I read ThePrint opinion article “The woman behind the fake Mahatmas who made A.O. Hume set up Indian National Congress”, authored by Vinita Dhondiyal Bhatnagar, edited by Neera Majumdar, published in October, and was disappointed that your journal, which, as proclaimed in its editorial policy, stands for ethical journalism and reportage strictly based on truth and fact, should have published the article in question. It is full of factual errors, poorly researched, abounding in misconceptions about the Theosophical Movement, and insulting to the honourable name of Madam H.P. Blavatsky to whom the world owes a deep debt of gratitude for the incalculable benefit she has conferred on humanity with her message of Theosophy.
The Theosophical Movement of the 19-21st century came in its proper time to give an impulse to the advancing intellectual development of the modern era, which was evincing a decided swing towards materialism since the Renaissance, as a reaction to centuries of religious bigotry and suppression of free thought. It was aimed towards higher thought and nobler ideals by bringing back to the Western mind the forgotten truths of timeless wisdom; and, at the same time, reviving the true spirit of archaic Eastern religious and philosophical traditions that had become obscured.
The “Mahatmas” spoken of so disparagingly in the article are among the fraternity of the living ideals of human perfection, a product of universal evolution, who in all ages have been constantly at work, aiding human progress towards man’s higher destiny. They have imparted as much of the Wisdom-Science as the people of the times could assimilate either through their messengers or by appearing themselves according to the dictates of the cyclic and Karmic law governing higher progress of humanity.
Blavatsky and the Mahatmas
Madame H.P. Blavatsky was the Mahatmas’ direct agent who was sent by them to found a Society with the express purpose of forming a nucleus of Universal Brotherhood of humanity, to promote comparative study of world religions and philosophies, and to investigate unexplained laws of nature and the psychic and spiritual faculties and powers latent in mankind. She recorded for the modern world so much of the eternal Wisdom-Religion, which encompasses in its disquisition the whole gamut of the laws governing the cosmic and anthropic origins, evolution and destiny. This furnished stimulating intellectual material as the basis for the accomplishment of the said three objects.
Madame H.P. Blavatsky travelled all over the world and spent years in India. She and Col. Olcott tirelessly worked in India to revive ancient Hindu and Buddhist philosophies and infuse a sense of pride and reverence for the priceless ancient heritage in the youth of India who had been demoralised by incessant propaganda of Christian missionaries demeaning Hinduism, on the one hand, and irresistible tide of Western thought that had materialised the Indian mind, on the other. India owes a deep debt of gratitude to Madame for her labour of love for the country’s reform and regeneration.
The statement made in the article that the Mahatmas made use of Allen O. Hume, then-secretary to the government, to found the Indian National Congress is baseless. The founders of the Theosophical Movement never indulged in politics, their sole aim and purpose being intellectual, moral and spiritual development of humanity. Hume who came in touch with the Teachers dissociated himself from them because his proposal to teach a few white men occult science was rejected by the Mahatmas. It was Hume who, inspired by the lofty ideals of the founders, involved himself in the freedom movement and founded the Indian National Congress.
The other statement that Madame Blavatsky colluded with her workers, the Coulombs, and resorted to fraudulent means to simulate the image of her Himalayan Teachers to satisfy the desire of Hume to see them, is baseless. The author has cited a series of articles published in the Madras Christian College Magazine on this subject as proof. The truth of the matter is that the Christian Missionaries carried on a relentless disinformation campaign against the Theosophical Movement and resorted to questionable means to despoil the effort to awaken interest among Hindus about their ancient heritage, which was best done by ruining the reputation of the inspirer of the great revival movement and thus discrediting the latter. For the historically factual version of the incident, the readers are invited to peruse chapter VI, pp. 83-87, in “The Theosophical Movement 1875-1950,” Cunningham Press, Los Angeles, CA, 1951 edition.
One more statement made by the author of the article, which is a repetition of the unjust and slanderous attack made by the Society of Psychical Research (SPR), based on a one-sided faulty investigation report of Richard Hodgson, that Madame Blavatsky resorted to fraud by setting up concealed mechanical devices in her chamber in Adyar Headquarters to simulate exhibition of occult powers and deceive people. Independent investigation of the charges of SPR demonstrated the biased and faulty method of investigation of Hodgson. For correct facts of the case, the reader is referred to chapter VII of the above-cited reference. Moreover, the SPR admitted the erroneous basis of Hodgson’s report after one of its officials, Vernon Harrison, published in the journal of the SPR, in 1985, pointing out the biased report of the committee and exonerated Madame Blavatsky of the false charges. Further, Harrison noted in his report that “there are serious flaws in Hodgson’s methods, observation, reasoning, and conclusions,” and that the report was “flawed and untrustworthy,” accusing Hodgson of selection bias, among other errors.
Readers are invited to the following online links for authentic history of the Theosophical Movement supported by historical documents and the true biography of Madam H.P. Blavatsky:
- The Theosophical Movement 1875-1950
- The Extraordinary Life and Influence of Helena Blavatsky, Founder of the Modern Theosophical Movement
- The Key to Theosophy, a treatise on practical Theosophy, and chapter XIV in it on “Theosophical Mahatmas.”
The author served in the Indian Army from 1964 to 1969. Then joined Indian Forest Service and served in the Karnataka cadre from 1974 to 2001, and retired in 2001. Views are personal.
Author Vinita Dhondiyal Bhatnagar’s reply
There’s no higher religion than truth
My article on Madame Blavatsky arose out of my search for the etymological origins of the term “Mahatma” with reference to Mahatma Gandhi. I stumbled upon the existence of the Theosophical Mahatmas. I recognised their association with a woman I have long admired –Madame Blavatsky. I wrote of her in my article as the most highly travelled and possibly the most learned woman of her century. I wrote of the power of the concept of the Mahatma and how it influenced India’s subsequent history. The aim was never to insult the honourable name of Madame Blavatsky. On the contrary, it was to celebrate her.
In fact, it was in response to the sustained critique of Blavatsky and the Mahatmas I encountered through the course of my research that I offered up an alternative explanation. Isis Very Much Unveiled, Being the Story of the Great Mahatma Hoax by Edmund Garret has a chapter titled “No Mahatmas, No Members!”, which opens with a quote from Annie Besant: “If there are no Mahatmas the Theosophical Society is an absurdity, and there is no use in keeping it up”. The Hodgson Report is quoted to say “it was declared that Koot Hoomi Lal Sing and Mahatma Morya were the same person, and that person Madame Blavatsky”. When Hodgson came to India as part of the Psychical Research Society investigation, he declared whatever prepossessions he may have had “were distinctly in favour of occultism and Madame Blavatsky.” However the Coulomb affair had just exploded, and his inquiry went against her. Blavatsky left India soon after and the Mahatmas did not write any more letters to her. (Upon her death, Theosophist William Q. Judge produced the Mahatma letters to buttress his claim to lead the esoteric section of the Theosophical Society. Olcott eventually declared these letters to be fraudulent.)
Arthur Lillie’s Koot Hoomi Unveiled is more flippant than I can ever hope to be. He points out discrepancies in the various stories about Koot Humi’s origins as lying in Punjab, Kutch or Kashmir and states that “the St. James’ Gazette, in reviewing “Esoteric Buddhism’ insinuated that the word “Koot Hoomi” was originally intended to be jocular, and was, in fact, made up of syllables from the names of two members of the Theosophical Society at Bombay. The allusion was, perhaps, to Mr. Hume and Colonel Olcott.”
John Murdoch’s The Theosophic Craze– Its History; The Great Mahatma Hoax; How Mrs. Besant Was Befooled And Deposed; Its Attempted Revival Of Exploded Superstitions Of The Middle Agesgives a detailed description of what it describes as her frauds from page 17 to page 21. One of these involved A.O.Hume. At a party in his house at Shimla, Madame Blavatsky asked his wife if there was anything she particularly wished for. Mrs Hume mentioned an old family brooch that had been lost. Madame Blavatsky claimed on the strength of her occult powers that the brooch had fallen into a bed of flowers in the garden. It was found there.
Murdoch explains “Mrs. Hume gave the brooch to her daughter, who gave it to a young gentleman whom she expected to marry. This gentleman resided for some time in Bombay in the same house with Madame Blavatsky. Needing money, he sold the brooch; Madame Blavatsky obtained it, took it with her to Simla, and hid it in the flower-bed where it was found.”
Blavatsky herself wrote in a letter to Frantz Hartman in 1886: “[W]here you speak of the “army” of the deluded—and the “imaginary” Mahatmas of Olcott—you are absolutely and sadly right.
It was after she had left the Mahatmas behind that Madame Blavatsky entered the most prolific and productive phase of her intellectual life. I would like to think Madame Blavatsky would have approved of me.
Dr Vinita Dhondiyal Bhatnagar is professor of Humanities at RGPV University, Bhopal and a performance storyteller. She will be performing at the Living Mahatma online story session of the Bhopal Storytellers Tribe on 2 October 2021. Views are personal.