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Some Personal Memories of Madame H.P. Blavatsky

 by G. Soobiah Chetty (1)

 

One evening in April, 1882, as I was returning from the office, I noticed a large crowd near Pachiappas Hall in Madras. There were many carriages waiting, amongst them was my father’s also. On enquiry I learnt that a lecture was to be delivered by an American gentleman Colonel Henry S. Olcott on "The Common Foundation of Religions".

My father’s presence assured me that the lecture must be worth hearing. I made up my mind to have the benefit of it. Though the crowd was "crushing," I managed to secure a position sufficiently good to hear every word spoken. The lecture was, as I expected, very interesting and illuminating.

On returning home, I found that my father was one of the few who had invited Colonel Olcott and Madame Blavatsky to Madras, to form a branch of the Theosophical Society in this city. My father’s permission having been obtained, my brother and I put in our applications for membership the next morning (27-4-1882). There were already over 20 applications received.

Next evening, while addressing the applicants, Colonel Olcott made a reference to the Great White Lodge of Masters and said that, within a hundred miles of Madras, there lived One of this august Fraternity.

Three days after, my father directed my brother and me to go to Tiruvellum to make proper arrangements for the reception of the founders and the few friends who had been selected to accompany them. The object of the visit, we were told, was to pay respects in person to the Master who lived somewhere near this village.

On the morning of the Sunday following they all arrived. A procession with music escorted H. P. B. and H. S. O. to the place assigned for their lodging. We waited for some time to be told when to get ourselves ready to go to the Ashrama, but to our disappointment we were told, after a long waiting, that we could not go, as the Great Ones do not appear before a crowd of layman, like ourselves. It was afterwards rumoured that only H. P. B. and Subba Row, had the privilege of going there. Even Colonel Olcott could not go.

At about five o’clock in the evening, H. P. B. came out of the lodging. We walked around the village and a visit to the Old Temple was proposed. It is on a river bank. H. P. B. said it is an historic one, and is likely to become a centre of learning at some future time.

It was a fine moonlight evening. We sat on the river bed, which was quite dry, till about 8 p.m. H. P. B. talked about several matters, her talks were very interesting. We dispersed to meet again at 10 p.m.

We met in the open veranda in front of the lodging. A discussion arose as to who should be chosen to take up the presidency of the Madras Branch, when suddenly H. P. B. got up and held Subba Row’s two hands in hers. There was silence, for a few minutes; then a rustling noise like the moving of a paper was heard; we then noticed a paper falling from the roof.

It was a Communication from Master M., I read it: I do not remember now the exact words; but there was a reference in it to Dewan Bahadur Naghanadhan Row, who was afterwards elected President of the Madras Branch.

We returned to Madras the next morning (Monday).

On the Wednesday following, H. P. B. drove into town; she met me while passing in Mount Road.  She stopped her carriage, as I also mine. I got down immediately and went to her.   She told me that she was leaving for Nellore and Guntur on Saturday, and desired me to accompany her. I said it might be difficult for me to obtain leave and that my going would depend upon this contingency. She insisted on my going and said it was Master’s wish.

I applied for leave the next morning and it was refused, and I communicated this to her and not having heard from her till Saturday morning, I thought I was not wanted.

No, it was to be otherwise. She, on her way to the Boat Basin station - where a boat was waiting to take her to Nellore - called on my father and requested him not to stand in the way of my going with her. After some hesitation, he yielded and gave his permission. I could not at once go, as I was taking my dinner. H. P. B. left promising to wait for me at the Boat Basin. I left soon after and joined her at about midnight. We sailed within about 15 minutes.

The journey to Nellore was not particularly eventful. We reached Nellore on the evening of the third day. Next morning I was not feeling well, due to want of proper food during the journey. She advised me not to be particular about little things, and suggested that I should go to the well opposite and draw water and pour it over my head. I did as advised, though Colonel Olcott objected. I felt all right soon after.

Colonel Olcott had much writing to do and he was busy at his table. H. P. B. was talking to friends who had come to see her. She wanted to know what date it was. I said a calendar would be helpful. She looked at me for a minute or two; then a noise was heard as if something had fallen from the roof; due to the fall on her table - which was about 15 to 20 feet from where we were talking - of a diary for 1882. I picked it up. She tried to precipitate the name of the person for whom she intended it. She did not succeed.

That evening the Colonel spoke to a small audience on mesmerism. Next day about 40 members were admitted.

As far as I was concerned, this day was rather unwelcome. I received a telegram from my office, directing me to return at once. I telegraphed back asking for permission to resign. It was refused, and the next message was from my father advising me to return and not be foolish. H. P. B. permitted me to return remarking that she would not encourage disobedience to parents.

I returned, but only to get back again as soon as I could. No sooner did I join the office, then I applied for leave; it was granted, but without allowance, and I left Madras that very evening, travelling by train to Renigunta, and thence to Nellore by quick marches. I was in time to join the party of friends, who were preparing to go to Muthukur to meet H. P. B. and H. S. O., who were expected to return from Guntur. She was glad to see me back.

I sat with her while going to our lodging at Nellore, and she related to me what had happened during my absence and made a special reference to a Communication she had received from her Master. Without waiting for her permission, I requested Mr. V. V. Naidu to show it to me. He had it in his purse. I was not permitted to see it, nor to know anything about its contents. This was a lesson to me.

While in the carriage, H. P. B. asked me how it had happened that I was able to go to Madras, and come back to Nellore so soon. I told her that I had taken the overland route. We reached Nellore at about midnight.

Next evening a Brahmana Yogi - Brahmananda Swamy - came to see H. P. B. A long conversation was held. He was a good Samskrt scholar, but not an Occultist.

We stayed at Nellore for two days. Then we started for Madras not by the Boat Canal, but via Renigunta and thence by rail. We left Nellore after dark.

Next morning we had to cross a wide stream; it was dry and the bed was very sandy. The carriages were hard to pull. H. S. O. and I got down from our carriages and helped the coolies to drag H. P. B.’s carriage to the other side. The Colonel remarked that I was responsible for this change of route, and said I should not henceforth sit with her in her carriage, she however heard this and as hitherto, made me sit with her in her carriage. We talked about many matters. Her talks were edifying and I benefited considerably by them.

The conversation turned on the Bombay T. S. headquarters residence, "Crow’s Nest". She said it was a rented house; then I asked her if she would make Madras the Headquarters of the Society, if a suitable place could be secured. She said she would consider my suggestion, and communicate her decision to me after reaching Mylapore.

We reached Renigunta rather late for the train to Madras. We waited till next morning in the station waiting-rooms. At the station an incident happened: H. P. B. came where the scales were and wanted to be weighed. I put weight after weight, she weighed heavier than any and all of them. Then she weighed lighter as weights were removed.

We arrived at Madras the next morning by the Bombay mail, where friends were waiting to receive the party.

A meeting of the Madras Branch was called for that evening. The Colonel was asked by H. P. B. to put the proposal regarding the transfer of the Headquarters to Madras. While doing so the Colonel said that if sufficient inducement were offered the proposal could be considered. Three friends came forward, promising to contribute Rs. 250 each in case a suitable place were secured. This was rather a good start. I was encouraged to go ahead. No time was wasted in making a search and before next evening, I had information about the Huddleston Gardens property – near Madras along the Adyar River.

Details were then obtained as to the price, owner, etc. It was found that it had been mortgaged for Rs. 7,500. The owner was willing to sell the property for Rs. 1,000 subject to this lien. After the price had been fixed, my brother and I requested H. P. B. and H. S. O. to inspect the property.

On the 31st of May, the founders, my brother and myself drove to Adyar. As soon as we reached the main building, H. P. B. got down and went straight upstairs. The rest of us went about inspecting the riverside bungalows, out houses, etc.

H. P. B. after a few minutes, sent for me. I ran up to her; she said: "Soobiah, Master says buy this."

Before leaving Madras for Bombay, she was pretty certain that there would be nothing wanting on our part to secure the property for the Society, and see Master’s desire carried out.

June and July passed without much being accomplished, though several attempts were made to obtain contributions. I received a letter from H. P. B. in August and I wrote to Mr. Iyalu Naidu to know exactly what he would do. He said he could lend Rs. 3,500 only and the remaining Rs. 5,000 should be secured elsewhere. Mr. Iyalu Naidu a few days later came to see my father and tried his best with his old friend whom he had known for nearly half a century, but with no result.  The parting of the friends was rather unpleasant.

A fortnight after, I entreated my father not to let slip a very good opportunity of doing some service. He refused to do anything beyond contributing Rs. 250 towards the purchase. At about three in the morning (the next day) he called me and said he would give me Rs. 1,500 as soon as the day dawned. I could not sleep further, but waited anxiously for the sunrise. He, then, gave this sum with instructions as to how the receipt should be worded. The advance was made and property secured. 

On the 17th of November following, the remaining Rs. 7,000 was paid, and the purchase completed.

H.P.B. and Col. Olcott (with Bhavaji, Damodar, the Coulombs, and Babula - H.P.B.’s servant) arrived in Madras on December 19, 1882.

A few days after their arrival at the newly purchased Adyar T.S. Headquarters (2), on a Sunday morning, Madame Blavatsky was unpacking, assisted by Damodar, Krishnaswami (known as "Bhavaji"), Narasimhulu (my brother) and me.   Among the articles were found two portraits; and Narasimhulu and I examined them intently, as we recognised in one of them a saddhu we had seen some years before.

Noticing us handling the pictures, H.P.B. forbade it, saying they were pictures of the Masters. My brother and I said we had seen the person portrayed in one of them. H.P.B. declared this could not be true; but a fortnight later she was told that we had indeed seen the Master M. in 1874 and that He had visited the city of Madras in His physical body.

She asked us to describe the visit.  We said that early one morning a saddhu entered our home unannounced. A strikingly tall man, clothed in a long white dress and white pagri (turban), with black hair falling on His shoulders, and black beard, stood within the door.  Narasimhulu and I drew near to him.

He made certain signs which we did not understand, but remembered vividly. He asked for one pice; and when we went to the money-box we found it contained exactly one pice, which was given to Him.

He turned and left the house, followed by Narasimhulu and me.  He suddenly disappeared, to our great astonishment. We could find no trace of Him in the street. It was this sudden and mysterious disappearance that impressed the visit so deeply upon us that we always remembered it in detail.

H.P.B. added the information that He was on His way to Rameshvaram, one of the great places of pilgrimage in India.

In 1883 H.P.B. spent the summer with General and Mrs. Morgan at "The Retreat" in Ootacamund. She invited or rather directed me to go there, and I obeyed the call with pleasure.  I went and stayed seven or eight weeks with her there, living in the same house.  I was glad to avail myself of the opportunity given me of having the rare privilege of living for some time under the same roof as H.P.B. and under her influence.

H.P.B.’s intense desire was to attract the attention of men of position to Theosophy. For this purpose she worked hard and succeeded eventually.

One day as we were discussing as to how this object could be secured, a very strong influence was felt. This was due to the appearance of Master M. in the room. He materialised partly, and I was able to see a hazy form and though hazy I saw His arm clearly handing something to H.P.B. My surmise that He had come there to give directions as to how the desired object could be gained was found to be correct. H.P.B. told me so.

Mrs. Carmichael, wife of the Senior Member of the Governor’s Executive Council, called on H.P.B. She soon became a frequent visitor. One morning as Mrs. Carmichael was about to leave, H.P.B. asked her for the sapphire ring she was wearing; it was given, and after keeping it for a few minutes H.P.B. returned two instead of one. Mrs. Carmichael became so surprised that she could hardly speak; she left immediately. She with her husband went to the jeweller, who had sold the original, and subjected the two rings to his examination. He examined and said they were genuine ones, and that the second was worth considerably more than what was paid for the first one.

This satisfied them so much that they made no secret of the marvellous phenomenon. Major Kenny Herbert, a very excellent man, Military Secretary to the Governor, was so pleased that he invited H.P.B. and Col. Olcott to dinner. He soon became a good friend, and through his co-operation and that of the Carmichaels, a public lecture by the Colonel was arranged. There was a respectable audience, and all the men of position attended. The lecture was well appreciated.

During one of those days, one of the Secretaries to Government called on H.P.B. She was not at first inclined to see him, but on being entreated by me and Mrs. Morgan, she agreed. He was shown to the visitors’ room. H.P.B. soon arrived.

After the usual formalities of greetings were over, this gentleman asked H.P.B. what her age was. She got "put out" and put him a few questions. She asked him if he was ever a student of mathematics, whether he had studied arithmetic, and if he could count. These questions, put in quick succession, perplexed him, and he gave the best answer that he could.

Then pointing to the corner of the room towards the left, H.P.B. said "Mr. ------, now count." Astral bells were ringing, and they rang so fast that the poor man could count only up to five. Two more chances were given, and in each case with the same result. This Secretary to Government returned home rather disappointed.

One day a European gentleman came to see her and I announced him. She said, "I do not want to see him." Because he was a man of high position, I persuaded her to see him. He asked impertinent questions, and she treated him similarly. When he left, she said, "You had better not bring any more such people to me. He came to examine me and ridicule me. Do not introduce such people."

On the whole, it may be said that the Ooty visit was a satisfactory one; but it was not without its other side. This success attracted the jealousy of the Christian Missionaries.

H.P.B. was a unique person of varying mood and temper. She was of poor health. She disliked conventionalities and expressed her disapproval in strong terms. She was generally a most amiable "mother," recounting strange, charming and amusing stories, and giving instructive talks.

One morning, while taking breakfast, she was relating a very interesting comic story when Colonel appeared and remarked, "The old lady is in one of her lucid intervals this morning." H.P.B., recognizing his joke, laughed and continued her narrative unaffected by the satirical remark. But if anything like that happened when she was in a temper, she was an impossible person to bear with - the more intimate the personal relationship, the more "vigorous" was the language when things went wrong.

At Ootacamund, she placed a sum of money with me with instructions to spend for her. In a few days she wanted to know if she should pay any more than she had given me at first. I answered that there remained a portion of her money still unspent, and I proceeded to hand her a paper containing a statement of the expenditure. She flew into a rage, probably suspecting that I added my own money and spent it for her, and she said, "Soobiah, you are treating me like a stranger, giving me your accounts, while I look upon you as my son. Did I ask you to keep an account for me?" So saying, she snatched the paper from me, tore it up and threw it away.

Another day she gave me letters to post. "Have you any money left?" She asked. "Yes, Rs. 14 or 15," I said. She said, "You can’t have any left. You must have spent some of your own money. You are looking thin; your father will think I am not taking proper care of you."

During her stay with the Morgans at Ootacamund, she was given one day for her breakfast some delicious fruit in syrup. She must have liked it very much, for she asked for more to be brought. Then, instead of eating it herself, she put it on one side and offered it to me later. Many such things showed the mother-heart in the great woman. I shall always remember this incident, one of the many that make me cherish her kindness with affection and gratitude.

There were many incidents also which showed how closely she was in touch with the Masters, and those of us living close to her witnessed this fact, especially the Colonel, Damodar, my father and myself.

One evening in November 1883, H.P.B. back at T.S. Headquarters in Madras received a telegram from the Colonel, who was then touring in north India, informing her that Damodar had suddenly disappeared and left no clue to show whither he had gone. On receiving the message, H.P.B. went to her table and quietly sat down. Suddenly the "feeling" of the room changed, and I at once knew that something occult was going to happen. I sat beside her and kept quite quiet.

She began writing down some words being spoken to her. I too heard the words, "Instruct Olcott not to let his (Damodar’s) luggage, especially the" - there was a pause. H.P.B. inquired, "Especially the what?" I immediately uttered the word "bedding." Then the message continued, "be touched by any third party." H.P.B. playfully said, "Soobiah, you are right, you are also becoming a medium."

Of course it was the Master who gave her that message, as so often happened. And she did not know that Damodar had left his bedding behind, without which a Hindu seldom, if ever, travels.

During the same year also Master K. H. appeared in my house in Mylapore. Early next morning when I met H.P.B. at Adyar, she told me that the same Master had appeared before her about the same time and presented her with yellow roses which she showed me. Let me say that yellow roses were then very rare, in fact unobtainable in Madras.

Another incident was in regard to my house in Mylapore. One morning just as I was getting up, a message came to go to her. She said: "Your father wants you, you had better run." I found my father’s mother had died just an hour before. Two days after, she asked me the details of the death. She thought her passing away was inauspicious. She suggested that my father and the family vacate the house where we lived, but my father would not go. Fifteen days afterwards she again requested him to vacate the house for seven months or seven weeks. He would not. The result was there were four deaths within eight months in the family. Then my father agreed to go.

Just before we left the house, H.P.B. said: "This is more fitted to be a Roman Catholic Church than a residence". The house had to be shut up for a few years. I wanted to sell it at any price. One day a man came and offered Rs. 10,000. He gave me Rs. 1,000 cash; I did not even know to whom I had sold it. It was for a Roman Catholic Convent. A year or two afterwards I went to the house to see it. The Lady Superior showed me round. She took me to the hall where H.P.B. had said this - it was a Roman Catholic Chapel! But she had passed away a year before that, and so I could not write it to her.

My father, who was to spend his holidays that year at Narayana Varam, where the sage known as Sarakaiswamy lived, a village about 80 miles from Madras, received by post a letter written in Tamil from the Master K.H. in which the Master suggested that my father should endeavour to collect funds for Mr. Sinnett’s paper, The Phoenix. My father accordingly gathered considerable support for it and was thanked by the Great One Himself. However, the plan for such a newspaper was later abandoned.

I had very hard treatment from H.P.B. often; I bore it, knowing what she was. During 1883 or 1884 I used to come to Adyar every day from my home in Mylapore, spending the night and going away early in the morning. One evening when I came, she was sitting. She took my new chaddar, and next morning she did not give it me back. Next day she had turned it into a blouse, and put it on. I was very pleased, and thanked her for the privilege of using my cloth!

That evening she spoke to Bawaji, Damodar and me about the Tibetan Dugpas and Gelugpas. Two days afterwards I met her; she stopped and called me. I was wearing a red turban. She took the turban and threw it down, and said, "Soobiah, I hope you won’t wear a red turban again."

One morning I was about to go. She said, "Do not go, I have some work for you." She gave me a lot of papers to copy, twelve sheets of foolscap. I copied it and gave it to her. She looked at it, crumpled it and threw it into the waste-basket. She was in a rage. I went home and to the office, but I couldn’t do much, thinking of this incident. At one o’clock it struck me that I had written on both sides of the paper. So I hurried out and copied it all again, writing on one side only, and then gave it to her. "I suppose after this, Soobiah, you won’t copy on both sides in case of matter for the press. This is a very good lesson for you, and will make you feel your duty."

The third incident was this: I was the youngest of the lot of her office helpers, and was requested by my friends to ask her an important question. That day she was very kind, and so it was a good time for the question. "Madame," I said, "you preach control of temper, but you go into outbursts now and then." "Soobiah, that is my loss and your gain. If I didn’t have that temper, I should have become an Adept by this time."


Endnotes

(1)  This article has been collated from several articles written by G. Soobiah Chetty.  See the original articles listed under Chetty's last name in The Blavatsky Archives.  The extracts given in this article have been transcribed from the original articles but some material has been silently deleted.  The text has also been somewhat edited with some explanatory words, phrases and sentences added from time to time to the original text to make the overall narrative more easily read. The additions have not been placed in brackets.

(2)  A. P. Sinnett in his 1886 Incidents in the Life of Madame Blavatsky (pp. 255, 257–8) writes the following about the new Theosophical Society property near Madras, India:

"On the 16th of December 1882, a farewell entertainment was given by native friends to the founders of the Theosophical Society, just before their departure from Bombay to take up their residence at Adyar, Madras, where a house had been purchased for the Society by subscription."

"The house at Madras was a great improvement on the cramped and comfortless bungalow at Bombay. Madras is a station of enormous extent, straggling along seven or eight miles of the seashore. Adyar is a suburb at the southern extremity, through which a small stream finds its way to the sea, and just before it reaches the beach spreads out into a broad shallow expanse of water, beside which the Theosophical house stands in extensive grounds. Here we found Mme. Blavatsky and her heterogeneous household comfortably installed when my wife and I visited her on our way home to England from India in March 1883."

"The upper rooms of the house were her own private domain. One of these rooms just built was destined by Madame to be her "occult room," her own specially private sanctum. She had especially devoted herself to decorating a certain hanging cupboard to be kept exclusively sacred to the communications passing between the Masters and herself, and bestowed upon it the designation the Shrine. Here she had established some simple occult treasures, two small portraits she possessed of the Mahatmas, and some other trifles. The purpose of this special receptacle was of course perfectly intelligible to everyone familiar with the theory of occult phenomena. A place kept pure of all "magnetism" but that connected with the work of integrating and disintegrating letters, would facilitate the process, and the "shrine" was used for the transaction of business between the Masters and the chelas.

William Q. Judge also writes in his magazine The Path about the T.S. Headquarters located near Madras, India:

"The Headquarters of the Theosophical Society in India are in a suburb of Madras called Adyar, so named from the Adyar river which runs past the building, washes, indeed, the base of the wide piazza at the back. The building is made of brick and plaster, painted white, except some rooms erected upon the roof. The grounds comprise about twenty-one acres, bounded in front of the house by a large grove of trees, on the back by the river, and on one side by the main road leading out of Madras. There are numerous mango trees in the compound between the house and the main road, and these afford a grateful shade, their spreading branches covering great distances around their trunks."

"The picture above gives the point of view as you come up the drive from the entrance gate. It shows the front of the building as it faces the compound. The porte cochere is seen in perspective. It gave a grand air to the front. The whole building was of a white color, appearing at a distance like a marble structure, but in reality is constructed of brick plastered white, as is very usual in India."

"Just appearing over the ornamental balustrade which encloses the roof is the front of HPB’s own room, which led into the shrine room shown in the second picture. Her room was an addition to the building, and in a way served to join the two towers which rise at the back corners at either end. The stairs of the tower illustrated in the second picture below were the means of communication with her apartment, although the other tower had also a stairway."

"That part of the compound extending from the entrance gate on the highway was full of mango trees, and through them the driveway brought you up to the house and under the port cochere. Alighting there, a short flight of steps took you up to the entrance hall, where the floor was of black and white marble. Here there were two tables, sofas, and some chairs, and on the floor many a night slept Damodar K. Mavalankar, together with several others."

"Part of the end of the building on the side near the main road is given in the second picture. It is a continuation of the corner seen in the first cut. The tower finished the river end of the building, and the river itself can be just seen at the back. On the top is the occult room with the extension or verandah. The roof of the "occult room" was slanting and tiled in red, the plaster being tinted yellow. In this was the shrine. It was entered from the other side, and, being a few feet lower than the rooms used by HPB, a short flight of steps ran down into it. In the tower is a winding brick stairway."

"Damodar’s room was in this tower at the top as you came up the narrow stairs. A corridor, as you might call it, ran across the back of HPB’s rooms from tower to tower, open to the river and giving a view of the little island opposite and the long bridge which carries the highway across the river."

 

"This third illustration above is reproduced from a photograph of the back of the building taken from the little island. It shows the other tower, companion to that in which was Damodar’s room. The lower floor under the roof was the back part of the middle of the building, and was occupied by the Theosophist magazine. Trees and shrubs almost hid the view. A plastered embankment ran for a short distance along this side so as to protect the foundations."

"These pictures give a very correct idea of the house when HPB lived in it."

Sinnett's and Judge's comments are quoted from the online version of my book The Esoteric World of Madame Blavatsky.


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