An account of how Manjeri Rama Iyer, an activist theosophist in India affected the common man and woman

The work done by theosophists in India on the social aspects had immense effect on how theosophists and Theosophical Society is viewed in India. Many theosophists were involved not in speculation of what is going on in unseen world and occult side of things, but were active in improving the conditions of the masses. Why in the recent decades we do not hear of such interests in theosophists should be of concern to everyone. Unless our activities affect our fellow men and women and children, no one is going to pay any attention to many things HPB and others talked about. It is time to divert our focus at the grass roots than thin air.

Here is an account I saw in Facebook.

Manjeri Rama Iyer was a theosophist and was an activist in social reforms affecting the common man and woman. In the following which was published in the local newspaper and translated to English, some may not recognize some of the names. Ramaswami Iyer was the lawyer who litigated Krishnamurti case against Besant and Rajaji is a freedom fighter and later became the first Indian Governor General after Indian Independence.

Enjoy the account.


Manjeri Subin Sunder Raj (Great grandson of Rama Iyer)

Besant Ashram

Malayala Manorama 31 March 2012

English translation by Manjeri Subin Sunder Raj

A home that is the ‘gurukulam’ of the Theosophical Society and the Home Rule movement in Malabar Area is being given a facelift. Situated at Annie Hall Road, adjacent to Annie Hall, a building that is intertwined with cobwebs of history, allegorically as well as literally, Besant Ashram is the home that is being revamped. It belongs to Manjeri Rama Iyer, a doyen among the many social reformers Kozhikode city had witnessed in the first half of the last century. Repairs to assuage the damages caused by time are carried out by Manjeri Sunder Raj, the current owner and grandson of Manjeri Rama Iyer.

At a point in history when inequality and abhorrent customs were rampant, Besant Ashram was the platform where strong voices were raised, revolutionary ideas were born and radical actions were taken against such oppression. The home is renowned for its closeness and proximity to many illustrious persons including Dr. Annie Besant, the British lady who provided wings to India’s independence aspirations through the Home Rule Movement.

Dr. Annie Besant, who in connection with the Theosophical Society, came to Adayar, Tamil Nadu in 1896 soon shifted to Kozhikode. The activities of the Brahma Vidya Sangham (Theosophical Society) commenced at the Asoka-Shankara lodge built adjacent his home by the Society’s follower Manjeri Rama Iyer, along with his colleague Bamblasseri Ravunni Menon.

It was from Kallingal Madathil Rarichan Moopan, an affluent landowner and chieftain of Kozhikode that Manjeri Rama Iyer bought the land where Annie Hall, the home that later became Besant Ashram and till recently the State Committee Office of Mujahid Centre is situated. The Kallingal Madathil family’s Kallingal Bhagavathi Temple, which later attained fame through K.N. Ramadas Vydiar and nalluveedu paramba which lay opposite and where Manjeri Rama Iyer’s house was situated, were all owned by Rarichan Moopan. The house that was built for Manjeri Kamalam, famous social worker and daughter of Manjeri Rama Iyer was later bought and transformed into Mujahid centre.

There was a special room for Dr. Annie Besant atop Manjeri Rama Iyer’s house. Bishop C.W. Leadbeater, close friend, associate and member of the Theosophical Society too had stayed at Besant Ashram. It was during their stay at Besant Ashram that Dr. Annie Besant and Leadbeater authored the book ‘Invisible Helpers’.

It is from this house that Manjeri Rama Iyer, who had close connections with a lot of illustrious personalities including Sree Narayana Guru, C. Rajagopalachari (Rajaji) and Sir C.P. Ramaswamy Iyer, started his famous walk along with Mitavadi Krishnan Vakil to the Tali temple in favour of the freedom of movement of the low caste sections of the society. The words of Sree Narayana Guru who had then come for the consecration at Sreekandeshwara temple provided the impetus and strength for this revolutionary act. ‘Panthibhojana’ too was conducted for the low caste people, here at Besant Ashram.

Besant Ashram also witnessed the welcome that Manjeri Rama Iyer bestowed upon Rajaji, his classmate at Madras when the latter came to Kozhikode to unveil the portrait of Dr. Annie Besant.

Sir C.P. Ramaswami was brought to Kozhikode by Rama Iyer and at Besant Ashram he was entrusted with the vakalath to defend Annie Besant upon allegations propagated by renowned philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurthi’s father, that her people had kidnapped Jiddu’s brother Nityananda. It was the result of admiration and a sense of innate closeness with Dr. Besant that made Manjeri Rama Iyer name his house ‘Besant Ashram’ and the adjoining lodge ‘Annie Hall’. The Municipality widened the existing narrow lane and it was rechristened ‘Annie Hall Road’.
Manjeri Rama Iyer, who for his affinity towards the downtrodden and the low caste, faced the wrath of his own community, lived and continued with his social work at Besant Ashram till his death in 1958. The house premises also witnessed the commencement of Swadeshi Exhibition, the earlier form of Kozhikode Municipality’s Health Education Exhibition.

The house is renowned for its affinity with many literary giants. It was during their stay here at Besant Ashram that the early works of Jnanapith award M.T.Vasudevan Nair and poems of Akhitham saw light. Being close friends with M.T. Vasudevan Nair, who was a tutor at MB Tutorial College which was held at Annie Hall, N.P. Muhammed, N.N. Kakkad, Pattathuvila Karunakaran and M.V. Devan were regular visitors.

When Manjeri Sunder Raj started his office here at Besant Ashram, Nawab Rajendran too made it his address.

PS: Manjeri Sunder Raj is the grandson of Rama Iyer.


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Comment by Capt. Anand Kumar on March 31, 2012 at 10:06am

The respect that the Theosophical Society enjoys in India is due to work of several unsung heroes like Manjeri Rama Iyer. You have very accurately analyzed the root problem that the TS faces today as obsession with occult knowledge while forgetting the social duties. Apart from the Annie Besant's contribution to the Independence movement of India, I have found their biggest contribution to the growth of India was the emphasis on education, particularly for women. Almost all of those schools started by the unsung heroes of the TS have either closed down or are mired in litigation over property today. What is most surprising that a visitor to the official website of TS Adyar is not given any information about these great ancestors of ours without whose contribution we would not be where we are today.

Thank You MKR of posting this. No theosophy is greater than the work for the upliftment of the fellow human beings.

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