The year was 1990 and Bangalore then was still a small sleepy town. The city had very few cinema theatres and the number of them showing English movies were even less. Most of the theatres showing English movies were located on M. G. Road and Plaza was one of them. My introduction and in future addiction to Hollywood movies started from Bangalore and one movie that played a pivotal role was Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. This was also the very first movie, which my father and me saw together. After this, there were several occasions when we had seen a Hollywood movie together.
My father was a fan of Steven Spielberg and over the years that same fan following was inculcated to me. I still remember some of the scenes from that movie where Harrison Ford was on a horse and last but not the least the scene on the Zeplin. I became a fan of Indiana Jones and that was something, which also made me the Indian Vagabond. My passion for exploring new and unknown places developed from the idea of Indiana Jones.
In the Indiana Jones movie, franchise a lot of the concept includes the brotherhood of Freemasons and other similar groups. This is perhaps the reason why I always wanted to know more about Freemasons. Ironically, the place where I have been working for nearly one and a half decade sits right next to the Freemasons (Masonic Hall & Lodge) Kolkata. I always wanted to visit that place but never could manage to step in, the only time that I used to see the members of the fraternity was during the Remembrance Sunday service at St. Johns Church where there would be a representation from the Freemasons offering wreath to the memory of the fallen soldiers.
Finally, in the beginning of 2019 my dream to visit the Masonic Lodge in Kolkata came true when I managed to visit this place and photograph the various sections and objects of the Masonic Lodge. I was beginning to feel like Indiana Jones finally managed to solve the last piece of the puzzle.
It is one of the world’s oldest secular fraternal societies, which can trace its roots from Moses, Noah, Euclid, Pythagoras etc. It is even believed that King Solomon had built the temples if Jerusalem with the basic principles derived from the Stone Masons.
Freemason some say is the type of brotherhood which was once followed from the stone masons. The stonemasons used their day-to-day tools, mathematical and allegorical guides a part of inculcating knowledge of moral and spiritual values.
The main objective of this organization is that of Brotherhood of Man and the Fatherhood of God. Through various rituals some of which and known and some of which are unknown the organization inculcates the values of togetherness with moral and spiritual values.
The rituals are passed on from one generation of members to another following strict guidelines. It is not a secret society but its rituals are secretive in nature. A new member can only join after being vetted by an existing member and then after being voted in to the organization and accepted by every member.
It is a known secret that many world leaders from past and present were Freemasons and most of the major corporates have Freemasons in their top chair. Thus, it is a common saying that Freemasons have a wide and deep reach in the society.
Freemason in India
Freemasonry in India traces its roots back to 1728, then India was under many provincial rulers and a significant portion of the country was being ruled by the East India Company. In the year 1717 (June 24th) the Grand Lodge of England was formalised and a Grand Master was elected. A constitution to oversee the functioning was formalized and was unanimously adopted by all the lodges.
Within 12 years of formalizing the organization in England, permission for a Provincial Grand Lodge in Calcutta was approved. A Grand Master was also elected to oversee the expansion of the fraternity in the subcontinent.
A petition was presented on December 28, 1728 which read:-
Deputation” from the Grand Master: “to Empower and Authorize our well beloved Brother (George) 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”
Signed and sealed “the 6th day of February 1728/9”
The First Lodge in India
Lodge number 72 was located at Fort William – Calcutta and was the first lodge in India. The reason for having this at Fort William was very logical since almost all the senior officers of East India Company were located there thus getting the cream of the society. Captain Ralph Farwinter was appointed “Provisional Grand Master for East India in Bengal“.
This was followed by the Provincial Grand Lodge of Madras (Chennai), which was formed in 1752. The Provincial Grand Lodge of Bombay (Mumbai) was created six years later in the year 1758.
It did not take long for the Masonry brotherhood to induct Indians and the Nawab of the Carnatic, Ghulam Husain Ali Khan was the first Muslim Indian Mason in 1775. It however took time for the first Hindu to join the brotherhood as the concept of many gods in Hinduism was not accepted at that time. The council argued that a person needs to believe in God that may be of any religion but in the case of Hinduism it did not conform to any single image.
Only in the year 1872 (13th June) did Mr. Prosonno Coomar Dutt be the first Hindu to be accepted in the fraternity. It took him nine years to get in and in those nine years he was black-balled several times. Black-balling is the election process where in each new member before being accepted is voted by the members in secret with black and white ball. Each new member should have all white balls against his name and even a single black ball would mean disqualification.
Mr. P.C. Dutt in his final argument was able to convince the existing members that even though Hindus have multiple gods yet they all lead to a single belief.
Post-independence of India the Grand Lodge of India was consecrated as a Sovereign Grand Lodge with full Masonic jurisdiction over the territories of the Republic of India in November 1961.
Notable Indian Freemasons include people like Swami Vivekananda, Dr. B. R. Ambedkar, J. R. D. Tata, Pandit Motilal Nehru and many more.
Freemasons’ Hall (Park Street)
The building is located on 19 Park Street right in the middle of Park Hotel and Karnani Mansion. From the outside that is from Park Street you can hardly make our if there is any building existing as you can only see the large iron gate located between Kwality Restaurant and Oly Pub. Only once you enter through those gates will you be able to see the whitewashed building with blue painted windows.
The nearly 2 acre property stands testimony to time and history of the city and the nation. This property was acquired by W.R. Burkitt, the then chief justice of Calcutta High Court in the year 1903. This property originally belonged to an Armenian businessperson J.C. Galstaun for a sum of Rs. 1,45,000. The property was put under the Bengal Freemasons Trust Association. This lodge is know as “The Star in the East” and is one the oldest surviving Freemasons lodge in India.
The building houses The Bengal Freemasons Trust Association, Freemasons’ Hall, District Grand Lodge of Bengal, Bengal Masonic Association, and Regional Grand Lodge of Eastern India. This place also houses the polyclinic and Montessori school.
What to See?
Once you enter through the gates, you will find two distinct buildings, one to your left and the other to your right. The one on the left houses the office of the District Grand Master and Regional Grand Master. The building to you right which is the main building that houses the temple, library and other common meeting rooms. I will explain the various sections and various aspects within the building through the photographs. Please follow the caption which will have all the details.
All the information present in this blog were gathered from various sources and I have mentioned each of them in the references below. If you find any mistakes or discrepancies in the information then please feel free to get in touch with me. I have purposely not gone in to the details of private ceremonies of the Freemasons since I am not a Freemason thus cannot vouch for its authenticity. Let some secrets always remain a secret.
If you are interested in taking a tour of Armenian History of Calcutta which coves Freemason’s Lodge then you can participate walk organised by Let Us Go or call at 98302 21966. Anthony Khatchaturian leads the walk 99349 94919.
The early history of Freemasonry in Bengal and the Punjab by Walter K. Firminger and Andrew D’Cruz
University of Cambridge
A brief history
The Freemasons chamber of secrets in Fort turns 120
Grand Lodge of India
How the plot thickened
Mount Everest Lebong Lodge