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A visit to Adyar

An account by our International Secretary, Nancy Secrest, about her visit to Adyar for the December 2014 International Convention and her pleasure in meeting many TOS members there


I was awakened that first morning in Adyar by the chatting and singing of the many birds who make their homes in the trees of the HQ estate.  A short time later I heard chanting from Hindu temples and the call to prayer from nearby mosques. As these early morning sounds wrapped me in their vibrations they told me I was in India. What a wonderful feeling.

TOS International Secretary, Nancy Secrest, wearing a sari
at the Adyar Theatre during her first visit to Adyar

This was my first visit to Adyar and, of course, my first International Convention. Diana Dunningham Chapotin, former International Secretary of the TOS, and I had both arrived the day before.  Diana came, in part, to “shepherd” and introduce me to TOS members attending the convention. This proved a good plan as I probably met more people and learned more about TOS work in their Sections through Diana than I would have on my own. We stayed in Leadbeater Chambers (LBC), a three story building containing thirty guestrooms that caters to theosophists mostly from western countries. The rooms are quite large and high-ceilinged as are many rooms in India because heat rises. Usually four people share a dual room, separated by a curtain, and a bathroom. Despite extremely thin mattresses and cold showers the rooms were pleasant. In years past, non-Indian visitors needed to stock up on bottled water while at Adyar to avoid digestive issues, but no longer. Now, thanks to the TOS in Chennai, LBC and the kitchen and dining room across the road from LBC are equipped with a water system that provides filtered water to residents and guests. The LBC dining room serves a more western diet, and not so spicy Indian food, than the catered restaurant provided at Adyar for the Indian palate. Of course delegates may eat at either place. The LBC dining room is open to the air and quite pleasant with placemats and flowers or growing plants on the tables. The kitchen staff prepares and serves food that is quite tasty and attractively presented – the salad tray was a work of art each day.

Leadbeater Chambers houses Theosophical Society members from Western countries when they visit Adyar.

The HPB Bungalow and other buildings on the Adyar campus housed
many of the delegates from India during the 139th Convention.

The dining hall at Leadbeater Chambers serves western and
less spicy Indian food to conference delegates.



Delegates eating in the dining hall at Leadbeater Chambers

Former International Secretary, Mrs. Diana Dunningham Chapotin,
and Convenor of the TOS in Kenya, Mrs. Usha Shah,
eating lunch in the dining hall at Leadbeater Chambers

I arrived at Adyar Christmas morning, stowed my luggage and wandered over to the dining room wondering if I would find anyone I knew. There sat three people whom I recognised: Mr. Michael Gomes, a fellow American, Ms. Maryse DeCoste, from Canada and Mr. Jacques Mahnich of France. Two new friends were introduced: Jacques' wife, Anne-Marie and Mr. Robert Béland of Canada. After a bit of catching up and pleasant conversation with everyone, Michael offered to show me around the Adyar estate. He had lived there for several years and knew Adyar quite well. What a gift!  

Mr. Michael Gomes, theosophical author and lecturer from America

Mrs. Maryse DeCoste from Canada



Mr. Robert Béland from Canada

Mr. Jacques Mahnich and Mrs.Anne-Marie Mahnich from France

The Adyar estate covers approximately 250 acres, contains about 80 buildings of various sizes and has a staff of 92. We’ve all seen pictures of the Headquarters Building with its outer wall of elephant heads. And we’ve seen pictures of the places of worship and contemplation dotted round the compound representing the world’s religions. It was quite another thing to see in person places that theosophists regard as historic and perhaps even revered. There is an awe, a sense of peace, maybe even a measure of pride, in knowing that, in some small way, we are all part of the theosophical movement, a part of the nucleus. Much of the Adyar estate is forested with both palms and deciduous trees as well as bushes of many varieties, some of them flowering. One interesting bush reminded me of a many armed dancer holding fans. Of course, we all know of the great banyan tree under which talks, some of them legendary, were once given. The main trunk of the great tree is no more, having succumbed to disease or decay, but its countless aerial prop roots remain, spreading over a large area and there are banyans all over the property.
The talks during convention were held at the Adyar Theatre. The theatre is basically a stage open to the air and sky. For the convention a temporary roof is constructed each year, of what looks like reed mats covered by corrugated iron, in case of rain. And rain we had, at least two days of it, one of which was the day of our TOS Session. Near the end of convention the President, Tim Boyd, announced that by next year the Adyar Theatre would have a permanent roof.



Headquarters Building

Zoroastrian Temple on the grounds at Adyar



Adyar Convention delegates relaxing between sessions at the Buddhist Temple

Buddhist Temple on the grounds at Adyar



The ornate roof of the Hindu Temple on the grounds at Adyar

St. Michael and All Angels Liberal Catholic Church on the grounds at Adyar



Sikh Shrine on the grounds at Adyar

The main trunk of the Great Banyan on the Adyar estate is no more, having succumbed to disease or decay, but Banyan trees abound at Adyar.



The convention opened with greetings from their Sections being given by the General Secretaries. For the first time, the International Secretary of the TOS was included in this ritual, and I joyfully brought greetings from the Theosophical Order of Service. The prayers of the world religions followed, of course. Then the President’s annual report, which included a summary of TOS activities, concluded the opening session.

The 139th Convention of the Theosophical Society began with greetings
from the Sections given by their General Secretaries.

The International Secretary of the Theosophical Order of Service,
Nancy Secrest, bringing greetings to the 139th Adyar Convention from the TOS

The president giving his annual address to the 139th Annual Convention of the Theosophical Society held at Adyar in December of 2014

There was a reception this first day of convention. Little samosas and desserts were served along with the most wonderful Masala tea. Delegates mingled, found old friends and met new people. I was no exception and met many TOS members from around the world. Stray dogs, looking for dropped scraps, wove in and out of the groups of people. They ignored the people and the people ignored them. There was no petting, no wagging tails. It was as if they were ghost dogs whom no one admitted seeing. I found it strange, but followed suit being unfamiliar with these particular animals. Diana told me that she thought they might be strays that had been picked up, immunized, spayed or neutered by the Besant Memorial Animal Dispensary and released to live on the estate where they were fed vegan meals by a man who tended to them, a worthy service. 

Miss Jaishrwe Kannan, honorary worker at Adyar Library and
Mrs. Nancy Secrest, International Secretary of
the Theosophical Order of Service enjoying the reception

Little girls enjoying the savouries and sweets served at the opening reception
of the 139th Annual Convention of the Theosophical Society.

Front row: Vicente Hao Chin Jr, President of Golden Link College, Mrs. Usha Shah, Convenor of the TOS in Kenya, Mrs. Nancy Secrest, International Secretary of the TOS,
Dr T.K. Nair, National Secretary TOS India, Richard Sell, President of the HPB Branch of the TS in Auckland, New Zealand

Second Row: Sabine Van Osta, General Secretary TS Belgium, Name unknown, the President Tim Boyd, Diana Dunningham Chapotin, former International Secretary
of the TOS,
John Vorstermans, President TS New Zealand



Ms. H. Sripriya, Convention Officer, taking a few minutes from her busy
schedule to enjoy the reception at the 139th TS Annual Convention.

Stray dogs rescued by the Besant Animal Dispensary, hoping for dropped
scraps, wove in and out of the groups of people at the reception.



The days of the convention were filled with talks given by prominent theosophical speakers on the convention theme, “Theosophy in a Changing World”. All of the talks were webcast and are available for viewing on the Adyar website. Some will be published as articles in The Theosophist. I will therefore mention only one talk given in the main sessions, “Tuning in to Our World”, by the former International Secretary of the TOS, Mrs. Diana Dunningham Chapotin.
Diana spoke of some sage advice she received from Vic Hao Chin of The Philippines who, when she first became International Secretary of the TOS, told her to, “Try just listening to the members” “Just listen to them”, he said.

Mrs. Diana Dunningham Chapotin, former International Secretary of the TOS, spoke at the 139th TS Annual Convention. Her talk was entitled
“Tuning in to Our World”.

Diana went on to say, “I had always thought that we were a pretty intellectual bunch, cloistered away in the libraries, offices and lecture rooms of our TS branches and headquarters buildings, priding ourselves on doing superior ‘spiritual’ work.  I discovered that most members were in fact actually engaged in all kinds of service in the community as part of their spiritual practice. I learned that the TS has not just a distinguished past in terms of service work but a distinguished present. There are members out there injecting theosophical ideas into children’s education, into civic decision-making, into conflict resolution sessions in war torn areas and so on. Our new International Secretary, Nancy Secrest, will be telling us about such work in her talk here tomorrow afternoon. Her fellow speakers, Dr Deepa Padhi of Odisha State, India, and Mrs. Usha Shah from Nairobi, Kenya, are two of our most dynamic TOS workers worldwide.

“Vic Hao Chin’s advice to ‘just listen’ taught me that instead of telling the members what they should be doing, the TOS simply needed to listen to their concerns about the planet and help them transform these ideas into practical projects and campaigns in areas they felt passionate about. In recognizing and nurturing their service work instead of telling them what to do, things became less stressful for me, more joyful for them, and more productive in getting Theosophy out into our changing world”.


It had begun raining the afternoon before our session. By the following afternoon, when the TOS Session was scheduled, rain was still falling and delegates waded through ankle deep pools to enter the Adyar Theatre. It was gratifying to see that, despite the weather, the attendance at our session was just as large as that at any other.
In keeping with the theme of the convention we called our TOS Session, “Service in a Changing World”. It included three short talks.


Dr Deepa Padhi, Vice President of the TOS in the Odisha Region, India and President of the TOS Mahabharat Group, Mrs. Nancy Secrest, International Secretary of the TOS and Mrs. Usha Shah, Convenor of the TOS in Kenya, ready to begin the TOS Session at the 139th Annual Convention at Adyar in December 2014

Dr. Deepa Padhi, Vice President of the TOS in the Odisha Region of India and President of the TOS-Mahabharat Group, spoke of “Gender Issues in a Changing World”. It was under her leadership that the Mahabharat Group embarked on a multi-faceted campaign to create awareness of violence against women in the Odisha Region of India. The summary of Dr. Padhi’s talk read in part, “With changing times the role of women in society has acquired new dimensions, but there are certain issues which even now challenge the women of the 21st century. Gender issues have taken such forms as violence against women, both outside and inside the home, foeticide, infanticide and trafficking. The central issue now is the rights of women as human beings. Men and women need to enjoy the same rights, resources, opportunities and protections. Every being is first of all a human, and therefore, has an equal claim to human rights”.

Mr. Dhirendra Nath Padhi, Dr Deepa Padhi and their granddaughter Sasha


Mrs. Usha Shah, Convenor of the TOS in Kenya, gave our second TOS talk. You may remember that the TOS group in Nairobi, Kenya was responsible for an emergency feeding program in Kenya a couple of years ago and the drilling of a bore hole to bring fresh water to local people. A former teacher, Usha is very interested in the well-being of children and her group gives parties for children from the slums of Nairobi. This excerpt is from the summary of her talk, “Bringing Change to East Africa”.
“We need leaders who are selfless and strong. They will only emerge if the change is begun at grass roots level and addresses the physical, mental and spiritual aspects of human beings. With this long term perspective in view, the TOS can initiate programmes to provide education and vocational training for our countless needy. It can push for the introduction of compulsory ethics and good citizenship syllabi in public schools.  It can offer yoga and meditation classes, projects for the conservation of the environment and instil spiritual growth by taking Theosophy to people. Such initiatives will help produce honest and caring human beings who on becoming leaders will make their countries peaceful, prosperous and less materialistic”.

 Mrs. Usha Shah, a former teacher, seen here with a Kenyan child. Usha promotes TOS initiatives that “will help produce honest and caring human beings who, on becoming leaders, will make their countries peaceful, prosperous
and less materialistic”.


The final talk of the session, “The Face of Service in Today’s World”, was mine. It gave some history of the TOS, compared Annie Besant’s world of 1908 to today’s world and showed, via a power point presentation, TOS work being done around the world today. The audience was reminded that the international TOS is here to help and support all TS members in their service endeavours, whether in their private lives or as part of TOS and TS groups. It was pointed out that the TOS has all kinds of resources available on its website and people willing to listen to newcomers and exchange ideas. “The TOS’s whole reason for existing,” I said in conclusion, “is to support the Theosophical Society’s work in making Theosophy of transformative value in the world and in the life of the individual seeker. I invite the TS to take advantage of the TOS’s potential, its enthusiasm and its energy.”
I am pleased to say that all of our talks seemed to be well-received, and I hope that they sparked ideas for service in those who heard them.

Mrs. Nancy Secrest, International Secretary TOS, spoke on “The Face of Service in Today’s World”. Her presentation compared Annie Besant’s world of 1908 with today’s world and highlighted some of the TOS work being done today.

The convention offered other activities in the early afternoons. Diana and I did a little shopping at the stalls that offered products made by the Olcott Education Society’s Social Welfare Centre, the Vocational Training Centre and the Olcott Memorial Higher Secondary School. We purchased shoulder bags, woven mats and dish towels from the women and some beautiful cards made by the school children. A cultural activities program was given at the Social Welfare Centre one afternoon. Diana, who had been invited as the special guest, gave a short talk and handed out diplomas to the graduates of the Vocational Training Centre. The children of the Day Care Centre and the women presented a delightful program of song and dance. Wearing brightly coloured costumes, these small children performed several different dances ending with a display of their version of rock & roll. The afternoon ended with an exhibition of the sewing, weaving and beautiful embroidery produced by the women of the Centre.

International Secretary TOS, Nancy Secrest, shopping at the Vocational Centre stall during the convention. The women learn weaving, sewing and embroidery skills that will help to provide them and their families with an income.

Mrs.Lakshmi Balasubramaniam, Headmistress of the Olcott Memorial Higher Secondary School, Mrs. Mythili Srinivasan, Administrator of the Social Welfare Centre and Mrs. Lakshmi Narasimhan, Superintendent of the
Vocational Training Centre

Mrs. Lakshmi Narasimhan, Superintendent of the Vocational Training Centre gives opening remarks at the Cultural Programme given by the Vocational Training Centre and the Day Care Centre during the 139th Annual Convention.

The children of the Day Care Centre performed dances in colourful costumes
for special guests, convention delegates, family and friends



Students at the Vocational Centre entertained the convention delegates, their families and friends as part of the Cultural Programme presented by the Social Welfare Centre.

Mrs. Diana Dunningham Chapotin, Special Guest at the Social Welfare Centre’s Cultural Programme, gave a short talk using a multi-coloured propeller to demonstrate brotherhood for the children.



Mrs. Diana Dunningham Chapotin, former International Secretary of the TOS and Special Guest, presented graduates of the Vocational Centre with their diplomas.

Still basking in the afternoon’s festivities, we hurried to a meeting of the Executive Committee of the TOS India to which we had been invited. Dr. T. K. Nair, Secretary of the TOS India, ably conducted the meeting in the absence of the group’s President, Sri. B. L. Bhattacharyya, who had met with travel difficulties. I greatly appreciated being able to meet and speak with the members of the Executive Committee of our largest TOS group and to learn a bit about their structure and many service activities.
The following afternoon, Diana and I attended the general body meeting of the Theosophical Order of Service in India. Over seventy members attended. The highlight of the meeting was going outside to pose for a group photo.

Dr T.K. Nair, National Secretary of TOS India, conducted the meeting of the Executive Committee of the TOS India that occurred during the 139th Annual Convention of the Theosophical Society.

Members of the TOS India attending the 139th TS Annual Convention with Mrs. Nancy Secrest, International Secretary of the TOS (2nd row center).

The next day, Diana went off to the Olcott Memorial School, again as the special guest. She enjoyed their cultural activities programme while I finalised preparations for the TOS Session. The pictures Deepa Padhi’s little granddaughter took are of beautiful children magnificently costumed. I hope that I am able to return to Adyar again this year if only to see the dances they performed that day. The programme must have been wonderful.


Beautifully costumed children at the Olcott Memorial School ready to perform
at their Cultural Programme during the 139th Annual TS Convention

Mrs. Lalitha Manogaran, Assistant Headmistress, Mrs. Lakshmi Balasubramaniam, Headmistress, Olcott Higher Secondary School, Mrs. Lakshmi Suryanarayanan, former Headmistress of Olcott Higher Secondary School and Diana Dunningham Chapotin former International Secretary of the TOS and Special Guest

Meal times offered the best environment for meeting and getting to know TOS members. There we spoke at leisure with Mrs. Svitlana Garylenko and Ms. Raisa Kalashkova of Ukraine, Mr. Richard Sell of New Zealand, Mrs. Maryse DeCoste and Mr. Robert Béland of Canada, Mr. George Wester and Ms. Kari Torgersen of Australia and many others. Being at Adyar for convention also lent itself to opportunities to initiate working relationships with several TS General Secretaries one of whom, John Boakye, General Secretary of West Africa, has already helped the TOS-USA with a decision to award a service grant to a project called “Mushrooms for Ghana”. You’ll be reading about that in our June e-newsletter.

Mrs. Diana Dunningham Chapotin, Ms. Raisa Kalashnikova, President of Laya Lodge, Kirovograd City, Ukraine, Mrs. Nancy Secrest, International Secretary of the TOS and Mrs. Svitlana Gavrylenko, President of the Regional Association, Ukraine. The Ukrainian delegation to the Convention, including Ms. Olga Fedun who is not pictured, presented Nancy and Diana with little dolls known as mOtanka. The dolls keep one safe “from all bad things”. A wonderful gift!

John Osmond Boakye, General Secretary of the West African Section

My stay at Adyar naturally permitted opportunities to see our TOS President, Tim Boyd, in action, to hear of his extensive travels within India – often to visit TOS groups – and to talk with him about immediate projects of the TOS. His commitment to service as a core element of the spiritual life and his active support for the TOS as an integral part of the TS are heart-warming and encouraging, to say the least.
The days at Adyar were long, hot, and highly enjoyable. I fell into bed each night tired but happy. The yips and howls of the jackals in the night reminded me of the coyotes at the Krotona Institute of Theosophy in Ojai, CA where I lived for a year. As odd as it might sound, I found their lament comforting, and it lulled me to sleep.

Theosophical Society President, Tim Boyd, at work and at his home on the Adyar Estate.

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