On December 16, 1896, the Swami with Mr. and Mrs. Sevier left London for the Continent. It was also arranged that Mr. Goodwin sailing from Southampton would meet them at Naples. The Swami rejoiced that he was free again. He said to Mr. and Mrs. Sevier, 'Now I have but one thought and that is India. I am looking forward to India!'
On the eve of his departure an English friend asked, 'Swami, how do you like your motherland now after four years' experience of the luxurious, glorious, powerful West?' His significant reply was: 'India I loved before I came away. Now the very dust of India has become holy to me; it is now the holy land—the place of pilgrimage, the Tirtha.'
The party travelled to Milan via Dover, Calais, and the Mont Cenis, and had a short tour through Italy. As the train left Florence for Rome, the Swami was full of emotion, for of all cities in Europe he was most desirous to see Rome. One week was spent in this imperial city. At Rome the Swami was exceedingly delighted to witness the various places of historic importance—its magnificent seats of learning, arts, and religion. When the party left Rome, however, the Swami was not sad, for he realized that each day was bringing him nearer to the desired event—the departure for India. From Rome the next move was to Naples, where they were to embark. The ship arrived at last from Southampton, bringing Mr. Goodwin as one of its passengers, and left Naples for Colombo on December 30, 1896, with the Swami and his disciples among others, on board.
The home-coming of the Swami was a great event in the history of modern India, for a united India rose to do him honour. For about four years the Indian public had been made aware that the Swami was doing the great work of presenting and interpreting Hinduism to the Western nations with signal success. All India looked to him as to some mighty Acharya of old, born again to revivify the fading glories of the Eternal Religion and to carry her banner throughout the whole civilized world. New forces had been at play in India ever since his triumph at the Parliament of Religions. Through the study of the Swami's lectures and utterances, the eyes of the educated Indians were opened to the hidden beauties and treasures of their religion and they came more and more to see how Vedanta alone could claim the supreme position of being a universal religion.
In the early morning, on January 15, 1897, the coast of Ceylon could be seen in the distance. It was a beautiful sight in the roseate hues of the rising sun. This was India, and the Swami was beside himself with excitement. But he was totally unaware that he was going to meet representatives of all religious sects and social bodies who had come to welcome him. One of his brother-disciples had come to Ceylon to meet him; others were on the way. In Madras and in Calcutta there was great excitement over his impending arrival. He was to find that he had become the 'man of the hour' in India.
When he arrived at Colombo, jubilant shouts arose from the seething mass of humanity covering the quays. A multitude flung itself upon him to touch his feet. A huge procession was formed with flags at its head. Religious hymns were intoned and flowers strewn before his path. Hundreds of visitors, rich and poor, brought him offerings. The cynosure of all eyes, the Swami appeared in the midst of that procession like a conqueror returning from his victory, crowned with glory—not a conqueror of earthly dominions, but a conqueror of hearts, both Eastern and Western.
In Ceylon he had to address several meetings in response to the welcome from the public. He stayed in the island for about ten days. As he crossed the sea and proceeded towards the north, everywhere he was received with most enthusiastic greetings. Triumphal processions were organized— bands played, cannons boomed, rockets shot forth as a mark of welcome, Rajas drew his carriage, and people vied with one another to show him honour and respect.
What a great difference now from the events of five years back! Then the Swami passed through these places footsore and weary —an unknown wanderer with a begging bowl in his hand. But the Swami knew that the extraordinary reception given to him was but a spontaneous expression of love of the people for the Ideal which he represented. He was now all the more convinced that religion represented the very heart of Indian national life, and all along the way he broadcasted his ideas about the regeneration of India in a series of brilliant speeches.