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300-year-old secret society opens its doors for a day

On the organisation’s 300th anniversary, the world’s largest closed-door fraternity, Freemasons, opened the doors of its Mumbai HQ to an Open House and a guided tour on Sunday

mumbai Updated: Jun 05, 2016 23:53 IST
Anubhuti Matta
Anubhuti Matta
Hindustan Times
The Masonic Temple,Master of Lodge St George,District Grand Mentor
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(Hindustan Times)

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 isreallyabout,” 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 thecolonisersin the early 18thcentury.

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 touron 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 the119-year-oldheritage structure opposite Sterling cinema near CST, then,a carpeted grand staircaseleads to the The Masonic Temple on thesecond 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 mirrorthe 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-whitepatternrepresents the idea ofinherentcontrast — between light and darkness, good and evil.

An All Seeing Eye painted on glassadorns 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 friendswho are membershad 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,forwomen —and men aren’t allowed into those.”

Another visitor, Byculla engineer Rustom Kapadia, 44, came because he was curious about the group. “I am intriguedby the stories of their rituals,” he says.

It was precisely to clear up misconceptionsthat seniorMasons took the visitors through thehallsand exhibitson Sunday, withguided 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.

First Published: Jun 05, 2016 23:53 IST