CHENNAI:The cacophony inside the Theosophical Society is of a different sort. Birdcalls of unusual kinds, the pattering of a squirrel and even a mongoose, the crackling of dry leaves and a bicycle whirring past. Inside the prayer hall, people are paying a silent tribute to the statue of Henry Steele Olcott, the co-founder and first president of the Theosophical Society. Opposite the statue, a plaque reads ‘There is no religion higher than truth.’
Every year, the Society celebrates Olcott’s death anniversary on February 17 as ‘Adyar Day’, as a homage to all the known and unknown people who contributed to the Society. From 1882 when the campus first came up on 28 acres, the now 250-acre Society has been celebrating Adyar Day since 1922. The day also marks the death anniversary of J Krishnamurthy, the renowned Indian philosopher and teacher who used to be part of the Theosophical Society.
Formed initially in New York city by Colonel Olcott and Madam Blavatsky, the society with its headquarters in the heart of Adyar began to advance theosophy, the seeking of knowledge of the presumed mysteries of being and nature.
The campus was developed with a vast amount of vegetation, in order to lend the atmosphere of calm, and the silence in the campus blocks the visitors of the outside world.
When Harihara Raghavan, the general manager of the Society refers to ‘Adyar’, he refers to the Theosophical Society. “Adyar is an oasis of peace, with the calls of birds, the river and the voices of silence,” he says. “When the Society began, Adyar was not even a part of Chennai, it was part of Chengalpet,” he adds. “South Madras has developed because of the Theosophical Society and Guindy Park.”
The sprawling campus, with the trees, the quaint buildings like the dispensary and a post office, and the representative monuments from many religions is a life away from the city. “We get around 600 visitors every day. Many of them come to just walk around — it is not necessary that everyone needs to understand what the Society stands for.”
The Society has worked towards the cause of education right from its conception. “Colonel Olcott has done much for the upliftment of the downtrodden. He started five schools to reach out to the children from those castes who were not allowed in regular schools,” says Raghavan. The Olcott Memorial School is still completely free for all students.
Today, Adyar has become a busy commercial hub and the river is not the pristine waterbody it was meant to be. But the society sits tranquil, cut off from the chaos of the surroundings, paying tribute to its founders in its own way.