THE THEOSOPHICAL ESTATE here at Adyar is the International Headquarters of
the Theosophical Society.
(The Indian Section Headquarters is in Varanasi).
Below, we give a guide to the Headquarters Hall.
On the west wall of the Hall is a large tablet showing all the countries in which national societies have been founded, and the dates of their charters. Above this list are the Objects of the Society:
To form a nucleus of the Universal Brotherhood of Humanity without distinction
of race, creed, sex, caste or colour.
To encourage the study of Comparative Religion, Philosophy and Science.
To investigate unexplained laws of Nature and the powers latent in man.
As a result of our study of Theosophy we encourage each member to understand his own religion and live it better. When we hold official meetings in this Hall we sometimes begin with the prayers of the religions of those present, offered by a member from each of the religions. We have symbols of all the principal religions on the walls. During the International Convention of the Society, flags of all the countries where the Society is represented are hung in the Hall together with the flag of the United Nations.
Beginning with the oval over the tablet just described, FREEMASONRY is represented by the square and compasses. Freemasonry is not a religion but it is probably the oldest brotherhood in existence today.
To the left, over the outside archway is the Kandy (Sri Lanka) procession of Perahera, the Sacred Tooth, a Buddhist relic.
Turning to the right, over the next arch is represented the newest of the world religions, Bahai, founded by BAHA’U’LLAH, meaning the Incarnate Glory. The symbols are Persian letters spelling, ‘God is Great’.
The next symbol to the right represents Judaism, with MOSES, the lawgiver, and the six-pointed Star of David, the symbolism of which is similar to that of the star in the Society’s seal, described later.
Beneath this is a bas relief representing Christianity, taken from Holman Hunt’s painting, JESUS CHRIST, the Light of the World. He is shown knocking at the door of the heart which has no outside latch. The heart must be opened from within to permit him to enter. A lamb is shown, since he was known as the Good Shepherd, but this is also a symbol of the cosmic sacrifice.
Next to Christianity comes Buddhism, showing the LORD BUDDHA in meditation, seated on a lotus, and wearing the jewelled Crown of Light representing Supreme Enlightenment.
Above is Jainism. Its founder, MAHAVIRA, taught harmlessness and renunciation. The symbols are a svastika, its four arms sometimes regarded as representing four types of life: the devas, the human, the underworld and the lesser kingdoms (animals, etc.); three small circles above the svastika, the jewels, of right faith, right knowledge and right conduct; the crescent, the quickening spirit which grows and becomes the circle of victorious Godhood, but also called harmlessness.
Next in a wall niche on the corner is a bust of Dr Annie Besant. A bas relief over the door at the north end of the hall portrays Minerva, the Roman Goddess of Wisdom, with her attendants in human and devic form. Above this is a design by Colonel Olcott weaving together the cocks that were part of the crests of his family and that of Madame Blavatsky. In the wall niche on the other corner of the north wing is a bust of Colonel H.S. Olcott who served the Society as President from its inception until his death in 1907, when he was succeeded by Dr Besant.
Continuing along the north wall we come first to SRI KRISHNA, Vishnu incarnate, who represents the devotional aspect of Hinduism. He is shown with his flute and the sacred cow, Mother Nature, worshipping him. Even the branches of the tree over his head bow down to him.
Above is a symbol labelled NANAK, the founder of Sikhism, a religion of devotion and strength, which reverences Hari, the Indwelling Name. Kankan, an iron ring worn on the right arm, symbolizes self control or restraint; Kirpan, or dagger, stands for power and dignity, while Khanda is the two-edged sword of Spiritual Knighthood.
The next space is labelled LAO TSZE who founded Taoism in China. Tao means the path, and the circular symbol of Yin and Yang represents the duality of all manifestation.
Below, another large bas relief portrays the first Zoroaster, labelled ZARATHUTSTRA, founder of the Parsi religion. He is shown with the nine-knotted staff, rod of power, used to invoke the heavenly fire of purity, shown as a ball of fire in his hand. He has a fourteen-rayed star halo representing the seven states of consciousness and the responsive states of matter.
Over the archway is CONFUCIUS, another Chinese teacher. The symbol is T’ien, meaning heaven or serene righteousness. He taught duty to oneself and charity to others.
Continuing around to the east wall, we come to SHINTO which is the indigenous religion of Japan. The symbol is the Gateway of the Gods, for by purification each man can become a Gateway of Light. This symbol, the Tori-i, stands before every Shinto Temple, whereby the Greater Gods can descend to man.
Below is ISLAM, Divine Peace, represented by a verse from Holy Scripture, Al Qur’an. The words above and below the design state, ‘There is one God,’ and ‘Muhammad is his Prophet.’ The words in the centre, woven into a design typical of the decorations in mosques, have been translated: ‘This (book) is a gift from the Lord of all the worlds. Touch it not save with clean hands.’
Over the archway leading to the east wing is the Baroda Sowarry, a procession of horses, elephants and men.
Moving into the alcove, we see above the carved doors, a representation of Sarasvati, Hindu Goddess of Wisdom.
Turning now to the south wall, we come to six religions which no longer have living followers. The first oval over the outer door shows MITHRA, Son of Justice, a religion of Rome derived from Persia. The cap, the dagger, and the up-and-down turned torches were symbols of initiation. By the dagger the divine rockborn child cut first the fruits of the mystic fig to strengthen him for his perilous trials, and again the dagger was used to allay the forces of evil. The cap made him invisible, covering his blinding radiance, symbol of the descent of the Self into incarnation. The up-and-down turned torches are likewise the ascending and descending flames of spiritual Fire.
In the next space, ORPHEUS, the Singer, represents the religion of the ancient Greeks. The symbol, adopted by the medical profession in modern times and called the caduceus, represents the rod of power or the spinal column with its triple aspects, Ida, Pingala and Sushumna. Spiritually, those two serpents of spirit and matter, whose two heads grow from the one head between the wings, descend along the trunk, interlaced, while the two tails join on earth (the manifested universe) into one - the great illusion.
Next, OSIRIS, the Light of Lights, was one of the Trinity of the Egyptian religion, founded by Hermes, Thrice Greatest. The other members of the Trinity were Isis and Horus. The symbols are tools of initiation into the· mysteries. These include the jackal-headed sceptre of the God Anubis, whose bark awakens the powers of the individual intelligence or conscience, the crook, or divining rod, which means to rule, while the flail or whip represents mastery gained through the scourge of experience and suffering.
Temporarily skipping the group of figures at the centre of the hall we come to three ovals at the west end of the south wall. The first, QUETZALCOATL, the Great Sacrifice, was a God of Mexico and South America. He was called the feathered snake that goes in the waters, ripple born of wind and water, representing breath and movement and therefore life.
Next is ASHTAROTH or Ishtar, the Eternal Mother of Chaldea and Babylonia, the primeval origin of all life, Goddess of Fertility. She is sometimes shown as bearded, symbolizing the duality always inherent in the one absolute essence. She is standing on a lion representing the subdual of earthly passions.
Nearest to the west door is ASSHUR, the Sun God of ancient Assyria, known as the Wheeled Omnipotence, the wheel representing tremendous primeval forces, the arrow, the destructive force of the sun.
Returning now to the group of figures in the recess we see the FOUNDERS OF THE THEOSOPHICAL SOCIETY, Madame HELENA PETROVNA BLAVATSKY, a Russian lady of noble family who had travelled and studied widely, and Colonel HENRY STEEL OLCOTT an American army officer with an outstandingly fine record, who was a lawyer and journalist. These two met in America and founded the Society in New York City in 1875. Three years later they left for India where they travelled and lectured almost constantly. They found this building for sale, purchased it and established the International Headquarters here at Adyar in 1882.
Above the Founders is the Seal of the Society with its interlaced triangles signifying spirit and matter in constant interrelationship: the serpent swallowing its tail, signifying eternity, among other meanings, the ansated cross in the centre signifying the triumph of spirit over matter, and above, the svastika, whirling in a clockwise direction, signifying creative energy. There is a leaflet available which explores the subject in great depth. Beneath it is the motto of the Society in Sanskrit, quoted from the Upanishads. It is translated into English, on the lintel opposite: THERE IS NO RELIGION HIGHER THAN TRUTH. This throws further light on the constant search of the Society’s members to find the truth underlying all religions and philosophies, and the correlate modern science with the ancient lore.
The east wing of the hall was built by Col. Olcott for the Adyar Library, which has outgrown it and is now housed in a modern building at the south of the estate near the Blavatsky Gate.
The three rooms of the east wing are occupied by the Museum of the Society.
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Last update: October 2009