Thursday, 4 March 2010

On the level

(More about the pug later...!)

We get some great venues for SAALG (South Asia Archive & Library Group) conferences, and none more so than the Freemasons' Hall, which we visited on 19th February. Our hosts were the archivist and curators of the Library & Museum there.
After a tour of this gorgeous Art Deco building, we were treated to a talk on freemasonry in India. Basically, it was "exported" (along with other British traditions) during the Raj, principally for military personnel and East India Co. employees.
Manockjee Cursetjee, a Parsee, was the first Indian freemason. He lobbied the Duke of Sussex (who encouraged the ideal of a universal botherhood) for entry into the society, but eventually joined a French lodge. James Burnes founded a new lodge – the Rising Star of Western India Lodge, 1843 (with a Scottish constitution) - which welcomed Prosonno Cooman Dutt as their first Indian freemason. The Scottish and Irish constitutions were considered more egalitarian, cutting across all religions and castes.
Lots of genealogical work is carried out at the Library; the staff glean a lot of information from the annual returns from 1887, as well as histories and files of lodges; pre-1887 membership files on CD-ROM; proposals forms and photographs. They can be difficult to trace because freemasons moved between lodges and constitutions (especially military personnel), depending on where they were stationed, and there were movements relating to career, such as in the railways industry.

The museum had some fascinating artifacts, including porcelain figures relating to a German masonic order dubbed the Mops (German for pug - just in case you're wondering what pugs have got to do with freemasons). Their founder loved pugs and so adopted the dog as their symbol. Rituals included blind-folded freemasons being instructed to kiss the pug's bottom ... which turned out to be a dummy.

If you're ever in the Drury Lane area, nip down Great Queen Street and pop in to see the Library & Museum - well worth a visit.

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