The Limitation of Freemasonary in India by C.A Ramakrishnan
THE LIMITATIONS OF FREEMASONRY IN INDIA
By R. W. Bro. C. A. RAMAKRISHNAN, I.C.S. (Retd.),
P.Dy.G.M., P.R.G.M., O.S.M. A.G.M.
I consider it a great privilege to have been called upon to assist in this Consecration Ceremony in the sacred Office of Chaplain, and to have been given the opportunity to deliver this Oration. The Oration has to relate to the Nature and Purposes of the Institution of Freemasonry, and while I shall certainly deal with these aspects, I propose to devote some attention also to a subject which I think deserves serious thought, namely, the limitations of Freemasonry in India.
The Oxford Dictionary gives as the meaning of the terms Freemasonry : “A peculiar system of morality, veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols.” It will at once occur to any Freemason conversant with the ritual that this is no original definition, but only what is put in the mouth of the Entered Apprentice when he is questioned “What is Freemasonry?” at the time of examining him in his proficiency for being passed to the Fellow Craft Degree. Thus, though the ritual itself has set the seal of approval on this definition, one doubts whether it is in fact a comprehensive definition of the term Freemasonry. For, Freemasonry is not merely a code of ethics system of morality, but is an Order based on belief, declared in writing, no person however good, noble and great, can gain admission into the fraternity. This belief in a Supreme Being has to be not merely a passive one, but an active, passionate and constant one. This is evident from the fact that masonic rituals contain prayers at every stage to the Almighty, invoking His assistance and blessings on what is about to be done. It may therefore be seen that a full definition of Freemasonry must indicate that it is system of morality based on belief in a Supreme Being.
Freemasonry was brought to India by the British over two centuries ago. When the Sun of the British Empire began to rise, the British race spread all over the world, taking with them, wherever they went, characteristic British institutions like the English language, the Rule of Law, Club Life, and a well-ordered public and domestic life, to mentioned only a few. Among these was Freemasonry. The primary object in starting masonic institutions in India was obviously for the British themselves to derive inspiration in their daily lives, but before long, the inherent driving force provided by the principals and tenets of Freemasonry made it inevitable that Indians should be submitted to the Order. The distinction of being the first Indian in South India to be initiated as freemason belongs to the then Nabob of the Carnatic, Omdat-ul-Omra Bahadur, the year being 1776 and the place Trichinopoly. It will only be appropriate that at the time of the Consecration of a new Lodge today, we remember the British who brought masonry to our country and also the first Indian who was initiated into masonry in South India 196 years ago. The British as the Ruling in the sub-continent have disappeared from the Indian scene, so also the Princely Order which provided the Nabob of the Carnatic, but freemasonry continues to exist in India ; it has become the mighty tree that is the Grand Lodge of India, and it is growing very fast as today’s Consecration shows.
Here in Madurai I cannot but give expression to the fact that I was privileged to see the Light of Freemasonry in this town in the year 1940 in Lodge Pandyan, the sponsoring Lodge of the Lodge which we have met to consecrate. The circumstances under which that event happened will bear narration, if for no other purpose, at least to show what a chance event it was. I was then a very junior Officer in the Indian Civil Service, and was working in this City as City First Class magistrate. There was talk in the local Clubs and among the local officials that the Chief Secretary was shortly visiting the City to consecrate a new masonic temple. My curiosity was aroused as to what was this institution about, which could bring down as exalted personage like the Chief Secretary all the way from Madras to so distant a place. Soon I learnt something about Freemasonry, and a friend of mine offered to take steps to get me admitted into the Lodge Pandyan, if I was interested. I had not the slightest hesitation in deciding to join an institution of which the Chief Secretary (Sir George Boag) was the Head. It will be recalled that he was for many years the District Grand Master of Madras, as several Chief Secretary before him had been, and that on his retirement from Government service and settling down in England, he continued till his death to be actively associated with freemasonry, especially in the Conclave of which he became the Grand Supreme Ruler. He kept up his interest in freemasonry in the Madras District even while he was leading a retired life in England, and was in constant correspondence with the late Rt. Wor. Bro. T. V. Muthukrishna Iyer (his successor as the District Grand Master of Madras) and the late Rt. Wor. Bro. S.T. Srinivasagopalachari, our fist Regional Grand Master in Southern India, on masonic matters. I cannot but be grateful to his revered name so long as breath in me lasts, because it was that name which created a fascination in me for freemasonry and which primarily induced me to join the fraternity.
Looking back over the period of well over three decades during which I have been exposed to masonry, the question may well be posed, “What is the balance aheet like ? What are the credits and debits ? Would you have been the better or the worse if you had not been a mason ?”. The debit side can be figured out easily. First, the financial obligations. I suppose that the expenditure might have run to a five figure sum. Second, the considerable time taken up in attending meetings of Craft Lodges and the Side Degrees, not to mention the District Grand Lodge, the Regional Grand Lodge and the Grand Lodge of India. And lastly, the problem of some masons coming up with requests of all kinds in regard to activities in the outside world, to an extent that smacks of exploiting masonry. The credit side is more difficult to list.
First I may mention the new dimension to life that is provided by becoming a mason ; it is like entering a new world, of fresh air, sun shine and gorgeous colours. Then the ‘acquisition of a knowledge about the Supreme Being without being burdened with all the theology to which traditional religion attaches so much importance. This knowledge – I would venture to call it Divine knowledge Brahma Vidya – at once makes us realize that all mankind is one, and that the barriers of religions, caste, race etc are only for the unenlightened. We are also filled, every second of our waking life, with a sense of wonder, awe and respect for the mighty works of the Almighty, for the hidden mysteries of nature and science. We are also enthused to be alive and active while it is yet day, for the night cometh when no man can work. Our interest are aroused to study and master such of the liberal arts and science as may lie within the compass of our attainments. A code of ethics, morality and virtue is laid before us to guide us in our daily life.
We are privileged to know and cultivate the friendship of numerous people, whom otherwise we might have never come across. We are privileged too, to bring into the Order many good men, and thereby enrich them and also the institution. Lastly, we are provided constant opportunities to keep our masonic knowledge upto date, improve it, share it with others, and practice to the extent possible, the principles and tenets of the system. It will at once be seen that the entries on the credit side cannot at all be evaluated in terms of money – they are priceless. Never was such a balance sheet met with in any business concern. I have never regretted joining masonry ; on the contrary, I often reflect how much poorer I would have been if had not seen the light of freemasonry.
Brethren, I feel sure that every mason present here today, will arrive at a similar balance sheet in regard to his association with freemasonry. Perhaps so will also be the case with the vast majority of the fraternity. I deliberately qualify my statement here, because I know that there are some who have become unattached after having been members of Lodges for some time ; I know also that even among those who are still in the Craft, there are a few who have reservations about freemasonry, and the are frequently known to voice criticisms about one aspect or other of the institution. It will be quite worth our while to conduct case studies of such dissatisfied brethren, because that would provide us with an insight into certain aspects of our institution where remedial action may be called for.
My own assessment is that in almost all these cases, the dissatisfaction or disillusionment would not have been in respect of the institution itself, but only against certain personalities – e.g. that some office bearer of the Lodge (usually the Director of Ceremonies, or the Secretary or the Treasurer) behaved discourteously towards him ; or that in private life, some masonic friend of his let him down ; or that he was denied the masonic promotions that were his due. Out rituals furnish answers to all such situations, and it will be found that the root cause of the dissatisfaction of the brethren concerned is to be traced to the fact that they had not yet really become masons except in name, and that they had not yet imbibed the principles of the Order.
What is the real purpose of Freemasonry ? Is it not to improve our character, develop our personality, and keep us in equilibrium in the rugged path of life ? Is it not to make us appreciate our place in the divine scheme of things, and become constantly aware of the True and Living God Most High ? Is it not to so dispose our heart and mind that we practice charity in the widest sense of the term ? Is it not to so transform us that we are welcomed in any society, and relied on to give a helping hand to any good cause for amelioration of mankind ?
Brethren, while it is true that freemasonry has several facets, let us always bear in mind that all those facets must finally and up to making better men of us. If there is any failure in regard to this, then something has gone wrong somewhere, and there would be need for an investigation and setting right matters. It will invariably be found that the remedy is more masonic education, in the widest sense of the term, and a stricter practise of the principle and tenets of freemasonry. The cause would certainly not be any shortcoming in our tenets and principles, or any lacunae in our rituals, usages and customs.
The estimated number of freemasons in the world is of the order of six millions. There are some 110 Grand Lodges in the world which the Grand Lodge of India of India is on terms of recognition and fraternal relations. The Order exists in all countries where there is freedom of association, freedom of speech and freedom of belief. In some countries, it is not easy to become a mason, there are long waiting lists, and it is considered an honour to be made a member of the Order. In a few countries, leading public figures are all masons, and in fact, the climb to public recognition is parallel with the climb in the Order. In countries like the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand a sizable proportion of the adult male population are masons, and the Head of the Order is Royalty, or the Governor-General. It is known that most President of the United States have been masons. Even in India, during the British period, the top people in Government were leaders of the Order. In Madras itself, several Governors have been the District Grand masters, and took very active part in masonic activities. One of them (Lord Elphinstone) laid the foundation stone of a masonic hall in 1839, and when it was found that additional funds were required to complete the building, started a donation list, his own donation of Rs. 1000/- heading the list. Another, Lord Connemara, was made the District Grand Master in 1888 even though he was only a Master Mason, and even though some eye-brows were raised about the property of elevating to the position of District Head a brother who had not passed through the Eastern Chair. In the conditions prevail in the foreseeable future, there seems to be no possibility at all of the Head of a State, of the provincial Heads of Government, or political leaders coming forward to fill high posts in the masonic hierarchy. In fact, very few political figures appear to have been attracted to the fraternity at all. This raises the further question, can we seriously claim that there is in our fraternity, a fair cross-section of all important and influential sections of the populations in our country. I am afraid that such a claim cannot be sustained at all. With reference to the total size of our population, again, which is of the order of some 550 millions the number in the fraternity, which is of the order of about 11,000 is infinitesimal. The bulk of the membership comes from the middle class and even the lower middle class. The rich and the super-rich in the fraternity can be counted on the fingers’ ends. There is again the fact that all our masonic rituals have practically to be only in English, and this language is now fighting for its very survival in an atmosphere of linguistic passions. The moment there is any strong move for converting the rituals into local languages may also be the moment when the toll of Freemasonry’s eclipse in India will be sounded.
The above considerations may appear to strike a pessimist note about the scope freemasonry in India from making any impact on the course of national life in our country, but my object is not to strike such a note, but to impress on the brethren the need to be realistic. We must not have any exaggerated importance of our own place in the Indian scene and as to what we can achieve. While undertaking projects for the welfare of the community cannot be strictly regarded as the main purpose of freemasonry, and while there is nothing seriously wrong in our trying to do our best to alleviate human suffering and distress, let us be keenly aware of our limitations I doubt whether we should try to vie with strictly service organizations like Rotary and Lions in taking up community projects. I feel strongly that the main purpose of freemasonry is to improve the character of the individual mason, and leave it to him to practise our tenets and principles in the outside world. Even if we are so few that we will be lost in the ocean of humanity surrounding us in this country, there is every reason to hope that even isolated lamps shining here and there may diffuse some light and bring some cheer.
The foundation of freemasonry lies in the daughter lodges. We in the Grand Lodge of India have now the exclusive privilege to consecrate new lodges, as the other existing sister Constitutions (namely the English, the Scottish and the Irish) can function only with the lodges that remained in those Constitutions in November 1961. I myself have had the privilege of participating in the Consecration of some ten new lodges since the formation of the G.L.I. This Lodge Rajasabal is coming into existence to fulfil a real need, as the solitary lodge so far in Madurai has grown beyond what may be regarding as the suitable limit from the point of view of providing adequate opportunities for new entrants to come up in masonry. It bears the name of great and senior mason who has distinguished himself in other fields also. Masonry has permeated him, and his personality ; his words and actions all exude masonry. Under him as the Founder Master, and always as the leader, there can be no doubt whatever that this new lodge will grow and flourish.
Let every meeting of the Lodge become a “Raja Sabhai”, namely a King’s durbar in the best sense of the term-something like King Solomon’s Court, where dignity decorum and discipline prevail ‘ where talent is discovered and encouraged, and the principles of our progressive science are implanted firmly in the breasts of all who attend.
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