Swami Vivekananda and Madame Calve

Madame Calve was one of the celebrated singer artiste of Chicago during 1890s. In fact, she was equally famous in both Europe and America. In the year 1893, Swami Vivekananda also had attracted some attention as a spiritual personality in a small but significant section of American elite after his address to the Chicago World Parliament of Religions.

As it happened, one evening Madame Calve, during her performance in the opera, suddenly felt stage fear and anxiety that was almost unknown to her. It was difficult for this talented artist to perform effectively. She almost backed out twice, during each break. But the organizers persuaded her to carry on. Ultimately, she could finish her show in a grand fashion. After the rousing exit, while clapping was still in her ears, she ran to her room only to be told that her beloved daughter was no more; she had died due to burns while Madame Calve was performing her act. Can we say: Her anxiety and stage fright was a form of extrasensory perception – a form of clairvoyance!

Madame Calve fainted. How could she live now? Her success lost its charm for her in this grim tragedy. Thrice she attempted suicide out of grief and depression.

Someone suggested her to seek solace in the company of the Hindu monk – Swami Vivekananda- who could have some spiritual powers to soothe her nerves and calm her mind! But Madame Calve refused, she was not inclined to visit the Swami. After her last unsuccessful suicidal attempt, as the destiny had it, she was brought to the house where the Swami stayed. She unintentionally came, as if in trance, and sat in a chair next to Swamiji’s room.

She was in dreamy state, or mental blankness, when she heard a consoling voice coming from the room of Swami Vivekananda: “Come, my child. Don’t be afraid.” She got up and went to the Swami’s room as though hypnotized. Later they became good friends.

In her own words the full story be better told.

Madame Calve wrote:

“It has been my good fortune and my joy to know a man who truly ‘walked with God’, a noble being, a saint, a philosopher, and a true friend. His influence upon my spiritual life was profound. He opened up new horizons before me, enlarging and unifying my religious ideas and ideals; teaching me a broader understanding of truth. My soul will bear him eternal gratitude.”

“… He (Swami Vivekananda) was lecturing in Chicago one year when I was there; and as I was at that time greatly depressed in mind and body, I decided to go to him, having seen how he had helped some of my friends. When I entered the room, I stood before him in silence for a moment. He was seated in a noble attitude of meditation, his eyes on the ground. After a pause he spoke without looking up.”

‘My child,’ he said, ‘what a troubled atmosphere you have about you: Be calm: It is essential.’ Then in a quiet voice, untroubled and aloof, this man who did not even know my name talked to me of my secret problems and anxieties. He spoke of things that I thought were unknown even to my nearest friends. It seemed miraculous, supernatural.

‘How do you know all this? I asked at last. ‘Who has talked of me to you?’

He looked at me with his quiet smile as though I were a child who has asked a foolish question.

‘No one has talked to me,’ he answered gently. ‘Do you think that it is necessary? I read you as in an open book.’

Finally it was time for me to leave.

‘You must forget,’ he said as I rose. ‘Become gay and happy again. Build up your health. Do not dwell in silence upon your sorrows. Transmute you emotions into some form of external expression. Your spiritual health requires it. Your art demands it.’

“I left him, deeply impressed by his words and his personality. He seemed to have emptied my brain of all its feverish complexities and placed there instead his clean calming thoughts. I became once again vivacious and cheerful, thanks to the effect of his powerful will. He did not use any of the hypnotic or mesmeric influences. It was the strength of his character, the purity and intensity of his purpose that carried conviction. It seemed to me, when I came to know him better, that he lulled one’s chaotic thoughts into a state of peaceful acquiescence, so that one could give complete and undivided attention to his word.”

Dr. Hans Jacobs says, “There can be no greater inspiration for strength and power than the idea of the Indian Vedanta that the soul is essentially divine… Actually the more we can think of our divine heritage the more divine we become. Error brings about sorrow and that is ultimately the cause of weakness. Consequently remedy is seen in strength, and strength is conveyed by basing oneself not on the individual but universal.”

Source: ‘Swamiji and Madame Calve’, by Swami Tathagatananda, in “Meditation on Swami Vivekananda”, The Vedanta Society of New York, 1994.