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How an Australian travelled to Madurai to return a Freemasons mat

Freemason from Australia, Tom Reimers returns a 40 year old mat to members of Lodge Rajasabai in Madurai   | Photo Credit: S James

This story begins where most end.

Almost two decades ago, Tom Reimers, resident of a small beach town called Esperance in Perth, Western Australia, received a unique Christmas gift from his daughter. It was a silk-cotton mat woven in Bhavani in Erode district of Tamil Nadu. She picked it up for five Australian dollars at an auction in nearby Bunbury.

“The symbol embroidered on it caught my eye. It was one of the most prominent symbols — the square and compasses of Masonry — I always saw on the ceremonial attires of my dad, who is a Freemason of 47 years,” says Lois.

The story could have ended with Lois’ surprise gift to her father in the winter of 2000. But what she didn’t know then was that the gift would inspire her parents to travel 6,700 kilometres to return the 40-year-old mat to the rightful owners in faraway Madurai.

“When I saw the embroidered words on the mat referring to the installation of A S Rajasabai as the Regional Grand Master of Southern India on January 7, 1978, in Madras, curiosity got the better of me. I knew there was somebody’s sentimental value attached to it,” says Tom. He was in the city with his family to hand over the mat to members of Lodge Rajasabai. It took him several years to establish the connection of the mat to the temple town and get in touch with the right people, he says.

What persistently intrigued him was how the mat travelled from Madras to Perth. Correspondence over the years with the Regional Grand Lodge of Southern India revealed that A S Rajasabai was a well-known industrialist from the region who was initiated into Masonry in 1946 in Lodge Pandyan, the only Freemasons Lodge then in Madurai, started by the British in 1890.

To honour Rajasabai’s leadership and philanthropy, members of Lodge Pandyan started a new lodge named after him in 1972 and he rose to become the Regional Grand Master of Southern India in 1978.

According to Tom, the mystery of the mat’s journey is, however, based on conjectures. It is assumed that belongings of one Darlington, associated with Freemasonry and who stayed in Chennai, reached the Bunbury auction, which had two more similar mats. “I have not been able to trace the Darlington family,” says Tom, who however, tracked down Rajasabai’s family in Madurai and learnt he was into trading activities mostly in Europe and had never visited Australia.

Tom showed the Rajasabai mat to the 50-odd members of his Esperance Lodge but deep within, he always had the urge to return it to where it belongs. “It did not mean anything to us but I knew I had to preserve it and so, kept it safely rolled up all these years,” he says.

Two years ago, when Lodge Rajasabai developed its website, Tom emailed them and one of the members responded saying they would love to have it back. He had the option of couriering it, but after many deliberations with his family, he decided to visit India and personally hand it over to the members. “It is special for me to be able to reunite the mat with the rightful owners,” says Tom, 84, and under treatment for leukemia. “My wife and I always wanted to see India and this is how the opportunity came to us,” he smiles.

The handing over ceremony was simple and the current Master of the Lodge, Dr R Ramani described it as a “privilege to receive it.” “We will probably hang it on the walls of the Temple during the regular meetings of the Lodge housed in a heritage building, as a tribute and reminder of the work Rajasabai stood for,” he adds.

For Tom’s family, it was a whirlwind maiden trip to India where they enjoyed the train ride from Chennai to Madurai, visited temples and villages, attended Pongal celebrations and an engagement ceremony in the Rajasabai family, experienced the crowds and tasted a variety of food. “Everything was new and different for us,” says Tom. “And finally, leaving the mat here gives me the feeling of something going away and yet, making a new beginning.”


January Jottings

Lodge Rajasabai was warranted under Grand Lodge of India on January 25, 1972

A S Rajasabai was installed as Regional Grand Master on January 7, 1978

The oldest in Madurai, Lodge Pandyan was warranted under the English Constitution January 18, 1890


Freemasonry describes itself as a system of morality, veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols. The symbolism is mainly drawn from the manual tools of stonemasons – the square and compasses, the level and plumb rule, the trowel. A moral lesson is attached to each of these tools.

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Printable version | Nov 30, 2021 5:51:25 AM |

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