Having already begun something of a philosophical pilgrimage to India, it remained for Blavatsky to undertake her physical relocation. As was typical for her, circumstances which might otherwise appear entirely arbitrary and coincidental were interpreted as omens of her peculiar destiny. Thus it was that she was introduced to the årya Samaj of Dayananda Sarasvat (1824-1883).
Sales of Isis Unveiled had
gone well. The Theosophical Society, which by the latter part of 1877 had
dwindled to the stage at which meetings often were convened with only the two
founders present, underwent something of a small renaissance.
Blavatsky had been approached by two English Spiritualists, Charles Carleton
Massey (1838-1905) and Stainton Moses (of 'Imperator' fame), and by her adoring
disciple Emily Kislingbury, about the formation of a London branch.
Plans were afoot for similar developments in Russia and Japan. Blavatsky
was receiving applications for membership from prominent figures in the
business and scientific worlds, including General Abner Doubleday (1819-1893)
and Thomas Edison (1847-1931). Most significant, though, was the
friendship of Moolji Thackersey.
The Theosophical Society of the årya Samaj of India
Olcott had first encountered Thackersey, the owner of a Bombay mill, during his 1870 passage to England at a time when India had surely not entered his mind. Seven years later Blavatsky and Olcott were visited at their New York Lamasery by the American Spiritualist, James Peebles (1822-1922), who recognised Thackersey as one of the figures in a mounted photograph inside the apartment. Peebles told the delighted pair that he had himself encountered Thackersey on a recent visit to Bombay and was able to furnish Olcott with his address. Olcott wasted no time; the following day he wrote to his erstwhile friend, lauding the achievements of the Theosophical Society in disseminating the pristine wisdoms of India. Thackersey replied almost immediately and the two were soon engaged in a regular correspondence. For Blavatsky this link with India indicated nothing less than that the benevolent regard of Providence - or, in Theosophical parlance, her Masters - oversaw their mission.
Thackersey had become an avid disciple of the Hindu reformist Dayananda Sarasvat. Dayananda's årya Samaj movement, with its emphatic insistence on monotheistic anti-Brahmanical Hinduism, immediately aroused sympathies in Blavatskian anticlericalism, which had come to the fore during the writing of Isis Unveiled. Further, Dayananda's embracing of the antique Vedas and of modern epistemology and technology seemed to meld well with her occultistic desire to present a 'modernised' prisca theologia. The philosophical and theological sympathies between the societies were no doubt further (and dishonestly) exaggerated by Hurrychund Chintamon, an årya Samaj devotee and semi-official facilitator between the two groups, who seems to have misrepresented Dayananda's stance on such pivotal issues as the existence of a personal deity. Within six months Olcott's enthusiasm for the årya Samaj had multiplied and his letters had become those of a suppliant:
A number of American and other students who earnestly seek after spiritual knowledge, place themselves at your feet and pray you to enlighten them.
Blavatsky's interest was no less evident; characteristically she incorporated Dayananda into her macrohistorical ensemble:
H. P. B. told me ... that he was an adept of the Himalayan Brotherhood inhabiting the Swami's body; well known to our own teachers, and in relations with them for the accomplishment of the work he had in hand.
By 23 May, 1878, Blavatsky and Olcott, with the support of their Council, had agreed that the Theosophical Society should amalgamate with the årya Samaj and would now be reconstituted as the Theosophical Society of the årya Samaj of India. Little remained to tie Blavatsky to New York and she was eager to depart for India; such was not the case for Olcott who had serious misgivings about financing the expedition and who had the not inconsequential problem of his wife and two sons to support. Significantly, a flurry of letters from his then Master, Serapis, together with Blavatsky's increased candour regarding the identity of her mysterious Indian associate ('M:.') as being the Master Morya, appeared to tip the scales in favour of the journey: 'definite orders from Serapis. Have to go; the latest from 15 to 20th Dec.' They departed on the 18th.
The joy (and relief) which Blavatsky and Olcott experienced upon arriving in Bombay on the morning of 16 February, 1879, was soon tempered by the realisation that their partnership with the årya Samaj was not to be a happy one. Hurrychund Chintamon, who had regaled them with great pomp upon their landing, subsequently billed them for the privilege; indeed it was soon discovered that he had embezzled 600 rupees Blavatsky had raised for Dayananda's movement. Energetic as ever, Blavatsky chose not to be daunted by the deception, nor indeed by the rigours of life as a Russian emigre and newly-nationalised American woman under the British Raj. She did not even create her customary fuss when, during their introductory meeting, Dayananda overlooked her in favour of Olcott. Further indication of her emotional equilibrium is provided by the fact that only once, it seems, did she bother overmuch with the constant police surveillance given to suspect spies. Instead she set about Masters-hunting, inquiring after supramundane phenomena from various of the Suny sin the pair encountered in their travels. Often she would wander away and return with flowers or a note from a member of the Brotherhood whom she claimed to have encountered.
Marion Meade has asserted that Blavatsky sought desperately to plunder her encounters with Indian ascetics for phenomena which would prove the existence of the Masters. Such a position is in keeping with Meade's programme to reduce the Masters to simple instantiations of Blavatsky's romantic temperament, mendacious disposition, and Orientalising fervour. That noted, there are significant episodes which illustrate Blavatsky's tendency to indulge in a little creative myth-making in regard to the Masters. Some of her tales, most notably her admittedly romanticised accounts of the Founders' 1879 travels, written under the pseudonym 'Radda-Bai' and entitled From the Caves and Jungles of Hindostan, do not really compare favourably with the more prosaic version in Olcott's Old Diary Leaves. Adepts abound in Blavatsky's account, each performing numerous feats of wonder; Olcott's seems more concerned with 'beautifully evoking the tropical atmosphere'. Of more concern, perhaps, are the occasions wherein Blavatsky appears likely to have cajoled or employed individuals to impersonate Masters so as to beguile Olcott and others.
One likely candidate for such fraudulence occurred on a visit to the Karli caves in April, 1879. Throughout the trip Olcott was given notes, flowers, and gifts, each enigmatically delivered to him with messages from the Brotherhood of Masters. A man, identified as Baburao, would await the travellers at various of their train stops and proffer the compliments of his master (interpreted by Olcott as a Master). To cap all of this, and with customary flourish, Blavatsky sent a request to the Masters by means of a scribbled note folded into a triangle and cast unceremoniously out of the window of the train while it steamed across uninhabited terrain at an altitude of three thousand feet. Upon arrival at Bombay, Olcott was greeted with an answering telegram from the mysterious Master Goolab Singh, receipted only 75 minutes after Blavatsky's petition. Such marvels impressed Olcott deeply at the time; many years later he discovered that Baburao had been hired by Thackersey at Blavatsky's request as her personal servant for the trip. It seems not to have occurred to him that their fifteen-year-old domestic servant, Vallah Bulla (reduced to 'Babula' by Blavatsky), was also present on the train - though in a third class carriage - and may himself have engineered the gifts and telegram.
The dramatic flair which Blavatsky employed to such effect in casting a glamour over Olcott and their growing band of Indian associates earned her something of a celebrity status in Bombay; their premises on Girgaum Back Road soon became a haven for the exotically-minded who would sit on the verandah and listen to Blavatsky's inspiring talk of Masters. Dayananda commented wryly in a missive of 23 November, 1880:
How amazing is it that you came here (India) to become a disciple and a pupil and now want to become Guru and Acharya (preceptor). Is it proper for any one to do such contradictory things?
Dayananda's acuity underscores a significant failing in the traditional
analyses of Blavatsky's attraction to India. Most studies suggest that
upon her arrival she absorbed Indian motifs with a remarkable alacrity so as to
regurgitate them, with variable success, as a sort of hotchpotch Occidentalised
Indicism tailored for a Western readership. In this way she has been seen
as but one in a long stream of cultural appropriators and exporters.
The error is not entirely one of substance, rather of emphasis; in reality,
Blavatsky imported standard motifs of Western esotericism into India and
speedily arrayed them in local forms, thus fashioning an Indicised
esotericism. Her notion of Masters, unsurprisingly deemed peculiar by the
Veda-literate årya Samaj, had been predetermined in the main prior to her
departure from New York; certainly it was afforded colour by its Indic
overlays, but it remained staunchly a product of Western
esotericism(s). Thus Dayananda was right; Blavatsky did conceive of
herself as a teacher: she alone would have been unsurprised that Indians were
coming to her for lessons in what others would have perceived superficially as
'Budhism', Buddhism, and Chelaship
The first months of 1880 proved to be one of the happiest and most productive periods of Blavatsky's life. On the literary front she was occupied with crafting exotic tales of India for Russian journals, for which she was paid handsomely, and with contributing detailed articles to her newly-conceived Society journal, The Theosophist. The Theosophical Society was expanding successfully across India, incorporating native Hindus and several prized converts from the British establishment. Blavatsky and Olcott were f?ted wherever they went: during a visit to Ceylon, Blavatsky rode in procession on an elephant and was secretly pleased to find Sinhalese women prostrating before her. The journey to Ceylon was crowned with a ceremony held at a temple in Galle on 25 May at which time Olcott and Blavatsky formally, and very publicly, converted to Buddhism. This 'conversion' has led some to believe that the pair had renounced their esoteric affiliations and philosophies and finally found a normative, if Oriental, creed. In fact the Founders' 'Buddhism' was but an arbitrary designation for an Indicised prisca theologia:
Our Buddhism was that of the Master-Adept Gautama Buddha, which was identically the Wisdom Religion of the Aryan Upanishads, and the soul of all the ancient world-faiths. Our Buddhism was, in a word, a philosophy, not a creed.
[O]ur periodical [The Theosophist] is described as a - 'Buddhist organ'! This is a puzzle indeed ... The Northern Buddhism, or esoteric Arhat doctrine, has little in common with popular, dogmatic Buddhism. It is identical - except in proper names - with the hidden truth or esoteric part of Advaitism, Brahmanism, and every other world faith of antiquity.
To emphasise the distinction between 'popular, dogmatic Buddhism' and her own creed, Blavatsky coined the term 'Budhism': "'Budhism' has preceded Buddhism by long ages and is pre-Vedic'. 'Budhism', a term arrived at through a rather eccentric etymology, is obviously a Masters-generated esoteric arcanum:
Budhism would mean 'Wisdom', from Budha, 'a sage', 'a wise man', and the imperative verb 'Budhyadhwam', 'Know'; and Buddhism is the religious philosophy of Gautama, the Buddha.
Central to every Blavatskian endeavour was the propagation of the Theosophical doctrine of the Masters, and it was the promise of their benevolence to their chelas and the evidence of Blavatsky's phenomenal powers (which exhibited, it was believed, further proof of the Masters' munificence), that stimulated many to join the Society. Emblematic of this quest for chelaship is Alfred Percy Sinnett (1840-1924), editor of the Pioneer, the leading English daily in India, who had contacted Blavatsky nine days after her arrival in Bombay, offering to publish an article on the Society. Interested in psychic phenomena, and a convinced Spiritualist, Sinnett invited the Founders to his home in Simla to spend the summer of 1870 and, he hoped, provide some convincing miraculous divertissement. Blavatsky did not disappoint.
Blavatsky's success at Simla precipitated an explosion of interest in the Theosophical Society and its Masters, and provided the impetus for Blavatsky, uncouth and ill-mannered as she often was, to be welcomed into the society of the Anglo-Indian elite. In front of Sinnett and his guests, most notably Allan Octavian Hume (1829-1919), past Secretary to the government of India, Blavatsky excelled herself in the manifestation of rappings, bell chiming, and the seemingly miraculous production of monikered handkerchiefs. Less than content with these not entirely uncommon Spiritualistic phenomena, Blavatsky decided to raise the stakes on her abilities by announcing that her psychic link with the Masters was so strong that they were able to supply her with information that she could not otherwise have known. Thus when a picnic party was increased to seven at the last moment, Blavatsky was able to direct the unexpected guest to the location where he might dig in order to find a teacup and saucer to match the other six; so, too, she was able to locate a prized heirloom for Mary Anne Hume: a brooch believed to have been irretrievably lost some months earlier. This last achievement, described in rapturous tones in the Pioneer, caused a flurry of interest in Blavatsky, and yet more applications for membership of her Society.