Audio recording of Swami Vivekananda’s 1893 Chicago address is fake

Today (January 12, 2012) is the 149th birth anniversary of one of India’s most revered philosophers and religious leaders. One of the landmarks of Swami Vivekananda’s life was his address at the 1893 Parliament of World’s Religions at Chicago.

As far as I knew, there wasn’t any audio recording of the historic speech and therefore never even bothered to look for it. So when a colleague asked me for an embed code of the speech to accompany a story, I was surprised.

Here’s the audio file in question:

Swami Vivekananda, 1893, ChicagoIntently, I listened to the audio and wasn’t convinced. The voice sounded very trained and the pronunciation very modern and hence a hoax. When I pointed this out, another colleague argued that Swamiji was a great orator and in all likelihood that professional sounding voice would be his. I disagreed and began my research to verify the inauthenticity of the purported voice recording of Swami Vivekananda.

Much of the web seems to agree that voice was indeed of Swami Vivekananda and I was glad to find a few naysayers like me and came across the following article by MS Nanjundiah in the August 2010 edition of The Vedanta (embedded below), a monthly magazine published by Sri Ramakrishna Math, Chennai and started at the instance of Swami Vivekananda himself. And therefore in the matters of Swami Vivekananda that source should have some credibility.

MS Nanjundiah contacted people within the Ramakrishna Mission and also historians and libraries and archives in the US and they all were unanimous in their decision that no recording of Swami Vivekanand’s address to World Parliament of Religions ever existed.

Nanjundiah also points out that the audio recording technology available in the US in 1893 could record for only two to three minutes at the most and outside the studio recordings were not practicable. “In view of the limitations of the technology, a recording of the sessions at the Parliament of Religions in 1893 would not have happened,” Nanjundiah asserts.

He also says that it is “unfortunate” that a fake recording is being circulated on the Internet as Swami Vivekananda’s real voice and that the fake recording not only includes the first address but also includes other addresses delivered by Swamiji in Chicago and runs for several minutes.

Another clue that Nanjundiah draws our attention to is that the applause in the audio clip is only for a few seconds while Swami Vivekananda himself had said in a letter that the applause after his opening statement, “Sisters and Brothers of America…” lasted for two minutes.

In conclusion Nanjundiah brings in another technical evidence. “Recordings of that era (such as Edison cylinder recordings) when retrieved after many years have an ‘accumulated noise’ which, if removed, will distort the sound; the recording under circulation has no such noise. It cannot, therefore, be an authentic recording.” And I agree.

A little more online research led me to this page (cached page) on RPG Group’s HamaraCD.com. The Vivekananda speeches being circulated online origin from this album. The credits on the page clearly mention that the voice belongs to Subir Ghosh and not Swami Vivekananda.

While the Internet is a rich resource (richer than any other) of information, it is also the richest resource of misinformation. We should always be sceptical of what we stumble upon, and quite like the Swami Vivekandana voice recording could very well be bogus.

Swami Vivekananda’s Voice Recording?
A note on voice recordings of speeches given at the Parliament of Religions held in Chicago in 1893
MS NANJUNDIAH

  • Great investigative work! I too had my doubts! I think a lot of these hoaxs start, at least in India, just because of lack of proper online etiquettes, no one bothers about where and whens and hows and whos.

  • Ram Sankar

    Myself also researched about ten years back. All my findings are from Ram Krishna Muth.

    The
    voice is of N. Viswanathan, the famous English professor of St. Xaviers College
    Calcutta.The
    Album was published by Ramkrishna Mission on the centinery year  of Swami Vivekananda.
    There is no recorded voice of Swamiji. This has been
    confirmed by the monks of the Ramakrishna Mission who were involved in the
    centenary publications. They searched and probed for the same during the
    speech’s centenary celebration. BBC once confirmed RK Mission that they don’t
    have any recording of this kind.
    Ramakrishna Mission did not mention in the inlay card
    that the voice is someone else’s. The publishers explained the matter as some
    legal complications.

    • @Ram SankarYour observations seem to have raised yet another question. That the voice is not Vivekananda’s is for certain, but HamaraCD.com credits Subir Ghosh while your findings say N Viswanathan.

      • Ram Sankar

        soumyadip, you are correct. I also had the same confusion.
        My findings are from the Muth source. I cannot remember now which monk gave
        this info but certainly he was associated with the work. Actually I was more interested
        to find out whether the voice was genuine Vivekananda or not.
        I was not at all concerned who read the speech.
        I never heard Mr Ghosh say anything about it but later on
        one of the students of Prof. N Viswanathan confirmed that it was him. I not still sure who read the speech.

      • Ram Sankar

        @soumyadip, you are correct. I also had the same
        confusion. My findings are from the Muth source. I cannot remember now which
        monk gave this info but certainly he was associated with the work. Actually I
        was more interested to find out whether the voice was genuine Vivekananda or
        not.
        I was not at all concerned who read the speech.
        I never heard Mr Ghosh say anything about it but later on
        one of the students of Prof. N Viswanathan confirmed that it was him. I am not
        still sure who read the speech.

  • VitthalPatil

    Thanks. I was sure this was a fake claim but not finding material till now.

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  • Ra.

    The diction and the lengths of various applauses triggered my cat’s curiosity!

    • Milind Mahajan Vashi

      I initially doubted but now this link clearly tells abt fakeness of the speech. But now this audio viral on whatsapp.

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  • R_ Leakey

    No idea this is the real voice of Vivekanand but the recording device was already in the market at that time.