The HFAF visit to India

The recollections of the Grand Master and the Provincial Grand Master provided the information for the diary of this trip.

by Christine Chapman – Most Worshipful Grand Master

On Friday November 25th a party of 20 HFAF Women Freemasons gathered at Heathrow ready for their historic journey to Delhi.  The team included 5 members who had flown over from Spain the previous day to be a part of this ground-breaking and historic mission. Our experience ranged from a few years to long-serving and high ranking members of Grand Lodge including myself and the Deputy Provincial Grand Master Brenda Cook.The rigours of the nine hour flight were soon forgotten when we arrived at Delhi to be greeted by a welcome sign and garlands of chrysanthemums and flowers. It was now Saturday 26th November.

We arrived in India in the middle of a currency crisis and there was no Indian money available either at the airport or even at our hotel. Great way to save money! The hotel was in fact a club and the rooms were very comfortable and heaven of heavens they contained a kettle and teabags. Our Indian hosts had placed a goody bag of snacks in all our rooms. They had also arranged all our hotel meals. So our first taste of Indian food was lunch.  We had been  invited to a welcome event to celebrate our arrival, so after the mandatory rest to try and recover from jet lag, we congregated outside on the club lawns for a cultural evening. We were all presented with pink scarves and special bangles which were made of resin.  Then myself, the Provincial Grand Master and the Grand Inspector General were invited to light a special lamp and Hindi mantras were chanted to bless our visit.  The food and drink were soon flowing and our soon to be brethren entertained us with song and dance. We all introduced ourselves and it wasn’t long before we felt compelled to join in the dancing.

Sunday was the first day of labour during which we set out the lodge room and by 10am we were ready for the rehearsal. Although we had already worked out how we would handle 20 candidates for both Initiation and Passing, we still had to put it into practice. Refreshments were available throughout the day and we had a break for lunch.

Monday 28th November was a truly memorable day for us and I can remember feeling very emotional as the first candidates entered the room. Nine hours later all twenty candidates had taken the first two degrees of our ceremonies of admission. The work was shared out amongst the brethren including the Deputy Provincial  Grand Master who was a willing volunteer and some who were in the Chair as Worshipful Masters in the morning were also outside acting as Stewards and Instructors in the afternoon. None of it would have worked without the hard work put in by the brethren acting as Stewards who had to help prepare twenty nervous ladies who had to be reassured that nothing terrible was going to happen to them.

Tuesday 29th November saw our rehearsals for the Third Degree which was more complicated and saw all of us involved even myself and the Deputy Provincial Grand Master. Fortunately for us one of our Indian ladies had volunteered to try and obtain some currency for us and at the end of day we had all received  1600 rupees, which was the equivalent of £20. We felt rich and some of our brethren felt the need to go shopping immediately! They ordered taxis from reception and found the local M & S as well as the Sari stores. They survived the taxi rides which for some proved hair-raising as the driver insisted on driving the wrong way up the motorway but eventually they all found their way safely back to the hotel.

Wednesday 30th November

Our day of rest, what a misnomer! We were all assembled at 7:30am to depart for the Taj Mahal. The autumn had arrived in Delhi and the roads were completely shrouded in thick fog. So it was with some trepidation that we boarded our coach for Agra. Indian driving is something which can only be described as gung-ho at the best and suicidal at the worst. It is literally every driver for himself. Lane discipline is non-existent and the omnipresent cows wandered all over the roads and yet were never hit. We had been provided with picnic boxes to sustain us during our trip. We had thought it would be a three hour trip but due to the effect of the fog on the traffic it was more like six hours. But even as we arrived in Agra the sun came out and the fog dissipated. Some of our newer brethren came with us to escort us and shepherd us like recalcitrant sheep in case we got lost. The pink scarves which we all wore served a very useful purpose in identifying us amongst the crowd of people.

The Taj Mahal did not disappoint and its majestic splendour shone out as we approached. The Taj is in fact a 17th century mausoleum built by Shah Jahan for his wife who died in childbirth. It is one of the seven wonders of the world. We then adjourned to the nearby Four Seasons Hotel where lunch had been arranged for us. Due to the delay we were running late and it was decided not to visit another mausoleum but instead to visit the Kohinoor Jewellery museum. This was indeed a very rewarding visit as we saw some fine examples of the amazing 3D embroidery work of Padmashi Sham.

And then we were invited upstairs to view the jewellery collection which although they had plenty of merchandise on sale also contained some unbelievable pieces of  jewellery created by the owner’s father. Our brethren were able to buy some jewellery for themselves and I had the privilege of wearing for a very short time a magnificent collar and ring of emeralds and diamonds made for an Indian Grand Master. Back on board the coach and we eventually arrived back at 11:30pm.

Thursday 1st December

This was the day when our twenty candidates completed the third stage of their admission into Freemasonry. Another long day ensued during which we all worked but at the end we had twenty Master Masons looking so proud in their new regalia. It was all very exciting and we all felt we had achieved the impossible.

Friday 2nd December

We had a final day of practice for the Consecration ceremony. We had all been stunned to discover that our Indian brethren had already obtained a Lodge Banner and that we would also be carrying out a Banner Dedication ceremony. During the Consecration we would be using the elements of corn, wine and oil and we would normally place them in our solid brass vessels which due to the weight we had been unable to bring out with us. We had our fingers crossed that our resourceful Indian brethren would come up with suitable substitute containers. At the end of the day there were more shopping excursions, this time to the Mall. But the Grand Inspector General and I were too exhausted and headed for the bar to recover with the aid of some large G & Ts.

Saturday 3rd December the  day of the consecration and all the other ceremonies which were planned. We made our way to the annexe where the lodge room was situated and had a last minute check that we had everything we needed. Despite a misunderstanding of what was meant by corn, we nevertheless had everything we needed. We weren’t prepared for the strength of the incense provided for our use and the Chaplain, who wasn’t very tall almost disappeared in the clouds of fragrant smoke! We had compromised on some aspects of this beautiful ceremony because obviously we had no means of providing the usual music which has always punctuated our consecrations. So some parts were recited instead of being sung but the Vespers Hymn which provides the climax to the proceedings was sung with gusto by all those who knew it. At the point of dedication I stood in front of the assembled brethren and spoke the words which formed them into Lodge Bharati 56 and it was so hard to control my emotions as they stood in front of me with the tears beginning to flow down their faces.

We called-off for lunch and on our return we then proceeded to Install Bro. Sadhana Rao as the first Worshipful Master and created three more Past Masters. All the officers were invested by the new Master and then we moved onto the Banner Dedication ceremony and all the Brethren of the new Lodge saluted it in the traditional manner. We thought there couldn’t be any more surprises but the ladies had a last one for us. They had plotted with the Grand DC to keep it a secret from us, but before I left the lodge everyone was presented with special commemorative jewels and I was invited to inspect the brethren, which is of course a Jewel Presentation ceremony. After the Grand Lodge left the Brethren closed the meeting in the usual fashion.

Of course there were many photos after all the proceedings were completed both official and unofficial. The brethren from the UK eventually retired to their rooms to prepare for the Festive Board, which had been arranged as a Buffet. Those who had purchased saris and other Indian style outfits were assisted to dress and what a colourful sight it was when they all eventually assembled. The Festive Board was a complete surprise to us who were used to the usual formal atmosphere of our Festive Boards. Here it was done Indian style which meant that although the tables were arranged traditionally, the usual order of events was completely reversed. The toasts were given first and the Master’s Song was sung by the Deputy Provincial Grand Master in her usual inimitable style. It was a very joyous occasion indeed. The two Wardens when challenged by the Grand DC on the state of their glasses replied with huge gusto. The usual speeches were made but in this celebratory atmosphere they were very special. We then moved to the outside terrace for the buffet where everyone could relax.

Sunday 4th December our last full day in India. The brethren attended a Lodge of Instruction to help them cope with the forthcoming 1st meeting of the lodge. In the hotel grounds an Indian wedding was underway. A caparisoned horse stood ready for the groom and the male guests were being fitted with their ceremonial turbans. In the afternoon we departed for some sightseeing. We had hoped to visit the Lotus Temple which looks exactly like a lotus flower, but the crowds waiting to go in were huge so we had to be satisfied with viewing it from the coach and instead we had a tour round the government area of Delhi. In the evening we attended a light and sound show in a ruined fort depicting the history of the British involvement in India. Then back to the hotel and our last dinner.

Alas Monday 5th December marked our departure from this amazing country. Tears were  shed as we said goodbye to our Indian hosts and made our way to the airport for our return to the UK. All of us who took part in this historic trip will be left with incredible memories which we shall never forget.

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