CHENNAI: The Theosophical Society, Adyar, founded on November 17, 1875 by Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, Colonel Henry Steel Olcott, William Quan Judge and others, celebrated its 141st Anniversary, recently at its premises. As we entered the headquarters hall, members of the society were gathered to witness the commemoration of its founders. “I have been part of the society for 60 years.
Everything about the place — from the ambiance to the ideology makes this place unique,” shared a third-generation member of the society Sudha.
Known for housing some famous trees including the rare mahogany and the 450-year-old Adyar Alamaram, within its campus, the celebrations began with the planting of a Bob tree, by international theosophical president, Tim Boyd and US Consul General Philip A Min. Starting his address with a ‘Vanakkam’, Phillip said, “Of all the things colonel Olcott was, he was an American who opened his heart and mind to the Indian society. Not only did he share his knowledge, but also learned many things from the people here. He has been quoted on it several times…so much that he chose to be in India until his demise in 1907.”
As we look around the age old headquarter hall, embellished symbols and faces of different religions on the façade of the walls, white plastered bust figures of Annie Besant and Olcott; the statue of Blavatsky and chandeliers which without a doubt can be termed as antique and the words ‘There is no greater religion higher than Truth’ — mounted in block letters on the wall, is what grabbed our attention.
Addressing the members about his knowledge on the institution, Tim Boyd elucidated on the context in which the society was established. Something which he says is not relatable to most of us today. “The Theosophical Society was founded in New York society. But, all around the world, many people will associate the history and growth of the place here, in India.”
Pointing to a study done in 1853, he explains the society was founded in 1875, sometimes it’s difficult for us to picture the nature of the context in which it came into being. Out of the people who died in New York during the time, more than 50% were five years old or less. Many young people were dying and in 1865, as the Great American civil war had just come to an end, it was revealed that one out of every 60 in the population died through the course of the war.
“The society began 10 years after the war and prior to that, the phenomenon and the counsel of spiritualism became a rage in the US, especially in the upper part. This undeniable phenomenon of communicating with people who died and the need to reach out to people who had departed were on a rise and this became front page news. This is when the society came into being,” he narrated.
Pointing to the main objectives of the society stated on a marble slab in the hall, Tim continued saying, “Just 10 years prior to the societies founding, it was legal for anyone with enough money to be able to purchase and own another human being,” he said pointing to the act of slavery which was prevalent. “After the statement that ‘humanity is undivided’ was propagated by the society, things changed,” opines Tim.
The society flourished and spread out in all directions, around the world after its establishment in Madras in 1886. “The movement of theosophy was projected around from here,” he averred.
The formation of the society and the theosophical movement has influenced art, education, religion, spirituality, science and even politics. “According to Olcott — In the future, when impartial historians write an account of the religious ideas in the present future, the formation of this theosophical society will not go unnoticed. This statement is in Archives at Adyar and his prediction has come true. We’ve had a glorious past, a wonderful present and we should not lose focus of the future,” he added