Who's Who in Adyar: Annie Besant

“We are very different for we belong to different nations, yet we are just a happy family, the differences are forming a rich chord. To live in Adyar is as good as to visit many countries.”

These are a few lines from one of the books written by Annie Besant.

Annie Besant who was one of the most dynamic social reform activists of the 18th century and the first woman president of the Indian national Congress, lived in Adyar and called it the most homely place on earth.

Ms. Besant had already been working for the Fabian Society in Europe and was a British social reformer and campaigner for women’s rights.

Ms. Besant read a book named Secret Doctrine, written by H. P. Blavatsky (who was one of the founders of the theosophical society), which focused on the inner history of the world. She was impressed by Blavatsky and decided to work with her at the theosophical society in India. She mobilized people and participated in the Indian national movement.

Ms. Besant soon moved to India and gathered support throughout the country for the home rule movement. Ms. Besant always believed that we should get complete freedom to govern ourselves under the British monarchy. She believed that we should get what we could and then demand for complete freedom. Gandhiji disagreed with her as he wanted complete freedom but he later said that he had made a mistake opposing the home rule movement as she had made it a mantra and it had gained momentum all across the nation.

Sarojini Naidu had once said that Mahatma Gandhi was able to do his work in India because of the foundations laid by Ms. Besant all over India. Sarojini Naidu also mentioned to her that she entered politics because she was influenced by Ms. Besant.

Annie Besant founded a newspaper Commonweal in January 1914. She also purchased the Madras Standard and renamed it New India. She used her paper to convey her propaganda during the home rule movement.

According to G. Sundari, a theosophist, “Besant was one of the greatest orators of the century. People would walk miles just to listen to her under banyan tree at Adyar, where she spoke about India’s freedom.”

Ms. Sundari also added that she would speak exactly for an hour and the last five minutes she would stretch her arms and give gist of the speech so that people would retain the information.

Annie Besant had a huge influence on some of the most prominent people living in Adyar.

The golden jubilee of Theosophical Society, at Madras. Seated in the middle of the front row is Annie Besant and second to her right is J. Krishnamurthi
One person whom Ms. Besant mentored was J. Krishnamurti. He used to live in a poor household near the theosophical society in Adyar. Ms. Besant played the role of his surrogate mother and she proclaimed that Krishnamurthi was to be the World Teacher. An organisation called the Order of the star was formed in 1911 with Krishnamurthi as the head.

Besant had formed the Young Men’s India Association and established the Gokhale Hall. It was a place where people would hold meetings and debates.

Because of the demands made during the home rule movement, the British government arrested her and sent her to Ooty. Gandhiji said that he would march to Ooty as a mark of protest, if she was not released. So the British government released her and she made Home Rule movement a mantra in India.

H. S. Olcott, the founder of the theosophical society nominated her as his successor. She worked in Adyar, which was very close to her heart, and started movements there that spread far and wide. In one of her books she said, “The residents of Adyar form a single body and each person is a cell in that body.”

- Tanu Kulkarni

Images Courtesy:
Hindu Archives

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