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 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