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Home » Documentary on Swami Vivekananda is streaming free on public television in the US

Documentary on Swami Vivekananda is streaming free on public television in the US

by Navni Chawla
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Swami Vivekanand
‘America’s First Guru’ celebrates the story of Swami Vivekananda, who single-handedly sparked a spiritual revolution in America and around the World.

The first-ever full-length documentary on Swami Vivekananda premiered this month on PBS, bringing to American households the incredible life and message of the young monk from India.

The ochre-robed Swami became ‘America’s First Guru’, the documentary title, leaving an indelible mark on America and Western consciousness after creating a sensation with his epoch-making address at the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Chicago in 1893.  

Directed by documentary filmmaker Raja Choudhury, and produced by his A Thousand Suns Academy,  ‘America’s First Guru’ employs vivid reenactments, insightful commentary, and rich archival material to encapsulate how Swami Vivekananda altered the world’s spiritual landscape by opening the Western mind and heart to the eternal wisdom of the East. His universal teachings on self-realization, service, and divinity inherent in all people profoundly impacted generations of free thinkers and spiritual seekers across America, as chronicled in ‘American Veda’ by Phil Goldberg, who appears in the documentary.

US President Barack Obama appears at the opening of the film and, referring to Swami’s 1893 address, says, “He came to my hometown of Chicago. And there, at a great gathering of religious leaders, he spoke of his faith and the divinity in every soul, and the purity of love.”

Parliament

Introducing East to the West at the Parliament of the World’s Religions in 1893, Swami Vivekananda spoke of the divinity in every soul and the purity of love.

Obama acknowledges that the Swami brought Hinduism and Yoga to his country. A succession of Indian gurus, such as Paramahansa Yogananda and Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, followed in his footsteps. The teachings of yoga and meditation that took root in US soil over the decades can be seen now in the mushrooming of yoga studios in every neighborhood and mindfulness becoming mainstream. 

Swami Sarvapriyananda, Minister-in-Charge of the Vedanta Society of New York, founded by Vivekananda, describes the spiritual colossal’s time in the US as “Not just the East and the West, but the past and the future met at that point.”

Before its PBS release, the film saw special preview screenings at various venues in America including at Princeton and  Harvard.

For director Raja Choudhary, making this definitive film on Swami Vivekananda was a deeply personal and spiritually profound undertaking. He was raised in a family steeped in the teachings of Ramakrishna Paramahansa, Vivekananda’s mentor. ‘America’s First Guru’ was driven by Choudhary’s passionate desire to reintroduce Vivekananda’s revolutionary yet pragmatic spiritual vision to a globalized 21st-century audience.

For Choudhary, who won the National Film Award in 2014 in India for ‘The Quantum Indians, ‘ this documentary represents a breakthrough for Indian storytellers. He feels he has shattered a glass ceiling, paving the way for more chronicles of the Indian American experience and India’s deep wisdom, which continues to shape and transform the world.

The titular role of Swami Vivekananda is essayed by Samrat Chakrabarti, a British-American film actor and musician of Indian descent. The New York-based actor has starred in many TV shows and movies, including award-winning ‘Bombay Summer’ starring Tannishtha Chatterjee and ‘Kissing Cousins’ opposite Rebecca Hazelwood

President Barack Obama and Swami Sarvapriyananda of the Vedanta Society of New York feature in the film.

‘America’s First Guru’ has been made possible by the support of WTTW (Window to the World Communications, a non-profit media company), which offered it to the Public Television universe. Production began in late 2022 with major funding and underwriting from The Dharma Endowment Foundation (Michael Singer), Sumir Chadha, Surja Bose, and others. It has already been screened at Cannes and other prestigious film festivals last year.  

The documentary reminds us of Swami Vivekananda’s life, a blazing embodiment of the Vedanta ideal—the realization that the Divine exists in all beings and that service to humanity is the highest form of worship.

‘America’s First Guru’ is streaming free on the PBS Website https://www.pbs.org/show/americas-first-guru/ and on the PBS App https://www.pbs.org/pbs-app/. The film will be shown on the PBS World Channel on May 31 and June 1 across 194 PBS World Stations and will be available on your local Public Television Station too. It will also be available on Prime Video and through international partners in various languages.

Raja Choudhury, filmmaker and spiritual teacher

Raja Choudhury is a celebrated National Film Award-winning filmmaker, architect, and speaker whose acclaimed documentary work spans diverse subjects.

Some of his impactful films include ‘The Modern Mystic,’ about a Muslim Vedantic named Sri M, ‘The Quantum Indians, ’ which captured India’s scientific geniuses Saha, Bose, and Raman and earned the National Film Award in 2014, and ‘Yoga Harmony with Nature’—the Indian government’s official film marking the first International Day of Yoga.

Beyond cinema, Raja Choudhury has established himself as an influential spiritual teacher and guide. He shares his insights through The Shift Network and his popular YouTube channel. He lives in Princeton, NJ, with his family, having created a multi-faceted legacy of uplifting human consciousness through his artistic vision and wisdom.

 

Director Raja Choudhary
Raja Choudhury wrote and directed 'America's First Guru'

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