Although the contemporary history of Freemasonry in India can be traced to the year 1961, when the Grand Lodge of India was formed, Freemasonry was being widely followed throughout Europe and the English Colonies following the establishment of the Grand Lodges of England, Scotland and Ireland. The nobility, clergy, military personnel and men of influence sought to become part of the Fraternity.
British India was no exception. In fact, within just 12 years of the constitution of the Grand Lodge of England, constituted for the purpose of exercising supervision over the Lodges in London and its neighbouring areas, a petition was sent by a few Brethren in India to constitute a Provincial Grand Lodge in due form at Fort William, Calcutta. The petition having been granted, a Provincial Grand Master was appointed to supervise Masonic activity in India and the Far East in 1729.
In India, British influence gradually spread through its East India Company, and Lodges were established by the military, railways and bureaucracy, though the military played a more prominent role.
At the close of the French and Indian Peninsula wars there were, in addition to Military Static and Travelling Lodges, more than 100 Lodges warranted by the three Grand Lodges. Military Lodges greatly accelerated the growth of Colonial Freemasonry. It is no wonder that so many prominent military leaders of the French Revolutionary and Indian wars were Freemasons, such as Lord Nelson, Sir Charles Napier, Lieutenant General Sir Eyre Coote, twice Commander-in-Chief of British India, Lord Lake, Hastings, Dalhousie, the Duke of Wellington, Sir William Lockhart and Lord Kitchener of Khartoum, both Commanders-in-Chief of British India, and so on. Historical records indicate that the son of Hyder Ali, Tipu Sultan, was also himself a member of the fraternity.
Many Lodge had been set up in other major townships like Madras, Calcutta and Mumbai. By the next 150 years, some 400 registered Lodges were existing in India, but the figure diminished soon after India gained its Independence in 1947, when its strength came down to just about 290.
Amongst its prominent members Swami Vivekananda (initiated in 1884 under the name of Brother Narendra Nath Dutt, in Lodge ‘Anchor & Hope’, Calcutta); Motilal Nehru (father of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and grandfather of Indira Gandhi) – Lodge ‘Harmony’, Kanpur; C.Rajagopalachary (Governor General of India); Sir CP Ramaswamy Iyer (Divan of Travancore); Dr. P.V.Cheriy (Governor of Maharashtra); Maharaja of Patiala and Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed (President of India), Actor Ashok Kumar, Madhav Rao Scindhia, M.A.Khan Pataudi.
The Grand Lodge of India was officially constituted on Friday, the 24th of November 1961 at Asoka Hotel, New Delhi. There were three delegations from the Grand Lodge of Scotland, Ireland and England. In addition to the Grand Master, Masons of Grand Lodge of Scotland, representatives of Grand Masters of England and Ireland, The Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of the State of Israel, the Most Worshipful Past Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Alberta (Canada) and about 1500 Brethren from all over India and abroad were present at this historic event.
After the consecration and Constitution of the Grand Lodge of India, the Deputy Grand Master of England assumed the Throne and installed Major General Dr.Sir Syed Raza Ali Khan, His Highness the Nawab of Rampur, as the first Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of India. The Apron, chain in Gold and Gauntlets etc. For the new Grand Master were presented jointly by the three parent Grand Lodges.
Thereafter, the new Grand Lodge invited the 277 individual Lodges existing in India at the time to join, only if they so desired. Of these, 145 came forward, while other decided to remain under the charter of their respective founding Grand Lodges of England, Ireland and Scotland, respectively. The Lodges which came into the fold of the Grand Lodge of India were known as ‘Foundation Lodges’. The headquarters of the Grand Lodge of India was, and continues to be located at Freemasons’ Hall Complex, Janpath, New Delhi.
Over the next few weeks Regional Grand Lodges came into being viz – the Regional Grand Lodge of Northern India with its headquarters at New Delhi; the Regional Grand Lodge of Eastern India with its headquarters at Kolkata; the Regional Grand Lodge of Western India with its headquarters at Mumbai and the Regional Grand Lodge of Southern India with its headquarters at Chennai. All Foundation Lodges falling into regional jurisdiction came into the fold of their respective Regional Grand Lodges, and in the coming five decades more Lodges have come into existence, and many prominent citizens have joined the Fraternity.
Today India has nearly 470 Lodges and over 160 R.A.Chapters, over 180 Mark Lodges and over 140 R.A.M.Lodges located in about 172 cities in different parts of the country, with a total membership of about 23000 Freemasons. These Lodges have been divided into four distinct regions in India, with each region headed by respective Regional Grand Master.
Many veteran Lodges are still retaining their rich history, traditions and customs, though rituals being followed in all the lodges are uniform.