A Recondite Scholar of Intelligence
First letter of Subba Row to Madame Blavatsky
T. Subba Row, though not a formal member of the Theosophical Society then, started his correspondence with Madame Blavatsky as early as in 1880. The founders arriving at Bombay and temporarily establishing their Headquarters there was a matter of public notice for the Indian elite. Isis Unveiled, the book authored by HPB (1877) was available to Indian readers by 1879. TSR was the one of the early readers of this book and he was wonderstruck with the enchanting display of scholarship and the inimitable presentation of the mysterious contents. He very much wanted to get in touch with the writer but had to wait till the ripening of time for such an opportunity.
We do not exactly know how and when he wrote and made acquaintance with her. TSR was then a practicing lawyer in the High Court of Judicature, Madras, having enrolled himself in the latter part of 1880, and a resident of Triplicane part of that provincial headquarters. He was already deeply immersed in his studies of Occult Sciences. His frequent visits to the Oriental Libraries and Sanskrit Scholars were on record. He should have been a subscriber to the journal of the Society “the Theosophist” started by the founders in October 1879. He penned an article for this journal on 14th September 1881 and this appeared in the November 1881 issue. The name of this article was “The Twelve Signs of the Zodiac” and this happens to be a very deep scholarly study of the story of creation as concealed and implicitly stated in the Mantra and Tantra Sastras of India. Madame Blavatsky made elaborate footnotes to this article while publishing in the journal. There were as many as nine such explanatory notes, perhaps added by her to assist the readrs’ comprehension and to enhance the understandability of the serious contents of the essay. We may here also note the high esteem with which she treated this article, when she used the last paragraph:
The history of creation of this world from its beginning up to the present time is composed of seven chapters. The seventh chapter is not yet completed.
as a super-note to the ‘Summing Up’ chapter in the first volume of The Secret Doctrine.
The letter opens with ‘thanks giving’ to the “Respected Madame’ for her letter of 28th ultimo. TSR’s letter being distinctly dated the 3rd February 1882, Madame HPB’s letter must be of 28th January 1882.
Col.Olcott left for his tour in North part of the country and his first stop was at Jeypore. He was accompanied by Bhavani Shankar who was already a part of the Founders’ group in Bombay along with Damodar Maulankar. The President’s visits covered Delhi, Meerut, Allahabad, Prayag, Berhampore and Colcutta. HPB joined him at Calcutta on 6 March 1882. Now let us look at the opening remarks and request of TSR in his letter under notice.
I think it is highly desirable that you should come here, if circumstances permit, by the time Col. Olcott comes here from Calcutta.
The reasons for the request are many:
No doubt, I am individually am very anxious to see you; but that is not the important reason.
Though no branch Theosophical Association has yet been established here, there are a good many gentlemen here who sincerely sympathize with your aims and objects and who would be very glad to see you. --- Your Isis Unveiled has made a very strong impression on their minds --- They has earnestly asked me to write to you requesting you to come here also. --- There are Europeans also, here, who are very anxious to see you. Please see therefore, if you cannot spare a few days to gratify the expectations of these gentlemen.
But the real reason or more a ‘cause’ by an occult significance is available in the letter itself. TSR says:
`The Little of Occultism that still remains in India is centered in this Madras Presidency; and this fact you will be able to find out for yourself in course of time. The great revival of Yoga Vidya in the time of our great Sankarachariar had its origins in this part of India; and from that time up to the present day, Southern India never had the misfortune of being deserted by all its initiates. As the few initiates that still remain here cannot live in small communities as your Himalayan Adepts do, they are, therefore, living in solitary hermits in a few sacred places in this Presidency.
Here, TSR is trying to make a mark of distinction among the adepts of the Himalayan school and of the South Indian school. The specific point made by him is tha occultism is not totally dead in India.
We still have the clue in our hands to understand the teaching of our old Rishis and the doctrines of every other system of philosophy, which has sprung up from the Ancient Wisdom religion. And I venture to affirm (though you may doubt it) we still have the clue to find out the “Lost Formula,” if it is indeed already lost.
TSR sternly makes a descriptive statement of the characteristics of the Indian Rishis.
We still have men among us – secure from the molestation of haughty English officials and impertinent missionaries, in dark mountain caves and trackless impenetrable forests – those who have almost reached the shores of the ocean of Nirvana, --- These men are not anxious to get their existence recognized by them. --- It is only to sincere believers in Yoga Vidya and the existence of adepts that these stern mystics are accessible. --- The Himalayan adepts are not afraid that they would be in any way molested by Englishmen if their existence is known to them. But the Adepts in India are I suspect, really afraid that if their existence is known to the public there would be an end to their peaceful Samadhi and seclusion.
As yet, TSR has no direct perception of the Himalayan adepts. In fact his knowledge on occult matters may as yet be totally ‘bookish’ and not supported or corroborated by any personal experience or conviction. That his doors of perception have widened only after he met and sat ‘face to face’ with Madame Blavatsky as he was mentioning to his mother later, and as recorded so by Col. Olcott in his obituary note.
It was as though a storehouse of occult experience, long forgotten, had been suddenly opened to him; recollection of his last preceding birth came in upon him; he recognized his Guru, and thenceforward held intercourse with him and other mahatmas; with some, personally at our Headquarters, with others elsewhere and by correspondence.
The letter is of great importance historically, for the simple reason that it paved way for Madame Blavatsky’s decision to visit Madras. How this visit changed the whole course of the Theosophical Society and the theosophical philosophy towards a better situation and for the ‘benefit of humanity’ is well recorded and known to be restated here. The Founders’ visit and addresses to the interested gatherings of men and women, the formation of the Madras Theosophical Society were the sequences. TSR was the first Secretary of this branch Society, later became its president too. The original ideas of TSR on many matters of unique importance, their metamorphoses and the influence he wielded upon his contemporaries and his attention to the issues of critical nature could be noticed as we go further with his correspondence and letters.
He was anxious to meet the ‘mysterious persons’ who were the Founders of such a great movement that stirred the thought-current and imagination of the century, was desirous of actively participating in their program of work and to assist in formulating the schemes and schedules in the years to come.
His suggestion to HPB in the matter of providing spiritual training to the members of the Society was also part of this very first letter.
We can in course of time, adopt some ritualistic system of Initiation for the IInd Section; and I do not see any reason why we should not be able in future to have a certain amount of systematic occult training for those who are admitted into the said section. I shall be glad to see this section composed of real initiates acting under the instructions given by the Adepts of the 1st section.
He was enthusiastic about the occult progress of the members and even of the Society as a whole. His scheming of or designing any plans on these lines did not take place. By the time HPB intended starting her Eastern School of Theosophy, sometime in 1888, TSR was already out of the wings of the society. That the society was classified into3 Sections during that period is a factor that could be noticed in this context.
Another feature, the last but not the least, of this letter is to be mentioned now. Before the letter actually came into the hands of HPB, the addressee, it was seen and screened by Master Morya, the Teacher of both Madame Blavatsky and TSR. He had underlined certain phrases and added one or two sentences in his characteristic way. His observations are prominent in two sequences. One, is the way of the adepts in India. In his sense of humor, he remarks that they are not ‘physically’ afraid but are justly ‘fearing’ to see their secure retreats desecrated and themselves surrounded by antipathetic crowds. Two, is the matter of TSR’s offer to give training schemes. The Master emphatically says that ‘one might do worse than consult the young man about the proposed manual also.’ This is an abundant caution as to the formulation of the working systems by a person who is not sufficiently equipped with all the knowledge for that work and who has only an up-swelling fountain of enthusiasm for the deal mere desire to do this or that job is not enough and helpful.an aspirant must know all the rules of the game, and that is equally relevant in physical and spiritual concerns. One should patiently work, but not rush into the realms about which not much is known. This attitude will spoil the Cause, besides setting the doer behind. An attitude of utmost patience and not mad-outgoing is needed. Occultism, as TSR says at a later period, is not a matter to be taken casually and trifled with anyway.
Dr N C Ramanujachary