History & Culture

Putting philosophy into practice

R. Sushil Raj, Regional Grand Master of Southern India for Freemasons. Photo: A. Shrikumar   | Photo Credit: mamp28masonstory

Freemasons has been a society shrouded in mystery. For long, there had been many speculations of its history, members and their practices. But some of the world’s well-known personalities have also been freemasons.

An interesting revelation is that Swami Vivekananda was also a Freemason. He is said to have joined Masonry during his early life, as a youth. Though the fact is not a new discovery, it has not been much talked about either. However, an interesting event two months from now is going to celebrate for the first time the Swami’s connection with Freemasonry.

Sharing this information with the Metro Plus, R. Sushil Raj, Regional Grand Master of Southern India for Freemasons, says, “a world-renowned spiritual leader associated with our society is a matter of great pride for all Freemasons.”

“Though this aspect is not much publicised, during the Swami’s stay in Chicago, it was the freemasons there who helped him and sponsored his trip,” he adds.

It is believed masonry played a vital role in shaping Swami Vivekananda apart from his own principles. “Probably the act of addressing the all-religion conference as ‘brothers and sisters’ stems from the concept of universal brotherhood that we practice,” points out Sushil Raj.

To commemorate Swami Vivekananda’s stint with Freemasonry, the organization has planned to install a life size sculpture inside the Vivekananda Kendra at Kanyakumari on August 31. “This will be the first ever public event of Masons in India and will also coincide with the 150 birth anniversary of the Swami,” says Sushil Raj. The installation is a six-feet stone cube with a four-feet etching of Swami Vivekananda’s image.

“We have tried to give an idea of how Narendranath Datta would have looked as a Freemason. We have given him a masonic adornment. The sides of the cube with details of the Swami’s masonry connection, will be kept open to public.” It has been designed by Natarajan, a 93-year-old sculptor from Vivekananda Kendra.

As now, it was in vogue for men to join the Masonry even in the past. Whether it’s simply because of the pride and status it fetches or out of a genuine thought to do good for the society, remains a question. But Sushil Raj counters that it’s a pre-requisite for every mason to have noble intentions and willingness to donate for good causes. “Masonry is all about spreading light,” he says. “Upholding values and ideals is the foremost duty of Freemasons.” According to him, though it may sound highly philosophical, the Freemasons have put their beliefs into practice ever since the organization’s start.

Last Monday (June 24) was a special occasion for freemasons in the city. “The day is observed as Universal Brotherhood Day by Masons all over India. We take up new projects, conduct events and celebrate brotherhood,” says Sushil Raj. “This was when Masonry became a concept and it’s the longest day in European summer. We try to tell the world the message of brotherhood every year.”

Freemasons are known to be conservative and closed. But Sushil Raj asserts, “We are not secretive. We do lots of social work but don’t publicize it.” Masonry started as a congregation of stone masons in Europe and later became a theory. “The way a mason shapes and polishes a stone, we are supposed to shape our character and make the world a better living place.”

Within 11 years of its inception, Freemasons came to India and the first Grand Lodge was set up in Calcutta by the English East India Company. “We brought out a coffee-table book on the history of Masonry in Southern India. This part of the country has the largest number of Freemasons – 9,000 in total with 134 lodges spread over six states,” beams Sushil Raj.

In the south, the works undertaken by Masons include constructing 74 houses for the tsunami-affected, building a 10,000 sq.ft hall in Pallam village in Kanyakumari and installing solar lamps and plug-points in 110 villages under the ‘Jyotirgamaya’ project. For World Brotherhood Day this year, the three Lodges in Madurai collectively contributed towards providing financial assistance for the education of under-privileged students among other services.

“Masonry teaches to be happy. We want people to know of our services and avail them. We want to spread happiness,” says the Grand Master before retreating to the ‘temple’ where “good men are made better”, the organisation’s tagline.

Swami Vivekananda as a freemason:

Details of Swami Vivekananda becoming a Freemason is mentioned in pages 117 and 118 of the book ‘The life of Swami Vivekananda – Volume I’ written by his eastern and western disciples.

On February 19, 1884, Narendranath Datta joined the Anchor and Hope Lodge (No. 234), which is now the Grand Lodge of India No.1.

W.C. Banerjee and Nimaichandra Basu, friends of Narendranath’s father Vishwanath, were active members of the Lodge.

After joining the Masonic Lodge, Narendranath Datta passed their test on April 5, 1884 and was raised to the degree of ‘Master Mason’ on May 20 of the same year.

When Swami Vivekananda was facing difficult times in Chicago in 1894, Mr. G.C. Connor, a Freemason gave letters of introduction to certain Freemasons in Chicago to treat the Swami cordially.

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Printable version | Mar 4, 2021 9:32:05 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/history-and-culture/putting-philosophy-into-practice/article4856715.ece

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