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. But who are Freemasons and why is it that we know so less about them?
The history of Freemasonry might date back hundreds of years, but the credit for introducing India to the cult goes to writers like Dan Brown and Ashwin Sanghi. The Freemasons, to many, are part of a secret society which is sometimes even compared or linked with the ‘infamous’ Illuminati believed to be trying to take over the world.
The precise origin of freemasonry is debatable but the central theory claims that the practice evolved from ‘medieval guilds of stonemasons’. These stonemasons were the architects of great cathedrals of Europe and protected their crafts from outside influence by maintaining an oath of secrecy. Jay Kinney, a freemason and author of the book Masonic Myth, iterates that these groups or societies of stonemasons were later taken over by elite or intellectual classes retaining the old rituals but evolving into a more sophisticated fraternity.
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.
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.
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’.