Friday, August 31, 2012

International Conference on the History of Freemasonry

 Education has always been an important activity for Freemasons.

The International Conference on the History of Freemasonry is a once in two year conference that was started in 2007 and has had three previous very successful conferences viz. in 2007, 2009 and 2011.

The next conference is to be held on 24 MAY- 26 MAY 2013 at Freemasons’ Hall, 96 George Street, Edinburgh, Scotland.

Click Here to check out their official website.

They also have a Facebook page which you can follow by clicking on the 'LIKE' button.

This conference was started because a few of the brethren looking around identified some unmet needs of the fraternity and decided that this would be an effort towards meeting those needs.
This is the statement of purpose that I have borrowed from their official website (
"By holding a biennial conference open to the public, the main purpose of the ICHF is:
  • To promote Freemasonry as a subject for academic study.
  • To present and debate relevant contributions in this area of research.
  • To create a forum for interactions between researchers, experts and a wider audience.
  • To encourage individuals to take an interest and participate in an active exchange of knowledge in the area.
 The ICHF is a non-profit making, privately owned event and brand, sponsored by Supersonic Events Ltd. with no formal affiliation to any masonic or academic body. On each occasion a leading academic is appointed to convene a specialist committee responsible for the selection of suitable presentations. Any surplus generated by the ICHF will go to support young researchers and academics pursuing research in the topic and other relevant masonic projects."
Official Page

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Neil Armstrong - Was he a Freemason?

File:Neil Armstrong pose.jpg
Neil Alden Armstrong  was born on August 5, 1930.1

He was an American astronaut and was the first man to walk on the moon.

Armstrong died in Cincinnati, Ohio, on August 25, 2012, at the age of 82 due to complications from blocked coronary arteries.

Neil Armstrong was the eldest of three children born to his parents Viola Engel Armstrong and Stephen Koenig Armstrong.3

The main reason for the confusion was that his father was a very active Freemason and therefore by convention, they share the last name.

Since this post is related to the confusion caused due to similar names let me just add some information on the meaning of his name:
"Neil" means "champion" 4
"Armstrong" means "strong fighter." 
"Alden," from ald wyn, means "old friend."

So to answer the question "No, Neil Armstrong was not a Freemason" but his father - Stephen Armstrong was a Freemason.


  1. NASA Bio Data. [online] Available at: [Accessed August 29 2012].
  2. City of Wapakoneta, Ohio. Retrieved August 25, 2012
  3. Hansen 2005, pp. 49–50.
  4. Meaning of Neil

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Mahabali - The story of Onam

Mahabali – The Story of Onam

“As he was pushed down into the netherworld (Collins English Dictionary, 2012), King Bali made a last request. He requested that he be allowed to visit Kerala once in a year to ensure that his people were still happy, well fed and content. Lord Vishnu was pleased to grant Mahabali his wish.” (Kulkarni, 1992)Thus was born the myth that every year on Onam day, Mahabali comes back to visit his subjects. The natives of Kerala celebrate this reminiscent of a time when Mahabali ruled over them and this is aptly portrayed in the lyrics of the following song.

Click here to listen to the Maveli Song Video

"Maveli nadu vanidum kalam
manusharellarum onnupole
amodathode vassikkum kalam
apathangarkkumottilla thanum
adhikal vyadhikal onnumilla
bala maranangal kelkkanilla
kallavumilla chathiyumilla
ellolamilla poli vachanam
kallapparayum cheru naziyum
kallatharangal mattonumilla "

When Maveli, our King, rules the land,
All the people form one casteless race.
And people live joyful and merry,
They are free from all harm.
There is neither theft nor deceit,
And no one is false in speech either.
Measures and weights are right,
No one cheats or wrongs the neighbor.
When Maveli, our King, rules the land,
All the people form one casteless race.

But there is a hidden element of masonic significance to this story.
It is related to the events leading to his exile to the underworld.

The story begins thus:
            Mahabali also known as Bali or Māveli was a benevolent Asura(demon) king. The story goes that the present day state of Kerala in India witnessed its golden era in the reign of King Mahabali. However, unlike the usual Asuras he was very religious, was respectful to priests and like his grandfather (Prahlada), was one of the greatest devotees of Lord Vishnu. Mahabali was greatly respected in his kingdom and was considered to be wise, judicious and extremely generous. It is said that his subjects were happy in the kingdom; there was no discrimination on the basis of caste or class. There was neither crime, nor corruption. People did not even lock their doors, as there were no thieves in that kingdom. There was no poverty, sorrow or disease in the reign of King Bali.
Seeing his influence increase the lesser gods petitioned Vishnu to put an end to his reign as they felt threatened by it. Vishnu on his part assumed the incarnation of a Brahmin dwarf and approached Mahabali for a gift of three paces of land.
Mahabali being a generous person, agreed without a second thought. On learning of the event, Mahabali's preceptor, Shukracharya (who had visions of the future) told Mahabali that the one who had come to take alms from him was not an ordinary Brahmin but Lord Vishnu Himself. He advised Mahabali not to promise the lad anything. But Mahabali was a king who would never go back on his word, considering it sinful to do so.
Mahabali's refusal angered Shukracharya. He cursed Mahabali, saying: “As you have not heeded your Guru's words, you will be reduced to ashes”. Mahabali told his Guru: "Prana (life) and Maana (honour) are like the two eyes of a person. Even if life goes, honour should be protected. Knowing that the person that has come now is the Lord Himself, I should be the most fortunate one as the Lord, who gives everything to mankind, is seeking something from me."

When Mahabali decided to accept Vamana’s request Vamana grew in size until he towered above the heavens. With one footstep, he measured all of the earth. With the second, he claimed all of heaven. There was still one foot of territory that Mahabali owed him. Mahabali requested Vamana to place the final step on his head as the third step of land, for he had no other left. Vamana did so and in doing so, pushed him down to Patala, the netherworld.
As a parting gift, Mahabali was granted permission to visit his subjects once a year. Thus, natives of Kerala the world over celebrate the Onam festival to commemorate the memory of the Great King Mahabali who would keep his promise to visit. Mahabali fulfilled his name as the great martyr for the sake of Truth ("Satya"). The name "Mahabali" itself means Great Sacrifice.

Does this theme strike a chord with the Mason inside you? It did with me. I am reminded of a familiar passage from the third degree:
Such, my Brother, are the peculiar objects of the Third Degree in Freemasonry: They invite you to reflect on this awful subject; and teach you to feel that, to the just and virtuous man, death has no terrors equal to the stain of falsehood and dishonour. Of this great truth the annals of Masonry afford a glorious example in the unshaken fidelity and noble death of our Master Hiram Abiff, who was slain just before the completion of King Solomon's Temple, at the construction of which he was, as no doubt you are well aware, the principal Architect. (Craft Freemasonry, 1997)

Is it not striking that the theme of the Hiramic legend is in total harmony with this King who would rather die than betray the trust placed in him once he has given his word? Let us all resolve this Onam to remember amid the festivities and revelry that greatness is not something that is earned but is freely given; only to those Men who have let go of the ego and immersed themselves in devotion to the Almighty.

I further speculate that perhaps Mahabali was a Freemason (at heart), because he practiced a certain truth that we Masons highly value – the value of a Man’s word and his honour.

Works Cited

Collins English Dictionary. (2012, August 28). 10th Edition. Retrieved from world
Craft Freemasonry. (1997). Craft Ritual Book (Indian) (Seventeenth Edition ed.). New Delhi: Grand Lodge of India.
Kulkarni, S. D. (1992). The Epics Ramayana and Mahabharata.


Collins English Dictionary. (2012, August 28). 10th Edition. Retrieved from world
Craft Freemasonry. (1997). Craft Ritual Book (Indian) (Seventeenth Edition ed.). New Delhi: Grand Lodge of India.
Kulkarni, S. D. (1992). The Epics Ramayana and Mahabharata.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Freemasonry and Royalty Part II - Interview summary

The interview took place in Malayalam one of the official languages used in India.

The program was for a regional language channel broadcast, aimed at a Malayalee audience therefore it made sense to converse in Malayalam. Rest assured all our Lodge activities are conducted in English :) For the sake of Brethren from other parts of the country and the world who do not understand the language but want an idea about its contents I have written a summary of the interview as best as I could. 

The original  interview with Rt. W. Bro. H.H. Thirunal  and Rt. W. Bro. R. Suheel Raj for the program Freemasons and Royalty can be seen on the following pages:
or (interview gets stuck after 20 mins here) or (interview gets stuck after 20 mins here).

A summary of the interview that took place

The Principles of Freemasonry
The interview starts off with the interviewer enquiring as to what Freemasonry was and that he was aware of stone masonry and if there was any co-relation. He also noted that many of the prominent members of society have been Freemasons and wondered if this was a requirement to become a member. Rt. W. Bro. Thirunal corrected him saying that this was a myth and that anyone could become a member and invited the the Regional Grand Master to give an introduction to the topic. Then, Rt. W. Bro. R. Suheel Raj who went on to explain the concept of a lodge as a unit of the organization and that there are around 130 lodges in South India. He mentioned that we are now also becoming known for some of our charitable works and that we raise funds from among ourselves and no outside help is taken. He also mentioned one of the recent successful solar electrification projects named "Jothirgamaya" that helps bring electricity to remote villages in India citing the example of the 100th such village which happened to be in Wayanad - a thickly forested area in Kerala. He then goes on to mention the fact that Freemasonry was brought to India by the British but that it because popular among Indians because various monarchs in India had joined and began promoting it. He then goes on to mention the fact that it is a matter of pride for Indian Freemasonry that Rt. W. Bro. Thirunal and some of his ancestors were members of our fraternity. He points out that this is not an isolated phenomenon and that in other areas of India also, rulers have been members of our organization viz. the Nizam of Hyderabad, the Maharaja of Mysore and Vijaynagar. Rt. W. Bro. H. H. Uthradom Thirunal also explained that when the Grand Lodge of India was formed the first Grandmaster was M.W. Bro. H H Maj. Gen. Syed Raza Ali Khan, the then Nawab of Rampur.
'Stone mason' photo (c) 2009, Steven Lilley - license:
The interviewer then remarks that the Maharaja and his family are well known for their charitable contributions in the land but that it is surprising that someone like him joins another charity organization and becomes an active member within it. To this Rt. W. Bro. H. H. Thirunal replies that in 1891 out of the 600 odd kingdoms in India, historically and traditionally the kingdom of Travancore stood out in the sense that at that time the first person to be awarded a Bachelor of Arts Degree - H.H Prince Ashwath Thirunal the fourth prince of Travancore was one of his ancestors and was also a Freemason and member of Lodge Minchin in Trivandrum (started in 1897). He believes that it was this tradition that led him to join Freemasonry in Bangalore when he had a friend named Mahadevan who perked his interest in Freemasonry due to which he joined the Fraternity. He then goes on to explain how in three months time he wrote an article and was allowed to present it in open lodge. He also recounts the fact that the Grandmaster at the time M. W. Bro. Bhogilal C Shah O.S.M. seeing his zeal for Freemasonry suggested that they charter a new lodge in the area and wanted to name it in his honour and he finally agreed to name it Lodge Tirunal (after the 27 tirunals or stars). He became its Worshipful Master the next year. He then goes on to explain that there have been some misunderstandings about the order because of its perceived secretiveness and says that we masons believe in the brotherhood and states it in the native language is "saha-udaran" meaning those born to the same parents i.e. one family. When we masons see each other as brethren we subscribe to the concept of "Vasudevaha Kudumbham" that all of us are belong to a Universal Brotherhood. Freemasonry also has a higher philosophical leaning and is therefore not very easy to understand for the common folk and require studies and interest to understand it.
The interviewer then asks him to explain some of his experiences as one being one from a royal background and how this gels with the fact that Freemasonry has an equalizing effect on men. The Maharaja states that by joining the fraternity he was able to build friendships and mingle with the population especially when he was in Bangalore as he did not know the place, the people nor the language. But as he got to know people who were from a different background he saw how they overlooked their differences and became his friends out of a common affection for Freemasonry.
The interviewer then goes on to ask the Regional Grandmaster to explain what a Lodge was as this was not a familiar concept to the native population. Rt. W. Bro. Suheel Raj then explained that the early cathedral and castle builders in Europe used to have migratory masons who came to a place to build a building. Since they used to move around vast areas of geography they used to be taught certain moral principles along with the art of building buildings. Such as when you live in a land you should respect the laws of the land, the ruler of the land, etc. such that one becomes a law abiding citizen. In addition to this they were also impressed upon the importance of brotherhood and teamwork as without these ease and efficiency of their work would be affected. Above all this they were also required to believe in God; as the Fatherhood of God and the Brotherhood of Man is our most important teaching. Eventually good upstanding men in society who were not stonemasons but were fond of their moral teachings began to meet and this eventually became, what is now known as a lodge.
The interviewer then wanted to know if this had its origins from Christianity.  Rt. W. Bro. Suheel Raj answered saying that some of the stories that were used initially to explain the moral concepts were from the Bible. The interviewer then adds that by the time it came to India it must have appealed to us also as Indians like Swami Vivekanada also joined Freemasonry. Rt. W. Bro. Thirunal then says that is true the moral concepts are eastern and are very Indian so it would naturally appeal to the Indian mind. For example when you enter any  of our lodges and look up you will see the letter "G" hanging from the roof which is a symbol for God; by what ever name you call him and that all our work is done knowing that there is someone observing our actions. This is also a reason why animosity and one one-upmanship is not seen in a Lodge.
The next point that the interviewer put forward is that he has heard that the organization is quite active in the thiruvananthapuram area;and wanted to know about some of the local events that occurred here.Answering this the Regional Grandmaster replied that the fact that he got this privileged position is testimony to the fact that the organization is quite active in the area. He also mentioned that the positions are conferred in a hierarchical manner and depends on how active the members are. The more active ones get to go higher in the hierarchy. He then illustrated it using the example of Minchin who was an engineer in the local area a hundred years ago and had brought the lodge Minchin here. In fact there is a road also named after him. Today we have five lodges in the city alone. He also pointed out that we were different from other social clubs in that we rarely publicize our activities; as in hold a program today and give a press release in the next day's newspaper. We do however provide a lot of support to educate school and college going youngsters. With the help of His Highness itself we have conducted a few charity programs, similarly he has also helped us with regard to our meeting venue arrangements. We also strive to inculcate in our members the ideals of our fraternity and through it we see the that a good heart and mind among our members impacts the society that we live in. The interviewer then remarks that now a days it is common that groups are formed with the sole aim of bringing in money, in such a setting its pleasantly surprising that there are people in your organization who are setting aside money from their own income towards charity work. But one wonders if the benefits are reaching the targeted population. To this Rt. W. Bro. Suheel Raj says that we consider it an honour to be associated with people like our highness and Swami Vivekananda, but the fact remains that our meeting is a closed meeting and we do not allow outsiders to witness what goes on behind closed doors as it is a private matter. Due to this we have had people complain and spread rumours about us. But from our side only beneficial activities have taken place in the community and there is evidence to prove it. It is because of the high regard that society has for our organization, that eminent people like His Highness continue to patronize us.
The interviewer asks to elaborate on the secrecy in the organization. Rt. W. Bro. H. H. Thirunal gives an example of the elections that are held, during which they announce that so and so won by so many votes but at the same time the actual voting is a secret ballot. Similarly we have our private matters at the meetings.
On the matter of membership, Rt. W. Bro. Suheel Raj goes on to say that Rt. W. Bro. H. H. Thirunal is quite senior to himself in the Grand Lodge and in 2015 will be a 50 year member in the organization which in itself is an achievement. Usually people join organizations and hang around for 10 or 20 years but we are blessed to have our members remain with us throughout their lives.The interviewer points out that the attire is quite elaborate, impressive and each rank apparently had different features and asks if they could elaborate on this. Rt. W. Bro. H. H. Thirunal quoting Shakespeare says "Clothes maketh a man" and that there is an attraction factor to our attire which naturally attracts people to us, and we like to maintain an aura of mystery to it.  Rt. W. Bro. Suheel Raj also adds that Universal Brotherhood Day is being celebrated on June 24th every year and that Rt. W. Bro. H. H. Thirunal will give the keynote address to which all are welcome and and thanks him for all his support.
The interviewer then concludes the interview saying that it has been a very enlightening discussion on the little known topic of Freemasonry and thanks His Highness and the Regional Grandmaster for their time and wishes them all auspicious blessings in their future endeavours.

If you liked the interview please feel free to come back regularly to this page. You may also like the series that I am writing about the History of Indian Freemasonry in future posts stay tuned!!

'India Freemasonry' photo (c) 2012, HonestReporting - license:

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Freemasonry and Royalty Part I

Photo: See the Asianet Interview with R W Bro.HH Marthanda Varma on or

Indian Freemasonry and Royalty 

(Rt. W. Bro. His Highness Uthradom Thirunal Marthanda Varma)

"And to so high an eminence has its credit been advanced that in every age monarchs themselves have been promoters of the art, have not thought it derogatory to their dignity to exchange the sceptre for the trowel, have patronised our mysteries and joined in our assemblies."
These lines are taken from one of the foundation charges of Freemasonry that every new initiate hears, popularly known as - The Charge after Initiation.

Freemasonry and Royalty in England

Freemasonry as you can see from the ritual has had royalty among its ranks. In fact the Duke of Kent is the current Grand Master of the United Grand Lodge of England. M. W. Bro. Prince Edward George Nicholas Paul Patrick has served in that office since 1967.

Freemasonry and Royalty in Kerala

Therefore it should be no surprise that Indian Freemasonry also has royalty among its ranks.
One such brother is Rt. W. Bro. His Highness Uthradom Thirunal Marthanda Varma (born 22 March 1922).This article tries to highlight some interesting cultural and historical aspects related to his background.
He is the current titular Maharaja of Travancore. He is the younger brother of the last ruling monarch of the Kingdom of Travancore, Maharajah Chitra Thirunal Rama Varma. 
He also maintains his ritual position at the Padmanabhaswamy Temple as the custodian of the temple, and is involved in events relating to this and other public inauguration functions.
Flag of Travancore
Travancore Flag

The Kingdom of Travancore

Kingdom of Travancore തിരുവിതാംകൂര്‍, tiruvitāṁkūr was an Indian Princely State with its capital at Padmanabhapuram or Trivandrum. The Kingdom of Travancore at its zenith comprised most of modern day southern KeralaKanyakumari district, and the southernmost parts of Tamil Nadu. The state's flag was red with a silver, dextrally-coiled, sacred conch shellTravancore, although a Princely State, was known for its relatively high literacy rate and its progressive government.

The Servants of Padmanabha

On January 3, 1750, Marthanda Varma (the founder of this dynasty) virtually "dedicated" Travancore to his tutelary deity Padmanabha of Padmanabhaswamy Temple and from then on the rulers of Travancore ruled as the "servants of Padmanabha" (the Padmnabha-dasans). Sri Padmanabhaswamy Temple gave its name to Kerala’s state capital Thiruvananthapuram. ‘Thiru’ ‘Anantha’ ‘Puram’ means Sacred Abode of Lord Anantha Padmanabha. The city is also known as Anandapuram (City of Bliss). Ananda refers to Shree Padmanabha Himself. Hindu scriptures refer to the Supreme Being as 'Sachidananda' (Absolute Truth, Absolute Consciousness and Absolute Bliss)

The Interview summary will be my next post. :)

Masonic Word Riddle (Emulation Ritual)

'Hill' photo (c) 2006, Kevin Saff - license: am a humble word.
I appear twice in the first degree.
Twice in the second.
Thrice in the third.
Can you find me?

Scroll down for the answer!


The word "Whence"
whence   [hwens, wens]
1.      from what place?: Whence comest thou?
2.      from what source, origin, or cause?: Whence has he wisdom?
3.      from what place, source, cause, etc.: He told whence he came.


It is derived from Middle English which is the English that was common roughly during the four centuries between the late 11th and the late 15th century.
whennes, from earlier whenne (from Old English hwanon, of Germanic origin) + -s3 (later respelled -ce to denote the unvoiced sound)

'Castle Front' photo (c) 2010, Ben Becker - license:
Usage note 
This word is used in very formal settings and sometimes criticized as redundant on the grounds that “from” is implied by the word whence, but overall, it is considered well established, and standard. 

Here are some examples of how its has been used by some famous authors: 

  • The King James Bible: "I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help."
  • Shakespeare: "Whence cometh this alarum and the noise?"
  • Dryden: "Whence but from heaven, could men unskilled in arts In different nations born, in different parts, Weave such agreeing truths ? Or how, or why, Should all conspire to cheat us with a lie ?"
  • Dickens: "whence, on further tracing it, it seemed to shine."