Eknath Ranade and the saga of Swami Vivekananda Rock Memorial at Kanyakumari

published on December 23, 2013

THE VIVEKANANDA ROCK MEMORIAL AT KANYAKUMARI was inaugurated in 1970. The construction of this Memorial began in January 1964 and was completed in 1970. Whenever we think of Benaras Hindu University, the only name that comes to our mind is that of its Chief Viswakarma Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya (1861-1946). Likewise, whenever we think of Vivekananda Rock Memorial at Kanyakumari, we think of only one remarkable individual who was the main propelling force behind the conception and speedy execution of this sacred monument. I am referring to Shri Eknath Ranade (1914 – 1982) who was a Swayamsevak of the RSS and who had served in various capacities in the RSS right from 1926 till he was assigned by Shri Guruji Golwalkar, the Sarsangchalak of the RSS, to look after the gigantic task of construction of the Vivekananda Rock Memorial at Kanyakumari in 1964. Eknath Ranade was indeed a Mahapurusha cast in a very grand mould.

In 1962, Shri. Dattaji Didolkar was the RSS Prant Pracharak of Tamil Nadu. When he was visiting Kanyakumari during the course of his State-wide tour, the RSS Swayamsevaks of Kanyakumari broached to the matter of Vivekananda Memorial in Kanyakumari to him in these words:

“Preparations are going on throughout the Country to Celebrate the Birth Centenary of Swamy Vivekananda who was born in 1863. It was in Kanyakumari that Swamiji remained in meditation for 3-days on a Mid-Sea Rock and discovered the Mission of his Life. The rock on which he meditated for 3-days from December 25 to December 27,1892 is known as THE VIVEKANANDA ROCK. Therefore, we should install some worthy Memorial on that Rock to Mark the Great Occasion”.

In January 1962, some leading citizens of Kanyakumari got together and thought of putting up a MEMORIAL on the rock off the shore of Kanyakumari where Swami Vivekananda sat and meditated about India’s past, present and future for three days on 25, 26, and 27 December 1892.

In order to achieve this objective, an All India Vivekananda Birth Centenary Committee consisting of prominent persons in the country was created in 1962. In January 1964, Guruji Golwalkar (1906-1973) nominated Eknath Ranade to devote his whole time attention to the proposed Vivekananda Rock Memorial at Kanyakumari.

The first step Eknath Ranade took on being asked to take charge of the Rock Memorial work was to ensure that this effort had the full support of the Ramakrishna Math and Mission. Next, he saw to it that he was made the Organizing Secretary of the Vivekananda Rock Memorial Committee so that he could officially be in charge of the Vivekananda Rock Memorial mission in Kanyakumari. From that moment, this great and sacred project took off with electronic speed, thanks to the dynamic, unshakeable, inspiring and bold leadership of Eknath Ranade.

Another vital management decision that Eknath Ranade took was to requisition the services of a remarkableSwayamsevak Shri Venkataraman in November 1964. Venkatraman had been earlier a Sanghpracharak in Madurai from 1955-57. His name was recommended by Shri. Ramgopalji who today heads the Hindu Munnani in Tamil Nadu. If Eknath Ranadeji can be viewed as Kodandarama, Shri. Venkatramanji can be viewed as his Veer Hanuman in every sense of the word.

SHRI. VENKATRAMANJI PASSED AWAY VERY RECENTLY LEAVING TO THE WORLD A SPLENDID EXAMPLE OF LIFELONG UNREMITTING TOIL, SELFLESS SERVICE AND SELF SACRIFICE AS A HEROIC SWAYAMSEVAK OF THE RSS.

The first obstacle that Eknath Ranade had to cross was from Shri Bhaktavatsalam who was then Chief Minister of Madras State. He took a stand that he would not allow the memorial to come up on the mid-sea rock on the flimsy ground that it would pose a hazard to the environment by spoiling the natural beauty of the Rock. He was also concerned about hurting the religious sentiments of the Catholic fishermen in the area. Bhaktavatsalam’s view was also endorsed by Shri Humayun Kabir, the then Union Minister for Cultural Affairs, who too had to give his clearance for this project.

In order to get Government of India’s clearance, on Shri Lal Bahadur Shastri’s advice, Eknath Ranade camped in New 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 Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru who in turn directed both Humayun Kabir and Shri. Bhaktavatsalam to give their immediate clearance for the construction of the Rock Memorial at Kanyakumari in 1964 .

Shri Bhaktavatsalam had given permission only for a small 15″ x 15″ shrine. Knowing his reverence for theParamacharya 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 and proposed by the Paramacharya of Kanchi! Thus all political hurdles for the construction of the Memorial were removed in one stroke by the shrewd and Statesman-like move of Eknath Ranade.

After clearing up all the political obstacles on the path of his goal of speedy construction of the Vivekananda Rock Memorial at Kanyakumari, Eknath Ranade saw to it that construction activity at the site began in a methodical and organised manner. On 6 November, 1964, the first stone was cut. Eknath Ranade was a man of tremendous faith in his chosen mission, in God Almighty, in Guruji Golwalkar and Dr Hedgewar (1889-1940) .

He often used to declare to those around him almost everyday: ‘All that I have seen teaches me to trust the CREATOR for all I have not seen’. He also derived his Himalayan enthusiasm and energy for completing this gigantic task from his own working philosophy which he put in very beautiful words: ‘You may be deceived if you trust too much, but you will never succeed and live in torment if you do not trust enough’.

Swami Vivekananda’s meditation as an unknown monk on the mid-sea Rock in December 1892 and the discovery of his life’s mission at that spot were all established facts. Against this background, Eknath Ranade was very clear in his mind about his Mission and the field of action that lay before him. As if in a flash, the image of Swami Vivekananda that formed itself in the mind of Eknath Ranade was the same as that of Swami Vivekananda who was ready to enter the field of action with gusto in with effect from December 25,1892.

Eknath Ranade communicated this idea and image of Swami Vivekananda to some distinguished artists and sculptors. He also exhorted them to read THE COMPLETE WORKS OF SWAMI VIVEKANANDA so as to have for themselves a clear picture of Swami Vivekananda in their minds. The famous sculptor D P Roy Chowdhury (1899-1975) who had sculpted the statue of Mahatma Gandhi on the Marina Beach was a very famous Sculptor. But he insisted that once he had made the sculpture, it should be accepted without any modification. But Eknath Ranade did not agree to that pre-condition. He said, ‘If the sculpture is satisfactory, it would be accepted. Otherwise, payment would be made just for the work done.’

Accordingly, Eight Sculptures were got done, out of which two were finally selected. When they were placed on the pedestal on trial, the one with the Kamandlam in one hand was disproportionately taller than the other. That taller figure was installed later in Vivekanandapuram, and the other one with Swamiji’s eyes focussed on the Sripadam, was installed on the Rock Memorial facing the Sripadam. This, in short, is the story behind the installation of the majestic Statue of Swami Vivekananda in the Rock Memorial. The statue which was finally selected for installation was sculpted by Shri. Narayan Laxman Sonavadekar (1933 – 2002). The construction of the Memorial was entrusted to Sthapathi S K Achari by Eknath Ranade on the considered advice of SHRI PARAMACHARIYA OF KANCHI (1894-1994).

Eknath Ranade threw himself into the forefront facing the multifarious challenges that came his way in order to ensure scientifically that the Rock on which the Memorial was to be built was structurally sound and that it 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; the provision of water and power supplies; meeting the growing demand for skilled persons, artisans, craftsmen, and labour; building of jetty platforms on the rock and the shore; the need to ensure systematic de-silting around the jetty platform areas to enable bigger crafts to approach the shore, and so on and several other unforeseen challenges were met by Eknath Ranade with a resolute determination.

The biggest and the most formidable and ever present challenge, however, was that of organising the financial resources required for the whole operation. Shri Eknath Ranade’s belief in the success of the Rock Memorial mission was so strong, that he never slowed down the pace of work even when there was an acute paucity of funds from time to time during the course of construction of the memorial from 1964 to 1970. He often used to brush aside the pessimistic discouragement of others around him whose belief in his Sacred Mission was not as strong as his own and went ahead with his fund-raising campaign repeating to himself the words of a great poet: ‘Act, act in the living present, Heart within and God overhead’. No wonder Eknath Ranade succeeded magnificently where others would have failed miserably!!

EKNATH RANADE FERVENTLY BELIEVED THAT THE VIVEKANANDA ROCK MEMORIAL WAS A NATIONAL MONUMENT OF TIMELESS SIGNIFICANCE AND THAT EVERY INDIAN SHOULD BE INVITED TO CONTRIBUTE TO ITS CONSTRUCTION. SHRI EKNATH RANADE LAUNCHED THE CAMPAIGN OF SALE 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 ONE RUPEE. BY LAUNCHING SUCH A NATIONAL CAMPAIGN FOR COLLECTING JUST AN AMOUNT OF RUPEE ONE FROM EVERY WILLING CITIZEN, EKNATH RANADE SUCCEEDED IN RAISING AN AMOUNT OF RUPEES ONE CRORE. THUS BY HIS GRAND VISION EKNATH RANADE ENSURED THAT MILLIONS OF COMMON PEOPLE WHO WERE LATER GOING TO VISIT THE VIVEKANANDA ROCK MEMORIAL COULD HAVE A LEGITIMATE PRIDE THAT THEY TOO HAD CONTRIBUTED THEIR MITE TO THIS SPLENDID NATIONAL MONUMENT.

He also approached and succeeded in persuading almost every State government to make a decent contribution towards the construction of the Vivekananda Rock Memorial. What is amazing is that he succeeded in making even the States of Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh participate in the work of construction of the Memorial. All the State Governments put together made only a paltry a contribution of Rs.35 Lakhs. It was solely on account of the outstanding leadership qualities of Eknath Ranade that the Vivekananda Rock Memorial Mission never got entangled in any unseemly political controversy or agitation at any stage during the course of construction of the Rock Memorial from 1964 to 1970. All the petty and small-minded politicians of India finally surrendered to his unconquerable spirit.

Eknath Ranade has recorded in telling words about his experiences in dealing with the Chief Ministers and politicians of India: ‘Leaders of every political party, whether in power or in the opposition became willing partners of the Vivekananda Rock Memorial at Kanyakumari. The only Chief Minister who sent me back empty handed without contributing any amount to the Rock Memorial Fund was the then Kerala Chief Minister Comrade EMS Namboodiripad (1909-1998). I can say this much about my abortive interview with him. It was like conversing with a sphinx. It was monologue all the way on my part. Only an empty stare from the other side!’.

In this context the beautiful tribute paid to Eknath Ranade by Parameswaran, President, Vivekananda Kendra, Kanyakumari is very relevant: “It is instructive to know how Eknath Ranade made judicious use of various means at his command for the achievement of his end. Both speech and silence were equally effective instruments in his hands. To know when to speak and when to keep silent is a rare gift. Eknath Ranade possessed this unique quality abundantly. While he raised stormy controversies when necessary, he scrupulously abstained from them when they served no purpose. He utilised his contact with the Press for raising the right issues at the right time and also not to raise inconvenient issues that would only complicate the situation. Though he never dabbled in politics, he possessed a high political acumen of which any successful politician would feel envious”.

In the beginning, the estimated cost of construction of the Vivekananda Rock Memorial was Rs 30 Lakh. Then it rose to Rs 60 Lakhs, Later to Rs 75 Lakhs. Finally the total cost after completion worked out to Rs one Crore and Thirty Five Lakhs. Just think what a great achievement it was to mobilise such a huge sum of Money Forty Nine Years ago and complete the work in Six Years!

The Vivekananda Rock Memorial was inaugurated on 2 September, 1970, and dedicated to the Nation by V V Giri (1894-1980), the President of India. Kalaigner Karunanidhi presided over the dedication ceremony. There can be no doubt whatsoever that without the catalytic and stellar role of Shri Eknath Ranade, this grand national monument could never have been completed in such a record time. Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882), the great American thinker of the 19th century said, ‘A great and timeless institution is the lengthened shadow of one man’. If that be so, I have no doubt that the final verdict of history will be that the magnificent Vivekananda Rock Memorial at Kanyakumari is the lengthened shadow of Eknath Ranade.

I had the unique privilege of enjoying the friendship of Eknath Ranade for almost six years from 1976 to 1982. As a District Collector and Magistrate of Unbifurcated Tirunelveli District, I met him for the first time at the Collector’s bungalow in Thirunelveli in November 1976 when I was introduced to Eknath Ranade by S G Subramaniam, who was another great stalwart in the RSS. Later I got to know Eknath Ranade more intimately when I became the first Chairman of Tuticorin Port Trust in April 1979. We used to have lunch sessions from time to time at Tuticorin and I remember distinctly his talking with animated passion about the Vivekananda Rock Memorial. My wife Smt. Padma Sundaram and Sri Eknath Ranade used to carry on a passionate and animated discussion on how to prevent the fraudulent, induced and sordid conversion methods and processes of Unscrupulous Christian Missionaries in India.

Eknath Ranade was indeed a Mahapurusha who combined in himself the qualities of gentleness, strength, simplicity and faith. By his life and example he showed that making the simple complicated is common place; making the complicated simple, awesomely simple, that’s indeed creativity. He demonstrated that simplicity of character is the natural result of profound thought and that simplicity of character is no hindrance to subtlety of intellect. He showed that life is not complex. We are complex. Life is simple, and the simple thing is the right thing. True eloquence consists of saying all that should be said, in the manner and measure required — that only and nothing else. Eknath Ranade did just that and became immortal.

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