A part of the fully renovated and modernized Surendra Narayan Archives
George Sydney Arundale (1878–1945) was an English Theosophist, educator, writer, and editor. He served as the third President of The Theosophical Society based in Adyar, India from 1934 to 1945.
Early years and education
George Sydney Arundale was born on December 1, 1878 in Surrey, England, the youngest child of the Reverend John Kay, a Congregational minister. His mother died at childbirth, and George was adopted by his aunt, Francesca Arundale. Miss Arundale joined the Theosophical Society in 1881 and often welcomed Madame H. P. Blavatsky to her home at 77 Elgin Crescent, Notting Hill, London. George became a member in 1895 and joined the London Lodge. A. J. Hamerster recounted the affection that both HPB and Colonel Olcott had for the boy:
The Colonel, in his correspondence with George's adopted mother, refers to him as "the curly-headed angel of Elgin Crescent"; and I remember George himself recently, in one of the Friday evening "roof" talks here [Adyar], telling us of a visit to the Zoological Gardens in London, with H.P.B., who was then much of an invalid, sitting in a bath-chair, and how when he tripped and fell, H.P.B., though only able to move with great difficulty, almost hurled herself out of the chair to pick him up and console him.
Young George was tutored for some time by C. W. Leadbeater, along with Dennie Sinnett and C. Jinarājadāsa, then attended schools in Germany, in Italy, and in England. In 1900 he was graduated from St John’s College, Cambridge.
Early education work for the Theosophical Society
When he was seventeen, George was admitted to the London Lodge by A. P. Sinnett. Two years later, at Dr Besant’s invitation, he went to India with his aunt to become Professor of History and English at the Central Hindu College, Benares (now Varanasi). In 1907 he was appointed Headmaster of the Central Hindu College School, and later Principal of the College. He was very popular with both teachers and students, for he had a great understanding of youth. Clara Codd recalled that as Arundale walked around, he would have "Indian boys hanging on each arm. He was very fond of his scholars and they were very fond of him." "After leaving the Central Hindu College, George Arundale at first accompanied Mr. J. Krishnamurti and his brother Nityananda to Europe to help them in their education. Being found unfit for active service in the War, he returned in 1916, at Mrs. Besant's request, to India, and became associated with her and other national leaders in the Home Rule for India campaign.”
Arundale was appointed as Principal for the former National University in Madras [now Chennai], where the Doctor of Letters honoris causa degree was confirmed upon him. The diploma was signed by Rabindranath Tagore.
In 1918, he became Registrar for the Society for the Promotion of National Education, which provided support to Indian universities, colleges, and schools. As Registrar, he managed the membership rolls and collected subscription fees.
In 1920 Mr. Arundale married Srimati Rukmini Devi, the sixth child a very well-known Theosophical Brahmin family. The ceremony was conducted by Alladi Mahadeva Shastri. Rukmini Devi "was the first well-known Brahmin lady to break caste by marring a foreigner." She and her family were ostracized by their Brahmin associates, but with support of Theosophists, the Indian public eventually adjusted to the marriage. She accompanied him on his worldwide lecture tours, and became well known to Theosophists in many countries.
Rukmini Devi gave an account of travel to England:
Dr. Arundale had a wide circle of friends in London. His father was a famous architect. I was told that he was invited by the Shah of Oman to renovate his Palace, since at that time, he was considered the best person to do it. The family was well known and they had many friends among the aristocracy and famous artists. Dr. Arundale himself was very popular. We stayed in the house of the Countess De la Warr and there were always people coming and going, garden parties, outings and shipping trips... Mr. Arundale took me to so many concerts and dances, we visited all the museums and art galleries and even among his friends, there were many great artists and painters. He used to play the piano very well, he could also compose music. He wanted me to see everything that the loved and appreciated in Western art.
Beginning in 1910, Arundale frequently addressed Theosophical Conventions. After a brief period as General Secretary of the Theosophical Society in England, 1915–16, he returned to India to assist Annie Besant in her political activities.
In 1927 he undertook a lengthy lecture tour in Europe and the United States; Mrs Arundale and he were the guests of honor at the American Convention that year, and participated in the dedication of the headquarters building that was then being completed. Each year from 1931 to 1934, he undertook such lecture tours, greatly vitalizing the Theosophical work in the countries he visited."
Social activism and imprisonment
Arundale became the Organizing Secretary of the All-India Home Rule League. He was interned, under house arrest, with Annie Besant and B. P. Wadia, for three months in 1917, under the Defence of India Act, 1917. His official biography states, "From 1924 to 1926 he was President of the Madras Labor Union, which he had been instrumental in forming, and through which he successfully secured a higher minimum wage and less working hours for the working man."
The Arundale presidency
When Dr Besant died in 1933, Dr Arundale was elected President of The Theosophical Society and began from 1934 to work out a Seven Year Plan which included the development of Adyar, and ensuring the solidarity of the Society. With well-prepared publicity material next year he launched a ‘Straight Theosophy’ Campaign, that encouraged the study of basic Theosophical principles, and culminated in the fine Diamond Jubilee Convention at Adyar in 1935. Lodges were urged never to forget their primary purpose of instructing members in Theosophy, using a language that could be understood. The next campaign was entitled ‘There is a Plan’. In 1935 three books of Dr Arundale in which he set forth his conceptions of human and spiritual values, were published: You; Freedom and Friendship and Gods in the Becoming. In 1936 he presided over the Fourth Theosophical World Congress at Geneva, when he decided the third Campaign should be for ‘Understanding’ which, proving successful, was extended into 1938. After that, ‘Theosophy is the Next Step’ was the theme, but the Second World War broke out and not much could be done. He then issued ‘Letters’ to Sections which were widely used and helpful. By 1936 there was a visible improvement in the membership of a number of National Societies, indicating that the President’s vigorous policy was taking effect. The Campaigns were creating new interest and activity. In 1937 Arundale gave a lecture on Symbolic Yoga at the Convention, using his material for ‘roof-talks’ at Adyar, and for his addresses later when on tour in Europe and America. These appeared as a book called The Lotus Fire: a Study in Symbolic Yoga.
However, due to war conditions, travel outside India was not easy. The competent and devoted workers in every Section carried the Society forward under his direction. But all over Europe Lodge after Lodge and Section after Section was forced to close. Increasingly, Dr Arundale devoted himself to the inner side of the work in an endeavor to assuage the suffering of mankind. In an attempt to awaken people to a greater sense of responsibility, he started a small weekly paper in Madras called Conscience. He welcomed to Adyar Dr Maria Montessori and her son, Mario Montessori, who came to India but were unable to return to Italy because of the war. During their stay in Adyar, they trained teachers from India and neighboring countries in the well-known Montessori method of child education.
In 1940 Dr Arundale set up a Peace and Reconstruction Department so as to have a Charter for World Peace ready when the war ceased. Each year he stressed that members should spread ‘the mighty Truths of Theosophy’, undertook tours in India, and supported the art and educational institutions and activities of Rukmini Devi. He worked hard to build a better understanding on the part of Indians of the position of Great Britain in the West, and for a still more liberal attitude on the part of Great Britain towards India. In 1941 Dr Arundale was conferred the honorary degree of Vidyâ-Kalânidhi, meaning ‘Storehouse of Art and Wisdom’, by the old and much respected institution Shri Bharat Dharma Mahamandal, Benares (now Vârânasi), for his ‘extraordinary merits and excellent qualities’. Dr Arundale’s two special themes were: the unity of India and the development of greatness in the individual.
In addition to these activities, Dr. Arundale introduced two new serial publications. The International Theosophical Year Book was issued annually from 1937-1942. Wartime stresses on the Society and its staff prevented continuation of this useful publication. The Theosophical World, which changed title to The Theosophical Worker in 1939, was a monthly member newsletter published from 1936-1946.
Dr. Arundale's official biographical notes on the Theosophical Society, Adyar Web page describe his last months:
"In 1945 he was advised complete rest for he was gravely ill, and despite all the care and attention given to him, he passed away on 12 August, just as the news that the world war had ended spread throughout the world. One of the finest contributions made to the Society’s work by Dr Arundale is best described by another slogan he invented — ‘Together Differently’. Repeatedly and insistently, he emphasized in his writings and talks that differences of outlook and opinion could only enrich the work of The Theosophical Society. Another important contribution was the emphasis he gave to straight Theosophy in the campaign which he initiated under that name. It cannot be said that any one of his contributions was more important than another, but the two mentioned above did unquestionably bring about a definite change in the minds and hearts of the membership, and sharply emphasized once more the freedom of individual thought inherent in Theosophical teachings.
Rukmini wrote of his decline:
From 1942 onwards Dr. Arundale's health had been slowly deteriorating. He was such an uncomplaining, cheerful person that I never knew how seriously ill he was. he was highly diabetic but because of his principles would not take medicines which were produced by killing animals. I would pester him to come with me on my dance tours never realizing what a great effort he was making to please me. He passed away in 1945. Till the last moment I was so sure that he would be cured. He had always been there to take care of things but he was also preparing me in many ways - I can see it now - to stand on my own.
Mrs. Arundale traveled to Haridwar and Rishikesh to immerse his ashes A small portion of ashes was sent to the Theosophical Society in America, where it was interred in the Garden of Remembrance.
For a more detailed overview, including many interesting links go to Theosophy Wiki and click: https://theosophy.wiki/en/George_S._Arundale
Some of the historical photos compiled below have never displayed before. Like always I thank Jaishree Kannan in Adyar and Janet Kerschner at Olcott in Wheaton for their kind cooperation and support. (JNK)
George Arundale as a charming boy of 2 years old
George's aunt Miss Francesca Arundale was his guardian and she offered him for Chelaship in 1884, George is 6 years old on this photo
H.P.B.'s letter to George (from now on GSA) see full text below
GSA in 1890
Unique photo of Francesca Arundale, GSA's guardian, dressed in Masonic regalia
GSA as a well-dressed and smiling teenager
GSA at the Central Hindu College, Benares, now Varanasi
GSA wearing an academic robe,, London, 1910
GSA in Taormina, Sicily, Italy just before has was going to feliver a talk, 1912
GSA on his knees as a hairdresser (?) trying to cut Robert Lutyens hair while Nityananda (Krishnamurti's brother) is watching the scene laughing. Photo taken in France in 1913
1913, GSA In London
GSA with B.P. Wadia after being interned (house arrest) in Gulistan, Ootacamund
Photo taken on the first day of their internment. GSA (right) B.P. Wadia and Annie Besant with a copy of "New India", a paper she published
The three patriots interned
GSA during the internment with on the far left Mrs.Dorothy Jinarajadasa, Annie Besant, B.P. Wadia and Sarmananda
GSA was involved in the Boy Scouts movement. Here he is seen wearing a special uniform and head dress
GSA and Rukmini Devi during a visit to Stockholm in Sweden in 1924
GSA, Rukmini Devi and A.P. Warrington. Atlanta 1927
GSA and Rukmini Devi while visiting Portland, Oragon, 1927
A young Geoffrey Hodson with GSA at Olcott in Wheation,1932
GSA, Rukmini Devi and sitting John Coats, in Finland, 1936
The 1940 Convention at Headquarters Hall. Adyar
GSA in Benares (Varanasi) in 1940
Rukmini Devi, Bhageerathi Sri Ram, some very young Theosophists and others at Adyar in 1945. GSA, already quite ill, sitting on the second row.
GSA in Indian dress, February 1945.
He passed away on August 12, 1945.