Narendra Nath Datta, as Swami Vivekananda was known in his premonastic days, was born on 12 January 1863 in a well-to-do family in Kolkata. His parents were Vishwanath Datta, an attorney, and Bhuvaneshawri Devi. In his boyhood Naren was endowed with strong physique, brilliant intellect and mystic temperament. After graduating in mathematics, history and philosophy, he studied law. At the age of 18 while studying in the college he met Sri Ramakrishna. Under the loving guidance oh his Master, he blossomed into a spiritual luminary. After Sri Ramakrishna’s passing away, fourteen of the Master’s young disciples (two more joined later),under the leadership of Swami Vivekananda, formed a monastic brotherhood known as the Ramakrishna Math(Order).
After staying in this monastery for two years,Swami Vivekananda spent a few years traveling all over India as a mendicant monk. During these travels he was deeply moved to see the appalling poverty and backwardness of the millions of poor people in India. However, he also saw that, in spite of poverty, the people still clung to religion, and the ancient spiritual culture was a living force in their lives.At a time when social reforms were busy with widow remarriage and abolition of idol worship, Vivekananda perceived that the real cause of India’s backwardness was the neglect & exploitation of masses that produced the wealth of the land. In order to improve their economic condition it was necessary to teach them improved methods of agriculture, village industries and hygienic way of life. But owing to centuries of exploitation and social tyranny, the poor people, especially those who belonged to the lower castes, had lost their sense of worth, hope and initiative.
The people therefore needed a message of strength that would infuse faith in themselves. Vivekananda found this message in Vedanta. Thus Swamiji saw that in order to uplift the masses it was necessary to spread both secular and spiritual education among them.And for this what was needed most was an organization, 'a machinery which will bring noblest ideas to the doorstep of even the poorest and the meanest.
During his travels in India Swami Vivekananda heard about the plans to hold a World Parliament of Religions in Chicago. He felt that the Parliament would provide the right forum to present his Master’s message to the world, and so he decided to go to America. Another reason which prompted Swami Vivekananda to go to America was to seek financial help for his project of uplifting the masses. His speeches at the World Parliament of Religions held in Chicago in September 1893 made him world famous. In the West Swamiji found the people there had solved their socio-economic problems to a great extent and were seeking the ultimate truth and the ultimate meaning of life. Swamiji believed that Vedanta would fulfill their higher needs. Further, Swamiji had developed the insight that Sri Ramakrishna was the embodiment of eternal truths of Vedanta, that the Master’s life was the fulfillment of all the promises of the supreme Vedantic vision of Reality and, as Romain Rolland expressed it some years later, Sri Ramakrishna ‘was the consummation of two thousand years of the spiritual life of three hundred million people.’ Therefore, the best way to make the true and full significance of Sri Ramakrishna’s life understood in the modern world was to expound Vedanta in the modern idiom in the light of Sri Ramakrishna’s life and experiences. After spreading Vedanta in the West for nearly three and a half years, Swami Vivekananda returned to India in January 1897.