Trees lined in Freemason symbol form hide in plain view on Central Vista

Updated on Oct 07, 2022 12:47 PM IST

The Freemasons Society, one of the oldest fraternal organisations in the world was established in 1717 in England, and for years misunderstood as a “secret society”.

Visitors seen at India Gate (part of the revamped Central Vista Avenue) in New Delhi, India, (Photo by Sanjeev Verma/Hindustan Times) PREMIUM
Visitors seen at India Gate (part of the revamped Central Vista Avenue) in New Delhi, India, (Photo by Sanjeev Verma/Hindustan Times)
By, New Delhi

The 12 Bistendu (Bombay Ebony) trees stand out on Vijay Chowk, making a clear square and compasses pattern, recreating the famed (and recognisable) logo of Freemasonry or the Freemasons, the fraternal and low-profile organisation with elaborate ceremonies that is often portrayed in negative light in popular fiction.

The trees, or rather the pattern in which they are planted, were discovered during the course of the redevelopment of Central Vista Avenue, and the architects who discovered it believe they were planted this way for a reason -- the two architects of the original Central Vista, Edwin Lutyens and Herbert Baker were both Freemasons.

The Freemasons Society, one of the oldest fraternal organisations in the world was established in 1717 in England, and for years misunderstood as a “secret society”.

Pradip Krishen, author and environmentalist, who is also an adviser with the design committee of the Central Vista Redevelopment Project, said that when the plantation plans of the area were being studied, a bunch of topiarised Bistendu trees stood out because they were planted in a peculiar pattern that was not in line with the rest of the plantations.

“All the trees planted in the avenue follow a certain pattern and these trees were an aberration and we could not understand why this was,” said Krishen.

“The group of trees initially seemed to have been planted randomly but later it was found that it represented the shape of a truncated hexagon, like the tip of a dovetail,” Krishen added.

Krishen explained that it subsequently emerged that the trees were planted in the sacred symbol of the Freemasons — the square and compasses.

Literature available at the Grand Lodge of India located at Delhi’s Janpath, which is the centre of the Freemasons Society in India, shows that for modern Masons, the square and compasses symbol has a unique, profound meaning. The square symbolises virtue and the compass represents wisdom.

This symbol is found in all the buildings, literature, and monuments, associated with the fraternal organisation, across the world.

It also proudly decorates the entrance to the Grand Lodge in Janpath.

“It resides at the heart of Masonic lessons, beckoning all brothers to live a life that is honest, true, and dignified. Any travelling man understands that when he sees this symbol, whether on the façade of a Masonic temple, the bumper sticker of a passing car, or a lapel pin of a colleague, he is in the company of friends,” an excerpt from the history of Freemasons reads.

Krishen said that this symbol seems to have been a piece of “historical forensics” that was discovered by chance.

“This is an interesting tidbit. Maybe Edwin Lutyens wanted to leave this symbol as a secret for future Masons to discover. It has finally been found,” Krishen said.

While Krishen believes that this sign was left behind by Edwin Lutyens, the primary architect of the imperial capital of Delhi, another expert who was part of the Central Vista redevlopment project and spoke on condition of anonymity said that the plantation of the trees could also be the doing of his colleague Herbert Baker.

This assumption is based on the findings of more Masonic symbols and traditions in his other architectural work.

“We do not know anything for sure, but Baker is known to leave Masonic symbols. Some years back, there were reports of a school in Africa where a copy of a newspaper and some coins — a Masonic tradition—were found buried, believed to have been placed there while laying the foundation by Herbert Baker,” the person said.

This reference was corroborated by a news article published in The Standard, “Why Freemason architect buried newspaper, coins under Nairobi School”, in the year 2019.

The article read, “In accordance to Masonic culture, a copy of the East African Standard newspaper and some coins were placed under the foundation stone of Nairobi School... The coins and newspaper had the date and year in which the stone was laid in a ‘time capsule’ custom not only meant to connote the year of construction, but also to bring good luck.”

The Freemasons Society in India did not respond to Hindustan Times’ queries about whether it knew of the “little secret” left behind by a fellow Mason.

“Many famous English professionals, including architects, doctors, lawyers and statesmen at the time were members (of the Freemasons Society). Many historians have spoken about and are still researching about the possible influences in the work done by them,” said an office bearer from the Grand Lodge of India, the governing body of Freemasonry in India.

The Janpath Freemasons’ Lodge was designed by architect FB Blomfield, a contemporary of Lutyens and Baker.

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    Soumya Pillai covers environment and traffic in Delhi. A journalist for three years, she has grown up in and with Delhi, which is often reflected in the stories she does about life in the city. She also enjoys writing on social innovations.

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