Yoga and the World’s Fair

In 1893, the World’s Fair functioned as a sort of preview of the 20th century – it was many fairgoers first taste of electricity, and many inventions that would define the next several decades were previewed there. Hot dogs and hamburgers may have been introduced (though that’s one of those things where it depends on who you ask and whose stories you believe).  The list of “firsts” goes on a while, but one of them I never knew about until today was that it was the first known incidence of Yoga being brought to the United States.

The fair wasn’t strictly confined to the main fairgrounds at Jackson Park. There was also a “World’s Congress Auxillary” building, where the major philosophers met and debated. The best attended “congress” there was the Women’s Congress (which probably inspired the mistaken belief that the World’s Congress Auxillary – now the Museum of the Art Institute – was the Women’s Building at the fair).

From September 11-27 was the first Parliament of the World’s Religions meeting in the building. This meeting is now regarded as the first major attempt to get an interfaith dialogue going, particularly between Eastern and Western religions.

It is also often said to be the first incidence of yoga in the United States. The opening address was by Swami Vivekananda, whose short speech against sectarian violence and fanaticism really brought the house down. His short speech didn’t mention yoga specifically, but the swami is generally regarded as one of the people – if not THE guy – who brought Yoga to the west, and his first foothold into the west came with his speech at the building that is now the art museum on Michigan Avenue. Sept 11, 1893, is listed by many sources as the date of the “first incidence of yoga in the United States.”

Yoga certainly came up during the Parliament of World Religions. The term itself came up in address on September 13 by Rev. T.E. Slater of Bangalore, India, in his paper on “Concessions to Native Religious Ideas, Having Special Reference to Hindooism (sic).” The speech outlined some of the basics of Hinduism and pointed out that Christians and Hindus weren’t really as different as they might think,  though after a few words of praise for how religious the Hindu people were, he spent half the speech subtly pointing out why he thought the Christianity was better than Hinduism.

Yoga was perhaps better represented in a speech by P.C. Mozoomdar, who said:

"This process of seeking and finding God within is an intense spiritual 
culture known by various names in various countries; in India we call it
Yoga. The self- consecrated devotee finds an immersion in the depths of
the indwelling deity. God's reason becomes man's reason, God's love
becomes man's love. God and man become one. Introspection finds the
universal soul — the over-soul of your Emerson — beating in all humanity,
and a human and divine are thus reconciled."

So - Chicago: birthplace of yoga in America.

We'll be back to talking serial killers around here at Chicago Unbelievable tomorrow. 
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