B P Wadia - A biography Part 1 of 7
Feb 23, 1998 06:41 PM
by M K Ramadoss
B P Wadia was a Theosophist well known in India. In Bangalore, the "silicon
valley" of India, an important street was named after him. This is the
first time I came across a detailed write up on him. I am sure some here
would find it interesting.
B. P. WADIA - A Life of Service to Mankind
by Wane Kell
1881 - 1903
Bahman Pestonji Wadia was born on October 8th 1881. He was the eldest son
of Pestonji Cursetji Wadia and his wife Mithabai. The Wadia family were
originally from Siganpore, near Surat, some 230 miles north of Bombay.
They were famed as shipbuilders, the frigate Trincomalee, renamed
"Foudroyant" which they built, is still preserved in Portsmouth harbor.
It was not a large family and the four children were Bahman, a younger
brother named Jehanghir, and two sisters: Manijeh (married Sir Rustum
Masani), and Jerbai who never married. Bahman went to the "New High
School" conducted by J. D. Bharda and K. B. Marzban in Bombay and took the
matriculation examination, but never entered college. Instead, his father
(who had stopped shipbuilding and had started a textile business) arranged
for him to have experience in and learn about the textile business as an
apprentice in a large British owned textile firm. This relation begun in
the year 1900 was short lived, as the young Bahman refused, in the course
of business to tell any untruth, and when this had been demanded of him, he
protested and resigned. He then joined his father's textile business just
four weeks before the latter's sudden death.
BPW's father, Pestonji, was highly respected among textile merchants in
Bombay. His premature death ( Bahman was only 19 years old ) placed this
young, seemingly inexperienced man, in charge of his father's large
business. He became responsible for the maintenance of his widowed mother,
younger brother and sisters. With the help of a close family friend
experienced in textiles, he promptly learned to manage, and prospered in
He had already made the acquaintance of Mme. Blavatsky through her
writings. An old family friend, J. D. Mahaluxmiwala, a member of the
Bombay Theosophical Society, had introduced him as follows: Every day
Bahman would travel some 8 miles to work from the family home in Parel
(North Bombay) by tram, to the office in the "Fort," in South Bombay.
Finding Bahman (hereafter BPW) sincerely interested in philosophy and other
serious subjects, Mahaluxmiwala "gave" him a 2 volume set of Mme. H.P.
Blavatsky's The Secret Doctrine (and a bill for forty rupees.) BPW was
then 18. Reading The Secret Doctrine, he said, was like "coming home."
H.P.B. opened the doors in this life, he said, to reacquire knowledge
gained in past lives. He secured an innate confirmation of his own moral
sense. He resolved that as soon as he could, he would devote his life to
sharing Theosophy with all whom he met. He then set to work to sell the
family business and provide a good income for his mother and the rest of
1904 - 1908
By 1904 BPW had made even a greater success of the textile firm he had
inherited, and, then he freed himself from further business engagements.
The capital so acquired was carefully invested so as to take care of all
his family from then on.
He joined the Bombay Lodge of the Theosophical Society in 1903, and Mr.
Mahaluxmiwala initiated him into the secrets of editing, and made him
sub-editor for the periodicals: The Theosophic Gleaner and Theosophy and
New Thought, edited from the Bombay Lodge of the T S.
On April 15th 1904 he offered his services to Col. Olcott, the
President-Founder of the T.S., and they were accepted. After the death of
Col. Olcott, on February 17th 1907, he renewed that offer to Mrs. Annie
Besant, who succeeded Olcott in the responsibilities of the Presidency of
the T S, and she accepted him. Wadia also offered to come to work at
Adyar, near Madras. This was also agreed to.
In 1907 BPW mentioned sailing 7 miles out into Bombay harbor to see the
Elephanta caves on the island of that name. It was a well known ancient
temple, said in Hindu chronology to be over 350,000 years old. It had been
excavated from the igneous porphyry rock which covered the island at the
time of king Rama. Thus, ages ago, a gigantic stone statue of the
Trimurthi: Brahma-Vishnu-Shiva, had been carved out of the original rock
of the island and around that a cavern had been chiseled so that a space of
about an acre under the stone roof formed the whole monument. The
Portuguese who had occupied the island Mumba-devi nearby (now Bombay) had
named it Elephanta, because of the two cyclopean stone elephants that
decorated the approaches to the cave. He spoke of this to several friends,
saying that it was there that he had a "vision," concerning the antiquity
and universal value of Theosophy. Also, he met one of the Great Initiates
of the Hindu tradition.
1908 - 1919
He left Bombay on February 3rd 1908 for Adyar. There, working for the T S,
Mrs. Besant the President, soon made him manager of the Theosophical
Publishing House; and later, assistant editor under her, of the daily New
India. At the headquarters of the Theosophical Society in Adyar he was
recognized to be a powerful and constructive worker.
His responsibilities widened to include being the assistant editor of The
Theosophist under Mrs. Besant.
Under her direction he began to work in the Home Rule Movement, and soon
was renowned in the political circles of the day, and among the members and
leaders of the Indian National Congress ( this had been earlier started by
Mr. A. O. Hume, a retired Secretary to the Government of India, and an
early Theosophist of 1880, who was also a pupil of H.P.B. and of the
Mahatmas. Later, under Gandhiji, Nehru, and many others, the Indian
national Congress served to win political independence for India in 1947. )
BPW knew all the great figures of India in his time, literary,
philosophical and political, and was often visited by them when they came
to Bombay. Among these were Dr. Sarvapalli Radhakrishnan the first
President of Free India, Mrs. Sarojini Naidu, Dr. Bhagwan Das, Pundit
Bhawani Shankar. When visiting Bombay, they would often stay with him as
guests and friends. Valuing his integrity and the instinctive love the
masses had for him, they would, from time to time urge him to return to
politics, saying that a person of his worth was much needed, especially
after Gandhi's murder. He gently but firmly refused, saying that aspect of
his life was over, and that he was working on something far wider and
deeper reaching: Theosophy, which he urged them to investigate and learn
about. (1936 - 1957) Sadly, few took this advice.
His early activities of a political nature, in Madras in the Indian Home
Rule Movement, promoted by Mrs. Besant and George Arundale earned for all
three of them an internment order from the Government of Madras.
Accordingly they were deported from Madras city to Ootacamund ( a "Hill
Station," some 300 miles West of Madras city ). There they were interned
together from June 16th 1917 ( a kind of house arrest ). The place chosen
was named "Gulmarg ("rose-field"), a cottage, built earlier by Col. Olcott
on land he had bought in 1888 4 miles away from Ootacamund, in the Nilgiri
(Blue Mountains) Hills. It was at an elevation of 7,000 feet and compared
to the sizzling temperatures of Madras (100-115) was very cool. This
internment lasted till September 7th 1917
The T.S. Presentation of Theosophy Changed:
BPW, after some time spent working in Adyar had realized from his study of
HPB's writings in The Secret Doctrine, Isis Unveiled, and the many articles
found in early issues of The Theosophist, and Lucifer that the T S was no
longer promulgating pure H.P.B. Theosophy.
He discussed this with Mrs. Besant, Mr. Leadbeater, and with other
co-workers at Adyar, who appreciated his fundamental devo6M3 ion to H.P.B.
and the Masters' teachings.
Many a discussion was held on what could be done to bring the Society out
of the dominance of psychism (the 3rd Object). This object held the
interest of the greater number of members. Mr. Wadia felt it was also the
duty of the T S and its officers to encourage the kind of study and work
which the 1st and 2nd Objects was embodied in the Original Impulse of the
Movement, as defined in the doctrines promulgated by HPB and the Masters
Later, conversing with friends, BPW mentioned that he had a vision in Adyar
in November 1918 of H.P.B. He said that "vision," and the earlier one in
1907 of the Master at Elephanta had inspired his whole life with the
certainty of Their reality, Their existence, and the power and worth of
Theosophy as a living and practical philosophy to be used in daily life.
The T S, he used to say, had been founded to establish a basis from which
practical and philosophical hope and help to all mankind could be extended
at the juncture of this cycle, and, to restore to individuals a knowledge
of practical idealism.
For this reason the Unity of all Beings, the Brotherhood of Man, Karma and
Reincarnation were shown to be doctrines which each one could prove to
himself. Those had an extreme antiquity in the literature of the Ancients,
and they formed the root basis for all religious systems once accrued
creedal and dogmatic claims to uniqueness were cut away.
The "Eternal Philosophy," Sanatana Dharma, was being restored.
Universality, Immortality, Law and Brotherhood were to become the standards
for the general membership of the T S to know, understand, and aspire to
practically. But the modern membership of those days had quite forgotten
those objectives. The marvels of spiritualism and psychism had distracted
The value of the Theosophical Movement as refigured by Mrs. Besant nd other
"leaders" of the T S, had caused these great ideas to be almost totally
lost for students of those years.
BPW and these friends of HPB looked for the methods that could be used to
institute an internal reform, a return to the Original Lines. Then, if
this could not be done internally, could it, or would it have to be done
Many plans were formulated, reviewed and revised. These included:
1. The publishing of a magazine where writers from all countries would
have entire freedom of expression and where Theosophical principles could
2. Since HPB had stated in her article (Why the Vahan ?) that it was the
duty of the T.S. to keep in touch with its members, and through this
journal of a few pages it was originally done on a free basis; a magazine
devoted to pure Theosophy would have to be started, where the older article
writings of HPB could be reprinted for modern readers.
3. An Institute of an international cultural type should be started so
that the traditions, philosophies, arts and sciences of various parts of
the world, and India, could be compared and made available to the general
4. For youths who were away from home and studying at local colleges, an
inexpensive residential hostel could be established, with discipline that
followed the line of the practical ethics of Theosophical philosophy.
5. Every effort was to be made to present to the membership of existing
Theosophical Societies with pure Theosophy, in the words of HPB. Study
classes were to be a part of this work.
6. HPB's original writings were to be reprinted for use by students and
To have a permanent home for this six pronged plan in India, he negotiated
the purchase 4 miles out of Ootacamund in the Nilgiri mountains, of an old
estate of 100 acres of eucalyptus, fruit orchards and potato fields, on the
"Old Mysore Road." It had been named "Brookhampton"--and was renowned for
its library, which he also bought. The property was renamed by him :
"Gurumandir," (Temple of the Guru).
> From: T. L. Crombie, Friend of India, by E. Beswick, pp 2 - 4; Pub.:
International Book House Ltd., Bombay.)
"Mr. Wadia stated that as time passed and he and his friends tried to bring
about some reforms in the TS in Adyar, but the minds and actions of the
chief officers and members seemed to become directed more towards psychism
and sensationalism. They tried to direct the mind of the leaders of the
Society "back to Blavatsky, and her Theosophy, and that of the Masters."
It was a continuous gentle pressure, firmly unrelaxed, that was used. In
the meantime other events had matured and an alternative opened."
1919 - India's First Labor Union
In the course of his political work under Mrs. Besant, BPW became
acquainted in 1917 with the plight of the textile workers in the local
Madras mills, as some of those who labored there came to him at the offices
of New India. He investigated their working conditions and found them to
be oppressive and inhumane: extremely long hours with no reasonable rest
periods, low pay, and other conditions of duress. Preliminary meetings
were held in the fall of 1917, and in the spring of 1918. The first Labor
Union, the Madras Textile Workers' Union, was organized on April 27th 1918.
Mr. Wadia was asked by the workers to be President and represent them.
The building in which the Madras Labor Union is housed in Madras is known
as "Wadia House;" it faces "Wadia Park." On the parapet at the top of the
two storied building, over the front door, a bust of BPW is installed. On
entering the front door one is greeted by a large photograph of BPW as a
young man -- as he was when he was President of the Union in 1918. His
desk and the stationery he used at work are still carefully preserved
there, and shown to visitors with great affection and reverence.
The British Parliament was aware of increasing labor unrest in India, but
it was unable to understand the nature of the conditions that had brought
this about. In 1919 a Commission to investigate this was formed, and it
summoned Mr. Wadia, as President of the Madras Textile Workers Union, and
others, to come to London, give testimony, and answer questions before that
Parliamentary Commission. This Commission was to consider not only the
Labor situation, but also various other matters which were to be addressed
a year later and embodied in the "Montford Reform Act of 1919."
BPW left India on May 8th 1919, sailing in the company of Mrs. Besant, Mr.
P.K.Telang and Mr. Jamnadas Dwarkadas, who were going to visit T.S.Lodges
in Europe. This trip for him was to be partly political and partly
BPW's testimony given to the Parliamentary Commission was well received and
listened to with attention. A pamphlet embodying his statements was
printed and circulated. A White Paper issued officially by Parliament at
that time, includes a transcript of his cross-examination and answers.
BPW's visit to England and his well known capacities as a writer and
speaker resulted in his being invited to visit and speak at a number of the
T S branches in England and on the European Continent.
At this time, Indian Government appointed him a delegate to attend the
First International Labor Conference under the League of Nations to be held
at Washington D.C., during November-December 1919. After finishing his
tour of the European Lodges he sailed in autumn for New York. His position
was as a technical advisor to the India Delegation.
Having discharged his responsibilities in Washington, he was asked to tour
American and Canadian Branches of the T S, lecturing on The Secret
Doctrine, on H.P.Blavatsky and her message, and on the need for every FTS,
as an individual, to acquire for himself knowledge, and then study and
apply Theosophy individually.
When in Washington D.C. he met Eugene Debbs to with him, he visited the
tomb of Abraham Lincoln, one of his heroes, and laid a formal wreath upon
it. His itinerary included a trip to California. In Los Angeles he stayed
at the Krotona T S in Hollywood.
The T S in America was then undergoing some difficulties in connection with
the establishing of Krotona as a headquarters instead of Chicago, and there
was a change of Presidents. Mr. Wadia recommended a "Back to Blavatsky"
effort, stating that in his opinion the T.S. was no longer following the
lines laid down by H.P.B. and was in danger of failing in its mission. He
interested himself in the views of a "Towards Democracy League" that had
been formed in the T S to restore democracy in its governing.
Mr. Rogers, the president of the T S Section in America was disturbed by
his support of this movement in the T S and sent a cable of protest to
Mrs. Besant on May 21st 1920. At that time Mr. & Mrs. Bailey, who occupied
positions of trust ( as respectively, National Secretary, and Editor for
the American Section's magazine: American Theosophist ) were arbitrarily
removed from office by Mr. Rogers, on the grounds that they were out of
harmony with his administration. On July 12th at the National Convention
of the American Section T S other changes in the administration were made
arbitrarily. Mr. Wadia was thanked for his work on the platform, but the
protest against his attitude, demanding freedom from coercion for the
members, was endorsed by the Convention pressured by Mr. Rogers, and sent
to Mrs. Besant in Adyar where she was the International President for the T S.
While in Los Angeles, visiting Krotona, he came upon a Times news paper
advertisement of lectures on Theosophical subjects that were sponsored by
The United Lodge of Theosophists.
Continued in Part 2 of 7
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