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Sunday, 21 November 2010

Freemasons in Bangalore

Freemasons in Bangalore (Written  by Bangalore Mirror writer)
At the consecration of the Freemasons Sattvic Lodge rich and powerful men shimmered like little boys in Harry Potter Land
November 21, 2010

I knew I wasn’t going to ‘see’ any live sex in the Temple. But I was hoping to at least catch a glimpse of long-coat-tailed men, drinking vintage wine from vintage skulls. That’s what Dan Brown promised in his book The Lost Symbol. So, there I was with fingers crossed, hoping against hope, going over the the threshold of the Freemasons Lodge in the city. Tough luck! There was no ruby-red brimming over hollowed skull. Instead I find a period pamphlet, an advertisement really, for Three way Beauty Treatment –Raja Snow, Amla Hair Oil and Kasturi Soap circa 1920s, preserved on the walls of what could pass off as a boy’s hostel dining room.
RTKumar, Master of the Sattvic Lodge in the Freemasons Temple

Tucked behind a commercial bank, on a narrow lane, which neither looks prim nor smells of roses but called Primrose is an innocuous building where every month rituals dating back to King Solomon’s era (965-925 BC), are performed by men behind closed doors.  Men who are distinguished professionals in the world outside those doors –doctors, engineers, businessmen, politicians –all rich and powerful (and who are uncomfortable with such plebian adjectives). Men, who belong to a group that has been envied, doubted, feared and bandied about for hundreds of years across the globe.

The Freemasons
It is one of the world’s oldest fraternal societies founded on the principles of the Fatherhood of God and Brotherhood of man. The Church and Islam believe that they are hoodwinking the world about the Fatherhood-of-God-bit. “They are satanic, keep away from them,” warned a genial pastor back in the days when I spent a larger part of my life seeking salvation. Ironically, no atheist can become a Freemason. (So, for the last time, Jawaharlal Nehru was not a Freemason, but his father Motilal was.) Though their basic tenet is belief in God, religion and politics are taboo subjects within the precincts of the Lodge and more so inside the sacrosanct Temple.  Freemasons is one of the most secular societies in the world.

A letter written by Dan Brown to the Scottish Rite Freemasonary, USA on October 6, 2009 reads: “In a world where men do battle over whose definition of God is more accurate, I cannot adequately express the deep respect and admiration I feel toward an organization in which men of different faiths are able to break bread together in a bond of brotherhood, friendship and camaraderie.”

“Those are the principles that we live by. Freemasons is where a good man comes to become better,” says M.W.Bro.Capt. Dr.Balaram Biswakumar, the 14th Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of India. MW Bro.Maj.Gen.Dr.Sir Syed Raza Ali Khan, the Nawab of Rampur was the first. (For the uninitiated - M.W.Bro stands for Most Worshipful Brother and that’s how the Grand Masters and Masters are addressed).

Men get ready for the consecration of the Sattvic Lodge

New beginning

Different shade of Saffron
The ‘Big boys’ of the Sattvic Lodge are dressed in saffron and white aprons and gold gilted Masonic ornaments. Kumar explains, “The regalia are the symbol of Freemasons. Its aprons, gauntlets, rings and symbols define hierarchy –just like in the military. When a Mason puts on an apron he is signifying to the world his willingness to work at his accepted responsibility.”

The consecration of the Sattvic Lodge is to begin in a couple of hours. I am ushered into the Temple on the first floor and for the record, I am not blindfolded (I am but devastated!). I am surrounded by suave looking Masons whose middle name is Chivalrous. Doors are being opened for me; Men wait for me to walk ahead and I am not allowed to carry more than my handbag –The Men in Black do the ‘carrying’. Charm is in the air. And if I close my eyes I am sure I’ll be able to see men astride white horses waiting to whisk me off to the Temple door at the far end of the corridor. They are grace in suits. If these men are deemed satanic, then give me satanic!

Sanctum Sanctorum
The large Temple door is embellished with Masonic symbols -a Square and Compass for a knocker on the left and brass-trimmed key-holes on the right. No outsider is allowed inside the Temple and during meetings the doors are closed with a Freemason guarding the door.

The grandeur of the Temple takes on a mystic charm with its chequered black and white flooring, a la a chessboard. “The Black and white floor signifies happiness and sorrow, light and darkness in life. It is a reminder that all of us Masons have a chequered life,” explains Kumar. The Temple is a place of connotations. It is filled with pentagrams, stars, swords, Mason-tools and columns.  Even the seating arrangements have significance. Men are given designated places to sit and are bound by traditions, which do not allow them to speak unless spoken to. The four heads of the Lodge occupy the four chairs in the four corners of the Temple. On the East sits the Master of the Lodge, West, Senior warden, South, Junior warden and North, the secretary of the Lodge. In front of the Master of the Lodge are placed Holy books of different faiths. The members take oath on these books depending on their faith. There is a square block of unpolished stone in the south and a polished one in the west. This signifies that when a new member enters the Lodge he is like unpolished stone and he slowly gets polished to become a better man serving God, man and country. The new member is brought in blindfolded, dressed in torn clothes. “The attire signifies that we come as poor people into this world,” says Kumar. The initiate wears a dirty trouser with one trouser-leg rolled up and one broken shoe and a torn shirt with his left chest exposed. “Yet another reason why we can never have women in the society,” says a smart alec Mason.

Kumar explains that Freemasons has always been a men’s group. “It is an organization that was started thousands of years ago, when only men were employed as operative masons. We are looking at including women too in the group,” he says “But it has to be approved by 150 Grand Lodges across the globe.” I see the men around me, getting ready for the consecration –they are like little boys in Harry Potter Land. They are not going to spoil the party by letting Eves waltz in anytime soon.

The consecration
More men in suits troop in. The Bangalore Lodge follows the tradition of wearing black suits. “You have to be attired in a suit, no jeans and t-shirt,” says Kumar. As I morph into a fly on the wall, I realize that I am witnessing an historic moment –the Masons are rehearsing for the consecration which is about to begin in 30 minutes.

Suited men with long swords in hand, wooden axes in the corner, ties with ‘Sattvic Lodge’ embroidered onto it knotted around male necks…oaths are being rehearsed, the master of ceremonies calls out last minute instructions... I was catching a glimpse of the so-called-secret rituals which only the Masons (and YouTube) are aware of.

Masonic rituals, handshakes, grips and passwords have always been cloaked in secrecy. “Every family has certain harmless secrets which are private and wouldn’t be revealed to the world. It’s just the same with Freemasons too. Don’t read too much into it,” smiles Kumar. “Freemasons is not a secret society,” he reiterates, minutes before someone in the room notices the fly that I am and says politely, “It’s better that she leaves now. She cannot be here.” There’s collective realization in the room: She is an outsider, not a mason and well, she is a SHE. And she is where she is not supposed to be –in a Temple where the masons are rehearsing rituals passed down from Solomon’s time.  I am gently escorted out of the temple. The men are so charming about it that I am confused about whether I am being shepherded out or am I walking out, on my own accord.

As the door closes, I catch a glimpse of the symbol G hanging from the ceiling of the Temple. In Masonic language G stands for God, the Father or Geometry, the foundation of all science that gave birth to Freemasonary or Goodness. But for those who believe that Freemasons is a cult, the G is an occult symbol and its hidden meaning stands for sex.
The door shuts. And on the other side the consecration of the Sattvic Lodge begins.

As I walk out of the Lodge I cannot help but think…Sex is good. It releases happy hormones. As I turn to thank the Mason who’s been given the responsibility to see me off I notice that he is one heck of a happy Mason!

Freemason trivia: There are more than 150 Grand Lodges in the world
» The first Freemasons Lodge as it is known today was established in London in 1717AD.
» The first Lodge in India was established in Calcutta in 1730 AD
» There are 320 Lodges and 22,000 Freemasons in India.
» Freemasons use gestures, handshakes and passwords to gain
admission to meetings and identify legitimate visitors –anywhere in the globe. And members promise to keep this a secret.
» The fundamental ritual consists of a drama of building of King Solomon’s Temple and the fate of its master architect. This ritual reminds masons of moral lessons in life.
» Masonic tools include the level, plumb rule, square, compasses, swords, axe, pentagram etc.
» Square – represents square conduct. And the compass, a symbolic representation of drawing the circle within which a Mason should operate. “Not to go beyond one’s means,” says Kumar
» Each Freemason progress through a series of degrees gaining insight into increasingly complex moral and philosophical concepts. The three degrees are Entered Apprentice: the degree of an initiate, which makes one a Freemason;  Fellow Craft: an intermediate degree, involved with learning; Master Mason –the third degree, a necessity for participation in most aspects of Masonry.

Famous freemasons
Swami Vivekananda, George Washington, Winston Churchill, Benjamin Franklin, Goethe, Mozart, Voltaire, Edwin E.Aldrin, first astronaut to land on the moon, Sir Conan Doyle, Sir Alexander Flemming who invented Penicillin, Henry Ford, Rudyard Kipling, Sir Thomas Lipton the famous Tea Man, Bill Clinton, Maharaja of Travencore, Maharaja of Vijanagara, Srikantadatta Wodeyar,  Dr.Malcom Adiseshia , Deshabandu Chittran Das, Madhav Rao Scindia, Dadaboy Nowroji Tata, President Fakrudding Ali Ahmed, Jamshedji Tata, Dr.C.Rajagopachari, Socrates, Plato, Pythagoras
 Late afternoon. And for the first time, a woman (this writer) is invited inside the Freemason’s Temple (the hall where the meetings and rituals are conducted is called a Temple) prior to the consecration of a new Lodge -the Sattvic Lodge. Master of this Lodge is RT Kumar, an ad-man with a funny bone.   Enumerating the reasons behind the Sattvic Lodge, he says, “Our wives thought that we go to the Lodge only to drink and party. Why the whole world thinks that and more (plotting to overthrow governments and communing with aliens included). Hence we decided to start a Lodge where there will be no booze and non-vegetarian food, but lots of good work.” There goes my fantasy of seeing Masons drink wine from skulls. Kumar is apologetic about my fantasy being quashed into a mushy pulp and he insists. “Masons do drink wine, but only in glasses.” And he maintains there’s absolutely no ‘live sex’. “That’s purely Dan Brown’s imagination,” he smiles.

The Sattvic Lodge has 30 members and it is the 9th Lodge in the city. There are around 650 Freemasons in Bangalore.  The first Lodge in the city was started in 1863 and C W Aylmer was the First Master.

The Masonic Fraternity is involved in several charitable projects all over the country, building schools, medical care centers, adopting villages and backward communities, helping the aged and the disabled. The Masons do charity with their own money. There are no fund-raisers.
Kumar, whose father was a Freemason, became one in 1992. “In order to become a mason you have to be invited. But we do not canvas for people. Members are taught the precepts of the society by a series of rituals which follow ancient forms and use stone Mason’s customs and tools and allegorical guides.”

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