India's former National Congress president, Pandit Motilal Nehru in Masonic regalia
Most US Freemasons are told our fraternity is a worldwide brotherhood, but we tend to think of it primarily as a Western institution. Nevertheless, Masonry does indeed flourish all over the world.
A little over a decade after the official formation of the premiere Grand Lodge of England, in 1729 Freemasonry came to British India on the ships of the East India Tea Company. A provincial grand lodge was established in Bengal and Lodge No. 72 was chartered and met at Ft. William in Calcutta in 1730. The Grand Lodge of Scotland also established their own provincial grand lodges in the region, and the Grand Lodge of Ireland eventually chartered lodges in the country, as well.
The earliest lodges were reserved for English and Scottish colonizers and merchants, but in 1776, the first Indian Mason, Omdat-ul-Omrah, was initiated at Trichinopoly. Lodges in western India took considerably longer to welcome Indians as members, not recorded until 1843.
Brother Rudyard Kipling was made a Freemason at Hope and Perseverance Lodge No. 782 (E.C.) at Lahore Punjab, India on April 5, 1886. He is best known in Masonic circles for his short story, The Man Who Would Be King, as well as his famous poem, The Mother Lodge, both of which drew upon his experiences as a Freemason in India.
India attained independence from Britain in 1947. The Grand Lodge of AF&AM of India was finally established in New Delhi in 1961 by an agreement with the three parent grand lodges, and Major General Dr. Sir Syed Raza Ali Khan, His Highness the Nawab of Rampur, was installed as their first Grand Master.
Today, there are 403 lodges under the Grand Lodge, with more than 20,000 members.
An article in The Indian Express yesterday explored the role of Masonry in India. Read 'From leaders to cities, how India owes a lot to the secret order of Freemasons' by Namit Hans:
On February 19, 1884, a young Narendranath Datta joined the Anchor and Hope Lodge and became a Freemason. Within three months, 21-year-old Datta was raised to the degree of ‘master mason’. After nine years, the world came to identify this young boy as one of the greatest spiritual leaders ever born in India and the first to have brought Hindu philosophy to the west.
Narendranath, who was by then known as Swami Vivekananda, surprised everyone as he spoke on Hindu culture and religion at World Parliament of Religions in Chicago in 1893.
It is believed that the freemasons helped Swami Vivekananda during his time in Chicago.
The many mysteries
Swami Shantanmananda of Ramakrishna Mission in Delhi, when contacted, told IndianExpress.com that literary evidence of Swami Vivekananda as a member of the society is limited to one of his biographies written by his followers.
Apart from Swami Vivekananda, several prominent Indian leaders are believed to have joined Freemasonry in the past. Pandit Motilal Nehru, Rajendra Prasad and Fakhrudin Ali Ahmed are just a few names among many. Any documentary proof regarding their stint with Freemasonry is however hard to find.
In his autobiography, Harivansh Rai Bachchan writes this about Pandit Motilal Nehru:
“Babu Rajaram was a friend of Motilal Nehru; I saw a photograph of him and Motilal in freemasons’ garb; there was, I recall, a freemasons’ lodge somewhere in town. Motilal Nehru was keen on institutions of this kind, and was later attracted to the Theosophical Society”.
In the west, great leaders like Franklin D Roosevelt, Theodore Roosevelt, George Washington among others are also believed to have joined Freemasonry. It is said that this close relationship of Freemasonry with world leaders influenced many movements around the world including the French and American revolution and the Indian Independence movement.
If the Freemasons actually played a role in these, then why is it that their contribution is seldom talked about?
Freemasonry, Geometry and Architecture
“The whole of Delhi was planned using two specific geometric shapes: the triangle and the hexagram. The fact that the Imperial city of Delhi was planned using triangles and hexagrams is not surprising given that most English royalty had masonic links and Edwin Lutyens himself had masonic links,” said Ashwin Sanghi, author of Rozabal Line and other books.
“Similarly, the shape of Connaught Place is designed by Robert Russel who was also a Free Mason. The inspiration for Connaught Place was the Royal Crescent building (in Bath, England). Why were both the Royal Crescent and Connaught Place designed in these specific shapes? The crescent (Connaught Circus) represents the moon while the central portion (the circular park area) represents the sun. Again, both sun and moon figure prominently among masonic symbols,” he adds.
Royal Crescent Building in Bath
It is said that the stonemasons designed the architectural wonders of the ancient world including the Temple of Solomon. As per the traditional theory of their origin, which was propounded just six years after establishment of first Grand Lodge in London in 1717, the practice is closely related to geometry which originated with Adam. The story goes that it’s knowledge was ‘implanted in Adam’s heart’ by God, who then passed it on to his sons Cain and Seth. It is then said to have been preserved by Noah at the time of great flood.
Thus, many signs and symbols that adorn the Masonic temples and uniforms resemble the geometrical shapes. The Star of David is most popular among them all. This, along with the long tradition of secrecy, led to a belief that it was a jewish conspiracy inviting backlash from Church and Islamic fundamentalists. In 1983, the practice was banned in Pakistan and their buildings were taken under control by government. Earlier, in January this year, the FBI thwarted the plot to target Masonic Center in Milwaukee by one Samy Mohamed Hamzeh.
Freemasonry in India
The Freemasons’ fraternity in India is thriving. There have been no reports of any major opposition to their existence in the past. Brought to India by the British, there are now 380 lodges spread across the country controlled by Grand Lodge of India (New Delhi). According to Grand Secretary V K Gupta, there are around 30,000 registered Freemasons in India out of which 30 per cent are youth. “More and more people are showing interest in the fraternity,” he says.
According to Grand Secretary V K Gupta, there are around 30,000 registered
Freemasons in India out of which 30 per cent are youth.
The current head or ‘grand master’ is Harcharan Singh Ranauta. The Freemasons do not believe in practicing any religion, but do not put any restrictions on anyone at the same time. “Our rituals and practices are maintained as a secret just to ensure that Freemasons can identify each other easily. A Freemason in India can go to any other country and he will be treated as part of the fraternity and helped by them,” says a Freemason who did not wish to be named.
The Grand Lodge of India runs a polyclinic inside its complex in Janpath in New Delhi and it is also involved in many developmental and philanthropic activities.
Believers in one God or ‘Father of Universe’, they go by the motto of ‘brotherly love, relief and truth’.
The Grand Lodge of India has a brief page of history of Freemasonry in the country HERE.
For a longer history of the growth and development of Scottish Constitution Freemasonry in India , SEE HERE.