Click here for more...

Click here for more...

VOL. XXIV NO. 18, January 1-15, 2014
Annie Besant's contribution
by K.V.S. Krishna

(Continued from last fortnight)

After the passing away of H.S. Olcott in February 1907, Annie Besant became the President of the Theosophical Society. C. Jinarajadasa states that she entered the political arena in 1913. She started a weekly newspaper, then in 1914 purchased the Madras Standard, a daily and, in August that year, changed its name to New India. She managed to remove factions in the Indian National Congress and, in 1916, along with Lokmanya Tilak, launched the ‘All India Home Rule League’.

It was Besant who recommended F.T. Brooks, a Theosophist, to Motilal Nehru to be tutor to his son Jawaharlal Nehru when he was 11 years old. In many ways Brooks, for a three-year period, influenced Nehru powerfully. Jawaharlal Nehru says in his autobiography, “I decided to join the Theosophical Society, although I was only thirteen then. When I went to ask Father’s permission, he laughingly gave it... As a matter of fact, he was an old Theosophist, having joined the TS in its early days when Madam Blavatsky was in India. So I became a member of the TS at thirteen and Mrs. Besant herself performed the ceremony of initiation. I was thrilled. I attended the TS convention at Benares and saw old Colonel Olcott with his fine beard.” He goes on, “I worked successfully for Mrs. Besant’s League. Her internment added greatly to the excitement of the intelligentsia and vitalised the Home Rule movement all over the country.” Jawaharlal Nehru often met J. Krishnamurti, protege of Annie Besant, whenever the opportunity arose, and drew strength from him for managing India.

Even before she entered the political arena, she established in 1909 a printing press just outside the TS compound with equipment brought from England to print New India. She bequeathed the press to the Society, and it was named Vasantha Press in her memory.

In 1916, Dr. Annie Besant was banned from the Bombay Presidency and, in 1917, she was interned by the Government of Madras. As soon as she was released, the popular wave of enthusiasm was such that she was elected the President of Indian National Congress. “The case for India” was the presidential address delivered by Annie Besant at the 32nd Indian National Congress held in Calcutta on December 26, 1917. The 52-page address was given under the banner of the Home Rule League. Dr. Besant believed in gradual constitutional change through dominion status to full independence, while M.K. Gandhi wanted complete independence immediately. Besant fought for India’s freedom until her death. She wrote some 300 books during her lifetime.

Education remained a major focus of the Theosophists. Col. Olcott initiated the development of 200 schools and three premier educational institutions in Ceylon with 20,000 students and a few schools in India, including the Olcott School, now called the Olcott Memorial School. Annie Besant established the Central Hindu College at Benares, appointing G.S. Arundale as its Principal. This became the nucleus of the Benares Hindu University, founded by Madan Mohan Malviya. This is now one of the biggest residential universities in India with over 27,000 students. Besant also founded the Besant Theosophical College on July 19, 1915 at Madanapalle. She also approved the shifting of the National School, Guindy, to Madanapalle by J. Krishnamurti, and the renaming of it the Rishi Valley School. When Besant died in 1933, the Besant Memorial School was founded by G.S. Arundale in her memory. Later, Arundale requested Maria Montessori, the Italian educationist, to come to India and propagate her methods of education. The best of Theosophical education was in practice till the school moved out of Damodar Gardens to Tiruvanmiyur. ‘The School’ of the Krishnamurti Foundation is now in Damodar Gardens as the T.S. has leased it to them for 15 years.

In 1886, Col. Olcott founded the Adyar Library, which now has 250,000 printed volumes and 20,000 palm leaf manuscripts and receives 225 journals from several countries. It is now a research centre for Ph.D. students of the University of Madras in Sanskrit and Indology.

Gandhi and the Theosophists

The young Mahatma Gandhi.

Gandhiji was only twenty years old when he met two Theosophists. “They talked to me about Gita. They were reading Sir  Edwin Arnold’s The Song Celestial and invited me to read the original with them which I did. It is only after some years that it became a book of daily reading. The Theosophists also recommended The Light of Asia by Sir Edwin Arnold and I read it with even greater interest than I did the Bhagavad Gita. They took me to Blavatsky Lodge and introduced me to Madame Blavatsky and Mrs. Besant. They insisted that I read Madame Blavatsky’s Key to Theosophy. I was advised to join the Society, but I politely declined saying that with my meagre knowledge of my own religion I did not want to belong to any religious body,” wrote Gandhi in his autobiography. Years later, while in Pretoria, South Africa, Gandhi secured the translation of the Upanishads published by the Theosophical Society. He had several friends among the Theosophists in South Africa with whom he was impressed as most of them were vegetarians.

On a tour of North India during 1915, Gandhiji visited Mrs. Besant at Benares and told her that he was aware that she was in delicate health. He said, “I only wanted to pay my respects. I am thankful that you have been good enough to receive me in spite of your indifferent health. I will not detain you any longer.” In his further campaigns in India, Gandhiji stated that Dr. Besant’s Home Rule agitation touched the peasants.



Please click here to support the Heritage Act

In this issue

Believe it or not!
Madras Landmarks - 50 years ago
The Metro Rail again!
World's tallest statue
Annie Besant's contribution
The Season,75 years ago
From wall paintings to posters again
By moonlight to Pulicat by boat
The beginnings of MATSCIENCE
Save those buildings

Our Regulars

Short 'N' Snappy
Readers Write
Dates for your Diary


Download PDF