Sectarianism, bigotry, and its horrible descendant, fanaticism, have long possessed this beautiful earth. They have filled the earth with violence, drenched it often and with human blood, destroyed civilization and sent whole nations to despair… I fervently hope that the bell that tolled this morning in honor of this convention may be the death-knell of all fanaticism, of all persecutions with the sword or with the pen, and of all uncharitable feelings between persons wending their way to the same goal,” Swami Vivekananda at the World Parliament of Religions.

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This year is the 150th anniversary of Vivekananda’s birth. A religious and historical figure famous for his speech to the World Parliament of Religions in 1893, Vivekananda is recognized for introducing Hinduism to the west.  Vivekananda’s message of Vedanta resonated in the United States, resulting in the founding the first Hindu temple in San Francisco, the establishment of eighteen centers in the United States devoted to Vedanta, and 174 centers around the world today that honor his lineage and philosophy. In 1900 Vivekananda lectured for four months at the First Unitarian Church in Oakland, and his followers eventually founded the Vedanta Society in Berkeley in 1939.

“The spiritual life is closely connected with music… Swami Vivekananda said that music is one of the gates by which one’s mind can be concentrated. That’s why we’re holding an event with the music that he loved,” explains Swami Prasannatmananda, Assistant Swami of the Vedanta Society in Berkeley. The Berkeley Vedanta Society has hosted a variety of events this year to celebrate the anniversary of Vivekananda’s birth, but the upcoming event in Cupertino is one of the highlights. “For the first time in the Bay Area, we are getting together these beautiful musical personalities in one space to honor Vivekananda,” says Prasannatmananda.

On April 20, Padma Vibhushan Pt. Hariprasad Chaurasia, Padma Vibhushan Pt. Jasraj, Pt. Swapan Chaudhuri, and Pt. Subhankar Banerjee will present a classical concert featuring Vivekananda’s favorite music. Chaurasia, a renowned bansuri player, was recognized by the Government of India with the award of Padma Vibhushan and has been appointed as a Knight in the Order of Arts and Letters by France’s Ministry of Culture. He has also composed music for multiple Bollywood movies, including Silsila and Lamhe. Jasraj, a classical vocalist, has a range of three and a half octaves and the distinction of being recognized by the Government of India as Padma Vibhushan. Chaudhuri is widely recognized as a tabla virtuoso, and has been awarded the Bharat Ke Sangeet Ratna by the Art and Cultural Trust of India, as well as receiving two Grammy Award nominations.  Banerjee is a well known accompanist on tabla, receiving a personal award from the President of India.

“Swami Vivekananda had a beautiful voice and loved music. This event is an important way for his devotees and followers to offer him respect,” comments Prasannatmananda. It is also an important opportunity to celebrate, and revisit, Vivekananda’s teachings. “Swami Vivekananda offered tremendous assurance, that human potentiality is essentially divine. We are all traveling together from a lower to a higher truth,” says Prasannatmananda. And it is Vivekananda’s message of religious tolerance and respect for which he’s still remembered, and revered, today. “His teachings are even more relevant today than they were before. This anniversary celebration is an important opportunity to renew his teachings,” concludes Prasannatmananda.

Vivekananda took the United States, and the world, by storm upon his introduction to the west. The son of a Calcutta lawyer, Vivekananda had the perfect blend of educational training and religious experience to speak to western audiences. Yet he remained an untiring proponent of India, and a fierce advocate for religious tolerance.  As Vivekananda said, “The devotion to God as seen in every religion is divided into two parts: the devotion which works through forms and ceremonies and through words, and that which works through love.”

Saturday, April 20, 4 p.m. Flint Center, 21250 Stevens Creek Blvd., Cupertino, $35. www.celebratevivekananda.org.

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