Is There Freemasonry In India?

Freemasons are a social and philanthropic organization meant to make its members lead more virtuous and socially oriented lives.

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Freemasonry began as early as 1717, making it one of the world’s oldest, and perhaps the largest men-only societies, which goes on to be practiced in over 150 countries. Brought first to Calcutta by the Europeans, Freemasonry has widened its reach in India.

So who are freemasons?

Freemasons belong to the oldest fraternal organization in the world, a group begun during the Middle Ages in Europe as a guild of skilled builders. With the decline of cathedral building, the focus of the society shifted. Today, Freemasons are a social and philanthropic organization meant to make its members lead more virtuous and socially oriented lives. Grounded in the Enlightenment, the organization still conveys the era’s core values, religious tolerance, thirst for knowledge and sociability.

While not a secret society, per se, it does have secret passwords and rituals that originate with the medieval guild. In the original guild, there were three stages: Apprentice, Fellowcraft and Master Masons who oversaw everyone working on a site. Today, these degrees are more philosophical.

The history of freemasonry in India goes long back.On February 19, 1884, a young Narendranath Datta joined the Anchor and Hope Lodge and became a Freemason. Within three months, 21-year-old Datta was raised to the degree of ‘master mason’. After nine years, the world came to identify this young boy as one of the greatest spiritual leaders ever born in India and the first to have brought Hindu philosophy to the west. Narendranath, who was by then known as Swami Vivekananda, surprised everyone as he spoke on Hindu culture and religion at World Parliament of Religions in Chicago in 1893.

They are one of the world’s oldest secretive societies whose members included Motilal Nehru, Vivekananda, JRD Tata, King George VI and George Washington, among others. Their temples and lodges are specimens of grand architecture and their arcane rituals have inspired as much curiosity as fear. They are the Freemasons.

Freemasonry, an esoteric fraternity which owes its origin in the late 16th to 17th century in Scotland and England came to India through the East India Company in the early 18th century. They are known by their most recognisable symbol of an interlaced ‘Square and Compass’, found on the facade of all Freemason’s Hall.Apart from Swami Vivekananda, several prominent Indian leaders are believed to have joined Freemasonry in the past. Rajendra Prasad and Fakhrudin Ali Ahmed are just a few names among many.

The Freemasons’ fraternity in India is thriving. There have been no reports of any major opposition to their existence in the past. Brought to India by the British, there are now 380 lodges spread across the country controlled by Grand Lodge of India (New Delhi). There are around 30,000 registered Freemasons in India out of which 30 per cent are youth.India’s first President Rajendra Prasad, first Vice-President S Radhakrishnan, Sir Phirozeshah Mehta, C Rajagopalachari, Sir Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy, the Nawab Of Pataudi Mansur Ali Khan, Maharaja Jivaji Rao Scindia, among other eminent Indians, were also Freemasons, according to information on the Regional Grand Lodge of North India.

The current head or ‘grand master’ is Harcharan Singh Ranauta. The Freemasons do not believe in practicing any religion, but do not put any restrictions on anyone at the same time. Their rituals and practices are maintained as a secret just to ensure that Freemasons can identify each other easily. A Freemason in India can go to any other country and he will be treated as part of the fraternity and helped by them. 

The Grand Lodge of India runs a polyclinic inside its complex in Janpath in New Delhi and it is also involved in many developmental and philanthropic activities.

Believers in one God or ‘Father of Universe’, they go by the motto of ‘brotherly love, relief and truth’. One might consider secret societies as a boon from  westerners imagination but is a very real thing even for third world countries like India and it has been flourishing well.

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