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: