Adyar: Home of the Theosophical Society

In 1882, during their travels through India and Ceylon, Madame Helena Petrovna Blavatsky and Colonel Henry Steele Olcott were taken to view a property known in those days as Huddlestone Gardens. It consisted of a palatial building on the south bank of the Adyar river. Flanked by ancient trees, the property was suggestive of an enchanting country residence. “At first glance,” commented the Colonel, “we knew our future home was found.” People often ask why Mme Blavatsky and Col. Olcott decided on India as the home for the Theosophical Society. They chose to settle in Adyar, which at that time was a small and undeveloped suburb of Madras, located along India’s tropical southeast coast. The attitude with which they came is demonstrated by that account of how Olcott , when arriving on the soil of India, bent down to worship that soil. They felt that from India had gone out a great deal of wisdom which is even now contained in the profound teachings not only of the Hindu tradition, but Buddhist, Jaina, and so on. There was a spirit of tolerance as well here, of universality. India gave a place of shelter to many different people. So since that time it has not merely been the administrative headquarters, but what people have called a “flaming center.” That means a center from which a spiritual force can flow out into the world. I have heard that when HPB went to the headquarters building, she came down after going up: she declared, “The Masters want this.” Therefore the center, I think, has an importance which is not merely that of its physical beauty, but of something else which impregnates it. Perhaps it has the conditions which make it favorable for the forces from higher regions to get concentrated and to flow out. HPB and Col. Olcott sailed for India from New York City in Dec of 1878, 3 years after the founding of the Theosophical Society. With a short 2-week stay in London they finally landed in Bombay 2 months after their United States departure, hoping to establish a base from which to explore and spread Theosophical ideas. From Bombay they would travel, speak, and write almost non-stop for the next three years before discovering the Society’s new home. Their popularity grew rapidly, people who had heard about them but had never seen them before felt that some new light was coming. Much of this new- found popularity came after the commencement of “The Theosophist” magazine in October of 1879. In it were articles on the mystical elements underlying Theosophy: “Theosophy is, then, the archaic Wisdom-Religion, the esoteric doctrine once known in every ancient country having claims to civilization. Hence, Theosophists have existed ever since the first glimmering of nascent thought, and made man seek instinctively for the means of expressing his own independent opinions.” At the time when HPB, through her great writings, pointed out that life is a unity… and she did it wonderfully with so many arguments and citing so many texts from different religions and so on, the concept was quite foreign in the west and even in India it was partly forgotten. It was certainly not lived. But you see how the idea has caught on. Now there are a lot of ecologists, people who are studying nature, educationists, who are talking about wholeness, about unity, about the inter-connectedness of all things upon this earth. There are also other concepts like the concept that within every human being is the light, that is, the light of his own consciousness. It is the only light that can take him on the spiritual path. If you show a beautiful sunset to a blind man he cannot see it, but if something helps him to become free of his blindness, he can experience all that glory. So it is something like that: each person has to purify his consciousness, bring clarity, depth, subtlety to it. And, therefore, he is not dependent totally on gurus, teachers, scriptures, churches, hierarchies. He can bring all this out of himself, which doesn’t mean other things cannot help, but this principle of non-dependence is very important: not to become a slave within the framework of a particular religion or an ideology. Both the fanatical devotee of religion, as well as the political ideologist, are not free. But this inward freedom to search, to seek, to find the light within oneself, I think is very important and is fundamental to the work of the Society. By the spring of 1882 the Colonel and HPB were in Calcutta towards the end of their second major speaking tour of India. From there they traveled by sea south to Madras where a delegation of people awaited them. While there Mme. Blavatsky would decide to make Adyar the Society’s new home. She displayed her love for the place in a letter to her aunt Nadya. “It is just wonderful here, what air, what nights, and what marvelous quiet. There is none of the city bustle and street yells. I am sitting down and writing, and gaze over the ocean: sparkling and shoreless as if alive.” Once the founders had settled in, Colonel Olcott began renovating the headquarters building, which was already over 80 years old. Local craftsmen were commissioned to include symbols of the world’s major religions on the walls of the main hall. The northeast section of the hall reveals three bas-reliefs representing Hinduism, Zoroastrianism, and Islam. While above, there are a series of religious symbols enclosed in circles representing Sikhism, Taoism with its circular Yin and Yang, and Confucianism. Hinduism is represented by Sri Krishna, with his flute and the sacred cow, while Zoroastrianism is represented by Zarathustra, lord of the golden shining. To the far right Islam is seen as a plaque with a design and verse from the Holy Koran, while over it we see a symbol for Shintoism. On the west side of the north wall there are also religious symbols to Christianity and Buddhism. Based on Holman Hunt’s painting “The Light of the World,” Jesus is seen here holding a lantern while knocking on a door. Next to Christ is the Lord Buddha, sitting in meditation, representing supreme enlightenment. Above these the Bahá’ís, Judaism, Jainism, and Co- Co-freemasonry are also represented. Traditions of the distant past are represented on the south wall and include: Mithra, the seven rayed sun of justice; Orpheus, founder of the Greek mysteries; Osiris, the light of lights; Quetzalcoatl, the Toltec and Aztec god; Astaroth or Ishtar, the eternal mother of ancient Caldea and Babylonia; and Asshur, the Assyrian sun-god. In an alcove of the south wall there are life-size statues of both founders, made by the Indian sculptor Govinda Pillai. The statue of Mme. Blavatsky was dedicated 8 years after her death by Col. Olcott. Under the statue a portion of her ashes were enshrined. After the Col’s death in 1907 his statue was added to that of his co-worker. Above, in both Sanskrit and English, can be found the motto of the Theosophical Society, “There is no religion higher than truth.” To this day the hall is used as the location of many lectures and ceremonies, and can hold upwards of 300 people. In honor of the Society’s effors worldwide, there is displayed on the west wall a plaque listing those countries where the Theosophical Society is currently represented. But perhaps one of the most important efforts undertaken by Col. Olcott was the addition of an east wing to the headquarters building for the creation of the Adyar Library. Here he undertook the task to collect and preserve the traditional texts of India at a time when native cultural and religious efforts were being discouraged by Western influences. Olcott’s aim, as he put it, was a revival of the original Hindu and Buddhist traditions in India and Ceylon. Over the years the library has become renouned for it’s collection of Indian and Oriental works, as well as its extensive collection of rare loose-leaf manuscripts. One display case contains a loose-leaf copy of the sacred Tibetan Kanjur and Tanjur, printed on paper made by hand from the bark of trees. This Tibetan manuscript was presented to the library by his Holiness the XIVth Dalai Lama and contains biographies of Tibetan religious leaders including the great yogi Milarepa. The library’s total collection became so large that in 1967, a bigger, more modern facility was built and includes climate controls for increased preservation capabilities. When Colonel Olcott started the library, he made it a condition that it should always be within the compound of the Theosophical Society. And, when the main hall became too small for the library or when the library grew, we found it necessary to have another building. Here we are particular about preserving the manuscripts and books so that they can be of help to the other people. So the readers are not allowed to come to the stacks and make use of the library. They have to select the books [from the catalog] and give the number and the staff here will collect the book and give it to them. That is one way we preserve it, so we don’t have many losses in the library. India’s tropical climate contributes to the wear of all written materials. Here workers and volunteers from around the world spend time reconditioning both old and new acquisitions before they are stored and made available to the public. In addition to being a repository of rare books and manuscripts, the Library also employs Sanskrit scholars and produces a bulletin dedicated to it’s ongoing research efforts. In 1982, one hundred years after Col. Olcott’s initial efforts, the Adyar Library had some 17,300 manuscripts and 160,000 books. Harvard Sanskritist, Daniel Ingalls, refers to the Library as “one of the chief repositories of Sanskrit manuscripts in the world.” After the Adyar Library relocated, the east wing of the headquarters building was turned into a museum for the display of items related to the Theosophical Society’s long history. Portraits of many well-known Theosophists hang on the museum walls, and one can find in the many display cases various memorabilia, even original lecture notes of some of the Society’s leading figures. This address was given by Annie Besant at the 32nd Indian National Congress of 1917. Even the office chairs used by both Mme. Blavatsky and Col. Olcott are displayed here. Included in the collection is the famous painting “The Messenger,” done by the artist Nicholas Roerich and given by him to the Theosophical Society in honor of Mme. Blavatsky’s great contribution for Theosophy. There are also excellent examples of rare religious art and statuary. On rare occasions special exhibits of the archives are given of some of the more notable pieces not normally on display. Here convention delegates at the 1991 convention are viewing items related to Mme. Blavatsky, in celebration of her passing 100 years earlier. This is the famous teacup and saucer reported to have been produced psychically by her. Additional items that she was to have psychically precipitated were also included in the exhibit, such as these paintings of yogi Thiruvalla and Theosophist Stanton Moses. Also on display were many autographed texts and first printings of Theosophical and related writings either written or used by HPB. On the title page of her personal copy of The Voice of the Silence she wrote, from ”HPB to HP Blavatsky, with no kind regards,” indicating a rather humorous but apparent displeasure with the limitations she saw in herself. This is the proof of the first cover of “The Theosophist” magazine. It was in the ongoing publication of this journal that Blavatsky spent so much of her time in those early years at Adyar as both writer and editor You know the objectives of the Theosophical Society? There are three objects: to build up the nucleus of the universal brotherhood; to promote the comparative study of the literature of philosophy, religion, and so on; and thirdly to explore the latent laws in nature, in man, and so on. These are the three broad objects. We in “The Theosophist” are deeply, vitally concerned with the Brahmavidya, the ancient wisdom in its core aspect. We have got a number of articles which project the Christian,…in terms of Christian associations and Christian idiom. I don’t think that the difficulty arises as “this is a purely Hindu or a purely Buddhist presentation.” I don’t think it. I doesn’t. No true Christian or no true follower of Jainism will find any difficulty in assimilating what we are writing and what we are. In addition to the Adyar Library, Col. Olcott was also responsible for the placement of the five ancient gopurums or trilithons which adorn the estate. They were brought from the ruined temple site of old Chandragiri and are over 2,000 years old. Each one is sculpted with ancient Hindu symbols and dieties. The trilithon nearest the main gate was presented to the campus by Col. Olcott himself and bears the initials of the founders at its base. Visitors to the estate today, however, will see a very different place from the one the founders knew in their time. It was when Dr. Besant became the President in 1907 that she began expanding the estate, and that happened very rapidly. She said it was necessary to buy more land in order to protect the Society. And, we see how good that was because now we are encircled completely by the city, which means there is noise, there is crowding everywhere, and we are well protected, which wouldn’t have happened without that expansion. When Mrs. Besant began as President, the estate consisted of only 27 acres of land. In the short 2-year period from 1908 to 1910, the four areas known as the Olcott, Blavatsky, Besant, and Damodar gardens were purchased. She wanted an international center large enough for future expansion of activities and for those members who might come and volunteer a year or so of their time for Theosophical study, meditation, and work. With this in mind, the very large multi- unit complex called Leadbeater Chambers was built in 1910. Guests from Western European countries, as well as, Australia, New Zealand, and the United States usually stay here. Each apartment is large enough to accommodate several people during busy periods of the year, for example, when the School of the Wisdom is in session and during the annual convention held in December. With Southern India’s year-round heat, the high ceilings along with the ventilation ports and overhead fans are much appreciated. Food preparation begins early in the day. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner are provided 7 days a week for all guests and workers. Meals at Leadbeater chambers are served buffet style, offering foods more suited to western tastes. The bell sounds 3 times daily: in the morning, at midday, and in the evening signaling to everyone that the meal is ready. The Bhojanasala, or eating house, located west of Leadbeater Chambers, prepares and serves food in Southern India’s traditional Tali style, consisting of rasam: a kind of pepper soup, chapati, sambar, rice, and curd. Across from the Bhojanasala, are the Eastern style living quarters located in the Quadrangle complex. Here, each apartment is small but appropriate for those persons wishing accommodations better suited to Indian tastes. Additional buildings were constructed to house the many permanent workers necessary for Adyar’s expanding activities. Today, the offices of General Administration are responsible for the day-to-day running of the campus, while a large maintenance department is necessary for its physical upkeep. Right here on the estate you are able to see the development of Indian architecture: the main headquarters building that goes from the beginning of the 18th century to modern structures, like the the Theosophical Publishing House building, which was created in the 1980’s. You are able to see a development of the old Anglo-Indian style into the more British bungalow. And then your able to see the development of purely Indian styles in the smaller buildings, like the Bhojanasala. The Leadbeater Chambers was the first poured concrete structure in India. Some of the building sites on the campus also have interesting histories. Upstairs from the main hall of the headquarters building are the offices of the President. While at Adyar, Madame Blavatsky both lived and worked out of this room. Later it was turned into the main office of the President where the many difficult tasks associated with both the campus and section affairs worldwide are handled. This is the roof of the headquarters building just outside the President’s office where the Mahatmas Morya and Koothoomi are supposed to have appeared. From here, one enters the apartment where both Col. Olcott and Annie Besant lived. The furnishings, such as this day bed, are those used by Mrs. Besant. The solarium section, located on the east side of the apartment, afforded her a wonderful location for study. From her windows she had a beautiful view of the Adyar river. There are also pictures of people important to her hanging on the walls: Mme. Blavatsky, her Theosophical colleague C. W. Leadbeater, and of course, Jiddu Krishnamurti. In his earlier years as a Theosophist, Krishnamurti had a third-floor apartment not far from Mrs. Besant’s, in a section of the headquarters building known as Raja House. Continuing east from the headquarters, along the main path, one eventually comes through a beautiful coconut grove and to a building called Vani Vihar. This building was erected by the Order of the Star in the East, the group dedicated in the early part of this (20th) century to Krishnamurti’s role as the coming world teacher. Vani Vihar was renovated in 1992 and is currently used to house the many visitors who come to Adyar during its busier periods. Eventually, Krishnamurti would end all attempts by followers to turn him in to a kind of Avatar, and disbanded the Order of the Star in the East. Prior to and during this controversial period, C. W. Leadbeater also resided at Adyar, staying in various locations, including the Octagonal Bungalow, just east of the headquarters building. Today, due primarily to Annie Besant’s early efforts, the campus is over 250 acres in size and still thriving. It is also a tropical oasis offering to its visitors a wide variety of natural beauty. One part of the campus is kept very natural. Very few people really know these areas, fortunately, because the animals don’t get disturbed. Some of my favorite spots are these untouched areas. I don’t even like to show those places to other people because if too many people go there then they will get spoiled. Then, of course, if you go up high on some of the buildings, up on Leadbeater chambers, right up to the top, or above Olcott Bungalow… even the top of the headquarters building, you get this view of the sea and the river, and all the wooded areas with some of the buildings showing up; and you can be there with the sky and the earth and the trees all around you. I love that. I think there are also certain special places where you feel the atmosphere of Adyar more strongly. The Garden of Remembrance is one of them. I don’t know why; perhaps, because in 1925 there was a great ceremony when the place was dedicated to the world teacher: some special amulets were put there. I think ever since, it has had a certain special feeling about it. This is also the location dedicated to the memory of past TS leaders. Here, the ashes of previous international Presidents, as well as those of C. W. Leadbeater are enshrined beneath the markers that make up this six-pointed star. In the center of the compound, at a point along the main drive, there is a trilithon marking the beginning of Founders Avenue. Here, a group of mahogany trees line both sides of the street and were planted in honor of the Society’s many sections worldwide. Each tree was planted with soil from the particular country represented and labeled with a stone marker. Here, a man is admiring a beautiful water palm located at a major intersection of the campus known as Upasika Circle. From here, one cannot help but notice the very old and very large banyan tree standing nearby. For many years it went undetected until the ground had been cleared. Banyan trees are unique, in that while they have a large main trunk, their spreading branches produce fibers that eventually reach the ground and take root. The fibers thicken until they in turn become massive trunks supporting the weight of the growing branches that produced them. Adyar’s banyan tree is the second largest in India and estimated to be over 500 years old. Considered by many as a holy site, the great banyan tree is marked by one of the campus’ five trilithons. It is visited yearly by thousands of people. Directly adjacent to the banyan tree is the School of the Wisdom, located in the Blavatsky bungalow. Most people who stay for extended periods in the fall and winter seasons, come to take advantage of the many Theosophical classes and lectures offered here. Acquired in the early years of Annie Besant’s presidency, the Bungalow was dedicated to Madame Blavatsky by some of her more greatful students. An additional plaque was placed on the building in honor of the great Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore, who stayed here for a short time. The daily program at the School begins with a morning meditation led by the class leader for that day. Classes are led by persons knowledgeable in specific religious traditions or philosophies. Some people come more or less like tourists. That means that they come to have a good time. There is nothing wrong in coming to have a good time, but that’s not sufficient to be here. If they do so, then, if they come from affluent countries, they find the conditions aren’t good enough, they need more comforts, etc., and they feel disappointed. It’s more a place for study, for meditation, for inward turning, and for contacts of a subtler, deeper order. Several locations especially reflect this deeper spiritual quality. The Buddhist temple, canopied within the beautiful coconut grove, is one of these. Col. Olcott recorded in 1883 that he received a note from the master KH expressing a wish that a Buddhist shrine should be erected. The shrine was actually built in 1925 under the direction of C. Jinarajadasa and is still used for silent meditation, prayer, and chant. The statue of the Lord Buddha, located inside the temple, was given by Annie Besant and is said to be over 1,000 years old. At the temple entrance stands a Bodhi tree, representing Lord Buddha’s enlightenment. Opposite the shrine is the temple gong, which was sound at 6 o’clock both morning and evening, to call to mind the six remembrances of the Lord Buddha. Adjacent to the Buddhist Temple along the main path is the Olcott Memorial, marking the spot upon which the funeral pyre of Col. Olcott was erected. Here, his body was given back to the elements by fire on February 17, 1907. Two walls sweep around in a circle and enclose the exact location upon which the logs were placed. The Bharata Samaj Temple, or Hindu shrine, is situated just off Founders Ave. Here, everyday at sunrise, devoted worshippers perform the powerful Bharata Samaj puja [ritual]. This Hindu temple, as such, you never find anywhere else. Most are called Vishnu temples or Shiva temples only. When we say Hindu temple, it is something special because it contains all the Hindu deities and the great acharyas, or spiritual teachers, who propagated various philosophies. Here, mostly all the mantras are purificatory mantras. First we purify ourselves and sip water in the name of God, which purifies us physically, emotionally, and mentally. Like that, all the elements, i.e. earth water, fire, wind, and aether: these are also purifying. We make a big invisible temple of power with our will, with all the mantras, with our great devotion. And then, we open it up, and all the forces, in waves, go out to the whole world to benefit all creatures, and to make them pure and to help them progress in their lives. Christians are free to take advantage of the services offered at the Church of St. Michael and All Angels, located just north of the Adyar Library. Here, services are held according to the rites of the Liberal Catholic Chruch. High mass is held every Sunday morning and, as might be expected at a Theosophical center, is attended by persons of various faiths. In addition to the high altar, there are two side altars, one of which is dedicated to the World Mother under her Christian designation of Holy Lady Mary. The Masonic temple is situated in the far southeast section of the compound and is dedicated to the service and ritual activities of International Co-freemasonry. While seldom used, there is also a beautiful mosque available for followers of Islam, and is modeled on a smaller scale after the Pearl Mosque in Delhi. There are also temple buildings for both Sikh and Zoroastrian ceremonies. There is a tendency for anyone living here to feel that we are very much steeped in the past. So many of these buildings have cornerstones that were laid… especially by Annie Besant. You know, the estate grew tremendously under her, from the 26 or 27 acres that she inherited as President in 1907 to the tremendous structure that it is today. But there is nothing nostalgic about that. We’re not constantly going back to that point. We are very aware of events and I think there is a great tendency to feel that what happens here can affect quite consciously the rest of the Theosophical movement. Of course there is a mystique about Adyar. There is a tendency, almost a romantic tendency among the members, to look at it as a flaming center: the great heart of the TS. But when you think of the immense amount of practical work that goes on here and the tremendous drive of the people who head departments… Two of the permanent activities started in Annie Besant’s time, and still going on at Adyar, are the printing and the sale of the many Theosophical materials, through the Vasanta Press and the Theosophical Publishing House. This Publishing House has been in existence for almost a hundred years now under two names. Originally it was called the Theosophist Office and later on it was termed the Theosophical Publishing House. We moved into this new place about 3 years ago and started functioning. At present, we have about 250 titles on Theosophy, science, and philosophy. We have an editorial board who is responsible for scrutinizing any manuscript that we receive for publication. And then, on the basis of our acceptance, we go ahead with the printing of it. We have our own printing press in the Theosophical Society, and all of our books and magazines are printed by our press, called The Vasanta Press. The Vasanta Press began in 1907, when members of the Esoteric School of the Theosophical Society purchased a small hand press and supply of type for the publication of its materials. The small printing operation was eventually sold, but later purchased by Mrs. Besant from the Vasanta Institute. The institute formed in response to Mrs. Besant’s political efforts for India. The word “Vasanta” comes from those individuals who worked with her and is the Indianized form of the name “Besant.” The press has kept the name Vasanta ever since. In past years, both the press and publishing house activities took place in what is now the General Administration bldg., located near the main headquarters. Today, the expanded operations of the Vasanta Press include not only the printing of the many Theosophical books and periodicals, but also, all departmental forms necessary for Adyar’s daily operations. The press is working towards full desktop publishing capabilities and performs nearly all printing activities in-house, from the production of plates for the large printing presses to the folding, cutting, and binding of all books and manuscripts. Visitors to Adyar can buy Theosophical materials from the Adyar Bookshop, located near the main gate. While specializing in Theosophical writings, the bookshop is also known for its fine collection of Oriental literature. We have a lot of… not only visitors from all over India, but also from all over the world. Most of the tourists pass through Adyar, as this is supposed to be a place of tourist interest. When they find out that we also have this Oriental literature: a vast number of books available here, they are very interested and say that this is one of the best bookshops of such books that they have seen during their tour. When they come to the bookshop they inquire about the Theosophical Society also, and in this way… as long as I was in the bookshop I was also an information officer, and I’ve been able to talk to people, talk to inquirers, and interest them in Theosophy. Quite a number of visitors from India have joined the Society through that. And, quite a number of foreigners have taken our publicity literature, which include addresses of local centers where they live, and I assume that once they have returned to their homes, they would have contacted the centers. In 1991, at the 116th annual Convention, member delegates from around the world had a chance to see these and the many other Theosophical activities conducted at Adyar. But what about community service? It is often said of Theosophical centers that their focus is too intellectual and self-contained. That isn’t true of Adyar. There is a great deal of practical work done here. In the Olcott Memorial School we have more than 700 boys and girls from the poorest level of society, really deprived children. And, they are being given the best possible education and provided with all the facilities, and I think many of them go away with a new sense of dignity and feeling happy with the education they’ve received. Beginning in 1894 Col. Olcott organized 5 schools available free of charge for children who were outside the recognized castes of India. Known as the Panchamas, the children of this less fortunate group were also provided with mid-day meal. Eventually, all of the schools were merged in to what is now called the Olcott Memorial School. Convention delegates had the opportunity to see the school’s efforts firsthand. The Olcott School is within the State Board. We are affiliated with the State Board and, therefore, most of the classes that are offered pertain to subjects prescribed by the government: Physics, Chemistry, History, Geography,Tamil, English… All this goes on. One of the basic requirements identified for the underprivileged is a sense of hygiene, a sense of cleanliness, and a sense of nutrition. One of the crafts that is offered to the girls is Home Crafts, and there they learn a hygienic way of cooking meals. They also learn how to have a balanced and healthy meal. We have not focused so much on the development of skills as a means of earning a livelihood, but more on ways for allowing the confidence within a human being to surface. The sense of using the body is something which has been identified as very important to this group of children: the sense of using the body as something which gives confidence, something which gives one a sense of what one can do rather than the reinforcement of what one cannot do. So, the craft program in this area has been immensely successful. Not only have children incidentally picked up skills, and some of them found employment in later years in the areas which they have studied in the school, but while they are in the school, through academics or through whatever else goes on in the school, they have found a sense of confidence and probably a sense of dignity has emerged. The HPB Hostel provides additional services over and above those found at the Olcott Memorial School. Here, room and board is provided for those children in greatest need. Two key features of the hostel are its efforts to teach good hygiene and effective domestic skills. It is hoped that such training will encourage a higher standard of living once the children reach adulthood. Oftentimes it is difficult for people to secure and maintain work due to family responsibilities. The Social Welfare Center is designed to help with this problem by providing working parents with quality care for their children. At the center, the children take part in many activities and are provided with daily meals. Health care is also provided. In addition to the children’s center, there is also crafts center for parents where sewing and weaving are taught. When proficient in their tasks, they are paid for the goods they produce, providing them with some income. Young people from both the Olcott Memorial School and the Krishnamurti Foundation School performed for the delegates attending the Theosophical Convention. Traditional music of India was featured, complete with ritual costume, dance, and song. Delegates were also treated to a professional recital featuring songs of devotion to God. The Convention began with the customary prayers of the religions given by Section delegates from around the world. The President completed the ceremony by leading everyone in “Oh Hidden Life.” …Oh hidden love, embracing all in oneness, May each who feels himself as one with thee, Know he is also one with every other. Please be seated. The Convention was celebrated as the “International Year of HPB,” and featured speakers from India, the countries of Western Europe, Asia, New Zealand, Australia, the United States, West Africa, and Brazil. With the fall of the iron curtain and the beginnings of a new Russia, the event seemed especially meaningful. …the events of “The Year of Blavatsky,” which have concluded so beautifully. Russian delegates from the group “Peace through Culture” were in attendance and were asked to speak to the Theosophical Convention. To help with Russia’s new-found interest in HPB, the Theosophical Publishing House reprinted 1,000 copies of Helena Roerich’s Russian translation of The Secret Doctrine, and presented them to the Russian delegation. But in addition to all of these Theosophical efforts, it is important to examine the many indirect ways in which Theosophists have influenced India and surrounding countries. Theosophists were among the first to break down the caste system, which had become a terrible burden on Indian society. It was here that you could find high- born Brahmans sitting together and having lunch, very near here in what used to be called the Community Kitchen, with people who would have been despised earlier. And, in British India, the rulers remained separate from the ruled. There was really almost no contact at a human level between the British people and the Indian people. But in the Theosophical Society you would find that the races met in friendship. Many reform movements took their rise from here: Margaret Cousins, Mrs. Jinarajadasa, and a number of other ladies were responsible for starting the Women’s Indian Association to encourage women to have more education, to become independent, to cultivate their intellect, and so on, which was not the case at that time. There was a movement here to stop such evil practices as child marriage, the ill treatment of widows, and many Theosophists took pledges to see that nothing like that happened in their own families. The scout movement took its rise here. Baden Powell thought that Indian boys and girls were not fit for scouting, and Dr. Besant wanted to show him that they were. So, she started the Indian Scout Movement, and the first meeting was held near our banyan tree. Later on when it became a great all- India movement, even having spread beyond India to Burma and other countries, Baden Powell had to go back on his original thought, and he conferred the Silver Wolf on Annie Besant. This was the highest award that could be given in scouting. But I think there was a tremendous amount of energy going out of this center in many directions. And, it had its impact, not only in India, I think, but in other places also, where people were inspired by the example shown here to carry on a number of activities of this kind. The people who come with the right spirit: they make many friends here, and I think there is an opportunity for a lot of international contact. We have always visitors from many countries, and even the permanent workers here. When the founders came to this place, after having searched for a long time, they thought this was paradise. Here there were the right inner conditions, the psychic conditions for a headquarters which would at the same time be a spiritual center from which the forces of the great ones would spread abroad. The right influences would go with every letter, so to speak, which was written from here. So, I think, we don’t need to feel pessimistic about the work which the Society has done. Much of it is at a level which cannot be measured. You cannot say how much people have been influenced, who has been influenced. But, if we keep contact with the world and not isolate ourselves into an inward turned community, then I think Theosophy will penetrate into the human consciousness in a variety of ways�

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