Freemasonry in India

Set-up at Calcutta

Barely 11 years after the founding of The Grand Lodge of England, a need was felt to set up a Lodge in India, by the British who were then ruling India. For this purpose a Petition was presented on December 28th, 1728. From the Minutes of the meeting preserved in The Grand Lodge of England; we find the text of the "Deputation" from the Grand Master :

" to Impower and Authorize our well beloved Brother Pomfret .......... that he do, in our place and stead, constitute a regular lodge, in due form at Fort William in Bengal in the East Indies ....... . "

This was signed and sealed the 6th day of February 1729, and in the year of Masonry 5732 (which shows that Grand Lodge used the Anno Lucis {AL - The Year of Light} in dating the Masonic era - as the Grand Lodge of Scotland still does). The Lodge at Fort William - that is, Calcutta - appears in the Engraved List of 1730, as No. 72, and was for the members of British regiments. It used to meet at Fort William in Calcutta. A golden lion, rampant gardant, supporting a regal crown between the forepaws, was adopted as the Coat of Arms. In 1729, Bro. Captain Ralph Farwinter was appointed Provincial Grand Master for East India in Bengal. Bro. James Dawson was appointed as Provincial Grand Master for East India.

The Lodge at Fort William stayed with the Modern Grand Lodge of England during the split between the Modern and Ancient Freemasonry in 1767. From 1781 to 1785, the Provincial Grand Lodge of Bengal was in abeyance owing to war in South India.

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The Provincial Grand Lodge at Bombay, English Constitution

The Provincial Grand Lodge of Bombay was created in 1758. There is no record of how it came into being, although it appeared on the rolls of The Grand Lodge of England. The First Provincial Grand Master Bro. James Todd was appointed in 1764. There are few records of it's activities for the next 75 years.

Bro. Dr. James Burnes (1801-1862) PGM (W.I.) (SC) (1838-1850), a medical officer in the East India Company arrived in Bombay in 1821. He was an FRS, the last Knight of the Gurelphic Order of Hanovar made by King William I. He was extremely well connected. He had been initiated in Freemasonry under the Scottish Constitution, and was known to be bountifully endowed with all the qualities required for Masonic administration. Chevalier Burnes, as he was popularly called, more than anyone else in India, was responsible for bringing Indians into Freemasonry. Till then native Indians were not admitted into Freemasonry.

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The Scottish Connection

The Grand Lodge of Scotland appointed Bro. Dr. James Burnes as its Provincial Grand Master for Western India (at Bombay ) in 1836, his jurisdictrion being extended to all India in 1846. At that time, Scottish Freemasonry attracted quite a few English bretheren from their Lodges. In one case an entire Lodge went over to the rival juridiction. This was to protest against the rejection of a petition of membership of native Indians. Perhaps the most significant of Bro. Burnes' masonic acts was founding Lodge Rising Star of Western India at Bombay for the general admission of native Indian gentlemen. Twenty-five years later, the Indian brethren were well and truly established in English Lodges, as well as holding office in the English District and Scottish Province. This is well documented in the Masonic Register for India of 1869. In 1847, the Scottish Province became the Grand Lodge of All Scottish Freemasonry in India, in reality a very large District Grand Lodge, with its Grand Master enjoying the ‘local rank’ of Most Worshipful. From then on, Freemasonry in all its branches became highly popular among the Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs and Parsis. It became necessary to furnish, in many Lodges, several different Volumes of the Sacred Law - including the the Bhagvad Gita, the Koran, Granth Sahib, and the Zend Avesta. This is still a unique feature of Indian Freemasonry, as even to-day there are not many Lodges in the world to have more than one Volume of the Sacred Law on it's Altar. Most Lodges in India have more than five Volumes of the Sacred Law on a regular basis. Many Indian Princes joined the Order and rose to high masonic rank. Although some Lodges throughout the country remained exclusively European; in most cases there was mixed membership with meetings in the same Hall. Later on, meeting on the level with people of diverse religions, united in their respect for the Supreme Being, was a great attraction for British and Indian, military and civilian population alike.

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Lodge Rising Star of Western India

In 1843, a Parsi geneleman Maneckji Cursetji, who had been initiated in a French Lodge A La Gloire de l’Univers, was proposed as a joining member of the (Scottish) Lodge Perseverence, and was turned down. Thirty brethren, nineteen of them members of Lodge Perservance itself, petitioned Bro. Dr. James Burnes, Provincial Grand Master, for a Lodge in India designed expressly for the admission of natives into the Craft. The petition was granted, and Lodge Rising Star of Western India was consecrated under the Scottish Constitution on 15th December 1843, with Bro. Dr. Burnes himself as its first Master. Four Indians were proposed for initiation, a Parsee and three Mohammdans. The Parsee, Ardeshir Cursetji Wadia, was the first Indian F.R.S., the Chief Engineer of the Bombay Dockyard, and scion of the famous ship-building Wadia family, whose line of nine battle ships were the only vessels of their class ever to be built for the Royal Navy outside the British Isles. For further details on the 156 year old history, and present status of Lodge Rising Star of Western India, click here.

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