Blue Plaques

VIVEKANANDA, Swami (1863-1902)

Plaque erected in 2004 by English Heritage at 63 St George's Drive, Pimlico, London, SW1V 4DD, City of Westminster

All images © English Heritage

Profession

Philosopher

Category

Philosophy

Inscription

SWAMI VIVEKANANDA 1863-1902 Hindu philosopher lived here in 1896

Material

Ceramic

The Hindu philosopher Swami Vivekananda is commemorated with a blue plaque at 63 St George’s Drive in Pimlico, where he stayed from early May until mid-July in 1896.

Black and white photograph of Swami Vivekananda in a meditation pose
Swami Vivekananda photographed in London in 1896 by Alfred Ellis

EARLY LIFE AND SPIRITUAL TEACHINGS

Vivekananda was born Narendranath Datta in Calcutta (now Kolkata). His interest in religion was influenced by the Hindu reformist movement, Brahmo Samaj, which he joined while studying law in the 1880s. Losing interest in a professional career, he became a disciple of the mystic Swami Ramakrishna and in 1886 helped establish a monastery dedicated to Ramakrishna’s teachings. It was several years later, in 1892, that he took the name of Swami Vivekananda (‘swami’ being the title for a Hindu religious teacher).

Vivekananda became a leading spokesman for modern Hinduism in the West. A compelling speaker, he gained many followers during his first Western mission, to America, in 1893–5. While there he promoted the Vedanta school of philosophy as the core of Hindu faith and presented India as a deeply spiritual land, in contrast to the materialism of the West. Vivekananda was particularly interested in applying spiritual practice to the problems of the world, and his emphasis on social action became one of his enduring legacies to Hinduism.

ST GEORGE’S DRIVE, LONDON

Vivekananda left America for London in September 1895 and lived in the city for over a year. During this time he stayed at several London addresses, including 63 St George’s Drive.

The house was let to him furnished by Mortimer Reginald Margesson and his wife, Lady Isabel, who was interested in Vivekananda’s teachings. Vivekananda held regular classes in the first-floor double drawing room, which was said to have seated about a hundred people. The hub of his everyday life was the ground-floor parlour, fronting on to the street, while he slept in a windowless room immediately to the rear. Other parts of the house were given over to his entourage, which included his stenographer Josiah Goodwin, the theosophist Henrietta Müller and Swami Saradananda (1865−1927), who was – like Vivekananda – a disciple of Swami Ramakrishna. 

Although Vivekananda’s stay at this address was relatively brief, it was clearly significant in the westward spread of his – and Ramakrishna’s – teachings, and blazed a trail that many proponents of Eastern religions have followed since. On 24 June 1896 Vivekananda wrote, ‘What will be the good of my going home? This London is the hub of the world. The heart of India is here.’

He did, however, regard British colonial rule of his country as essentially exploitative, and his writings became influential in the Indian movement for independence. In 1921 Gandhi said that after reading Vivekananda's works, ‘the love that I had for my country [increased] a thousand-fold.’

LATER LIFE

Vivekananda left London for India in December 1896. On his return to Calcutta, he founded the Ramakrishna Mission – a spiritual organisation dedicated to social service, which still operates today. He was joined in Calcutta in 1898 by Sister Nivedita, who had seen him talk in London and subsequently became his disciple, assisting the Ramakrishna movement with relief work and women’s education.

Vivekananda embarked on another tour of America in 1899, passing through London on the way and returning via mainland Europe in 1900. He died in 1902 in Calcutta and was cremated in the city, on the banks of the river Ganges.

Nearby Blue Plaques

Nearby Blue Plaques


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