Birth and childhood
Swami Vivekananda was born as Narendranath Dutta in Calcutta, the capital of British India, on 12 January 1863 during the Makar Sankranti festival. He belonged to a traditional Bengali Kayastha (a caste of Hindus) family. There was precedence of ascetics in his family—Narendra’s grandfather Durga Charan Datta renounced the world and became a monk at the age of twenty five. Narendra’s father Vishwanath Datta was an attorney of Calcutta High Court. Vishwanath Datta had a liberal, progressive outlook on social and religious matters. Narendra’s mother, Bhuvaneswari Devi, was a pious woman. Before the birth of Narendra, she yearned for a son and asked a relative at Varanasi to make religious offerings to the god Shiva. According to traditional accounts, Bhuvaneswari Devi had a dream in which Shiva said that he would be born as her son. Bhuvaneswari Devi accepted the child as a boon from Shiva and named him Vireswara, meaning “powerful god” in Bengali. The rational approach of his father and the religious temperament of his mother helped shape young Narendra’s thinking and personality. He learnt the power of self-control from his mother. In later life, Narendra often quoted a saying of his mother, “Remain pure all your life; guard your own honour and never transgress the honour of others. Be very tranquil, but when necessary, harden your heart.” He was adept in meditation and could enter the state of samadhi (a higher level of concentrated meditation). He would often visualise a light while falling asleep and had a vision of Gautama Buddha during his meditation. During his childhood, he was fascinated by the wandering ascetics and monks.
Narendra had interest and a wide range of scholarship in philosophy, religion, history, the social sciences, arts, literature, and other subjects. He evinced interest in the Hindu scriptures such as the Vedas, the Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita, the Ramayana, the Mahabharata and the Puranas. He trained in Indian classical music under two Ustads (maestro), Beni Gupta and Ahamad Khan. He regularly participated in physical exercise, sports, and organisational activities. Even when he was young, he questioned the validity of superstitious customs and discrimination based on caste and refused to accept anything without rational proof and pragmatic test. Narendra joined the Metropolitan Institution of Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar in 1871 and studied there till 1877 when his family moved to Raipur. The family family returned to Calcutta two years later.