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Lying on the banks of the Adyar river is the international headquarters of the Theosophical Society. The world Headquarters of the spiritual society found by Madame H.P. Blavatsky, a clairvoyant from Russia and Col. Olcott, a retired US Army officer, was originally formed in USA. On 17th November 1875 Col. Olcott gave his Inaugural Address, and chose this date as the birthday of The Theosophical Society. The Theosophist, the first issue of the journal appeared on 1st October 1879. The international headquarters of the Society was shifted to Bombay in 1879 and then to Madras in 1882.
The movement looked at every religion as an expression of Divine Wisdom and preferred its study rather than its condemnation and encouraged its practice rather than its proselytisation. It offered a philosophy which made life intelligible and proved that there was a divine order in a seemingly chaotic cosmos. Anyone who was willing to study, reflect, be tolerant and work perseveringly for common human good was welcomed as a member.
The three declared objectives of the Society are: to form a nucleus of the Universal Brotherhood of Humanity, without distinction of race, creed, sex, caste or colour; to encourage the study of Comparative Religion, Philosophy and Science and to investigate the unexplained laws of Nature and the powers latent in man. Even today one can see on the Headquarters Hall the theosophical motto: "There is no Religion higher than the truth". This international Society is organized into smaller National Societies that enroll its members into largely autonomous branches called Lodges. The movement has now expanded to about 50 countries with members coming from different religions, races and walks of life.
The society is in a 28 acre wooded land, called the 'Huddleston Gardens', on the south bank of the Adyar River. The society is a gated park open only a few hours in the morning and in the evening. It is full of forests, with nice buildings, a Hindu Temple, and a Jain temple. There is also a church and Buddhist temple on the premises. However, it is most known for having the largest banyan tree in the world. People do live in private residents inside the campus; there is a post office and a bookstore with very nice books on philosophy.
The campus is a nature-lover's delight with its various gardens and wooded areas which are a haven for a number of migratory birds, including the pink flamingo and other forms of wild life like lizards, snakes, jackals, wild cats, mongooses and hares. Apart from various woods there is an avenue of mahogany trees called 'Founder's Avenue' with trees planted with soil and seeds brought from around the world.
A number of colourful gardens are also found around the estate - like the Blavatsky Gardens, Olcott Gardens, Besant Gardens and the Damodar Gardens. The 'Garden of Remembrance' is a hallowed spot on the campus where the ashes of prominent members of the Society are buried, including those of Dr. Annie Besant.
On entering the headquarters one sees in the alcove behind a marble platform on the north side of the hall a figure in plaster of H. P. Blavatsky. When Colonel Olcott passed away in 1907, a plaster statue of him was placed by the side of Madame Blavatsky and an inscription engraved on the pedestal: 'The Founders of the Theosophical Society: Helena Petrovna Blavatsky 1831-1891-Henry Steel Olcott 1832-1907'. Ann Besant, after whom the nearby area of Besant Nagar is named.
The Theosophical Society also runs a number of welfare activities on their estates like 'The Olcott Memorial School', which caters to the educational needs of poor and deprived children. The school runs a craft centre that teaches vocational skills like carpentry, plumbing, screen printing, gardening, home craft and tailoring. The 'H.P.Blavatsky Hostel' offers free boarding and lodging to students of the Olcott School while the 'Social Welfare Centre' runs a free creche for 200 infants of poor working mothers in the neighbourhood and pre-primary education to children between 3 to 5 years. The 'Animal Welfare Centre' which also houses the Blue Cross runs a dispensary for animals with hospital facilities. The centre also runs an awareness campaign to reduce cruelty to animals and inspire compassion towards animals.
The 'Theosophical Order of Service' founded by Dr. Annie Besant in 1908 is a worldwide effort that holds healing services, provides free medicines and medical aid, helps prisoners, visits the sick and does animal welfare work. The nearby area where the society is located is named Besant Nagar after Dr. Annie Besant.