Occultism in the Orient: Dissemination of the Theosophical Ideas in Bengal and the Role of Bengali Theosophists (PhD project)
This research project seeks to explore the process of dissemination of Occultism in oriental society – as a modern western esoteric current – and the role of the Indian theosophists within the given context of British colonialism and neo-Hindu spiritual climate of late nineteenth and early twentieth century Bengal. The study of the theosophical movement in Bengal remains an uncharted territory. This project will try to examine the historical development of Theosophy in Bengal in the colonial socio-spiritual space thus locating it within the broader understanding of Western Esotericism. The Theosophical Society started operating in India from 1879 under the leadership of H.P. Blavatsky and Colonel H.S. Olcott. The Bengal Theosophical Society was established in Calcutta in 1882 in the drawing room of Maharaja Sir Jatindramohan Tagore, one of the leading intellectuals of nineteenth century Bengal and a distant predecessor of Rabindranath Tagore. The Central Lodge in Calcutta, one of the earliest and highly significant branches of the Theosophical Society across the world, drew large numbers of members from the intellectual and social elites of Bengal and infused a curiosity among the Bengalis regarding occultism and Western Esotericism in general. This led to the appropriation of occult sciences from the West within indigenous colonial society and also refashioning of modern Hindu thought-world. The dissemination of western esoteric ideas to the society and culture of Bengal created a profound impact upon religion, politics, art and literature.
This project will examine what was the process by which Occultism – as a western esoteric current – disseminated in the oriental society and culture of Bengal through the activities of the Bengal Theosophical Society during the colonial period and what was the role of the Indian, and specifically Bengali, theosophists in this process? This project will also try to find out how Theosophy created a closer interlink between Occultism and Religious Nationalism in colonial society under the guidance of Annie Besant and her Indian associates.