The Lodges in Calcutta very often collectively participated in public functions sometimes under the auspices of the Provincial Grand Lodge. Elsewhere we have set out several such examples. The earliest example is dated 1774. Another took place in 1777. Both Long and Carey inform us that 'In 1789 they (the Lodges) gave at the Old Court House ball and supper to the members of the Company's service in Calcutta.' (Carey, ibid, 186). An ode on Masonry was sung at a ball given by the Freemasons on 14 January 1789. It was published in the local Gazette under the heading 'Poet's Corner' the next day and is quoted elsewhere.
Again, as Pick and Knight tell us, 'From time immemorial St. John the Baptist, whose Feast falls on 24th June, and St. John the Evangelist, whose Festival is celebrated on 27th December, have been regarded as the Patron Saints of Freemasonry.' (ibid., 146)
The Lodges in England celebrated their anniversaries by bringing out processions to churches (17 BMM., 99-100). The Calcutta Lodges almost copied the English pattern. We have reports in the Calcutta papers of the celebration of the anniversaries of these saints by the Lodges in 1788, 1812, 1813 and 1823 D'Cruz narrates one of 1774. It may be presumed that such celebrations were annual features among the Freemasons of Old Calcutta. St. John's church was the venue of such functions, and public processions by the Masons 'in regular Masonic order' marked the occasions, which ended with sermons in the church. Colorful descriptions of the ceremonies appear in the reports set out elsewhere. On the St. John's day, of 1822 a Masonic Anthem was sung and the band of music played the Entered Apprentice's tune. 'rowds of Natives and Europeans hung upon both flanks of the procession, anxious to get a passing sight of the sons of mystery.' 'A grand Masonic Banquet' held at the Town Fall was the culmination of the ceremony.
The Provincial Grand Lodge with its daughter Lodges were often invited to lay the foundation stones of public buildings in Calcutta. Contemporary reports described the functions with interesting details. Thus, the Provincial Grand Master laid the foundation stone of St. Andrew's church (to the east of the Writers' Buildings) in 1815, New Custom House (on the site of the old Fort) in 1819, St. Peter's Church (in Fort William) in 1822, Hindu College building (on the present College Square) and Calcutta Madrassa (on the Wellesley Square) both in 1824 and the Metcalfe Building in 1840. The performance of solemn rituals at public places by a disciplined body of Freemasons, properly clothed, carrying tools and equipments, enlivened the ceremonies which created deep impact on the audience belonging to different races, castes and communities. The band playing appropriate music pleased their cans. Suitable addresses and replies stressed the importance of the ceremonies, On one occasion 'a royal salute was fired from some pieces of artillery that had been placed near the spot. Various salutes were also fired by vessels lying off town in the river.' (1819). The processions of Freemasons began and ended the ceremonies. As a contemporary paper wrote on the functions in connection with the New Custom House, `The whole of the ceremony had an imposing effect, and was witnessed by a very large assemblage of spectators.' The ladies graced the occasion with their presence.
The ceremony of laying the foundation of the new building of the Hindu College deserves special mention. So does the one relating to the Muslim Madrassa. Both. took place in 1824 during the Governor-Generalship of Lord Amherst, who, it seems, involved the European Freemasons of Old Calcutta in public ceremonies touching the Indian communities exclusively. Thus the Craft for the first time in the city transcended the limits of race, colour and creed. The success of the functions indicated the universal appeal of Freemasonry, although the rulers of the Craft as yet did not think of opening its mysteries to the curious gaze of the native population. Yet the Governor-General and the authorities of the Public Education in Bengal deserve our grateful thanks for widening the horizon of Freemasonry in old Calcutta.
Full details of these impressive ceremonies have been set out in Part II of this work, we may quote some extracts showing tremendous public enthusiasm they generated.
In connection with the new building of the Hindu College, as the Masons proceeded on a procession to the site on 25 February 1824, 'The crowds of Natives and Europeans that flanked the streets, was dense in the extreme. Carriages and Buggies blocked up all avenues to Potuldanga-Square, excepting that through which the Brethren moved, which. was guarded by Constables and Soldiers, who kept off the multitude from pressing too much.' The vote of thanks to the Right Worshipful (Provincial) Grand Master 'concluded the business of the day and perhaps a scene was never witnessed which conveyed a more gratifying appearance of perfect union between the European and Native population of this City (italics ours'). Every house in the neighborhood was covered with spectators, and as the procession moved from the ground and universal clapping of hands proclaimed the delight with which the spectacles had been viewed and the feeling which it created in the minds of those present.'
The Bengali periodical, the Samachar Darpan, however, published a brief report connecting the ceremony with the Sanskrit College. According to its report 'the sect of Freemasons belonging to the Christian community' performed it. They were clothed in their ceremonial robes and accompanied with the band of music, walked to the site to perform the function with great éclat. The Hindu College and the Sanskrit College occupied the same building on or about 13 May 1826, as appears from a report in the same Bengali paper on the completion of the building.
The John Bull and the Bengali Samahar Darpan reported the ceremony relating to the laying of the foundation stone of the Muslim 'Madrissa' by the Freemasons in 1824, 'with the usual imposing ceremonies of Masonry. The necessary preparations having been made at the spot, the different Lodges of Calcutta assembled at the Grand Lodge, number 38, Park Street, where they were marshaled by the Grand Marshall, and whence they proceeded to the ground.' After laying the foundation stone, accompanied with other rituals, the Provincial Grand Master said, 'May the All Bounteous Author of Nature bless this City with abundance of Corn, Wine and Oil, and with all the necessaries, conveniences, and comforts of life, and may the same Almighty Power preserve the City from decay to latest posterity.'
In England since 1747 the Grand Lodge discontinued public processions. It put restrictions on the unauthorized appearance of Masons with ,the Jewels, collars or badges of the Craft in any procession, meeting or assemblage at which persons other than Masons were present, or in any place of public resort.' It could, however, he allowed with dispensation. In Old Calcutta such public display of Masonic robes, insignia and activities continued often under the auspices of the Provincial Grand Lodge with unabated enthusiasm at least till the first half of the nineteenth century Often such public Masonic ceremonies were sponsored or authorized by no less an authority than the Governor-General of India.
As we have already noted, the Earl of Moira
(Marquess of Hastings), himself Past Acting Grand Master of England
and late Grand Master of India, received addresses from the Masons
of Madras and Calcutta with solemn ceremonies on his arrival in.
India. He did so prior to his departure from Calcutta. His addresses
in reply contain some asseverations or the highest ideals and
the cardinal principles of Freemasonry. These have been set out
in extenso elsewhere. Some Calcutta Lodges also presented an address
to the Countess of Loudoun and Moira. Incidentally, the Earl Loudoun
himself filled the chair of the Grand Lodge of England.
Back to The Sons of Mystery [ Previous ] [ Next ]