Sisters Christine and Nivedita, he remained checkmated, like an ensnared lion!90 The repressed male within was awakened at a time when the body was degenerating hopelessly. The carefully cultivated and widely publicized image of a militant monk proved in the end utterly fragile resulting in his gradual descent into oblivion. The result was a transformation of his personality from a self-assured and self-centered Shiva into a passive helpless child of Kali--a spiritual puer aeternas. "No more _Hari Om!' It is all _Mother' now! . . .Everything is gone. Now it's only _Mother, mother!'. . . I am only a child," he had told Nivedita in the fall of 1898 in Kashmir after their emotionally turbulent encounter at the shrine of Amarnath.91

With all his cultural insights into the feminine character and with all his monastic training based on his guru's misogynic dicta, Swami Vivekananda failed as a man and as a guru to his most beloved female disciple who had actually fallen in love with the handsome Hindu. Her explosive frustration at Amarnath, where Vivekananda had taken her promising to dedicate her ritually to Lord Shiva but failed to do so, eloquently illustrates the Swami's predicament. "Are we Guru and disciple, or are we just a man and a woman?" Nivedita demanded to know. "Because if we are Guru and disciple, you ought to help me. But you never do. You speak to me as if [I] were not a woman but you don't carry out the other side. Then we are not just an ordinary man and woman, and you must remember that." And her mentor's response was a confession: "I can't do it, Margot. . . .I have not got these powers, Margot! Give me two years."92 This verbal confrontation between the guru and his shisya uncannily mirrored the mythical picture of Shiva being trampled by the aroused and angry Kali.

1Cited in Pravrajika Brahmaprana, "Swamiji and His Western Women Disciples," Prabuddha Bharata (May 1989), p. 236.

2His Eastern & Western Admirers, Reminiscences of Swami Vivekananda (1961. Third edn. Calcutta: Advaita Ashrama, 1983), p. 374: reminiscences of Ida Ansell.

3Ibid., p. 244: reminiscences of Josephine MacLeod. Emphasis in original.

4Ibid., pp. 148, 219: reminiscences of Sister Christine.

5Marie L. Burke, Swami Vivekananda in the West: New Discoveries, 6 pts. (Third edn. Calcutta: Advaita Ashrama, 1983-87): His Prophetic Mission, 2 pts. (1983-84); The World Teacher, 2 pts. (1985-86); A New Gospel, 2 pts. (1987). Hereafter cited with subtitles only. Present reference is to New Gospel, I, 389-90.

6World Teacher, II, 162-63.

7Sister Nivedita, The Master As I Saw Him (1910. Twelfth edn. Calcutta: Udbodhan Office, 1977), p. 3.

8Prophetic Mission, I, 305.

9Brahmaprana, "Swamiji and Women Disciples," p. 236; Prophetic Mission, I, 486.

10Reminiscences, p. 124: reminiscences of Sister Devamata.

11Svami Bibekananda, Patrabali [in Bengali] (1977. Fifth edn. Kalikata: Udbodhan Karyalay, 1987), p. 120: Vivekananda's letter (March 19, 1894). Quotations from this and other Bengali sources appear in my own translation.

12Swami Vivekananda, Letters of Swami Vivekananda (1940. Sixth impression. Calcutta: Advaita Ashrama, 1986), pp. 54-55 (letter # 24). Hereafter cited as Letters.

13Ibid., p. 63 (letter # 27): Vivekananda's letter to his Madras disciples (January 24, 1894).

14The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, 8 vols. (Mayavati Memorial edn. Calcutta: Advaita Ashrama, 1990), VI, 248-49: Vivekananda's letter to Raja Ajit Singh of Khetri (1894). Hereafter cited as CW.

15Prophetic Mission, I, 213: report in the Iowa State Register (December 3, 1893).

16CW, VII, 474-75: Vivekananda's letter to Manmathanath Bhattacharya (September 5, 1894). The Bengali original of this letter as printed in the Patrabali is severely edited and appears only in a truncated form (pp. 184-85). There is cryptic footnote on p. 185 that the original letter was discovered later (meaning after the collection had gone to the press), though it is puzzling that the original version was not incorporated in later editions of the Patrabali.

17Prophetic Mission, I, 445-46: Vivekananda's observations reported in the Detroit Tribune (April 1, 1894). He would reiterate his position in regards to the Hindu women three years later by claiming in his fantastic essay "The East and the West" that "of all the nations of the world, the Hindus are the handsomest and finest in features." CW, V, 466.

18Letters, p. 76 (letter # 33): Vivekananda's letter (1894).

19Prophetic Mission, I, 416: Vivekananda's lecture at the Detroit Opera House (March 11, 1894). Emphasis in original.

20Prophetic Mission, I, 98: Vivekananda's address at a reception organized by Mrs. Potter Palmer of Chicago (September 14, 1893). Emphasis in original.

21New Gospel, I, 272: "The Women of India." Even though Mrs. Hansbrough replied to the woman "No, I haven't found that out yet," she herself, on her own admission, was often subjected to violent verbal abuse by the Swami. "He often scolded me," she wrote. "He was constantly finding fault and sometimes he could be very rough. _Mother brings me fools to work with,' he would say; or _I have to associate with fools!' This was his favorite word in his vocabulary of scolding." In fact Vivekananda could be extremely unkind with that vocabulary. Once he told her: "You are a silly, brainless fool, that's what you are." New Gospel, II, 28.

22Svami-Shisya Sambad [in Bengali] (Ninth edn. Rpt. Kalikata: Udbodhan Karyalay, 1400 B.E. [Bengali Era]), p. 250.

23World Teacher, I, 61: report of Swamiji's lecture in Boston Daily Globe (March 24, 1896).

24CW, V, 413: "Sayings and Utterances."

25Prophetic Mission, I, 22: report in the Framingham Tribune (August 25, 1893).

26Letters, p. 39 (letter # 20): Vivekananda's letter (August 20, 1893).

27Robert P. Goldman, "Transsexualism, Gender, and Anxiety in Traditional India," Journal of the American Oriental Society, CXIII, 3 (1993), 375-76.

28New Gospel, II, 47.

29CW, VIII, 57-58: Vivekananda's lecture "Women of India" at the Shakespeare Club, Pasadena (January 18, 1900).

30Ibid., p. 61.

31CW, V, 506.

32CW, VIII, 58: Vivekananda's lecture "Women of India" at the Shakespeare Club, Pasadena (January 18, 1900).

33Ramchandra Datta, Srisriramakrishna Paramahamsadeber Jibanbrittanta [in Bengali] (Seventh edn. Kankurgachhi, 1357 B.E.), p. 151 cited in Shankariprasad Basu, "Nibeditar _Dhrubamandir'," Svami Lokeshvarananda, ed. Shatarupe Sarada [in Bengali] (1985. Sixth printing. Calcutta: Ramakrishna Mission Institute of Culture, 1989), p. 143 n. 9.

34Svami Purnatmananda, ed. Smritir Aloy Svamiji (Svami Bibekanander Sannyasi-Shisysaganer Jibancharit) [in Bengali] (1396 B.E. Fourth edn. Kalikata: Udbodhan Karyalay, 1398 B.E.), p. 185: reminiscences of Shachindranath Basu.

35CW, III, 468: report in the Daily Gazette (August 29, 1893). This is a highly misleading, even inaccurate, statement. There is no report on his ever associating with eating, drinking, gossiping women and thus his observation reveals nothing but his stereotypical image of an educated and enlightened woman common among the Bengali bhadralok class.

36Partha Chatterjee, The Nation and Its Fragments: Colonial and Postcolonial Histories (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993), p. 135.

37CW, V, 23: interview with Vivekananda published in the Prabuddha Bharata (December 1898).

38Master As I Saw Him, p. 239.

39CW, IV, 479-80: "Modern India."

40CW, III, 256: Vivekananda's lecture "The Sages of India" at Victoria Public Hall, Madras (February 11, 1897).

41Master As I Saw Him, p. 239.

42Patrabali, pp. 192-93: Vivekananda's letter to Ramakrishnananda (September 25, 1894).

43CW,V, 466-67: "East and West." The Swami's anatomical observations are as fantastic as are many others in this remarkably benighted and prejudiced (but most popular in Bengal) essay.

44Prophetic Mission, I, 444-45: report of the Swami's lecture in the Detroit Evening News (March 25, 1894).

45Sankari P. Basu, ed. Letters of Sister Nivedita, 2 vols. (Calcutta: Nababharat Publishers, 1982), I, 128: Nivedita's letter to Josephine MacLeod (May 11, 1899).

46Prophetic Mission, I, 31. Vivekananda's guru Ramakrishna was also quite curious about breasts--male as well as female. See Narasingha P. Sil, Ramakrishna Paramahamsa: A Psychological Profile (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1991), pp. 37-38, 64.

47CW, III, 302: Vivekananda's lecture "The Future of India," Harmston Circus Pavilion, Madras (February 14, 1897).

48Letters, p. 450 (letter # 225): Vivekananda's letter (August 27, 1901).

49Patrabali, p. 60: Vivekananda's letter (June 15, 1897). 50CW, V, 86: Vivekananda's letter to Alasinga Perumal (July 1, 1895). Emphasis added.

51Master As I Saw Him, p. 175.

52Prophetic Mission, I, 34: unpublished article by Mary Tappan Wright, wife of the Harvard professor John Henry Wright.

53CW, V, 345: Sen's private diary.

54His Eastern & Western Disciples, The Life of Swami Vivekananda, 2 vols. (Fifth edn. Calcutta: Advaita Ashrama, 1979-81), II, 354 (hereafter cited as Life).

55Cited in Tapan Raychaudhuri, Europe Reconsidered: Perceptions of the West in Nineteenth Century Bengal (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1988), p. 225. The Sister was so influenced by her guru that she confided to Josephine MacLeod: ". . .Mr. Tagore's is not the type of manhood that appeals to me." Letters of Nivedita, II, 686: Nivedita's letter (October 15, 1904).

56Patrabali, p. 198: Vivekananda's letter to his monastic brethren (September 25, 1898).

57Smritir Aloy Svamiji, p. 135: reminiscences of Sinha.

58Ibid., p. 3: reminiscences of Turiyananda.

59Mahendranath Datta, Srimat Saradananda Svamijir Jibaner Ghatanabali [in Bengali] (Calcutta: The Mahendra Publishing Committee, 1355 B.E.), pp. 66-67.

60Letters, p. 351 (letter # 157): Vivekananda's letter (July 9, 1897). The Swami's idea of the world as a vicious maya runs counter to his preaching of Practical Vedanta that urges humanitarian service for the welfare of the poor and the downtrodden. He is also blissfully unaware of a logical contradiction when he exalts motherhood of women but sermonizes against marriage! 61New Gospel, II, 48.

62Sil, Ramakrishna, pp. 87, 145.

63CW, VIII, 415: "Future of India."

64CW, VIII, 415: Vivekananda's letter (July 25, 1897). Emphasis in original.

65Prophetic Mission, II, 336.

66Sister Nivedita, Notes of Some Wanderings with the Swami Vivekananda, ed. Swami Saradananda (Authorised edn. Calcutta: Udbodhan Office, 1913), pp. 97-98. See also World Teacher, I, 230.

67Sailendranath Dhar, A Comprehensive Biography of Swami Vivekananda, 3 vols. in 2 pts. (Madras: Vivekananda Prakashan Kendra, 1975-76), I, 34.

68Smritir Aloy Svamiji, p. 296 n.1: reminiscences of Priyanath Sinha.

69Ibid., p. 297 n.

70Ibid., p. 112: reminiscences of Gangopadhyay.

71Sankari P. Basu & Sunil B. Ghosh, eds. Vivekananda in Indian Newspapers, 1893-1902 (Calcutta: Basu Bhattacharyya & Co., 1969), p. 77: Dr. Beall's Journal article was reprinted in extenso in the Amrita Bazar Patrika of Calcutta on February 20, 1897.

72Patrabali, pp. 35-36: Vivekananda's letter to Pramadadas Mitra (March 3, 1890).

73Life, II, 463.

74Mahendranath Datta, Londone Svami Bibekananda [in Bengali], 3 vols. in 2 pts. (1338-45 B.E. Rpt. Calcutta: Mahendran Publishing Committee, 1391-92 B.E.), I, 93; CW, VI, 446: Vivekananda's letter to Sister Nivedita (March 2, 1898); Romain Rolland, The Life of Vivekananda and the Universal Gospel, tr. E.F. Malcolm-Smith (Tenth impression. Calcutta: Advaita Ashrama, 1984), p. 6 n.3., p. 85 n.2.

75Mahendranath Datta, Srimat Bibekananda Svamijir Jibaner Ghatanabali [in Bengali], 3 vols. (1331-33 B.E. Fifth printing. Calcutta: Mahendra Publishing Committee, 1393-95 B.E.), I, 49, 61, 85, 135, 165.

76Prophetic Mission, I, 282 (see also pp. 278-84).

77Pravrajika Prabuddhaprana, The Life of Josephine MacLeod: Friend of Swami Vivekananda (Dakshineshwar: Sri Sarada Math, 1990), p. 217.

78Reminiscences of Vivekananda, p. 228: reminiscences of Miss MacLeod.

79Life of Josephine, p. 136.

80Ibid., pp. 157-58.

81Ibid., p. 12.

82R. Rolland, "Journal 1915-1943," Inde (1960) cited in ibid., pp. 208, 210.

83See Sil, Ramakrishna, p. 32.

84CW, VIII, 317: Vivekananda's letter to the Hale sisters (July 26, 1894).

85See Sil, Ramakrishna, chs. IV & VII.

86CW, V, 21: Vivekananda's letter to Alasinga (November 2, 1893).

87The phrase "inly-pleased" is borrowed from Vivekananda's description in the Chicago Advocate (September 12, 1893) cited in Prophetic Mission, I, 87.

88I have discussed the Vivekananda-Nivedita episode in a separate study "Prophet Disarmed: Vivekananda and Nivedita" to be published in the International Journal of Indian Studies later this year.

89New Gospel, I, 9.

90Master As I Saw Him, p. 32; Reminiscences of Vivekananda, pp. 148, 171: reminiscences of Sister Christine.

91See "Prophet Disarmed."

92Cited from the original manuscript of Nivedita's diary (expurgated from the authorized edition of her Notes of Some Wanderings) in Rita Rudra, "Swami Vivekananda's Concept of Man" (unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, Claremont Graduate School, 1974), p. 194. Since 1972, this diary has been deposited in the Bangiya Sahitya Parisad Library, Calcutta.