As you stroll down the French Bridge, located in the Tourist District of South Mumbai, crossing over a Railroad track, you arrive at the end of the foot walk. Suddenly you are accosted by a stunning Indo- Saracenic styled Heritage structure, whose very façade will trigger a tale of bygone Architecture. On the 20th February 2020, it will be celebration time for its occupants. The classic building houses the Blavatsky Lodge of the Theosophical Society-Bombay (now Mumbai). The Lodge was established by Madam Blavatsky and Col. Olcott as the fifth Branch of the Theosophical Society, by a Charter signed by them on 20th February 1880. The first Lodge established by the Founders themselves in the Eastern hemisphere. It will be celebrating 140 years of its eventful existence bearing witness to the city’s History.
It was here that the seeds of Theosophy were sown in the sub continent to eventually fan across sixty Nations. Mani Bhawan, where Mahatma Gandhi resided, and the Opera House where the British and Mumbaikars satiated their theatre and musical pursuits, are landmark Buildings in proximity. National Leader, Bal Gangadhar Tilak’s celebration of the ’Ganpathy festival’ as a community event, has its roots in this locality. The Festival is now a Hallmark event in the city’s annual calendar. This area in its heydays was the original Bombay and a heartland of culture, political activity and a magnet to spiritual seekers and artists. It remains so till today. The Lodge Building is a must visit spot for the Sunday morning Heritage walkers of SOBO (South Bombay).
The Theosophical Society was founded in New York on 17th November 1875, by two outstanding Occultists – Madam Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, of Russo Germanic lineage and Henry Steel Olcott an American Agricultural Scientist. They were Inspired by the Masters Koot Hoomi lal Singh and Morya of the Trans Himalayan region of Tibet. From New York, the founders moved eastward to India, then a British colony. The Founders, under a divine instruction, first travelled to London where they spent two weeks before embarking on the ‘SS Speke Hall’ at Liverpool on January 19th 1879 and arrived at the Apollo Bunder dock yard of Bombay on 16th February 1879. These landmark dates are recorded by HPB in the First issue of ‘The Theosophist‘ published in October 1879, at Bombay. HPB goes on to mention that this is for future reference. Their overwhelming feelings for this sacred land is graphically narrated in the ‘Old Diary Leaves’ diarized by Col Olcott. It was the beginning of their Dreams and Vision in the land of Bharatvarsha, from where Theosophy would diffuse to the world. It would become one of the most impacting spiritual Movements, to transform Universal Consciousness. In the very same year on 23rd May 1879, the seeds of writing a magnum opus was planted and it germinated in the city of Bombay. The seeds would sprout in 1888 in the form of a spiritual treatise, the game changing – Secret Doctrine*. They were accompanied by two English Theosophists, Mr. Wimbridge and Ms. Rosa Bates. Mr. Wimbridge later set up a flourishing furniture enterprise in the city. Both the assistants parted ways after a few years of supporting the Founders in their mission. The vile Press had exaggerated their exit and Madam HPB had to write to the Amrit Bazar Patrika of Calcutta to counter the vicious campaign of the Christian Herald. While the Founders were in America, much groundwork was done to activate Theosophy in India and the first Indian initiate was Kawasji Merwanji Shroff, who later became a corporator and a founding member of the Blavatsky Lodge. Keshav Narsingh Mavalankar (Father of Damodar Mavalankar), was the first President of the Lodge, Tukaram Tatya, Moolji Thakersay, Gopalrao Deshmukh and a few others were part of the first group of administrators of the Lodge. The membership and diploma Holders from India was growing even while the Founders were in America as this was reflected by around three hundred Mumbaikars gathering to receive the Founders on the third Day of their arrival. The Town Hall where a reception was held, was overflowing.
Initially started as a Mumbai Branch of the New York based Theosophical Society, it metamorphised as an autonomous, Blavatsky Lodge – Theosophical Society, under the Society Registration Act in 1906. It was registered as a literary, scientific and Charitable Society. Classes on Architecture were conducted by Mr. Wimbridge, a graduate of the Royal Institute of British Architects. Other subjects taught were mesmerism, psychometry, crystallomancy and Theosophy. As earlier mentioned, the first issue of ‘The Theosophist’ was published at Mumbai on 1st October 1879 from its office at #108, Girgaum Back Road, with distributors appointed at New York, London and Colombo. It was on a prepaid subscription basis. The first issue covers an autobiography of Swami Dayanand Saraswati of the Arya Samaj (Initial collaboration with the organization was severed subsequently), the plight of women’s education in India and most importantly on ‘T H E O S O P H Y’* to the general reader. It contained 49 columns of Articles.
The Blavatsky Lodge activities were mostly carried on at various rented locations (main donors for the rent being Mr. Tatya, Ms. F.H. Muller, Mr. David Gostling and a few other well-wishers). The Lodge activities moved from place to place to various locations viz Girgaum, Rampart Row, Apollo Street, Tamarind Lane, Hornby Road and subsequently to the ‘Crow’s Nest’ Residence of the Founders at Breach Candy. The Beach House Bungalow had for many years remained vacant due to the alleged presence of ghosts and snakes. It was Emma Coulomb who negotiated the rent for the House from Rs200/ which was scaled down to Rs65/-. The Coulombs were financially supported and accommodated in Bombay by HPB after their hotel enterprise floundered in Cairo. It was the same Coulombs who repaid their benefactor with betrayal and blackmail years later. Upon the founders taking up residency, at the Bombay suburb of Breach Candy where the Crows Nest was situated, on a slope of a hillock by the sea, the place became a beehive of activity. The Native spiritual seekers, astrologers, occultists and inquisitive enquirers thronged the Residence to hear the cigar smoking Russian Spiritual Teacher speak on Esoteric Buddhism and Hindu Dharma. The sea facing house was an ideal place for the founders offering them a ‘Quiet’ required for their spiritual work. Madam HPB regaled in buying embroidered shawls from peddlers, which protected her from mosquitos. At times she was afflicted with swelling hands and was once attacked with Dengue. Three years later the founders left for Madras (now Chennai) in 1892 to establish a spiritual community. Standing on the roof top terrace at Adyar, HPB had received instructions from the Masters, that Huddlestone’s Gardens (Adyar) was their permanent Home to be. The Crow’s Nest Bungalow was demolished in 1930. It was at this residence the Masters materialized on a few occasions to render directions to the founders. In the meantime, by an initiative of Tukaram Tatya and an anonymous member, a seed donation of Rs500/- (discovered to be the munificence of a D.D. Jussawala) was received towards a proposed premises. A ‘Building fund’ account was opened at Narayan & Company and donations started trickling in. Dr. Annie Besant chipped in one thousand pounds and they gathered Rs 154000/-. Dr. George Arundale laid the foundation on 11.1.1927 and the building was inaugurated on 1st June 1928 by Dr. Annie Besant at the present location #7, French Bridge. Among the well-known members of the Lodge were B.P. Wadia, recording secretary at Adyar and founder of the United Lodge of Theosophists, Damodar Mavalankar, recording secretary at Adyar until his last days when he is said to have journeyed to the abode of the Masters (never to return). Gopaldas Deshmukh President of the Lodge as well as of Arya Samaj, Rustomji Cawasji Jabouili, the first Parsi to venture to Liverpool to set up a Business enterprise, Gopal Rao Vinayak Joshi who worked at the GPO at Bombay and then shifted to Calcutta. His daughter Anandi Bhai Joshi became the first Indian woman to graduate in medicine in an American University. She was featured in a supplement of ‘The Theosophist’ in 1803, and many others of High Social standing in Society. Gajanan Bhaskar Vaidya was the first paid assistant and Gopal Iyer, a speaker on Vedanta, was the first paid clerk of the Lodge. In later years another Assistant, Ganpat Jadhav, went to serve for over fifty years almost until his death in 2014. He singlehandedly guarded the Lodge premises with zeal and dedication and was honoured by the Bombay Theosophical Federation.
It is an acknowledged fact that Col. Olcott was the person behind the Buddhist revival in Ceylon. Not many are aware that he was equally responsible in kindling interest of the Bombay Parsis for a deeper study of Zoroastrianism. He was convinced that the seeds of Judaism and Christianity were sown in Zoroastrian esoteric wisdom. Two Books by N.F. Bilimoria, ‘Zoroastrian Ceremonies’ and ‘Zoroastrianism in the Light of Theosophy’ had drawn the attention of educated Parsis at that time. This led to many Parsis joining the Lodge and their contributions have been vital in the continuum of activities of the Lodge up until today. ‘Parsi Social Reforms’ by Jamshedji Patel, ‘New Message to Parsi Theosophists’ by Erward Khurshedji Daboo, ‘Light of Avesthas and Gathas’ by Faredun Dadachanji, were all published by the Blavatsky Lodge. The Bombay Theosophical Publication Fund initiated by Tukaram Tatya, spearheaded publication in English, Sanskrit, Gujarati and Marathi. Pestomji N Pavri’s books are even now popular to the present day. Bro Green, in whose name a mini lecture Hall was named was another prominent member. The list and contributions are much more than the few mentioned. Col. Olcott’s public lecture on Zoroastrianism on February 14th, 1882 reflected the deep insight of the founders on the Parsi faith. The Zoroastrian conference of 1910 had recognized the contribution and Parsi Theosophists were invited to the congress. It was with the financial support of Parsi Theosophists that a Zoroastrian shrine was open for worship at the Adyar convention of 1925.
The lodge has been very inclusive in having encouraged Jewish members to have their own magazine published as the ‘Jewish Theosophist’. Many of the Bombay Baghdadi Jews, from among the 3000 strong community migrated to Basra in Iraq after India’s independence, and started a Theosophical Lodge in Iraq.
Blavatsky Lodge had opened an Homeopathic dispensary and served the local population. The Lodge members were responding to Natural calamities in the city over the decades by free distribution of medicine. An endowment fund was created to send an annual donation to the children of Olcott school -Adyar. The practice continues even now. The ladies wing of the Lodge became popular and the first lady member was a Parsi lady – Mrs. Avanbhai Shroff (1881). Ms. Mithan Tata, the first lady Bar at Law, was an active member of the Lodge. Ms. Bhandarkar and Ms. Unwala became the first women freemasons in India. A youth wing was active at the Lodge until a few years ago and had participated at a regatta at the Juhu seaside. The Lodge members were proactive in arranging the wedding between Dr. George Arundale and Smt. Rukmini Devi, a social reformer and revivalist of the Bharatanatyam Dance form and founder of Kalakshetra. She was a scion of a scholarly orthodox family of Theosophists hailing from Tanjore. The marriage was facilitated at Mumbai. Also, Bombay played host to the fourth Anniversary Conference, on 29th November 1879 and the first convention on Indian soil at #108, Girgaum Back Road. It was complemented with an Indian Arts and Crafts Exhibition. The Seventh International convention was also held in the city at Framji Cawasji Hall, in 1882. Apart from the Founders, Mr. A.P. Sinnett was also present. Later, in the year 1915, the Annual Convention was held in Bombay, instead of Adyar or Varanasi. As many as 7000 attended.
The Lodge has been Blessed by many distinguished Visitors. William Q. Judge, Prof John Smith of Sydney University, Bertram Keightly and Dr. Archibald Keightly, Countess Wachtmeister, a great friend of HPB, Ms. Katherine Tingley, C.W. Leadbeater, Ms. Maud Mcarthy, a world famous violinist, Ms. Francesca Arundale, Ms. Anna Kemensky and Pogosky, (Russian Theosophists), Dr. J.H. Cousins singer and wife Margaret Cousins, Mrs. Emily Lutyens, and J. Krishnamurti in 1924 and 1927 Emily Lutyens, Pandit Bhawani Shankar , K. Narayanswami, Ms. Ella Wheeler, an American Poetess, Ms. Katherine Tingley, the Maharaja of Cashmere in 1905, Countess Schack, in 1911, M.A Jinnah, M.L.A. The list is much longer.
Dr. George Arundale, Dr. Annie Besant, Bro. C. Jinarajadasa, Bro. Sri Ram, Bro. John Coats and Ms. Radha Burnier, all of whom had served as the International Presidents of the Theosophical Society have addressed the Lodge members. Bro. Tim Boyd and his wife Mrs. Lily Boyd were also Chief Guests at the 2015 Annual convention of the Bombay Federation. Vice Presidents of the Theosophical Society, Bro. Nandini Sathpathy and Ms. Deepa Padhi have also addressed the Lodge.
The Lodge organizes a Support Convention every year coinciding with the International Annual Theosophical Convention held annually at Adyar, and this year at Varanasi. A competition for students of schools is held under the Dani Endowment on Theosophy related themes and in the last few years is jointly held with the Red Cross Society. The Lodge had a special affinity with the East African Lodges. A resolution was passed standing in solidarity with the Lodges in South and East Africa on 30th August 1912. This information was passed on to Bro. Narendra Shah, General Secretary of East African Lodges, during his visit in December 2019, to the Blavatsky Lodge. He was keen to archive this information.
It is difficult to exhaustively list out the names of contributors to the growth and development of the Blavatsky Lodge, however, a few immediate past members and contemporary contributors have to be mentioned. Ms. Freny and Late Rusi Todiwala, their extended family of Parinaz Gandhis, who are dedicated to the TOS activities in the city. Ms. Parinaz is the Managing Editor of the Zoroastrian journal ‘Parsiana’. Ms Mahazaver (currently Secretary of the Bombay Theosophical Federation) and Rustum Dalal for their perennial dedication and financial support to the Blavatsky Lodge. Ms. Lata Kumar (hailing from a family of Theosophists and long-term residents of Kamacha – Varanasi Society Headquarters) and Navin Kumar hailing from a family of Theosophists from Allahabad. Bro. Navin Kumar is a senior retired Bureaucrat from the Indian Administrative Service know for his acumen in Administration, and often referred to as a revivalist of the Lodge. He is a Benefactor and mentor to a new breed of dedicated servers in the Blavatsky Lodge. The list includes Sr. Kashmira Khambatta, the current President of the Lodge, who encourages innovative ideas. She is known for her work amongst the marginalized in Mumbai and Lonavla, Jasmine Cawasji selfless member practicing empathy and charity in many ways. She is popular for her pleasantry at the Lodge Hospitality Table. She is the current Secretary of the Lodge. Sister Aban Patel, a former Banker now a popular Teacher of Theosophy at the Lodge. Her husband, also a member, is an ardent devotee of Meher Bhaba described to be a Master. Sr. Nawaz Dhalla, organizer of the Mystic Star, singer and an animal lover and Ms. Ruby Khan, Joint Treasurer. The writer himself owes much to Brother Navin Kumar for his leadership and Inspiration. Br. Navin Kumar’s governance has set a high degree of transparency and robust financial planning apart from his dedicated role in imparting core Theosophical knowledge to its members. His mother, Ms. Sashibala Saxena, an active octogenarian hails from a Theosophical family. The late Jal Bhai Sanjana who was honoured by past President Ms. Radha Burnier and his daughter Ms. Thrity Sanjana, who continues in her Father’s tradition in serving the Lodge as well as TOS. Khurshed Sanjana who passed to Peace in 2020. Ms Meherangiz Baria past President of the Lodge and a social worker. Sister Freni Pagdiwala, the sole pianist of the Lodge, Sr. Zeena Rustum, our Dance choreographer, Dr. Rajam Pillai, Emeritus Professor of Hindi and former editor of the ‘Gandhi Prabha’ and Managing Trustee of ‘Synergy Journal’, propagating Theosophy among university students, Bro. Bertie Redwood, a member with diverse interests and a technical resource of the lodge. Brother Palkiwala, a writer of many Theosophical Books and Bro. Zinoo Master, past treasurer. Bro. Ram Kalra organizer of the students competition, sponsored by the Dani Endowment. The late Sr. Bana Mehta, Fali Contractor, Ms. Antia. A host of dedicated souls, like Hari Bhai Patel a familiar face at ‘Bharat samaj puja’, Ms. Manjula Kanabar, Ms. Gulbanoo Merchant, an Artist., Ms Vijaya Nair, a retired Montesseri teacher of the Theosophy colony of Juhu, Ms. Ketu Irani, Ms. Nilafou Elavia, Kerman Patel, Rustum Cooper and Bro. Khusrov Pavri. Ms. Aban Amroliwala who divides her time between Toronto and Mumbai and was a critical resource along with Ms. Kashmira for cataloguing the Books in the Library. All these members have contributed at some point in time and many members continue to patronize the Blavatsky Lodge and help to keep the flame of Theosophy burning Bright in the city of Mumbai. The membership of the Lodge is presently over three hundred.
Margaret Cousins in her letter dated 26.01.1930, wrote:
“It is a pleasure to see such a spacious noble Building of the Inner Government as this Lodge Building, which I visited for the first time. May it be an ever increasing centre of happiness, illumination and service.”
To recall the words of Past President, Bro C. Jinarajadasa from his Foreword to a Book by Bro K.J.B. Wadia published in 1931:
“The Annals of Blavatsky Lodge have an historical Value not only to its members but also to the members of the Theosophical Society at Large. The Theosophists of Bombay have understood Theosophy, not only as a spiritual creed of the spirit but also as a practical gospel for the amelioration of men. The record of the Lodge is one worthy of emulation by all Lodges. May it grow from Glory to Glory.”
May the prophecy and Divine Blessings prevail. May Blavatsky Lodge remain a Light House and spread the Beacon of Universal Brotherhood, for the present generation and well into the Distant future.
Honorary Treasurer – Blavatsky Lodge – 2016 -2020
Among the Lodge Memorabilia are the following:
* Two arm chairs used by Madam Helena Blavatsky and Col. Olcott.
* A large portrait of Dr. Annie Besant oil painting on a mirror dated 1916.
* Brass statue of meditating Buddha, presented to the Lodge in 1927.
* The original Lodge Charter signed by Madame H.P. Blavatsky and Col. Olcott dated 20th February 1880.
* A Blackwood carved sofa used by the Founders
* A colour painting of Lord Zarathustra, painted by M.F. Pithawala, as envisioned by the
Clairvoyant – Nusserwanji Bilimoria.
* Original Minutes of Lodge Managing Committee Meeting from 25th April 1880 onwards.
Fifty years of Theosophy in Bombay – K.J.B. Wadia – TPH Adyar 1931.
Old Diary Leaves – Col. H.S. Olcott – TPH Adyar.
Theosophy.org – Pasadena website.
Conversations and interviews with Mrs. Mahazaver Dalal, Secretary of the Bombay Theosophical Federation.
Forward.com-Searching for my Indian Jewish family – Ms.Sigal Samuel.
Theosophy* For an insightful article on the subject – Theosophy – a shoreless ocean – Erica Georgiades – Hermes Magazine, November 2019.
Page 2, The Secret Doctrine – TPH, Adyar Edition 2010.
FOTA Newsletter – Athens, Greece/Winter 2018 regarding Dr. Anandi Bhai Joshi.
Madam Blavatsky – the woman behind the Myth – Marion Meade, Putnam, U.S.A 1980.
Photo-1. Blavatsky Lodge on the Architects drawing Board. 2. The House in which the founders stayed on arrival. 3 original minutes of the MC meeting of 25th april 1880. 4. Group photo at Crow’s Nest. Damodar Mavlankar can be seen in the picture.