How Swami Vivekanand Inspired Jamsetji Tata

Dr Vinay Nalwa

Dr Vinay Nalwa explains an inspiring relationship between Swami Vivekanand and Sir Jamsetji Tata and how the latter inspired by the former established a premier research institute of India .   

It was May31,1893 on a steamer who would have thought that a chance meeting between a spiritual leader beholding the immense knowledge of Vedas and an industrialist visionary led to the creation of a premier science institute. It was the shared vision for the betterment of Indians that Swami Vivekanand and Jamsetji Tata saw through cultivation of sciences in a natural ascetic spirit of Hindu culture . This shared vision was for an independent India with the capability to impart requisite technical & business skills to its citizens and with sufficient capital investment from the citizens themselves, wealth would be generated in India and India would reach the heights of economic prosperity that it always enjoyed in the past. That was Swami Vivekanand’s dream.

Swami Vivekanand whose original name Narendranath Datta, Datta also spelled Dutt, (born January 12, 1863, Calcutta [now Kolkata) was a Hindu spiritual leader and reformer in India .His father, Vishwanath Dutta was an attorney at the Calcutta High Court. Durgacharan Dutta, Narendra’s grandfather was a Sanskrit and Persian scholar who left his family and became a monk at the age of 25. Swami Vivekanand was admitted to school founded by Mr. Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar in 1870. After matriculation he joined the Presidency College in Kolkata and completed his M.A. in philosophy. After the death of his guru Shri Ramakrishna, Swami Vivekanand took the responsibility of the Ramakrishna’s Cossipore Math.

Founder of one of India’s largest conglomerates, Jamsetji Tata was in search of equipment and technology that would help make India a strong industrial nation, while  planning on laying the foundations of the steel industry in India.

Swami Vivekanand endorsed the vision, adding that the real hope of India lay in the prosperity and progress of its common man. Impressed by Swami Vivekananda’s views on science, spirituality and patriotism Jamsetji wrote a letter to Vivekananda requesting his guidance in establishing a research Institute in India.

Here is what it said:

Esplanade House, Bombay.

23rd Nov. 1898

Dear Swami Vivekanand,

I trust, you remember me as a fellow- traveller on your voyage from Japan to Chicago. I very much recall at this moment your views on the growth of the ascetic spirit in India, and the duty, not of destroying, but of diverting it into useful channels.

I recall these ideas in connection with my scheme of Research Institute of Science for India, of which you have doubtless heard or read. It seems to me that no better use can be made of the ascetic spirit than the establishment of monasteries or residential halls for men dominated by this spirit, where they should live with ordinary decency and devote their lives to the cultivation of sciences –natural and humanistic.

I am of opinion that if such a crusade in favour of an asceticism of this kind were undertaken by a competent leader, it would greatly help asceticism, science, and the good name of our common country; and I know not who would make a more fitting general of such a campaign than Vivekananda.

Do you think you would care to apply yourself to the mission of galvanizing into life our ancient traditions in this respect? Perhaps, you had better begin with a fiery pamphlet rousing our people in this matter. I would cheerfully defray all the expenses of publication.”


With kind regards,

I am, dear Swami,

Yours faithfully,

Jamsetji Tata


Swami Vivekanand gave his blessings for this combining of the scientific and technological achievements of the West with the asceticism and humanism of India. Busy setting up the Ramakrishna Mission, Swami Vivekanand sent his disciple, Sister Nivedita to meet Jamsetji. Working together, they formulated a detailed plan for the research institute. The ruler of Mysore, Krishnaraja Wodeyar IV, donated roughly 372 acres of free land in the heart of Bangalore and provide other necessary facilities.

Jamsetji’s words also seem to have had an impact on Swami Vivekanand. Swami Vivekanand wrote on IISc and Jamsetji’s dream in April I899 in Prabuddha Bharata, a monthly magazine started by him in 1896:

“We are not aware if any project at once so opportune and so far-reaching in its beneficent effects was ever mooted in India, as that of the post-graduate research university of Mr Tata. The scheme grasps the vital point of weakness in our national well-being with a clearness of vision and tightness of grip, the masterliness of which is only equalled by the munificence of the gift with which it is ushered to the public.

It is needless to go into the details of Mr Tata’s scheme here. Every one of our readers must have read Mr Padsha’s lucid exposition of them. We shall try to simply state here the underlying principle of it. If India is to live and prosper and if there is to be an Indian nation which will have its place in the ranks of the great nations of the world, the food question must be solved first of all. And in these days of keen competition it can only be solved by letting the light of modern science penetrate every pore of the two giant feeders of mankind: agriculture and commerce.

The ancient methods of doing things can no longer hold their own against the daily multiplying cunning devices of the modern man. He that will not exercise his brain, to get out the most from nature, by the lease possible expenditure of energy must go to the wall, degenerate and reach extinction. There is no escape. Mr Tata’s scheme paves the path placing into the hands of Indians this knowledge of nature — the preserver and the destroyer, the ideal good servant as well as the ideal bad master — that by having the knowledge, they might have power over her and be successful in the struggle for existence.

By some the scheme is regarded as chimerical, because of the immense amount of money required for it, to wit about 74 lacs. The best reply to this fear is: If one man — and he not the richest in the land — could find 30 lacs, could not the whole country find the rest? It is ridiculous to think otherwise, when the interest sought to be served is of the paramount importance.

We repeat: No idea more potent for good to the whole nation has seen the light of day in modern India. Let the whole nation therefore, forgetful of class or sect interests, join in making it a success.

Swami Vivekanand died in July 1902 and Jamsetji died two years later, unaware that their shared vision would be realised five years later. The Tata Institute of Science was born in 1909 and renamed the Indian Institute of Science (IISC) in 1911.

Today, it is the one of the premier research institutions in the world.

(The information has been sourced from

(The writer is an author and columnist and a Phd in Sociology. She is senior fellow with Delhi based think tank Vichar Vinimay Kendra. Views expressed are personal)




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