Vivekananda at the World Parliament of Religions
History, India, Lists, Newspapers, Religion

Did Vivekananda say ‘Sisters and Brothers of America’? Fact checking a fact check

Swami Vivekananda’s famous address at the 1893 Parliament of World’s Religions at Chicago was back in the news again with Prime Minister Narendra Modi taking the opportunity of the 124th anniversary (not 125th as it has been widely reported) of the speech on September 11, 2017, to address students around the country.

Swami Vivekananda poster

Abroad in America – Swami Vivekananda, a lithographic poster by Goes Lithograph Company.

And before we start, let me set the record straight that there is no audio recording of Vivekananda’s speech. That audio clip that someone forwarded you is most likely the voice of Subir Ghosh.

Now on the point of this particular post.

We all have grown up reading that Swami Vivekananda began his Chicago address with the salutation “Sisters and brothers of America,” followed by a long applause.

But then a few days ago, Pathikrit Sanyal, in a comment to a Facebook post, bought to my notice this January 2015 post in the DailyO that claims that “Vivekananda never said, ‘Sisters and brothers of America'” and attempts to bust the “myth”.

The post also chides the then US President Barack Obama for repeating the “myth” during his January 27, 2005 address at New Delhi’s Siri Fort.

The author’s conclusion is based on his/her reading of an 1893 book A Chorus of Faith that recounts the speeches at the Parliament of Religions. Because the book doesn’t make any mention of “Sisters and brothers of America,” the author arrives at the conclusion that it was a falsehood and wonders, “who first started this myth that Vivekananda said those lines.

Swami Vivekananda with other delegates at the Parliament of World's Religions, Chicago

Swami Vivekananda with other delegates at the Parliament of World’s Religions, Chicago in September 1893. To his left is Anagarika Dharmapala, the Buddhist revivalist representing the Maha Bodhi Society, Calcutta.

As I had been reading and posting about the famous speech as the Prime Minister was talking on live television, this got me redirecting my research a little.

The book A Chorus of Faith, mentioned in the DailyO article, is based on the reports published in The Chicago Daily Tribune and I was digging out relevant portions from the Tribune‘s archives for a a different (but related) purpose.

It occurred to me that the Tribune in its reporting of the addresses at the Parliament of Religions generally didn’t usually include salutations at the start of the addresses (though they did emphasise on the applause). And therefore this omission of “Sisters and brothers of America” doesn’t mean that Vivekananda didn’t start that way.

Chicago Daily Tribune, September 12, 1893

Clipping from ‘The Chicago Daily Tribune’ from September 12, 1893 reporting on Swami Vivekananda’s address to the Parliament of World’s Religions at Chicago on September 11, 1893.

I then went back to my original post debunking the audio recording of the speech and found that MS Nanjundiah in his research on Swami Vivekananda’s voice recording had referred to a letter from Vivekananda to Alasinga Perumal.

A quick search led me to the letter and the answer to the question about “who first started this myth that Vivekananda said those lines.”

It was Vivekananda himself. And therefore, we have a first-hand source here.

“I addressed the assembly as ‘Sisters and Brothers of America’, a deafening applause of two minutes followed, and then I proceeded…” Vivekananda wrote in that letter from Chicago dated November 2, 1893.

Vivekananda's letter to Perumal

A copy of Swami Vivekananda’s letter from Chicago to Alasinga Perumal dated November 2, 1893

The DailyO post, goes through the introduction of A Chorus of Faith to find no mention of Vivekanda. “The reader will notice that no mention of Vivekananda has been made, though in India it is believed that he made such great an impact,” it observes.

However, reports in The Chicago Tribune suggest that he did make some impact. Vivekananda’s famous speech was punctuated by more than one applause (unlike most of the other speeches reported).

Vivekananda with other delegates from India at Chicago

Swami Vivekananda with other delegates from India at the the Parliament of World’s Religions, Chicago in September 1893. To his right is Anagarika Dharmapala, the Buddhist revivalist representing the Maha Bodhi Society, Calcutta.

The September 23, 1893 edition of the newspaper described one of Vivekananda’s speeches at the Parliament as such (the report identifies him as a Brahmin):

“In the scientific section yesterday morning Swami Vivekananda spoke on ‘orthodox Hindooism.’ Hall 8 was crowded to overflowing, and hundreds of questions were asked by auditors and answered by the great Brahmin Sannyasi with wonderful skill and lucidity. At the close of the session he was met by eager questioners who begged him to give a semi-public lecture somewhere on the subject of his religion. He said he already had the project under consideration.”

Clipping from Chicago Daily Tribune dated September 23, 1893

Rajagopal Chattopadhyaya in his book Swami Vivekananda in India: A Corrective Biography does mention that none of the three New York newspapers he looked at – The New York Times, The New York Hearld, and The New York Daily Tribune – reported on Swami Vivekananda at the Parliament of World’s Religions, though some other Indians got appreciative mentions.

Vivekananda’s letter to Alasinga Perumal, though, paints a different picture.

“The next day all the papers announced that my speech was the hit of the day, and I became known to the whole of America. Truly has it been said by the great commentator Shridhara — “मूकं करोति वाचालं — Who maketh the dumb a fluent speaker.” His name be praised! From that day I became a celebrity, and the day I read my paper on Hinduism, the hall was packed as it had never been before. I quote to you from one of the papers: ‘Ladies, ladies, ladies packing every place — filling every corner, they patiently waited and waited while the papers that separated them from Vivekananda were read’, etc. You would be astonished if I sent over to you the newspaper cuttings, but you already know that I am a hater of celebrity. Suffice it to say, that whenever I went on the platform, a deafening applause would be raised for me. Nearly all the papers paid high tributes to me, and even the most bigoted had to admit that “This man with his handsome face and magnetic presence and wonderful oratory is the most prominent figure in the Parliament”, etc., etc. Sufficient for you to know that never before did an Oriental make such an impression on American society.”

Vivekananda, as many would know, wasn’t the only representative from India that the gathering. Though I am not sure of the actual number, I could count 15 from all the reports that I came across. At least nine of them were present on the platform at the opening of the first Parliament of World’s Religions on September 11, 1893.

List of delegates from India at the First Parliament of World’s Religions in Chicago

(The names and descriptions may differ from the actual as there are inconsistencies in the reports, for example Swami Vivekananda is also mentioned as Suani Vive Kananda at some places.)

  1. Nara Sima Chari (Representing the Sri Vaishmara sect and Visistawaiti philosophy)
  2. Lakshmi Natain/Narain (Representing the Kayastha community)
  3. Birchand Raghavji Gandhi (Honorary Secretary to the Jain Association of India, Bombay)
  4. Siddhu Ram (appeal writer, Mooltau, Punjab)
  5. Swami Vivekananda (a monk of the orthodox Brahminical religion)
  6. BB Nagarkar (Minister, Brahmo Samaj of Bombay)
  7. Protap Chunder Mazoomdar (Minister and leader of the Brahmo Samaj of India)
  8. Jinda Ram (Lawyer, President of the Temperance Society: Vedic, Muzaffargarh)
  9. Anagarika Dharmapala (General Secretary, Maha Bodhi Society, Calcutta)
  10. Prof. CN Chakravarti (Allahabad)
  11. Jeanne Sorabji (A Parsee lady from Bombay)
  12. Jinanji Jamshedji Modi (Parsee)
  13. Manilal Dvivedi (Bombay)
  14. Justice Amir Ali (Calcutta)
  15. Maurice Phillips (Madras)
PC Mazoomdar and BB Nagarkar

Illustrations of PC Mazoomdar and BB Nagarkar printed in the ‘Chicago Daily Tribune’.

Rajiv Gandhi Sonia Gandhi wedding
Delhi, History, India, Other Videos, People, Politics, Videos

Watch: Rajiv Gandhi and Sonia Maino’s wedding video

Rajiv Gandhi Sonia Gandhi wedding

Whenever I have a little time on my hand (which is actually very little these days), I like to browse through archives (both physical and digital) in search for hidden gems and today stumbled upon this: Rajiv Gandhi and Sonia Maino’s wedding video from February 25, 1968.

(Note that the video doesn’t have any sound)

In the video you can see a young Sonia Gandhi (she was 21) and Rajiv Gandhi (23) along with Indira Gandhi, Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit (Rajiv’s grand-aunt) and the then President of India Zakir Hussain.

Description of the Rajiv-Sonia wedding in Rasheed Kidwai’s 2011 biography of Sonia Gandhi:

The marriage took place on 25 February 1968 on the back lawns of 1 Safdarjung Road after a brief mehendi ceremony at the Bachchans’. The civil marriage was a simple affair. Rajiv wore a cream silk Patiala achkan and chooridars with a pink Bharatpuri turban while Sonia wore a pale pink khadi sari without much jewellery. In keeping with Kashmiri traditions, Sonia wore floral jewellery—jasmine garlands tied on her ankles, wrists and neck. Sanjay, like Rajiv’s cousins, wore a pink turban and cream-coloured achkan. There was only light refreshment at the wedding. In the evening, however, there was a lavish dinner at Hyderabad House, off India Gate, where official banquets are held, to which about two hundred and fiery guests were invited. The guests were seated on the floor and served a sumptuous Kashmiri banquet. A day later, Indira hosted a reception at the Ashok Hotel at which choice Parsi, Kashmiri and Italian cuisines were served to the one thousand invitees.

And how the papers carried the news on the front page the next morning:

Rajiv weds Sonia

News of Rajiv and Sonia Gandhi’s wedding in The Indian Express, Madras on February 26, 1968.

Rajiv weds Sonia Maino

New Delhi, Feb. 25 (PTI) Mr Rajiv Gandhi, son of Mrs Indira Gandhi, married Sonia Mario, 21-year-old Italian girl, whom he met at Cambridge two years ago at a glittering ceremony here this evening.

The ceremony held at the tastefully decorated lush green lawns of the Prime Minister’s residence lasted a little over 30 minutes.

Admidst chanting of Vedic hymns and plaintive notes of “shenai” the couple garlanded each other with jasmine and roses, signed the registrar’s book in the presence of the Deputu Commissioner, Mr BN Tandon and exchanged rings, before being declared man and wife.

Only members of the Nehru family, relatives of the late Feroze Gandhi and the bride’s family which arrived here last week, and a few close friends were present.

The bride draped in a salmon pink “zarigota” saree and decked in flowers instead of jewellellery in the Kashmiri tradition, arrived at the Prime Minister’s residence shortly after six. She was chaperoned by her uncle, Mr Angello Predebon.

As cine and TV cameras whirred, Mrs Gandhi gently let Rajiv in a cream sherwani, churidars and a flowing turban to the place where Sonia Maino stood. They were helped to garland each other from a golden tray.

(The Indian Express, Madras. February 26, 1968)

High excitement on the streets of New Delhi on August 15, 1947
Delhi, History, India, Politics

Watch: High excitement on the streets of New Delhi on August 15, 1947

This edition of the Movietone News from August 1947 captures the high excitement on the streets of New Delhi (complete with the obligatory cows) and the Parliament of India as India celebrated its first Independence Day.

This newsreel, sourced from the Associated Press archives, also shows (at the beginning, before the play time starts in this embedded video) how Pakistan marked its big day.

History, India, Politics

Listen: Indira Gandhi announcing the Emergency on All India Radio, June 26, 1975

President Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed signed the ‘Proclamation of Emergency‘ on the night of June 25, 1975, but it was in the morning of June 26 that the nation got to know via an unscheduled broadcast on All India Radio (also sarcastically referred to All Indira Radio) at 8 AM.

Listen to Indira Gandhi’s Emergency announcement aired on AIR at 8 AM, June 26, 1975:

Audio not playing? Try this MP3 file instead.

“भाइयों और बहनों, राष्ट्रपतिजी ने आपातकाल की घोषणा की है । इससे आतंकित होने का कोई कारण नहीं है । (Brothers and sisters, the President has declared a state of Emergency. There is no reason to be terrorised by this,)” these ominous words resonated the airwaves on that fateful Thursday morning.

I have extracted this bit of Indira Gandhi’s radio address from a Doordarshan documentary on Jayprakash Narayan, another important person related to India’s Emergency, therefore the dramatic background music.

(This post is a part of a series on the 40th anniversary of the imposition of Emergency in India)

History, India, Media, Newspapers, Politics

40th anniversary of Emergency: The unofficial Google doodle

(This post is a part of a series on the 40th anniversary of the imposition of Emergency in India)

This unofficial Google doodle pays tribute to the Indians who put in their best to uphold the principles of democracy in the dark days of the Emergency. The doodle draws its obvious inspiration from the iconic edit page of The Indian Express dated Saturday, June 28, 1975, in which the legendary editor Ram Nath Goenka published a bank editorial as a mark of protest against press censorship imposed during the emergency.


Emergency was imposed on the country on the night of June 25, 1975 through a proclamation signed by President Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed.

You can see other unofficial Google doodles on events and anniversaries that Google wouldn’t doodle about here.

History, India, Politics

Proclamation of Emergency, as published in The Gazette of India 40 years ago

(This is the first in a series of posts on 40 years of Emergency)

40 years ago on June 25, 1975 that the President of India Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed toed the line drawn by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi to sign the proclamation of Emergency and heap upon the democracy its darkest 21 months. This one-sentence proclamation signed on June 25, 1975 and published in The Gazette of India on June 26, 1975 (in English and Hindi. Reproduced below) initiated an unprecedented period of suppression of civil liberties in the country.

The one sentence that gave the Indian democracy a 21-month sentence.


In exercise of the powers conferred by clause 1 of Article 352 od the Constitution, I, Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed, President of India, by this Proclamation declare that a grave emergency exists whereby the security of India is threatened by internal disturbance.

FA Ahmed

New Delhi
The 25th June 1975

Notification in The Gazette of India: Proclamation of Emergency by the President of India (English)

Notification in The Gazette of India: Proclamation of Emergency by the President of India (Hindi)

Telangana statehood: Unofficial Google doodle
History, India

Telangana statehood: Unofficial Google doodle

Even though creation of new states is not a very uncommon event in India, but the last time this happened was 14 years ago. So ek unofficial Google doodle to banta hain.

Telangana statehood: Unofficial Google doodle

This animated doodle shows how the political map of India has changed since Independence (this is based on the animated timeline of the formation of new Indian states that I had created for IBNLive).

Ambassador local taxi with red beacon
Advertising, Auto, History, India, Print Ads, Shillong, Vintage Indian Ads

Adieu Hindustan Ambassador. An unofficial (and animated) Google doodle

The good ol’ Amby has finally shuddered to a halt. And here’s an unofficial Google doodle (albeit a little late) honking in honour of the grand old lady of Indian roads.

So long, Hindustan Ambassador. An unofficial (and animated) Google doodle

In the hills, where I come from, the incline is steep and the load is heavy some Mark IIIs and IVs still ply – loyally.

An Ambassador taxi in Shillong

An Ambassador taxi in Shillong

The taxi drivers have another reason to prefer the Amby over the more agile and more fuel efficient East Asian or European cars – within the broad frame of an Ambassador they can squeeze in many more passengers.

It is inside the black-and-yellow taxis of Shillong where most of my Ambassador memories reside. One incident, not involving a taxi though, that I often recall is that of an Uncle’s dilapidated second-third-or-fourth hand (I’m not exactly sure and am pretty sure he isn’t either) Ambassador. Though it came with an MLK number plate (indicating a Meghalaya registration), it spent much of its remaining years in the plains of south Assam. The few hundred kilometres drive from Karimganj to Shillong was a little too much for the ageing engine.

Even though the car didn’t appear to be in the best of health, I commanded the driver and with my cousins in tow took her for a spin around the town. As we should have expected, it started to sputter before coming to a grinding halt. Right in front of the main entrance to the Meghalaya Legislative Assembly (a fine wooden structure, before it got burned down in an accident) and as luck would have it, the Assembly was in session.

The security guards frantically gestured at us to get the car out of the away. We tried (me barely into my teens and my cousins, much younger) to push hard but the sloth just wouldn’t budge. Finally, the Meghalaya Police personnel on duty didn’t have much of a choice but to abandon their positions help us clear the entrance, cursing under their breath, so that other more-privileged Ambassadors with red beacons atop could drive out unchallenged. There’s not much in the tale, but for some strange reason, it remains.

Here’s a far more visual description of the beast that once defined a big car for us (the Premier Padmini and later the Maruti 800 were the small cars):

An Ambassador in Agra

An Ambassador in Agra

Our taxi, the colour of cream, textured with dust, swelled in the anxious curves of an overdue pregnancy, the lines of its frame a throwback to a time some forty years past in the States, a car from a Dick Tracy comic book. The Ambassador was modelled after the British Motor Corporation’s Morris Oxford, originally produced in 1948, copied by Hindustan Motors in 1950. Though a series of cosmetic modifications had been made to the automobile through the five ensuing decades, even the latest model years were flamboyantly antiquated and this persistent renewal, year after year, the continued production of that same, mid-century form after the rest of the world had long since moved on to cars smaller and sleeker, more efficient, more reliable had rendered the immigrant car indigenous. Even after Japanese and American and Korean and German cars made their way into the Indian market, offering higher standards of quality and convenience, the president of India plied the subcontinent’s roads in new Ambassadors.

Shuddering as it started, shaking with every pause, the Ambassador kept its driver busy, pulling the choke or shifting gears. A rush of life, barely familiar, pressed against the car as we left the station. Through this life – bicycles and mopeds, motorcycles and ox carts, camels and vendors, men and women and children — the Ambassador asserted itself on the road in the way a rogue elephant might lord over a stretch of grassland, loudly, its horn blaring, its bulk demanding a path and accommodation.

(Excerpt from Sameer Parekh’s 2002 novel – Stealing the Ambassador)

Back in 1990s, the brave heart might have gone off with his bride on a train but many dulhanias went to their sasural in a decked up Ambassador as this 1998 advertisement beautifully captures (The yellow mustard fields never fail to remind us of the Shahrukh Khan-Kajol super-duper hit).

An finally, an oxymoron static edition of the animated GIF above:

Ambassador local taxi with red beacon

Indian political party election symbols from the first Lok Sabha elections held in 1951
History, India, Politics

Indian political party election symbols from 1951: When Congress had bullocks and the hand was Forward Bloc’s

I just can’t seem to get over my fascination over Indian election symbols. And there are more posts to follow on this theme, here on Cutting the Chai (Also see: An alphabet chart of Indian political party symbols).

Before the elections to India’s first Lok Sabha, back in 1951, the Election Commission (as it still does) released a list of approved elections symbols for different political parties. These 14 symbols show how much Indian politics has changed over the last six decades. The hand symbol that is now almost synonymous with the Indian National Congress was then assigned to the Forward Bloc (Ruikar Group) and Congress’ election symbol was two bulls with yoke on. CPI is the only national party whose symbol remains unchanged.

Indian political party election symbols from the first Lok Sabha elections held in 1951

In the 1951 General Elections there were 14 national parties (now there are only 6) and their symbols showcased in this chart.

Parties and the election symbols:

  1. All India Bhartiya Jan Sangh – Lamp
  2. Bolshevik Party of India – Star
  3. Communist Party of India – Ears of corn and a sickle
  4. Forward Bloc (Marxist Group) – Standing lion
  5. Forward Bloc (Ruikar Group) – Human hand
  6. Akhil Bharatiya Hindu Mahasabha – Horse and rider
  7. Indian National Congress – Yoked oxen (at some places also referred to as bulls, but then there is a difference between a bull and an ox/bullock)
  8. Krishikar Lok Party – A cultivator winnowing grain
  9. Kisan Mazdoor Praja Party – Hut
  10. Revolutionary Communist Party of India – Flaming torch
  11. Akhil Bharatiya Ram Rajya Parishad – Rising sun
  12. Revolutionary Socialist Party – Spade and stoker
  13. All India Scheduled Caste Federation – Elephant
  14. Socialist Party – Tree
Advertising, Bengalis, Bizarre, History, Print Ads

Gory Kali-inspired 1940s poster salutes Subhash Chandra Bose

The art of poster art is slowly fading away. What we have now are mostly half-funny memes, that for most of the time don’t make any sense to me (I too occasionally create a few).

Today is Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose’s 117th birth anniversary, and I had saved this poster from the 1940s – a time when Kanpur was still Cawnpore – for this day to post on Cutting the Chai.

Gory Kali-inspired 1940s poster salutes Subhash Chandra Bose's patriotism

I assume that eight decades ago the sensibilities of the public were different from what it is now. This poster is obviously inpired by the myth of Chhinnamasta, one of the ten major forms of Hindu goddess Kali, who holds her own self-decapitated head in one hand.

The blood from Netaji’s severed head splatters on a map of India with the words “Jai Hind” (the Indian National Army’s battle cry) written in bold letters and lifeless heads lie around his feet. The text below the image says, “सुभाष चन्द्र बोसे कि अपूर्व भेट” (Subhash Chandra Bose’s unique gift).

This poster printed at National Press, Cawnpore was published by Shyamsundar Lal Agrawal from Chowk, Cawnpore.

An excerpt from a post I had written eight years ago:

‘Netaji’ – a name which might rank as one of the most common prefixes for youth clubs. The locality where I grew up, also had its fair share of ‘Netaji Clubs,’ and two portraits adorned the sitting room wall of the Bengali families – Rabindranath Tagore and Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose. January 23 every year was the big day. On that shivering cold winter morning, year after year, we kids were wide awake well before dawn. As the prabhat pheri (literally morning walk, but not exactly) did its rounds along the winding roads of the city, the chant “Netaji tumi phire esho (Netaji you come back),” sounded almost a plead. The mystery surrounding his death gave him a different stature and different versions did their regular rounds. The conspiracy theories were especially interesting and almost convincing.

Varadarajan Mudaliar, the man who inspired Nayagan and Dayavan, on the cover of Illustrated Weekly of India
Bollywood, Bombay, History, Magazines, Movies, Others

Illustrated Weekly cover: Varadarajan ‘Nayagan’ Mudaliar, the ‘most feared man in Bombay’

The Bombay underworld, is full of stories fit to be made into movies and they have been – lots of them. One of these films unfailingly finds a place in the list of the best movies ever made in India – Maniratnam’s 1987 film Nayagan based on the life of Varda Bhai (Varadarajan Mudaliar) who was a part of the famed ganglord trio of Bombay of the 1970s. The other two were Haji Mastan and Karim Lala.

Nayagan‘s Hindi remake Feroz Khan’s Dayavan (1988) though, like most Feroz Khan films, wouldn’t find a place in any of the best film lists.

This May 1985 cover of The Illustrated Weekly of India presents Don Varadarajan Mudaliar as the “most feared man in Bombay.”

Varadarajan Mudaliar, the man who inspired Nayagan and Dayavan, on the cover of Illustrated Weekly of India

Godfather. Introducing: Don Varadarajan Mudaliar the most feared man in Bombay today (The Illustrated Weekly of India. May 12-18, 1985)

I watched the Maniratnam classic a decade later when it was released in dubbed in Hindi as Velu Nayakan.

Cinema century: 3 May, 1913 - Raja Harishchandra and the beginnings of a national obsession
Bollywood, Bollywood Videos, Downloads, History, India, India Public Domain Movie Project, Movies, Videos

Cinema century: May 3, 1913 – Raja Harishchandra and the beginnings of a national obsession

(This is an edited version of a post first published on April 21, 2012, that was also cross-posted on my other blog at

In India, cinema isn’t just a passion. It is an obsession. We have perhaps inherited this acute addiction from the man who started it all, 100 years ago – the Father of Indian Cinema Dhundiraj Govind Phalke (1870-1944). Dadasaheb Phalke as we now better know him as, held the first show of Raja Harishchandra what is widely considered to be the first Indian feature film at Bombay’s Olympia Picture Palace on April 21, 1913. The commercial screenings started 12 days later, on May 3, 1913 at Coronation Cinematograph and Variety Hall, Sandhurst Road, Girgaum, Bombay.

Cinema century: 3 May, 1913 - Raja Harishchandra and the beginnings of a national obsession

Most of us have seen only fleeting glimpses of this bud, that gradually grew to the mammoth movie industry that we have in India today. The actual film title spelt the name of the film as Raja Harischandra, minus an.

Since Phalke made the best of the technology available to him at his time, I thought it would be a tribute to the innovator in him to convert the film in 3D. Using YouTube’s 3D conversion technology you can also watch Raja Harishchandra in 3D. In the video embedded below, click on the settings (gear) icon and the 3D link will appear from there choose greyscale and also the type of 3D glasses you own to watch how India’s first feature looks in a 3D avatar (Don’t expect an Avatar though).

Here are 11 minutes and 19 seconds of what is left of the landmark film (India’s film archival history isn’t something that we can be very proud of).

This movie has been posted both on YouTube as well as the Internet Archive as part of the India Public Domain Movie Project.

[Download Raja Harishchandra (1913) AVI 192.2 MB | MP4 56.3 MB | OGG 41.6 MB]

What you see above is apparently only the first reel of the movie. This video has been extracted and edited from a 1967 documentary DG Phalke, The First Indian Film Director 1870-1944 produced by the Indian National Film Archive.

There is some confusion on whether this film, preserved in the National Film Archives of India, is the actual 1913 film or a 1917 remake of the film.

Raja Harishchandra. A performance with 57,000 photographs. A picture two miles long. All for only three annas.

This is how Phalke, Indian cinema’s first marketing wizard promoted his creation. Phalke had to make his soundless cinema with higher ticket prices appeal to an audience who were hooked to stage plays, then the reigning form of entertainment.

Raja Harishchandra wasn’t the first Indian film, but it was the first indigenously produced feature length film and Phalke’s story of making the film is as interesting as a movie plot. Harishchandrachi Factory, the 2009 Marathi film on Dadasaheb Phalke that centres on the making of the movie is a must watch. Had the film not been a biopic, it could have also passed as a well-made subtle comedy. This UTV produced Paresh Mokashi directed movie was also India’s official nomination to the Oscars for Best Foreign Language Film. My suggestion is that you view Raja Harishchandra before you sit down to watch Harishchandrachi Factory. When you see the same scenes recreated almost a century later on a film canvas that’s much wider, the impact is that much greater (Harishchandrachi Factory, along with Raja Harishchandra was chosen as one of the top 100 films of Indian cinema by

Phalke is often compared to the French film pioneer Georges Melies, both considered the medium as an art form and also had expertise in magic tricks and that knowledge they made use of for special effects in their films.

Raja Harishchandra. A powerfully instructive subject from the Indian mythology. First film of Indian manufacture. Specially prepared at enormous cost. Original scenes from the sacred city of Benaras. Sure to appeal all Hindu patrons (from a pamphlet promoting the film)

The entire show, apart from the movie included other forms of non-film entertainment as well. Raja Harishchandra was also exhibited in London in 1914.

The story for the movie was from the great epic Mahabharata and espouses the belief that truth always triumphs. Harishchandra was a legendary pious king of Ayodhya who sacrificed his kingdom, wife and child for the sake of truth. Harishchandrachi Factory tells us that this story was a favourite with Phalke’s sons and his eldest son Bhalachandra Phalke also played Rohitashwa, Harishchandra’s son in the movie. Another important reason why this story was chosen for the film was that Harishchandra was a popular theme in the Marathi and Urdu theatre of the day. The story again found itself in another first-of-its-kind movie, the first Marathi talkie, V Shantaram’s Ayodhyecha Raja (1932), which was also released in Hindi, making it the first Indian film to be released in two languages.

Raja Harishchandra was shot in a bunglow (apart from other outdoor locations) called Mathura Bhawan (owned by one Mathuradas Makanji) located on a street in Dadar, Bombay that is now rightly named Dada Saheb Phalke Road.

The acting was in traditional Indian folk theatre style, the influence of which and Parsi Theatre were to remain on Indian acting for decades. In the absence of sound (that was to make an appearance in Indian cinema 18 years later with Alam Ara), there were title inserts between shots explaining the plot. In Raja Harishchandra (and most of the films of the silent era) these title plates were in two languages – English, the language of the elite and Hindi (or other Indian languagea) – the language that the masses understood.

The Phalkes were also perhaps the first Indian film family. His entire family, including him, his wife Saraswati Phalke, eight children (five sons and three daughters) were all involved in the filmmaking process, with Saraswati handling some of the technical process including developing the film. His daughter, Mandakini Phalke, was in fact one of the first female actresses on the Indian screen at a time when acting in films was a much derided profession.

Dhundiraj Govind Phalke was to follow the initial success of Raja Harishchandra with other landmark films such as Lanka Dahan (1917). A prolific filmmaker, Phalke went on to make over a hundred films but died in poverty.

Of the original 3700 feet of the original film (that took 6 months and 27 days to put together) only some fragments could be preserved by the National Film Archive of India, Pune which includes portions of the first and the last reel of the film.

If a mere thousand words aren’t sufficient to quench your thirst for Phalke info, head to is a (albeit unorganised) treasure trove of information on the Father of Indian Cinema.

Recommended reading: Saga of birth of first Indian movie (Source)

Dadasaheb returned from London. A convenient and spacious place was necessary for the filming of movies. He began a search for it. By then, Laxmi Printing Art Works had shifted from Mathuradas Makanji’s Mathura Bhavan to Sankli Street at Byculla, so that his bungalow at Dadar was vacant. While in Mumbai, Dadasaheb had lived in this bungalow for seven years. He now called on Mathuradasseth, who was glad that a painstaking, imaginative artist like Dadasaheb wished to start a new venture in his bungalow. He handed it over to Dadasaheb who then shifted his family from Ismail Building at Charni Road to this bungalow. This birthplace of Indian Film Industy still stands at Dadasaheb Phalke Road, Dadar, with the name ‘Mathura Bhavan’. The subject for a movie was already under consideration. In his magazine Suvarnamala, Dadasaheb had already written a story, ‘Surabaichi Kahani’, depicting the ill effects of drinking. Before selecting the story, Dadasaheb saw the American movies screened in Mumbai such as Singomar, Protect, etc. in order to get a proper idea of the type of movies which the audiences like. He found that movies based on mystery and love were patronised by Europeans, Parsis and people in the lower strata of society. So, if a movie is to be public-oriented, its subject should be such as would appeal to the middle class people and women, so that they would see it in large numbers, and it should also highlight Indian culture.

Dadasaheb knew well that cultural and religious feelings were rooted deep in the heart. However materialistic the world may become, whatever the extent to which the outward face of religion changes due to the effects of the machine age, the common man’s faith does not languish. (This is evident even today). Dadasaheb, therefore, decided to select a story, which would be well known to people all over India. Which one then? Shrikrishna’s life or Savitri’s, the ideal married woman devoted to her husband? Or king Harishchandra’s, the sublime apostle of Truth? He started thinking constantly about it.

The machinery reached Mumbai port from London in May 1912. In the meantime, Dadasaheb had prepared a dark room and arrangements for processing the film, in his home.

Work was on for constructing a small glass studio in the compound of the bungalow. The imported machinery was brought home and was cleaned by members of the family. Dadasaheb set it up within about four days with the help of the sketch accompanying it. There were no servants. He taught Saraswatibai the rather complex and laborious work of perforating the film.

Saraswatibai worked on the film at night after finishing the household chores of the day. It took three and a half hours to perforate 200 ft. of film. (If it were to be 1,000 ft. like they use it now, it would have taken at least eighteen hours). When Saraswatibai’s arms hurt, the children would pitch in for a short while. Besides, Dadasaheb too would attend to it whenever he had time, as mentioned by Saraswatibai in the issue of the weekly Dhanurdhari dated 16th February 1946. During the day, when she was free from her work in the afternoon, Dadasaheb taught her how to develop a film. She became proficient in that too. He had also taught her to load a camera. Night and day, the whole family was engaged in this work. Now it was time to try filming. So Dadasaheb filmed the fights of the boys and the playfulness of the girls living in the building opposite. He then processed the film and made a print. He had brought a projector from Germany, which he used to screen the film on a wall. All of them were satisfied with the result.

Dadasaheb decided to use the story of ‘Raja Harishchandra’, because a play on that subject was very much popular on the Marathi and Urdu stage. He wrote the script for it and also started making sketches for stage settings, costumes etc. What about the money, however? How to go about it? The investors’ trust must be earned. Knowing that every one is fascinated by magic, he started making moves for a short film.

Dadasaheb planted some peas in a pot-and placed a camera in front of it. As transformations took place in the seeds, they were to be filmed by ‘one turn, one block’ method for which purpose, the camera was kept firmly fixed in one place where it would not be even slightly disturbed, for one and a quarter months. Actually while viewing the short film on the screen, it lasted for about one and a quarter minutes. It showed the seed growing, sprouting and changing into a climber. Dadasaheb and Saraswatibai did the developing and printing of this film together.

They were naturally eager to see how it had turned out. It was a test of the ordeals they had had to face so far. Dadasaheb had a projector, but there was no electric supply in Dadar at the time. As a result, the short film Growth of a Plant was viewed on a screen hung up in the home, using a carbide lamp. Seeing on the screen the growth of the seeds since sowing, up to the stage of the pods appearing on the creeper, the children who had gathered there clapped with joy. The Phalke couple was overjoyed now that their long and strenuous efforts were going to bear fruit. Dadasaheb mentions all this in his interview published in the issue of Kesari dated 19th August 1913.

This short film was to be viewed using electricity. Dadasaheb learnt that at Kalbadevi Mr Sethna’s shop had both electricity and a projector. He called on Mr Sethna and expressed his desire and, the latter agreed. Then a select group, was shown the Growth of a Plant. Mr Nadkarni, who had stood behind Dadasaheb, giving financial support, was, of, course, present. He was so overwhelmed seeing Dadasaheb’s magic that he was dumbstruck. He only said, “Dadasaheb, you have sowed today the seeds of an indigenous cinema industry by sowing pea”. Seeing this film, some persons offered a loan to Dadasaheb. Among them was Mr Narayanrao Devhare, a renowned photographer in the Fort area.
Dadasaheb did not, however, have anything to offer by way of security for a loan. He asked Saraswatibai for her jewellery and she too, most willingly, handed over to him all of it except the mangalsutr’a. To bring the story of Raja Harishchandra to the screen, Dadasaheb had to go through a harder test of character than Harishchandra and to depict the nobility of Taramati, he had to make his wife a beggar-maid.

Thus, the question of capital was taken care of. N-ow there was no problem in advertising for artistes and other employees. So he published advertisements in Induprakash and other prominent newspapers: ‘Wanted actors, carpenters, washermen, barbers and painters. Bipeds who are drunkards, loafers or ugly should not bother to apply for actor. It would do if those who are handsome and without physical defect are dumb. Artistes must be good actors. Those who are given to immoral living or have ungainly looks or manners should not take pains to visit’. Even in spite of clear instructions, such persons came in large numbers. Dadasaheb felt so harassed that he decided to discontinue the advertisement and scout for the artists himself.

One Pandurang Gadadhar Sane, doing female roles in a theatre company named ‘Natyakala’ in Mumbai and another Gajanan Wasudev Sane, doing roles in Urdu plays, joined Dadasaheb’s Phalke Film Company on a salary of Rs 40 per month. One Mr Dattatray Damodar alias Dadasaheb Dabke, an acquaintance of Gajanan Wasudev Sane, had a good physique and an imposing personality. Shri Phalke took him in his company and gave him the role of Raja Harishchandra. For the role of Rohidas, however, he could not get a boy because he too would have to go with Harishchandra and Taramati to live in forests, away from society. To complicate the matter further, Rohidas was to die in this movie. Whoever was approached for his son to do the role said that it was impossible for him to see his son’s distress and ultimate death in the movie. At last Dadasaheb decided to assign the role to his son Bhalchandra. He was the first child actor of the Indian movie world. Now the problem was about the heroine Taramati.

In response to the advertisement, four ugly prostitutes visited him. So Dadasaheb put in bold type in the advertisements: ‘Only good-looking women should come for interview’. One day, a young woman with a passable appearance reported. She was someone’s mistress. As she was prepared to work, Dadasaheb had her do the rehearsals for four days. On the fifth day, her master came to the place of the rehearsal and shouted at her, “Are you not ashamed, acting in a movie?” and dragged her away. In his eyes, working in cinema was less honourable than her profession. Dadasaheb thumped his head in despair.

Two other women from the same profession came to stay at Dadasaheb’s house. Saraswatibai had got to look after them as her guests. Her elder brother-in-law thoroughly disapproved of it. She had, however, no other way. She did not deem it infra-dig. On top of it, the two women only ate and drank for two days and left without doing anything for Taramati’s role.

Ladies from respectable families were not prepared even to look in the direction of acting in cinema. So, throwing all embarrassment to the winds, Dadasaheb started visiting the red light areas of Grant Road, Kandewadi etc. He could not, however, find any woman who could fit in the role of Taramati. On the contrary, he had to listen to many unsavoury things from those women about working in films. One of them said that if she acted in a movie, she would be ex-communicated by her village people. Another said, “You get permission for me from my master to work in cinema”. With a couple of better-looking whores, he had a different kind of experience. They asked, “What will you pay for working in cinema?” Dadasaheb promptly replied, “1 will pay you even forty rupees a month”. They shot back contemptuously: “We earn that much in one night, many times. So what’s the use of working in cinema?” Dadasaheb kept mum. He happened to come across a girl from Goa with good features and, on asking her, she directed him to her mother who said, “You marry my daughter. Then she will work in cinema”. Dadasaheb was struck dumb.

Dadasaheb did not give up his search for Taramati, but there was no sign of finding one. Tired and dispirited, he was once having tea in Gokhale’s restaurant at Grant Road, when his eyes fell on a fair complexioned boy with smart features who was serving there as a waiter. Dadasaheb had an idea. He asked the boy about working in cinema. He was getting two meals per day and ten rupees as salary per month. On Dadasaheb’s offering to pay fifteen rupees, he promptly accepted. His name was Krishna Hari alias Anna Salunke. As in the case of drama companies, Dadasaheb’s employees had both their meals at his house and auntie (Saraswatibai) cooked for about forty people without tiring or complaining.

Dadasaheb collected the local boys as well as boys from elsewhere for acting in the movies. He also recruited those who were no .longer good enough for acting in plays, havmg lost pristine tenderness of voice. Casting was now ready. The role of Taramati was assigned to Krishna Salunke. (In some places it is stated that Pandurang Sane acted as Taramati, but there is evidence that Salunke had done the role). DD Dabke was Harishchandra, Bhalchandra was Rohidas, and Gajanan Wasudev Sane was Vishwamitra. Besides, Dattatray Kshirsagar, Dattatray Telang, Ganpat Shinde, Vishnu Hari Salunke, Nath Telang were also given important roles. The make-up of Anna Salunke posed a problem: He was not willing to shave off his moustache, as his father was alive. How could Taramati have moustache? Dadasaheb persuaded him and his father, and Krishna Hari alias Anna Salunke became the first heroine of the Indian film world.

Dadasaheb had laid down that men actors doing female roles should wear their hair long like women and take care of it. After coming to the studio they had to wear sarees and do women’s chores like sifting rice, making flour etc. The object was that they should look woman-like on the screen and not sloppy. Rehearsals were started but it was a Herculean task to get these greenhorns to act. There were many among them who had not seen a movie. It was not possible for them to know what acting meant. Dadasaheb showed them again and again how to act. An actor named Sakharam Jadhav could not make an entry like a woman; so Dadasaheb himself wore a saree and showed him repeatedly how to make an entry. When acting for such scenes, Dadasaheb had to wear a saree so often. To show the actors how to express emotions, a number of photographs from English periodicals showing expressions on different occasions were hung up at the place of the rehearsals. Exercise was compulsory for every actor. The company gave them milk to drink regularly.

Dadasaheb viewed many foreign movies,in order to study how to write a script and how to make a shooting script. He accordingly completed writing of the script of his movie. Rehearsals were also done. The shooting script was likewise ready. Now production was to begin. Dadasaheb took upon himself the responsibility for script, direction, art direction, make-up, editing and film processing. He could have done the photography too but as he was shouldering so many responsibilities single-handed, he asked his boyhood friend Triambak Balaji Telang to come to Mumbai. The evening pooja at the Triambakeshwar temple was the hereditary job of the Telang family. Although Triambak Telang was himself a hidebound conservative Brahmin, Dadasaheb had taught him still photography as a hobby. On receiving Dadasaheb’s letter, Telang entrusted the responsibility of the pooja to his brother and came to Mumbai to lend a hand in his boyhood friend’s new venture. Dadasaheb taught Telang all the mechanics of film photography and entrusted that responsibility to him. He also gave his two sons small parts in Raja Harishchandra. In short, Dadasaheb was also the progenitor of the various divisions and sub-divisions of film production.

The casting was complete. Jewellery and costumes were going to cost a goodly sum. Besides, it would have taken a lot of time to get together all the material like Raja Harishchandra’s costume, crown, wig, swords and shields, bows and arrows.. About the same time, Rajapurkar Natak Mandali (a drama company) was in Mumbai. Many of its shows were mythological. Dadasaheb already knew the proprietor of the company, Babajirao Rane. He called on Babajirao and acquainted him with his idea of indigenous movie production. Babajirao was himself a man of imagination and daring. He was impressed by Dadasaheb’s project and derring-do and, wishing to give a helping hand to this new indigenous industry, he willingly asked Dadasaheb to take whatever material he wanted. Not only that, he also asked Dadasaheb to make use of whoever from his team of actors were useful to him. As the cast was already decided upon, the latter offer could not be made use of, but much of the problem of costumes was solved by Rane. Dadasaheb thanked him profusely. Saraswatibai’s brother’s Belgaokar Natak Mandali as also Saraswati Natak Mandali offered sincere help but it was not needed. Dadasaheb, however, appreciated their support.

Dadasaheb had designed the costumes and stage scenes from the paintings of Ravi Verma and the famous artist Dhurandhar. In those days, silk sarees were available with big borders with big end-scarf. He got Taramati’s dress made of costly, high-faluting silk sarees by having some designs printed on them, which were suitable for the screen. He, however, bought the wigs for Taramati, Harishchandra and Rohidas at his own expense. He also painted the scenes of rajmahal, jungle, mountains, fields, caves etc. himself on curtains.

After the rainy season, the work of erecting sets started in the compound of the bungalow. Painter Rangnekar was appointed on Rs 60 per month. In the meantime, it was decided to do some out-door shooting at Wangani, a village on Mumbai-Pune railway line. A funny incident took place on the first day. An actor, who was to do a female role, was not willing to remove his moustache while his father was alive. Dadasaheb had to entreat him as in the case of Krishna Salunke and thereafter all the actors and workers left for Wangani.

Seeing the troupe of people wielding swords, shields, spears and wearing unusual clothes, a whispering campaign was afoot in the village. Some frightened villagers informed the village Patil, ‘Some armed dacoits have entered our village’. The Patil was also shocked and immediately reported the matter to the Fouzdar who arrived in a short time with a police party and left for the temple where the troupe had lodged. Those persons pleaded imploringly,
‘Sir, we are not dacoits. We work in cinema and have come here for shooting’. When, however, no one in this country knew what film shooting was, had never seen one, how would the Wanganikars know it? The Fouzdar did not believe their story, arrested them and took them to the police station.

Presently, completing some urgent tasks in Mumbai, Dadasaheb reached Wangani. He came to know what had happened. Promptly calling on the Patil and the Fouzdar, he explained to them what cinema was, what was meant by its shooting and took them with him to show them a demonstration of film shooting. Without loading the camera with a film, he went through the motions of filming a scene in. which Raja Harishchandra wields a sword to behead Taramati who had been sentenced to death. God Shankar appears and: stops Harishchandra. Viewing the scene and getting an idea of Dadasaheb’s new venture, the Fouzdar and the Patil apologised to him and released the arrested persons. The shooting then started without any hitch.

A heart-warming incident took place during the shooting at Wangani. When Bhalchandra, in the role of Rohidas, was playing with the children of Rishis, he fell on a rock and started bleeding from the head. Dadasaheb always carried a first-aid box with him. On being treated, the bleeding stopped a good deal, but Bhalchandra was still unconscious. Some persons suggested that he should be taken to Mumbai for treatment and, after he had completely recovered, the shooting could be resumed. However, a scene was to be filmed in which Rohidas is dead and his body is carried and placed on the funeral pyre. As Bhalchandra was unconscious, he would not make any movement as wanted for the scene. Besides, waiting until Bhalchandra was well enough for the shooting and reconstructing the whole scene, would have meant time and money. In order, therefore, to avoid both, Dadasaheb stoically got the scene filmed in that difficult situation. After it was over, however, he broke down. When he saw the scene on the screen, his handkerchief was drenched with tears.

It was financially impossible to go to Kashi and shoot some scenes there, however much Dadasaheb would have loved it. The episodes happening in Kashi were quite a few. Ultimately, they had to be filmed at Triambakeshwar. The unit camped at Triambakeshwar for about a month. It was a family of about fifty people, comprising artistes, technicians and other staff. All of them lived in a building near the studio. At the time of outdoor shooting, meals were sent from Dadasaheb’s home. Auntie (Saraswatibai) did all this work with care and consideration. Telang’s wife helped her.

Dadasaheb did not okay a shot unless he was completely satisfied, notwithstanding how much the photographer and others admired it. He did not mind the amount of time and money it cost. He was, of course, exceedingly eager and anxious to confirm that the shooting done was all right. Even for outdoor shooting he would make arrangements in advance for developing the film. He would develop at night some of the film shot during the day and if it were not to his liking, he would shoot it again the next day. He was thus so engrossed in his work at night that he not only did not get enough sleep but also could not often take time off for his evening meal. He did not get time even to read the daily newspaper. As he worked very meticulously, it took 6 months and 27 days to produce Raja Harishchandra, a film of 3,700 ft., a mere four reels. As a result, the expenditure too went up.

Confronting numerous difficulties, Dadasaheb completed the first Indian movie. In earlier days, a play started with an introductory episode. Somebody floated the idea that this movie should also have such a beginning. Everyone suggested that Dadasaheb should be the compere and auntie should be the Nati. She did not, however, agree. Dadasaheb tried to persuade her: “Why do you object to standing by my side? Your two children will be with us and the cameraman is our Telang. Why should you then refuse?” Auntie said, “I will help you in all ways from outside. I won’t mind working even as a coolie, but 1 would not like to appear on the screen”. Others too urged her, but she did not budge. At last, Pandurang Sane did the role of Nati and filming of this episode was also over. Dadasaheb then began his efforts to get the film screened. All this information is from an article containing Saraswatibai’s memoirs.

Saraswatibai stated in an article in the May 1962 issue of the magazine Shreeyut: “He pledged all his family, all his life to make the cinema industry indigenous”.