Many of Mumbai’s iconic buildings are often relegated to the background because of the overbearing hubbub of modern life that surrounds it. Frequently, its rich history and contributions to society are forgotten in the hustle bustle of the modern amenities that surround it. The Theosophy Hall, in Churchgate is one such structure.
The Theosophy Hall is a six floored building associated with the United Lodge of Theosophists (ULT); an organisation whose aim is to propound amongst the masses the teachings of theosophy, a subject that is a synthesis of science, religion and philosophy. The ultimate goal however, is to build a nucleus of universal brotherhood – and to achieve this, The Theosophy Hall continues to run to this date.
It was inaugurated on November 17th 1957, by the prominent theosophist and labour activist Bahman Pastonji Wadia amidst a jubilant crowd of over 700 ULT associates from India and abroad. The new building replaced a hall at Esplanade Road, Flora Fountain that used to host discussions on theosophy ever since its inception in 1929. (Interestingly, that hall too was inaugurated on 17th November – a date considered auspicious by theosophists)
Scampering up a series of wooden stairs, you encounter a large auditorium on the first floor. It is here, weekly public lectures and study classes are held. A balcony arching over and opening into the hall below comes into view on the second floor. But it is the third floor houses the centerpiece of the Theosophy Hall – a spacious library, which stocks thousands of old tomes on philosophy, comparative religion, mysticism, Indian history and metaphysics. Till date, its shelves are adorned with old editions of rare books such as Max Mueller’s Sacred Books of the East, The Ashtadhyayi of Panini, translations of Vedic scriptures and books on the Kaballah.
Tragically, none of the books here are digitized. Consequently, many a rare book lies tattered, despite best efforts to preserve them. A student associated with the Theosophy Hall since 1972, and who currently manages the library says, “Many of the old books have now been weeded out, since they crumbled upon being taken out”. Despite this, archiving the books isn’t currently a priority. She says, “Right now our sole focus will be to put all our energy in the spread of theosophy.”
Today, the Theosophy Hall is managed by a charitable trust, called the Theosophy Company. Its funds – collected from voluntary donations of students – are primarily used to propagate theosophy and to administer and maintain the premises. Interestingly, despite being associated with the ULT, the Theosophy Company remains an independent entity that isn’t controlled by it.
This is in keeping with the declaration of the ULT which enshrines that “The true Theosophist belongs to no cult or sect, yet belongs to each and all”.
Sadly, despite its rich history, an enviable collection of ancient books and weekly discourses by knowledgeable students of theosophy, the number of people entering theosophy hall has reduced over time. The student says, “There was a time when BP Wadia (founder of Theosophy Hall) was around, there were more than 500 people attending the lectures. The library also used to have a fair number of people. Unfortunately today, most people only come to read magazines and newspapers. But yet, there are still some scholars who come in to do research and access the rare books”
Another student of theosophy associated with the ULT for over five decades says, “Yes, it is true that interest in subjects like religion and philosophy is decreasing. Today, people are less interested in philosophic study. They are more interested in quick fix solutions to mundane problems of modern life like – I can’t focus on my studies, my daughter isn’t getting married or I cannot sleep at night. They look for offerings, mantras or pujas to solve these problems. But theosophy isn’t like a short cut, it is a deep subject, which addresses the root cause of all these problems.”
However, has the reduced interest in theosophy worried students of Theosophy Hall? “We’re not worried. See there are cycles going down and there are cycles that pick up and go up. We wait with faith that it will pick up one day, and till then we just continue working.”