My grandfather, Nilakanta Sastri, was a government engineer. He travelled all over the Madras Presidency, which then included Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and a few places in Karnataka. When my grandfather heard about the founders of the Theosophical Society, he became interested and joined the Society. He felt like living near the Society and built a house close to its present gate. So my father and his siblings had the opportunity of being in contact with the Society from a young age.
I was born there and grew up with many memories of the place, but I will confine myself to just a few. Those days, the Theosophical Society was outside Madras and it was like paradise. The sea was on the East, the Adyar River on the North and only countryside on the West and the South. The estate grew, and so did Madras. In recent decades, the city has extended to include the Society and areas beyond it —its name has also changed to Chennai.
When I was a child, Annie Besant was still at the height of her power, and when she gave a lecture, a lot of people came to Adyar to listen to her. Almost every week, she gave a party in which all of us, including older and younger children, were free to participate. This was eagerly looked forward to. She was, of course, very busy with many things, besides the Theosophical Society.
My father, N. Sriram, as a young man going to the Presidency College, was more interested in Theosophy than in his college lessons. He later became president of the Theosophical Society. I clearly remember Annie Besant, Charles W. Leadbeater and those who followed, including George Arundale.
The Society had many eminent people as its members in those days. Jawaharlal Nehru, in his younger days, was a member and his daughter, Indira Gandhi, took interest in it.
When Arundale became the president, he encouraged all of us, young and old, by his very presence.
He had a humorous way of putting across important matters. It was a delightful time when we could wander around this beautiful part of Madras and Adyar. I think the Society was then one of the special features of Madras. The Besant School was started as soon as Dr. Besant died.
Rabindranath Tagore and other eminent persons visited the Society. Arundale was involved in politics, but not entirely. The Society, now more than 130 years old, has played an important role in the development of the city.
I REMEMBER There was a time when Ammu Swaminathan, a prominent social worker and political activist, and others used to run what was then considered important — a shop with Indian goods. My mother too took turns to assist them.
Radha Burnier President of the International Theosophical Society was born on November 15, 1923, in Adyar. Her father, N. Sriram was the fifth president of the Society. She remembers her childhood spent amid eminent leaders in the Society. A student of Rukmini Devi Arundale's school of classical Indian dance, she also starred in the legendary Renoir film, “The River”. She joined the Society in 1935 as president of the youth and adult lodges, and was a guest speaker at various international conventions, congresses and summer schools. She has also been the editor of The Theosophist since 1980.