Registered with the Registrar of Newspapers for India under R.N.I 53640/91

Vol. XXVIII No. 6, July 1-15, 2018

From India’s Digital Archives

The Digital Library of India (DLI) project, an initiative of the Central Government, aims at digitising significant artistic, literary and scientific works and making them available over the Internet for education and research. Begun in 2000 by the Office of the Principal Scientific Advisor to the Government of India and later taken over by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, it has to date scanned nearly 5.5 lakh books, predominantly in Indian languages.

The archives of the DLI contain a huge collection of books on old Madras and various institutions that were/are part of its landscape. While these include the more famous ones, such as the Madras Tercentenary Commemoration Volume, Story of Madras by Glyn Barlow, and Madras in the Olden Times by James Tallboys Wheeler, several out-of-print publications too are part of the collection. This column will profile some of them.

Freemasonry comes to South India

The Digital Library of India (DLI) project, an initiative of the Central Government, aims at digitising significant artistic, literary and scientific works and making them available over the Internet for education and research. Begun in 2000 by the Office of the Principal Scientific Advisor to the Government of India and later taken over by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, it has to date scanned nearly 5.5 lakh books, predominantly in Indian languages.

The archives of the DLI contain a huge collection of books on old Madras and various institutions that were/are part of its landscape. While these include the more famous ones, such as the Madras Tercentenary Commemoration Volume, Story of Madras by Glyn Barlow, and Madras in the Olden Times by James Tallboys Wheeler, several out-of-print publications too are part of the collection. This column will profile some of them.

Freemasonry is one of the world’s oldest social movements, with its origins traced to the times of King Solomon. Modern Freemasonry is, however, dated to 1717, when the United Grand Lodge of England, the body that has overseen much of the progress of Freemasonry across the world, was founded. The first Lodge formed in our country was in Fort William, Calcutta, in 1728. The movement took root in South India in 1752, with the formation of the District Grand Lodge of Madras. The book featured in this edition, History of Freemasonry on the Coast of Coromandel (1895), traces the origins and early history of the movement in South India.

The book notes that most of the early Lodges were what were known as Travelling Lodges. Owing to the fact that most of the early members of the fraternity were attached to regiments, the Lodges shifted bases with the regiments. The fate of these Lodges depended on the exploits of their members on the battlefields. Thus, the book records several instances of Lodges going out of existence, only to be resurrected by surviving members a few years later at a different place.

The year 1786 marked a watershed moment in the history of the movement in South India. It saw the coming together of the Ancients and the Moderns, the two competing branches of Masonry that owed allegiance to their parent bodies in England. The Grand Union, as it came to be known, was a momentous occasion which put an end to a period of strife and uncertainty surrounding the movement. Marking the Grand Union, a new Lodge, Perfect Unanimity No.1, was formed in 1787. It is the oldest Lodge in continuous existence in Madras. This Lodge was the pivot around which the entire movement revolved in the region. It was at the forefront, along with the Provincial Grand Lodge, in overseeing the development of the movement in all aspects. For instance, it was the leader in the practice of the Masonic virtue of charity, playing an active role in the founding of the Civil Orphans’ Asylum and a Charitable Committee for the relief of the poor, which was the origin of the Friend in Need Society. The role of the Lodge in leading the search for a permanent home for the fraternity in Madras, which would culminate in the coming up of the present premises in Egmore in 1925, is another noteworthy contribution.

Over the period of its existence, several prominent personalities, both Indian and European who have contributed to the social, political, commercial and cultural landscape of the region have been members of the movement. Notable names from the latter section include that of Dr. James Anderson, the botanist, F.W. Ellis (the Tamil scholar who propounded the Dravidian proof), R.F. Chisholm, the famous architect and pioneer of the Indo-Saracenic style of architecture, and G.B. Bruce, the Father of the Railways in South India. It is also interesting to note that three Governors of Madras, Lord Elphinstone, Lord Connemara and Lord Ampthill were at the helm of the fraternity in South India as District Grand Masters during their gubernatorial tenures.

Indian participation in the movement began to increase only in the 1850s, though the first Indian member, Umdat-Ul-Umrah, the Nawab of Carnatic, had been initiated in 1775. In 1883, the first Lodge to be exclusively formed by Indians, Lodge Carnatic, came into existence. Over the years, the Lodge has had on its rolls several illustrious personalities such as Pammal Sambanda Mudaliar, Sir C. Sankaran Nair, C. Rajagopalachari, Lodd Govindoss and T.M.S. Mani, ics (who developed the Neyveli township).

The book, written by Rev. C.H. Malden, Garrison Chaplain of Fort St. George and published by Addison and Co, Mount Road, is a fascinating account of the early history of the movement. Containing short histories of the old Lodges, the book also has comprehensive appendices which list out the 69 lodges “ever warranted on the Coast of Coromandel” chronologically along with their places of meeting from 1752 to 1895. Malden also authored A Handbook to St. Marys Church and two other comprehensive works, List of Burials at Madras from 1680 to 1746 and List of Burials at Madras (St. Mary’s Cemetery) from 1801 to 1850.

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