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Annie Besant and Theosophical Society

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  • Last Updated : 13 Apr, 2022

The Theosophical Society was founded in New York City in America in 1875 by Madame H.P. Blavatsky and Colonel M.S. Olcott. They were significantly enlightened by Indian thought and culture. They shifted the headquarters to India in 1882 at Adyar, near Madras. The founder of this society reached India in 1879 at the invitation of Swami Dayanand. By 1884, the society had 100 branches in India, apart from several in Europe and America. 

In 1889, Annie Besant became a member of this society in England. She came to India in 1893 and took charge of it. She made a wonderful contribution to awakening the national consciousness among Indians. It was presided over by Annie Besant in 1907, due to which this movement became very popular.

Besant was a great social reformer, well-known writer, theosophist, philanthropist, and woman president of the National Congress. She did many important works in the field of Indian religion, philosophy, education, culture, and politics through the theosophical society and made a special contribution to the Indian independence movement. Being a foreign woman, she was absorbed in Indian culture. Mahatma Gandhi called her devotion to India, transparent, beyond doubt and exemplary.

Meaning Of Theosophy:

Theosophy, also called Brahma Vidya, is the form of that truth that is the basis of all religions and cannot be monopolized by anyone. It presents the philosophy of making life understandable, through which justice and love are represented or manifested and the path of development of life is directed. According to Theosophy, death is also justified, because it enables the activities of repetition of life and entry into a radiant and joyful existence for a new and full life.

Theosophy tells an individual that he himself is the self-element and the mind and body are his carriers. It exposes the religious texts and esoteric truths of all religions and makes them intelligible, which is beyond the reach of the intellect but can be substantiated by intuition.

Ideas of the Theosophical Society:

  • The primary belief of the society was that a certain affinity could be established between an individual soul and God through introspection, meditation, prayers, etc. 
  • It accepted the Hindu theologies of reincarnation and karma. It pulled ideas from the philosophy of Upanishads, Samkhya, Yoga, and the Vedanta school of thought. 
  • It strives to work for the universal brotherhood of humankind without disparity of ethnicity, ideologies, caste, and color. 
  • They gave special importance to scientific development and pursued to explore the laws of nature and the potential powers of humans. 
  • The Theosophical Movement at one point was also associated with the Hindu renaissance. 
  • It opposed child marriage and supported the abolishment of caste discrimination, uplift of outcastes, and improvement in the condition of widows.
  • Like the Arya Samaj, the Theosophical Society also supported the caste system earlier. However, after some time it opposed untouchability and opened schools for boys, women, and the downtrodden.

Annie Besant:

Just after World War-I, this period witnessed the rise of women in Indian politics. Annie Besant was one of such remarkable figures who is credited with spreading the activities of women empowerment through the theosophical movement in India.

Born in London on 1 October 1847, Besant was influenced by the religious views of her parents. She was an eminent social reformer and was a leading speaker for both Fabian Society and the Marxist Social Democratic Federation (SDF). In 1877 she was prosecuted for publishing a book by birth control campaigner Charles Knowlton

In 1878, she expressed her views about India for the first time and came to India in 1891 AD. She completely became a part of Indian culture through dress, food, etiquette, etc. and accepted India as a civilization, and embraced nationalism here.

Role of Annie Besant:

  1. Annie Besant was influenced by the ideas of Theosophy in 1889. She joined the Theosophical Society on May 21, 1889. Soon she made an important place as a speaker in the Theosophical Society.
  2. She had a keen interest in religion. While criticizing the western materialistic civilization, she proved the ancient Hindu civilization to be superior. She also translated the Gita during that period apart from Bal Gangadhar Tilak.
  3. She was one of the leading figures in the political life of India from 1913 to 1919. She formed the link between nationalism and Congress Politics. The Congress attached great importance to her and elected her the president of one of its sessions. She infused consciousness among the people through her Theosophical philosophy.
  4. When the British forced Indians to adapt to western customs by imposing the imperative of English education, Besant came forward and warned the Indians that they were forgetting the ancient values ​​that had identified them.
  5. She felt that it is very important to make Indians aware of modern education because only then they can grow ahead and get themselves included in the developed countries of the world. For this, she worked hard and did all that she could for the benefit of the Indians. She became the president of the Theosophical Society in 1907 and one of the founders of the Home Rule League.
  6. Theosophical thinkers, while professing the superiority of Hinduism, encouraged religious tolerance and tried to create fraternity among all sections of the world. The Theosophical Society contributed significantly to the development of Indian nationalism by instilling in Indians a sense of self-respect for the past and their religious heritage.
  7. Annie Besant worked on the establishment of various schools for poor students and her most important work in this direction was the establishment of “Central Hindu College” in Varanasi in 1898, which later became the foundation for Banaras Hindu University. She believed that, apart from other things, education and the development of a national spirit based on Indian ideas are necessary for India.

Conclusion:

Annie Besant believed that according to the rules of this society, religion is the only thing that can inspire nationalism. The members of this society considered serving the country as their supreme religion by leading a simple life. These religious-social reform movements helped in the development of national consciousness by destroying the social and religious evils and establishing a healthy life and better thinking in society.

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