This was not part of the plan on my visit to Chennai but my friend suggested we take a trip to this place called the Theosophical Society. My eyes got wider at the sound of that, obviously, I was excited. Very enthusiastically I ran a quick google search on my phone.
Theosophy is formed from two words, “Theos” – God and “sophy” – wisdom, theosophy essentially means the study of divine wisdom. For years I have grappled with the way religion has played out in history, shaping cultures, traditions and eventually molding an individual and creating a different worldview in each of us. I have dug deeper into finding, reading and understanding different religions and philosophy over time.
The Theosophical Society
From my bit of research, I found out that the original society was formed in 1875 which existed in New York City founded by a certain Russian named Helena Blavatsky, occultist, spirit medium, and author and Colonel Olcott, I gulped! The society moved their headquarters from New York to Adyar in Madras in 1886.
I looked up their timings online and found that it opens from 8:30 am to 10 am and from 2 to 4 pm to the general public. And I thought hey, why not start the day from here. The society is spread out over a lush green 250-acres of land called The Huddlestone Gardens beside the Adyar River, East of Chennai and very close to Elliot’s Beach. For an avid nature lover, this is paradise within the city.
The Huddlestone Gardens
As I entered the clean premises the fragrance of the morning flower blooms filled the air. There was an eerie but subtle calmness in the surroundings and down the well planned out streets within the campus. Behind the canopy of banyan, mahogany and the plenty of other big name trees, and between the chirping birds and the cobwebs, I noticed empty buildings with some great deal of design. A closer look revealed that some of these were a hundred years old or more. Theosophy believes that no religion is greater than the truth. A Universal Brotherhood of sorts catering to the study of Divine Wisdom.
The society has built places of worship dedicated to different faiths, albeit for the different people who stay/stayed there. I found a Christian church, a Zoroastrian temple, a Hindu temple, a Sikh shrine, a Buddhist shrine there’s even a mosque. But all this made the place even more mysterious for me.
Notable members of the Society
As I dug deeper I found out that the famous writer/activist Annie Besant served as a President of the society for 25 years and there lies a memorial dedicated to her within the campus. A worker I came across said that Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru sat under a 450-year-old banyan tree and formulated the National Freedom movement here, although I cannot certify the veracity of his claims. There is also a house where Rabindranath Tagore lived for a few years.
The Eerie yet subtle calmness
While I strolled around the garden, these locked places of worship intrigued me. There was no activity anywhere other than the gardeners and workers who were doing their work around the campus. Or maybe I went there too early in the day. There were a few visitors clicking away photos on their cell phone. The atmosphere of secrecy and mystery here will make even an uninterested person stop and ponder. It reminded me of the Di Caprio movie “The Shutter Island“.
The one thing I loved the most about the garden was its immense green cover and how easy it was to get lost in the flora and fauna. Dirt tracks and trails were never-ending. Every tree is marked and accounted for with their scientific names and plucking of flowers is strictly not allowed.
A place of solitude
All I could hear were the gentle noises of the crickets and the birds that fluttered around with an occasional whisper of the wind in my ear. Time flew by quick and the 2 hours weren’t really enough. It got hot after a while and the Chennai heat began to rise although I did notice the weather was considerably better inside the campus. Thickets form a natural barrier against the shores of the river. A 400-year-old uprooted banyan tree can still be seen here. Other structures in the campus include locked houses, a canteen, and some gothic buildings. The place is a writers dreamland, calming down senses and provides a place of solitude. I could easily spend the whole day there and get lost in thoughts.
Secret societies and freemasonry aside this is a very good place to come and enjoy a little bit of solitude while you breathe a lung full of fresh air, an oasis of peace and tranquil. Birders will have a great time here. I found it totally worthwhile getting there early and capturing these shots and it easily became my favorite place in all of Chennai. A true offbeat experience in the middle of the big metro.
- DSLR photography is strictly prohibited inside the society but cell phones ok.
- Entry is free on all days except Sundays and public holidays.
- More details on The Theosophical Society here.
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