The Theosophical Society was founded in 1875 in New York (USA) by Madam H.P. Blavatsky (1831-1891), a Russian-German lady, and Col. H.S. Olcott (1832-1907), an American to revive the ancient religions of Asia, mainly Hinduism, Buddhism, and Zoroastrianism. Though Adyar (near Madras) became to its headquarters in 1882, Blavatsky lived mostly in London and Olcott in Ceylon (Sri Lanka) where he propagated Buddhism.
The members of the Society aimed at
- attaining knowledge of God by spiritual ecstasy, direct intuition, or special individual relations;
- propagating Hindu beliefs, reincarnation, and karma;
- drawing inspiration from the philosophy of the Upanishads—Samkhya, Yoga, and Vedanta school of thought;
- Universal Spiritual Brotherhood.
Madame Blavatsky’s main emphasis had been on the occult than spiritualism.
The Theosophy did not believe in differences between two religions, rather it focussed on reviving the ancient religions of Asia—Hinduism, Zoroastrianism, and Buddhism. A theosophist could be of any religion and without giving up his earlier faith could become a Theosophist. In its meetings, prayers of all religions were organized.
The Theosophical society flourished with the arrival of Madame Annie Besant, an Irish lady, born in 1847. She was separated from her husband, an Anglican clergyman. She joined the Theosophical Society in 1882 and came to India in 1893 after the death of Madame Blavatsky. Dr. Besant became the President of The Theosophical Society in 1907, after the death of O.S. Olcott.
Annie Besant believed that we could solve our present-day problems by reviving ancient ideals and institutions, mainly of Hindu religion in our daily life. She translated the Bhagavad Gita and preached its wisdom. She also wrote a commentary on the Ramayana and Mahabharata. She was impressed by the Hindu culture and adopted the Hindu way of life-its dress, food, and social manners.
She founded the Central Hindu School in Banares in 1898 to teach Hinduism to Hindus and give Hinduism a spearhead thus ensuring its future. Later, in 1915, Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya developed the same school into a college.
Annie Besant infused much confidence in most of the Hindus but the orthodox Hindus opposed her radical views. Eventually, she dedicated herself to politics and joined Indian National Congress in 1915, and became its first woman President in 1917. She also started the Home Rule League in September 1916 on the pattern of the Irish Home Rule League and propagated progressive views through her newspaper ‘New India’ and ‘Common Weal”. She was also instrumental in bringing Tilak back into Congress at the Lucknow session (1916).