Africa, East and Central, Theosophy in
The East and Central African Section of the Theosophical Society consists of Kenya, Tanzania and Zambia. Uganda was also a part of this Section, prior to the reign of IdiAmin when a number of lodges were flourishing. However, all theosophical activity ceased during the Amin regime.With the return of stability, Section Headquarters are hopeful of a revival of the theosophical work in that country.
Kenya. The history of the Theosophical Society in East and Central Africa began in the year 1905 when the Indian philanthropist Seth Abdul Rasul Allidina and Keshavlal V. Dwivedi together with others set up the first lodge in Mombasa. Dwivedi, a civil servant of the British Government, had come from India where he had become a member of the Theosophical Society. During the first world war, Dwivedi was suspected by the government of being a spy because he possessed Helena P. BLAVATSKY’S The Secret Doctrine. He was sentenced to death, but by some miracle the train carrying him from Mombasa to Nairobi arrived late. In the meanwhile the judge for whom he was working as a court clerk investigated the charge of treason and found him innocent and had him released. He was taken to the Governor and subsequently retired with honor and a pension from the British Government.
The second lodge, named the “Occult Lodge,” was formed by Balfour CLARKE in Nairobi in the year 1907. Due to lack of support this lodge was closed down. Between 1914 and 1917 Kahan Chand Kapoor made pioneering attempts to start study classes on theosophical subjects. Finally an application to form a lodge was made by eleven members on January 31, 1918. Annie BESANT, the then International President, granted a charter to the Nairobi Lodge on September 9, 1918. The charter notes the names of eleven members with Pandit Duni Chand Sharma as President and Kahan Chand Kapoor as Secretary. The Nairobi Lodge progressed well during the first three years of its function but owing to the social tensions prevailing in Kenya and the political movement in India, the membership of both European and Indian members fell considerably. At that time the indigenous people had not yet taken their place in public life.
In those early years of the Society’s history a group of very dedicated members threw themselves wholeheartedly into the work and laid a strong foundation. These members were A. P. Best, E. C. Fuller, E. H. Pedler, Mrs. Millar, R. O. Preston, K. C. Kapoor, K. D. Punjani, C. J. Patel, J. B. Dixit, Mewaram T. Dhanani, Maganlal T. Dave, Popatlal G. Mehta, Daulatram C. Acharya and Lal Chand Kapoor. There were suggestions from some European members that there should be two separate lodges for Europeans and Indians but A. P. Best vehemently opposed the suggestion as they considered that would defeat the whole object of the Society which is to realize the Brotherhood of the whole of humanity without distinction of race, creed, sex, caste or color. Best’s contribution to the cause of universal brotherhood and theosophy was immense; not only was the Nairobi Lodge able to maintain its non-sectarian status but also its non-racial status in the days of a racially biased colonial Government.
The pioneers, faced with financial difficulties due to the reduction in membership, changed the meeting places often. On November 18, 1929, a very significant decision of great consequence was taken by the Lodge. It was proposed by A. P. Best that, in his opinion, the past year’s efforts did not justify the continuance of the Lodge due to financial difficulties. The proposal was carried through but Kahan Chand Kapoor suggested that meetings be held at a member’s residence until the Lodge could afford better accommodation.
From the very inception of the Lodge, efforts were made to acquire a plot on which to build a premises of its own, but time and again the government of Kenya considered only sectarian religious bodies for the grant of free land and consequently the Society suffered for not being a sectarian and racial institution.
The result was that, at the end of the year 1929, Lodge meetings began to be held at the Railway Quarters of Kahan Chand Kapoor and continued there until his death. Thereafter, the meetings were transferred to the residence of C. J. Patel, also in the Railway Quarters. By that time the membership had fallen down considerably and in 1936 only five members were left.
However, the visit to East Africa by Sitaram Upadhyay from the Indian Section in 1937 was instrumental in the revitalization of theosophical activities. Due to his inspiration, guidance and propagation of theosophy, the membership increased to about fifty. He was also instrumental in founding further lodges at Mombasa in Kenya and Zanzibar and Dar-es-Salaam in Tanzania.
In 1940, on retirement of C. J. Patel from Railway service, the venue again shifted to the Railway Quarter residence of C. R. Patel, where meetings continued to be held for the next 14 years.
In 1943 Nairobi Lodge celebrated its Silver Jubilee with great enthusiasm and a wish that it would be able to celebrate its Golden Jubilee in the course of time. Early in 1947, the Theosophical Society had 7 lodges in Kenya and Tanzania which were constituted into a National Society and a charter signed by the fourth President, C. JINARAJADASA was issued on February 17 of that year. Dwarkadass Morarji Shah became the first General Secretary with headquarters at Zanzibar. He was succeeded by V. H. Kapadia also of Zanzibar.
In 1955 C. R. Patel retired from his service at the Railways and the venue for the meetings moved to the residence of R. H. Patel, a relatively new member who had joined the Theosophical Society in 1951. By this time the membership had increased considerably and for the first time two Africans became members and started taking a keen interest in Theosophy. Thus it was in 1955 that the Nairobi Lodge fulfilled its dream of having all the races living in Kenya represented on its role. By 1958 the meeting venue had moved to the center of the City in rented premises to make the meetings more accessible.
The idea of having its own Lodge premises was once again mooted in 1961, when Rohit Mehta, a prominent lecturer from India came on an East African tour. He gave a strong impetus and under his inspiration R. H. Patel donated his plot in Third Avenue, Parklands, to the Society. The foundation stone of the Lodge premises was laid on July 23, 1961; it is from this center that the work of Theosophy has spread throughout East and Central Africa.
In 1961 at the East African Convention, held at Kisumu, the Section Headquarters was moved to Nairobi consequent on the election of R. H. Patel as General Secretary. Except for a period of eight years, Nairobi has been the headquarters of the Section from 1962 to 1993 and is continuing to this time.
The Nairobi Lodge held its Golden Jubilee Celebrations in 1969 when the International President, N. SRI RAM and Rukmini Devi ARUNDALE were the guest at the Convention. It was during the time of President John COATS that the Society which had hitherto comprised Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda was reconstituted to include Zambia. A charter dated October 1, 1971, signed by John Coats, was issued to the newly constituted “East and Central African Section.”
In 1980/81, the Nairobi Lodge added a two bedroom flat and a hall (named Olcott Hall) to its facility. The construction of the flat and the Olcott Hall became possible due to a very generous donation by R. H. Patel who had earlier donated the plot and Kanjibhai Patel the contractor who, between them, met the total cost of the new construction.
The year 1982 was a milestone in the history of the Nairobi Lodge and the East African Section. Nairobi Lodge was selected to host the 7th World Congress. This was the first time such a Conference was held in Africa. The Congress which was attended by many overseas delegates including the International President, Radha BURNIER and the International Vice-President, Surendra Narayan, was a great success.
In many respects the history of the East African Section has been synonymous with that of the Nairobi Lodge, which has been the center of theosophical work in the Section for 75 years.
Tanzania. Theosophy came to Tanzania in 1937 when Sitaram Upadhyay of the Indian Section visited Zanzibar and Dar-es-Salaam. He was instrumental in the founding of Lodges at both these places. It is worth noting that the first attempt to co-ordinate all theosophical activity of East African commenced with the creation of a National Society, comprising all Lodges of the area. The charter for this was granted on February 17, 1947, by the then President C. JINARAJADASA. The first General Secretary of this Society was Dwarkadas Morarji Shah of Zanzibar who held this post from 1948 to 1953. His was an exceptional contribution to the work of the Section in its early years. Due to his considerable efforts lodges were established in many towns of mainland Tanganyika most of which however are not now functioning.
Zambia. The work of the Theosophical Society commenced in Zambia with the arrival of A. V. Raval, a member of the Dar-es-Salaam Lodge. Raval had come to Zambia as an Education Officer and, soon after arrival in January, 1967 started gathering together a few individuals who showed some interest in theosophy. In September, 1967 an idea was floated to form a Lodge but this remained only a dream due to the economic hardships through which the country was passing. However, two meetings per week continued to be organized in English and Gujarati. In the meanwhile, A. V. Ravel, using the school holidays, continued traveling to the major towns to attract people to theosophy. Amongst those who were attracted were K. A. Patel at Mufulira and C. S. Patel at Kabwe. In 1970 it appeared that two lodges could be formed in Zambia. A. V. Raval requested H. D. Shah, then Chairman of the Dar-es-Salaam Lodge to prevail upon the East African Section Headquarter to organize the visit of Justice A. R. Bakshi who was the Guest Speaker of the 1970 Convention to Zambia. Justice Bakshi did visit Zambia for about a week and in his presence Mufulira Lodge was formed on October 1, 1970, and Kabwe Lodge on October 2, 1970. Subsequently A. B. Patel, the then General Secretary from Kenya visited Zambia and, as a result, a further six lodges came into existence.
At the request of the Zambian Lodges, the 1975 Convention was held at Lusaka with John COATS as the Guest Speaker. This was an historic occasion for Zambia joined the Section, which then became the “East and Central African Section.” In 1984 the Section Headquarters moved to Zambia with the appointment of K. A. Patel as General Secretary. It remained there until 1987 when the Headquarters once again moved to Nairobi, Kenya.
During the 1984 Convention at Kitwe a “Theosophical Trust” was launched and within a few months a sizeable amount was collected from members and sympathizers. However, the devaluation of the Kwacha made this fund insignificant. Subsequently a sympathizer, N. D. Patel donated two properties in Lusaka and Ndola to the Society. Income from these is being used for theosophical work.
In 1988 Kitwe Lodge became only the second lodge after Nairobi to acquire its own plot on which the foundation stone was laid and a pipal tree was planted by the International President, Radha Burnier on her visit to Zambia. Kitwe Lodge is attempting to raise adequate funds to construct the lodge building.
- Dwarkadass Morarji Shah Zanzibar, Tanzania 1948-1953
- Valladbhass Hirji Kapadia Zanzibar, Tanzania 1953-1961
- Rattanji H. Patel Nairobi, Kenya 1961-1967
- Ambalal B. Patel Nairobi, Kenya 1967-1973
- Hariprasad M. Chhaya Nairobi, Kenya 1973-1979
- Harkisham D. Shah Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania 1979-1984
- Kanoobhai A. Patel Mufulira, Zambia 1984-1987
- Kiran H. Shah Nairobi, Kenya 1987-1993
- Bhupendra R. Vora, Nairobi, Kenya 1993-
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