History of Freemasonry in India
The earliest records state that in 1728 George Pomfret was authorised by the Grand Lodge of England to open a new Lodge in Bengal. The earliest Lodge in South India was later established in 1752. Lodges under the jurisdiction of the Grand Lodges of Scotland and Ireland duly followed and Freemasonry spread across the entire subcontinent.
The honour of receiving Freemasonry first in India goes to Calcutta. In 1730, officers of the East Indian Company held their meetings in Fort William, Calcutta. The number given to the Lodge was 72.
The first Lodge in Madras was # 222 EC, in 1752, and it does not appear to have received a name.
The first Lodge in Bombay was Bombay Lodge # 234 EC in 1758.
The first Lodge in Punjab was Lodge # 489 EC, in 1786.
There were two competing Grand Lodges in England [Ancients and Moderns]. In as much as numerous Lodges had been constituted in India by the Moderns while others had come into existence under Ancient auspices, quite naturally much of the Ritualistic differences established themselves into the respective Lodges. This situation was complicated somewhat by the fact that there were also Lodges in India of Irish & Scottish origins. However, it was in India, where both the warring groups joined together in harmony long before the formation of the Union of England. In 1785, the Atholl Lodge at Madras surrendered its power and accepted the United Provident Grand Lodge. The old Atholl Lodge was recorded as Lodge of Perfect Unanimity [later numbered as # 150]. Madras had thus stolen a march of 27 years over the United Grand Lodge of England, which was formed in 1813.
The List of Honour
The second Indian Mason was M. Bandeh Ali Khan, initiated in Marine Lodge, Calcutta in 1812.
The first Hindu to be admitted into Freemasonry was Bro. Ranganath Sastry in Lodge Perfect Unanimity #233, Madras in 1857.
The earliest Sikh to be made a mason was Bro. Duleep Sing in Lodge Star in the East in 1861.
In Bengal, the bye-law # 55 of the PGL (EC) prevented Indians from being admitted into Freemasonry. Ultimately the first Hindu to be admitted in Bengal was Bro. P.C.Dutt in 1872, that too after very many “black – balling” and nine years of persistent appeals.
The oldest building used as a Masonic Temple in India is the Goshamahal Baradari, Hyderabad, built in 1682 by Sultan Abul Hassan Tanasha.
Some of the prominent Indians who were Freemasons were Swamy Vivekananda (initiated in 1884 as Bro. Narendra Nath Dutt in Lodge Anchor & Hope, Calcutta).
Motilal Nehru – Lodge Harmony, Kanpur (Father of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru).
C. Rajagopalachary (Governor General of India).
Sir C.P.Ramaswamy Iyer (Divan of Travancore).
Dr. P.V.Cheriyan (Governor of Maharashtra).
Fakruddin Ali Ahmed (President of India).
The World Connection
The foreign constitutions whose Lodges functioned in India were Dutch Constitution – Lodge Solomon was founded on April 7, 1758 at Tandelga near Chinsurah in Bengal by the commander of the merchant fleet of the Netherlands East India Company, Bro. Jacob Larwood Van Chevichaven.
French Constitution – Lodge Sincere Amite, Pondicherry was chartered in 1787. There were quite a few Naval Lodges. Though Naval Lodges were not recognized by the Grand Lodge of France, the members of the Naval Lodge in due course found their way to get affiliated to and remain under the protection of a stationary Lodge.
Scottish Constitution – The first Lodge under the Scottish Constitution was consecrated in the Indian subcontinent in the year 1801 in Ceylon (Sri Lanka). One Lodge Hope # 334 Sc, Karachi was charted in 1767; in 1770 it was shifted to New Castle and in 1782 to New York. The date of its arrival in India cannot at present be stated. Lodge Hope was chartered by the PGM of Western India on April 25, 1842.
Danish Constitution -Introduced in Tranquebar (near Nagapattinam, Tamil Nadu) in 1805. The Danish colony at Tranquebar was fairly numerously populated by Danes. Due to the efforts of one Bro. Ewald a warrant was granted for a Lodge at Tranquebar in 1807 by the National Grand Lodge of Denmark. The name of the Lodge was “De Lamoure Fraternelle” (to Brotherly Love).
Irish Constitution – The Light of the North #357 at Kurnaul (now Karnal) in 1835. This Lodge survived for three years only. The next was Lodge Duke of Abercon # 382 IC, in Calcutta in 1905.
Formation of the Grand Lodge of India (GLI)
1947 the idea was first mooted to form a Grand Lodge of India. A referendum held in 1948, seeking the opinion of all the Lodges in India, found that the proposal had little support. In 1960 however, the Grand Lodges of England, Scotland and Ireland readily conceded to the need for the formation of a sovereign Grand Lodge of India, as was the wish of many masons for the rapid promotion and development for Freemasonry in the Country. A steering committee of eminent masons worked out the modalities, the most important fact being that in the matter of a shift in allegiance, the wishes of the brethren of each Lodge in India would have to be respected.
A referendum by ballot was held whereby each Lodge decided whether to join the new Grand Lodge or remain with its parent constitution. In view of this, the three parent Grand Lodges gave an undertaking that only the new Grand Lodge after its formation would henceforth consecrate new lodges. However, it was understood that there would be no pressure on the lodges under the parent Constitutions to change their allegiance in the future and that the brethren would continue to enjoy the right of being members of Lodges under their parent Grand Lodges, as well as the new Grand Lodge.
A Concordat to this effect was solemnly signed by the three parent Grand Lodges and the new Grand Lodge of India, after its consecration on the 24th of November 1961.
The Concordat duly signed enabled the Brethren in India to enjoy a privileged relationship for 31 years. The rights of all Brethren to dual membership of Indian and Foreign Lodges, had its beneficial effect in promoting brotherly love and unity among Freemasons in India.