Emergence of Caste Associations

South India was marked by the emergence of many caste associations and caste mobility movements of various kinds. Several of these later began to play a significant role in ‘reform movements’ which were often particularly concerned with the social elevation of their own castes. Important examples were the Kongu Vellala Sangam of the Gounder Caste in Tamil Nadu, the Vokkaliga and Lingayat Associations in Mysore and the S.N.D.P. Yogam of the Ezhavas of kerala. The caste leaders of the caste movements constituted an elite who stressed upon a common heritage of caste members and pressed for changes in social and ritual practices. A notable feature was that caste associations, originally concerned with internal reforms, gradually also metamorphosed into strong political forces a few of which are active even today.

Theosophical Society

The Theosophical Society was founded in late 1875, in New York City, by a Russian noblewoman, Helena Petrovna Blavatsky and an American, Colonel Henry Olcott, along with the lawyer William Quan Judge and other individuals interested in the philosophy expounded by Madame Blavatsky.

Madame Blavatsky was the first Russian woman to be naturalised as an American citizen. As a young woman, she travelled all over the world in search of wisdom about the nature of life and the reason for human existence. Eventually, Blavatsky brought the spiritual wisdom of the East and that of the ancient Western mysteries to the modern West, where they were virtually unknown. Her writings became the foundation of what is today known as modern Theosophy.

Colonel Olcott, who was also a prominent lawyer and journalist, became the first President of the Society. He was also an internationally renowned agricultural authority. Olcott related the timeless wisdom of Theosophy to the cultures of both East and West, applied it to everyday life, and built the Society into an international organisation.

In the year 1879, the principal founders, Madame Blavatsky and Col Olcott, moved to India, where the Society spread rapidly. Helena Blavatsky initially “sat at the feet” of Swami Dayananda Sarasvati. Blavatsky soon left Dayananda and established Theosophical Society as her own “Samaj”. In 1882, they established the Society’s International Headquarters in Adyar, a suburb of Madras where it has since remained. They also visited Sri Lanka, where Olcott was so active in promoting social welfare among oppressed Buddhists that he is considered a national hero of that country also. Madame Blavatsky died in 1891, leaving Colonel Olcott and the English social activist Annie Besant (1847-1933) as the principal leaders of the international movement based in Adyar.

Annie Besant, the Theosophical Society’s most famous leader, succeeded Blavatsky and became the first and only British woman to serve as president of the Indian National Congress (1917). After his two major co-founders departed for India in late 1878, William Quan Judge carried on the work of advancing interest in Theosophy within the United States.

A major object of Theosophy was the formation of a nucleus for the practical carrying out of the idea of universal brotherhood, irrespective of any dogma, creed, religious belief or opinion whatsoever. The first is an emphasis on mystical experience. Theosophical writers held that there is a deeper spiritual reality and that direct contact with that reality can be established through intuition, meditation, revelation, or some other state transcending normal human consciousness. Theosophists also emphasise upon esoteric doctrine. Theosophists also maintained that knowledge of the divine wisdom gives access to the mysteries of nature and humankind’s inner essence.

The many Theosophical lodges set up in Europe and the United States helped to acquaint the West with the principles of Hinduism.


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