Maria Moritz, Jacobs University, Breman
A South Asian Cosmopolitan: Bhagavan Das and the critique of the Theosophical Society, (1913-1914)
A key aim of The Theosophical Society was to found a ‘Universal Brotherhood of Humanity’ based on a cosmopolitan agenda which allowed everyone into its global network of branches ‘irrespective of race, class, creed or gender’. Due to their fascination with Indian spirituality, the two founders, Helena Blavatsky and Henry Steel Olcott, moved the international headquarters from New York to Bombay in 1879.
Rather than focusing on the organisation as a unit of analysis, however, the paper offers the case study of an Indian affiliate of The Theosophical Society and thus empirically substantiates the perspective of an individual in a global network of belonging.
Although Bhagavan Das never left India he was a ‘citizen of the world’. He constantly reflected the interconnectedness and dependency of various countries, was an active member of the transnational theosophical network and of the bi-lingual urban elite of colonial India, whose global orientation was informed by means of the new information technologies such as the telegraph, the telephone and the rapid expansion of the English press in the metropoles. Moreover, Das belonged to a indigenous elite with a more traditional, regional form of global awareness. Thus he developed a multifaceted transnational identity.
Starting from the concept of ‘rooted cosmopolitanism’ the paper examines how Das combined these entangled, interfering and conflicting cosmopolitan influences in his individual form of transnational identity on the theosophical platform and how he got into conflict with the Society’s universalizing aspirations in 1913-1914. His numerous articles in the Society’s main organ The Theosophist and his scholarly contribution to theosophical knowledge production at the beginning of the 20th century provide the empirical basis for my analysis.
By highlighting the dynamics of a specific cultural interaction I aim to contribute to an understanding of the global awareness of non-European social actors within an integrating world.