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Theosophical society

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  • Published
    21st Oct, 2023


In the history of Modern India, Theosophical society has played a significant role especially in South India. However, still there is less knowledge around its establishment in India and its foreign roots.

So, let us explore a few information regarding the Theosophical society.

Theosophical society:

  • "The term 'Theosophy,' rooted in Greek, translates to 'Divine Wisdom.' Established in 1875, in New York by Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, Colonel Henry Steel Olcott, the Theosophical Society is a global organization dedicated to fostering spiritual progress, aiming to achieve universal brotherhood transcending all boundaries.
  • Its core belief is in the fundamental interconnectedness of all life, encompassing both human and non-human beings, recognizing the inherent unity of all existence."
  • Based on the ideals of universal brother hood and also Indian philosophical thoughts, the society thought that the spread the movement will be more fruitful if the headquarter is established in India. Thus they established the International Headquarters at Adyar in Madras (currently Chennai) in 1881.

Ideological underpinnings:

  • Promoting universal brotherhood of humanity.
  • The study of comparative religion and philosophy, especially from the eastern world
  • To “investigate unexplained laws of nature and powers latent in man”. The society believed that there were powers latent in human beings, which could be brought out through spiritual development.
  • It played a key role in reviving the teachings of many ancient Indian texts including Upanishads, Vedas and also occult texts.
  • It accepted the Hindu beliefs in reincarnation and karma, and drew inspiration from the philosophy of the Upanishads and samkhya, yoga and Vedanta schools of thought.
  • The Theosophical Movement came to be allied with the Hindu renaissance. It opposed child marriage and advocated the abolition of caste discrimination, uplift of outcastes, and improvement in the condition of widows.
  • In India, the movement became somewhat popular with the election of Annie Besant (1847-1933) as its presidentafter the death of Olcott in 1907.

Annie Besant- An Irish lady, came to India in 1890’s, was made president of theosophical society and also she started Home rule league in India in 1915. The objective of home rule was to have rule by natives under the dominion of British, similarly on the lines of Irish home rule league.

Evaluation of the Movement in India

Religious Revival vs. Western Appreciation

  • The Theosophists, although aspiring to revive religious fervor, did not achieve notable success.
  • Instead, they found acclaim as Westerners venerating Indian religious and philosophical traditions.

Empowerment and Questionable Pride

  • The movement boosted Indian self-esteem amidst the fight against British colonialism.
  • However, it sometimes fueled misplaced pride in outdated traditions and philosophies.

A Common Ground

  • The Theosophical Society acted as a common platform for various sects and met the needs of educated Hindus.

Limitations of Impact

  • For the average Indian, Theosophy seemed vague and lacked a clear agenda.
  • As a result, its influence was confined to a small, westernized segment of society.

Theosophical Society played a multifaceted role in India. On one hand, it did not achieve significant success as religious revivalists. However, it made a lasting impact by promoting Indian religious and philosophical traditions, thus instilling a sense of self-respect among Indians fighting against British colonial rule. Nevertheless, its role in revitalizing Indian spirituality and heritage remains significant, highlighting the need for the recognition of indigenous traditions. It offered an alternative perspective that encouraged the revaluation of ancient philosophies and traditions in a time when many were inclined to dismiss them as outdated.

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