Theosophical Society - Adyar is one of the best kept secrets of Madras. This is one of very few sites that boasts greenery in the city, which is otherwise a concrete jungle. The authorities of the Society need to be applauded for maintaining the site so well. Even during the peak summer time, the trees of the Society are in full bloom. The place is full of heritage rich structures and has a lot of historical significance. A tranquil walk in the early morning through the beautiful pathways of the Society and resting under the largest banyan tree is a unique experience. Let us explore about the history and various places of interest in Theosophical Society.Theosophy:
What does the word "Theosophy" mean? It's difficult to explain in one or two sentences. It is a broad subject. To put it in layman's term, I would say it is a branch of philosophy which deals with the study of divine wisdom.Theosophical Society:
An occult movement originated in the 19th century in the US and it was called as "Theosophical Society". It is said that the roots of the movement can be traced to the Alexandrian Gnosticism movement and the Greek Neoplatonism movement.
Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, a Russian oculist from Ukraine, after returning from India in 1871 CE, attempted to found the similar organization in Cairo. But it was not successful. Her attempt was successful after her meeting with Col. Henry Steel Olcott, an American journalist and lawyer. Blavatsky, Olcott, William Quan Judge, an Irish American oculist and few others formed the Society on 17th November 1875 in New York. Olcott was the first President of the Society.
Late in 1878 Blavatsky and Olcott left US and settled down in India. They established their headquarters in Bombay. They toured to various places in India and Sri Lanka for several years to give lectures and publish/distribute their works. The headquarters was later moved to Adyar in Chennai city in December 1886.
After the death of Blavatsky in 1891, the Society was split into two factions as Theosophical Society Adyar (Olcott-Besant) and the Theosophical Society Pasadena (Judge).Annie Besant:
It would be an incomplete article, if I miss to mention about Annie Besant. She was born as Annie Wood in London. She married Frank Besant and had two children. She soon legally separated from Frank and returned to London. She became a powerful writer, orator and importantly an activist.
In 1889, after her meeting with Blavatsky, she was converted to Theosophy. She broke her links with the Marxists and other activists. When Blavatsky died in 1891, Annie was seen as a leading member of the Society. She represented it at the Chicago World Fair in 1893. She visited India for the first time in the same year. After the Society was split into two, she along with Olcott lead it from Adyar, Madras.
She started the famous Convention Lectures in Adyar and started the Central Hindu College in Benaras. In 1907, after Olcott passed away, she officially became the president of the Society.
Annie remained an important leader of Theosophical Society till date. She enlarged the headquarters by purchase of Blavatsky and Olcott Gardens. Along with her activities in the Society, she also joined Indian National Congress and actively participated in the Indian freedom movement.She passed away in 1934.Charles Webster Leadbeater:
Charles Webster Leadbeater was one of the leading and popular members of the Society. He was from England. He became an associate of Annie Besant. He had to resign from the Society due to a sex scandal. He was later readmitted into the Society by Annie. He remained as a leading member till he passed away in 1934.Jiddu Krishnamurti:
As a boy, Jiddu Krishnamurti was discovered by Leadbeater. He claimed that the boy had wonderful aura. He and his associates nurtured the boy in the Society. It was evident that the boy for prepared to become the expected World Teacher.
Jiddue became a close associate of Annie and Leadbeater. After few years, he traveled to various countries across the globe and gave lectures. In 1911, the Society established the Order of the Star in the East to prepare the world for the expected appearance of the World Teacher. Jiddu was appointed as its head. However, over the next few years, he developed different views and concepts, which were evident from his talks and writings. He dissolved the Order in 1929 and even broke his links with the Society. Otherwise, Jiddu would have become the most popular member of the Society after Annie.Theosophical Society Campus:
The campus covers around 260 acres. It is also called as Huddleston Gardens. It is the home for so many migratory birds and varieties of trees. There are some architecturally beautiful and historically significant buildings located within this huge complex. Walking through the garden in early morning or late evening is a unique experience; the structures and the trees of the complex are treat to our eyes.Adyar Library:
Adyar Library was founded in 1886 by Olcott. Originally situated within the Head quarters building, it was later shifted to the current building. The library has a bust of Olcott.Religious Shrines:
The Society complex has shrines of various faiths. Among all the shrines, the Zoroastrian shrine is very unique and more attractive. The semi-lion and semi-human figures at the entrance of the shrine draw many visitors.
The Hindu temple is located adjacent to the Zoroastrian shrine. The bas-relief figures on the pillars of the temple are very attractive. Inside the sanctum, only light is found instead of any idol.
The Church of St. Michael and All Angels is the next structure. Look at the photograph. I don't need to explicitly mention how beautiful it is.
The mosque, which was modeled on the Agra's Pearl Mosque, was completed in 1937. The simple structure of the Sikh shrine is a later addition.
Situated away from all the above mentioned shrines and in the coconut grove, the Buddhist shrine is the most beautiful of all these shrines. Built in 1925, it enshrines the sandstone idol of Buddha. A picturesque lotus pond is located in front of the shrine. A Bodhi Dharma memorial stone and the Bodhi tree are also located near the shrine. The sapling from the Bodhi tree of Buddha Gaya grew into this tree.The Great Banyan Tree:
The Great Banyan Tree of Theosophical Society, which is popularly called as Adyar Aala Maram, had been one of the major identities of Chennai for several years. It is said that it is the second largest banyan tree in the entire nation.
The tree is believed to be more than 450 years old and it along with its offshoots occupy a whopping area of around 40,000 sq feet. The main trunk was uprooted in 1989's cyclone. However, with a small portion of the main trunk, the branches still survive. The branches form canopy over the adjoining streets.
This is the most famous site in the entire Society.Head Quarters and Other Structures:
The elegant Head Quarters Building is called as "Hall of Unity". In the center of the hall, the big statues of Blavatsky and Olcott are found. The first one is dated to 1899, whereas the Olcott's statue is dated to 1907. Although both the pilaster statues were made in different period, as both the statues are standing so adjacent to each other with Olcott's arm is resting on the shoulder of Blavatsky, it appears as if both were sculpted together.
The walls of the hall has a lot of bas-relief figures representing the images or signs/symbols of various religions. It includes the images of Buddha, Krishna, Jesus, Asshur (Jewish), Ashtaroth (Mesapotamian), Quetzalcoatl (Mesoamerican), Osiris (Egyptian), Orpheus (Greek), Shinto (Japanese), Mithra (Zorastrian) and more figures. The bust images of Annie Besant and Olcott are also found inside the hall.
The outer wall of the hall has eight big relief images of elephants, which is one of the most photographed site of the complex.
The life size statue of Subramanya Iyer, who was one of the active members of the Society, is located outside the hall. The memory stone with the symbol and message of Theosophical Society is not to be missed. It is also located near the statue of Subramanya Iyer.
There are so many centuries old Victorian style structures found in the campus such as Bhagirati Nivas, New Quadrangle, Blavatsky Bungalow, Leadbeater Chambers, Gujarati Quarters and others, which are used for administrative or lodging purposes nowadays. All of these buildings have notable features.
The path adjacent to the river used to be one of the highlights in those days. Now, it's not accessible due to vegetation grown there and as the river Adyar is not treated like a river anymore.
Some stone arches with the relief images of Hindu deities and Yali pillars, similar to that of temple mandapas, are found in few places across the garden.
The visiting hours for Theosophical Society is 8:30 am to 10 am and 2 pm to 4 pm from Mondays to Saturdays.