Ranjan Kumar Padmapati
(The writer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)
A few buildings in Tezpur could be reckoned to have a tag of heritage. Of those, the Brahmaputra lodge that stands opposite the present office of the Superintendent of Police immediately comes to mind. The building was passed by many times in school days, but I never bothered to give it a look or attach any importance until it was told to me that it was a heritage building by members of the famous Asomiya Club some time ago. The building was the office of Kilburn & Company for many years in the 1960s, and then it was the office of the Commissioner of North Assam Circle, now being used as a store for record-keeping and as an armed guard by the government. The old-fashioned building prompted me to pay a visit and take a few photographs. As it was under lock and key, interiors could not be seen. The foundation stone of the building is cemented to the backside wall of the building, and the plaque is clear and readable. The plaque details reveal that Free Masonry Lodge Brahmaputra was assigned a number 3419 E C, the foundation stone of which was laid by WOR. BROTHER C E P FORSYTH on December 28, 1920, and contain other details as well.
Freemasonry traces its origins to King Solomon’s time, but its actual origins are lost in antiquity. Its present form could be traced back to 1717 in England. It came to India with officers of the East India Company; first, it was established in Kolkata in 1729. Worldwide, there are five million members in 190 countries. In India, as of today, there are roughly twenty thousand members and 360 lodges at 142 locations. It was originally a guild of stonemasons engaged in building cathedrals, castles, and churches in mediaeval times, where the stonemasons held discussions of mutual problems. Later on, when the building activities came down, non-Masons were invited to join. But today, as stated by Prof. Margaret Jacob, a professor of history at the University of California, ‘freemasons are social and philanthropic organisations meant to make their members lead a more virtuous and socially oriented life’. The organization is secular in character and religious in nature, not following any particular religion. People of all faiths above the age of 18 who are capable of paying a membership subscription can be members. The motto is to “give” to freemasons rather than expect to “receive” anything for personal benefit. It teaches the importance of honour, integrity, reliability, and trustworthiness—no entry for women.
The building was converted into a chemistry laboratory, and classes in the departments of mathematics and chemistry were held at Darrang College in 1948, when the main building at Mission Chari Ali was damaged by a storm. It is a speculation that, as Kamala Prasad Agarwalla took much initiative in the process, in all probability he was a member of Freemasonry. It is interesting to note that some of the noted persons of India too were members of the freemasonry, like Swami Vivekananda, Motilal Nehru, Rabindranath Tagore, Dr. Rajendra Prasad, Fakkaruddin Aliahmed, et al. A medal could be traced pertaining to the Brahmaputra Lodge bearing number 3419 to the year 1937; I was tempted to attach it with the article. It was presented to “W. Bro. M. E. T. Burke with the esteem of the Brethren 1936–1937,” as inscribed in it. The enamel picture on the medal is undamaged and clearly shows a scene on the Brahmaputra with a paddled steamer in the foreground. It is hallmarked in London as 9-carat gold. The emblem of freemasonry consists of a set square and a compass with the letter G in capital letters in the middle. The explanation is that both compass and square are tools of the architects, and G stands for God, the great architect of the universe, or means geometry. It is not Christianity.
One piece of literature on secrecy describes it as meant to teach them the meaning of keeping confidential what others tell them so that others can ‘open up’ without fear. Though they are tagged as a secret society, which is inaccurate, The members wear rings, lapel pins, and tie clasps with Masonic emblems like the square and compass that logically recall their symbolic roots in stonemasonry. As non-members are not allowed to go inside, mystery surrounds—in fact, these are like the meetings of the ordinary business of running an organisation, reading minutes, paying bills, etc. The most ceremonial occasions are the conferring of Masonic degrees on candidates, which, though not secret, are not widely discussed either. The discrete walls and hallowed halls are preserved with memorabilia from the past; the walls are decked with portraits of richly garbed freemasons. Many Freemasons are still active in India, even now, and a heritage tag is assigned. The Brahmaputra Lodge, which represents the stone-masonry architecture of the past, is in a state of sheer neglect by the government. The building deserves attention for all concerns and should be suitably converted into a literary museum, keeping the priceless articles of the noted literature of Tezpur, like Padmanath Gohai Baruah, Dandinath Kalita, Chandranath Sarma, Mahadev Sarma, et al.