They have a secret handshake. US president Ronald Reagan knew it. In fact, his gardener was a Master Mason. These are the kinds of apocryphal tales told about the secret sect of the Freemasons — and, as it turns out, some of the legends are true.
“This is what Freemasonry is really about,” says Subeer Verma, Master of Lodge St George, Mumbai, and the District Grand Mentor. “It is the largest secular, fraternal and charitable organisation that brings about social and spiritual equality in human beings.”
Freemasonry has its origins in late-16th- and early-17th-century England and Scotland and entered India with the colonisers in the early 18th century.
On the organisation’s 300th anniversary, the world’s largest closed-door fraternity opened the doors of its Mumbai HQ to an Open House and a guided tour on Sunday.
This was the second time that the organisation was opening up its floors to non-members, after a similar event last June, aimed at clearing up misconceptions about the sect.
Inside the 119-year-old heritage structure opposite Sterling cinema near CST, then, a carpeted grand staircase leads to the The Masonic Temple on the second floor -- the city’s original chamber of secrets.
But there’s nothing secretive about it, insists Verma. “The rules and aims of Freemasonry are available to the public. Only our meetings, like those of many other groups are private and open only to members.”
The ceiling is painted to mirror the sky, with a moon, North Star and the sun — all lit up. From the sun hangs a chain with the letter ‘G’ on it, symbolic of God, situated at the heart of a black-and-white tiled floor that the masons call the carpet, with a sun etched on it too. The black-and-white pattern represents the idea of inherent contrast — between light and darkness, good and evil.
An All Seeing Eye painted on glass adorns one wall — a reminder, like the G, that there are no secrets from the Divine Being.
Cayla Fernandes, a 27-year-old medical student from Thane, came with her father to see the iconic structure that male friends who are members had described.
“I was curious about this ‘all-male society’, and today I’ve finally seen how aesthetically beautiful it is and what it must mean to be a member,” she says.
She adds, “I also learnt that there are only two separate Grand Lodges, in England, for women — and men aren’t allowed into those.”
Another visitor, Byculla engineer Rustom Kapadia, 44, came because he was curious about the group. “I am intrigued by the stories of their rituals,” he says.
It was precisely to clear up misconceptions that senior Masons took the visitors through the halls and exhibits on Sunday, with guided tours every hour and a viewing hall where messages from Masons from around the world played on a loop.
“Freemasonry deals in relations between men, religion deals in man’s relationship with his God,” says Verma.