Of the innumerable July 4th celebrations over the pasr 213 years in American History, one instance stands out for the manner of its observance, as also the person who conceived it.
The special celebration took place in 1898 in a houseboat on Dal lake in Srinagar, Jammu and Kashmir. It was conceived by Swami Vivekananda as a “surprise present” for two American disciples who had chosen “to love and serve India” at the call of the young Indian visionary.
Persistent researches carried out in India and in America reveal that this is how the Srinagar July 4th celebrations came about.
On his return to India in 1897, at the conclusion of his triumphant lecture tour of America and following his inspiring address at the World Parliament of Religions held in Chicago in 1893, Swami Vivekananda launched a ceaseless campaign “to elevate the downtrodden Indian masses.”
Out of this campaign was born the Ramakrishna Mission dedicated to “the service of the needy and the uplift of the outcasts.”
Realising that this stupendous mission demanded the services of countless volunteers, Vivekananda called upon his many foreign friends to lend a helping hand. From England came Margaret Noble, who subsequently became famous as sister Nivedita.
And from America came Mrs.Ole bull and Miss Josephine Macleod. Bull, daughter of a wealthy senator from Madison, Wisconsin, and wife of a renowned Norwegian violinist, came into contact with Vivekananda in 1894. Her home in Cambridge Massachusetts, became a meeting place for Swami’s admirers and ardent devotees when he was there.
Macleod happened to attend a Vivekananda’s lecture in New York city in January 1895. “From that moment, life had a different import,” she later declared. “it was like the sun that you will never forget once you have seen it.”
As part of the “training to serve in India,” Swami Vivekananda took all three for a journey through India so they could know the people, the conditions of life and their needs. The party journeyed through northern India and on to the beautiful Kashmir valley.
Hereabout it was almost July 4th. Realizing its importance to his American friends, Swami Vivekananda thought out “a secret plan to surprise them” with a colorful celebration of American Independence.
“With a touch of youthful zest,” according to one account – Vivekananda was only 35 at that time – he took the one non-American member of the party, Sister Nivedita, into his confidence to carry out his plan. He got the services of a Kashmiri tailor and guided him to stitch an American flag, complete with the stars and stripes.
And on the morning of July 4th, when the two American ladies entered the common hall of the houseboat for breakfast they were thrilled to see old glory bedecked with Kashmir’s choicest flowers and bunches of evergreens. The American Independence day turned out to be as colorful and heart warming as at home, back in America.
To enhance the joy of the occasion, “Swami Vivekananda composed a special poem for the grand observance that he read aloud..
Titled “To the 4th of July,” and very carefully preserved by Bull, the poem in part reads:
Bethink thee hoe the world did wait,
And search for thee, through time and clime,
Some gave up home and love of friends,
And went in quest of thee, self banished,
Through dreary oceans, through primeval forests,
Each step a struggle for their life or death;
Then came the day when work bore fruit,
And worship, love, and sacrifice,
Fulfilled, accepted, and complete
Then thou, propitious, rose to shed
The Light of FREEDOM on mankind.
That then was the unique July 4th celebrations, perhaps the one and only celebrated on a houseboat in Srinagar.
And as fate would have it, Swami Vivekananda died on the same date – July 4th – four years later in 1902.