Theosophy and India

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Early work

In 1890 H. P. Blavatsky wrote a summary of some of the influence the Theosophical Society had had on India, as follows:

. . . the idea of the Masters, and belief in Them, has already brought its good fruit in India. Their chief desire was to preserve the true religious and philosophical spirit of ancient India; to defend the Ancient Wisdom contained in its Darœanas and Upanishads against the systematic assaults of the missionaries; and finally to reawaken the dormant ethical and patriotic spirit in those youths in whom it had almost disappeared owing to college education. Much of this has been achieved by and through the Theosophical Society, in spite of all its mistakes and imperfections.
Had it not been for Theosophy, would India have had her Tukaram Tatya doing now the priceless work he does, and which no one in India ever thought of doing before him? Without the Theosophical Society, would India have ever thought of wrenching from the hands of learned but unspiritual Orientalists the duty of reviving, translating and editing the Sacred Books of the East, of popularizing and selling them at a far cheaper rate, and at the same time in a far more correct form than had ever been done at Oxford? Would our respected and devoted brother Tukaram Tatya himself have ever thought of doing so, had he not joined the Theosophical Society? Would your political Congress itself have ever been a possibility, without the Theosophical Society? Most important of all, one at least among you has fully benefited by it; and if the Society had never given to India but that one future Adept (Dâmodar) who has now the prospect of becoming one day a Mahâtma, Kali Yuga notwithstanding, that alone would be proof that it was not founded at New York and transplanted to India in vain.[1]

The Phoenix

After A. P. Sinnett was announced that he was going to be dismissed from The Pioneer in 1883, the Master K.H. made an effort to engage Mr. Sinnett in organizing a newspaper supported by Indian capital. The latter wrote:

A scheme was developed, according to which I was to start a new paper in rivalry with the "Pioneer". Its name was settled. It was to be called The Phoenix and efforts were made to obtain the necessary capital from some of the great Indian Rajahs.[2]

This newspaper sought to help in raising the social and economic condition of the Indian masses, their sense of self-respect, and their standing in the eyes of the world.

Sinnett left for England hoping to return to India for this project, but after considerable efforts to raise the funds needed the enterprise had to be abandoned for lack of support from the Indians.

Indian National Congress

The Indian National Congress (INC) was founded by Theosophist A. O. Hume. In 1883 he wrote an open letter to the graduates of Calcutta University, calling upon them to form their own national political movement. That year a political Conference was held at Albert Hall in Calcutta. Hume wanted to see India free from the reactionary bureaucracy but he did not contemplate the separation of India from the British Empire.[3]

It is said that the idea of and All-India Congress was conceived in a private meeting of seventeen men after the 1884 Theosophical Convention held at the International Headquarter of the Theosophical Society, in Adyar.[4]

Mr. Hume took the initiative and in March 1885 it was decided to organize the first session of the INC in Poona, considered to be the most central and suitable place. He was elected General Secretary of the Congress and held that position from 1884-91.[5] The INC became the leader of the Indian Independence Movement, with over 15 million members and over 70 million participants in its struggle against British rule in India. Today, he is widely regarded as the father and founder of the Indian Congress.

Indian nationalist movement

The Dictionary of National Biography describes Annie Besant's efforts to help India politically and socially as follows:

She poured her superabundant energy into campaigning for self-government by means of newspapers she controlled—The Commonweal and New India—and in lectures such as India Bond or Free? (1926). In 1913 she joined the Indian National Congress. In 1915 she proposed to its executive committee that a network of home rule leagues be set up across the country. While at the outbreak of the 1914–18 war most Indian politicians, including Gandhi, the rising star, called a truce in their opposition to the raj, Besant did not, proclaiming 'England's need is India's opportunity' (New India, August 1914). In 1916 the tragedy of the Dublin Easter rising incited Mrs Besant to new heights of ferocity and contempt. In May 1917 the viceroy, Lord Chelmsford, bowed to Anglo-Indian demands and interned her at Ootacamund. The historic announcement made at Westminster on 20 August 1917... secured her release, when all India celebrated... On 26 December 1917 she became the first woman president of the 32nd Indian National Congress meeting at Calcutta. It was the summit of her influence, which thereafter declined. [6]

Notes

  1. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, Collected Writings vol. XII (Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1988), 159-160.
  2. Alfred Percy Sinnett, Autobiography of Alfred Percy Sinnett (London: Theosophical History Centre, 1986), 22.
  3. Sven Eek, Damodar and the Pioneers of the Theosophical Movement (Adyar, Madras: The Theosophical Publishing House, 1965), 631.
  4. B. Pattabhi Sitaramayya, The History of the Indian National Congress. (Madras: Working Committee of the Congress, 1935), 16.
  5. Sven Eek, Damodar and the Pioneers of the Theosophical Movement (Adyar, Madras: The Theosophical Publishing House, 1965), 631.
  6. "Besant, Annie", Dictionary of National Biography. Available at the Oxford DNB website.