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Thousand Island Park celebrates Swami Vivekananda

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THOUSAND ISLAND PARK — Wellesley Island will play a role in a yearlong commemoration noting the 150th birthday of a noted religious figure of India with concerts, a lecture and an interfaith service here this month.

Swami Vivekananda’s teachings are known to millions worldwide and his name is a household word in his native India. That country’s greatest leaders of the 20th century, Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, paid homage to him for the inspiration that his life and work had on their patriotism.

His connection to the north country began in Chicago.

In 1893, Swami Vivekananda, a 30-year-old monk from Calcutta, took the podium at the World’s Parliament of Religions, an interfaith gathering in Chicago, and declared the faith he followed emphasized toleration and accepted all religions as true as he spread the word of his mentor, Sri Ramakrishna.

Two years later, Swami Vivekananda (1863-1902) brought his message to Wellesley Island at the invitation of one of his students, Oswego native M. Elizabeth Dutcher. She invited the swami to rest from his labors at her cottage on a secluded hill behind the Thousand Island Park tabernacle.

The cottage he stayed at is now called Vivekananda Cottage, run by the Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Center of New York, an accredited branch of the Ramakrishna Order of India. The building was rediscovered and restored by the center in 1947.

The Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Center bases its teachings on the “system of Vedanta,” which combines both the religion and philosophy of the Hindus.

The government of India has established a national committee on the commemoration of the 150th birthday of Swami Vivekananda, under the chairmanship of prime minister Manmohan Singh. Events are being held throughout India.

This year and next, the Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Center of New York will hold a series of events in observance of the swami’s birthday, beginning this month at the Wellesley Island retreat. Events will continue in New York City in November, February and April.

All events at the open-air Thousand Island Park tabernacle are free and open to the public. They are:

8 p.m. July 27: Concert by Cantabile Choirs of Kingston, Ontario. The organization’s men’s and women’s choruses will perform. Last year, both traveled to England and Scotland.

The concert will feature classics, folk songs, Celtic music, contemporary tunes and Broadway hits.

3 p.m. July 28: A lecture and discussion on J.D. Salinger at Thousand Island Park by Kenneth Slawenski, author of “J.D. Salinger, A Life.”

Mr. Slawenski, of New Jersey, is an expert on Mr. Salinger, the author of the classic novel “The Catcher in the Rye.” Mr. Salinger was closely associated with Swami Nikhilananda and the Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Center. In the 1950s he attended summer retreats held at Vivekananda Cottage at Thousand Island Park.

Mr. Slawenski will discuss the life of Mr. Salinger, his association with the park and the influence the teachings of Vedanta had upon his writings.

8 p.m. July 28: Performance by sitar maestro Kartik Seshadri with Vineet Vyas on tabla (percussion).

As a sitarist, Mr. Seshadri attracted widespread attention when he began performing full-length solos at the age of 6 in India. This past March, his latest album, “Sublime Ragas,” was selected by Songlines magazine for its “Top of the World” chart.

As an educator, Mr. Seshadri heads one of the largest programs of Indian classical music in America at the University of California, San Diego.

Noon, July 29: The interfaith service, “The Spiritual Unity of Mankind.”

This service will feature Swami Yuktatmananda, spiritual leader of Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Center of New York; the Rev. James Brown, minister emeritus, Market Square Presbyterian Church, Harrisburg, Pa.; Mr. Slawenski; Clayton Butler, author of “Thousand Island Park: The Story of an American Eden”; and musical offerings by the choirs of the Thousand Island Park Tabernacle and the Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Center.

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