By Ananya S. Rajan
Originally printed in the January-February 2005 issue of Quest magazine.
Citation: Rajan, Ananya S. “The History of Adyar Day” Quest 93.1 (JANUARY-FEBRUAY 2005): 32
Adyar, the international headquarters of the Theosophical Society, continues to be a special place for many of our members. With the serene beauty of its gardens, it has become a sacred refuge for stray animals, weary travelers, and members desiring to understand more about Theosophy and the Society. Walking through the gates of Adyar, people often feel as if they are walking into a different world. The atmosphere changes. Stillness is felt within and without. Things begin to slow down and the simplicity of life, foreign to many of us, begins to take over. It is obvious why the founders chose these particular grounds for their headquarters. Even though the estate is surrounded by the noise and chaos of the city of Madras, within Adyar’s gates there remains a quality of beauty that is rare to find. It is no wonder that there is a day, February 17, set aside each year called Adyar Day.
Originally, February 17 was known as Olcott Day, the day of the founder’s passing in 1907. Members gathered at the place where Henry Steel Olcott was cremated, saying a few words and offering flowers to the memorial built in his honor.
By 1916 the tradition changed and became centered around the statue of HPB and Colonel Olcott that now stands in headquarters hall at Adyar. In her Watchtower notes of March 1916, Annie Besant writes:
Olcott Day, February 17, as it is called in India and Ceylon, was kept as usual at Headquarters….We gathered as usual at 7:10 A.M. in the large Hall and stood in a large semi-circle in front of the alcove in which are the statues of our founders.
According to Besant’s notes, at 7:17 A.M., the time of Olcott’s last breath, President Besant spoke and then had representatives from the various religions speak. Finally, everyone, from Olcott’s servant to the sweepers of the great hall, silently lined up to offer flowers and give thanks. This tradition continues today.
Then how did Olcott Day become Adyar Day? According to an article in the Theosophical Messenger of 1928, the process began with Fritz Kunz, husband of past president Dora Kunz. Fritz returned to the United States after an extended stay in India and realized that “there were very few appeals before us in this country. . . . Adyar is the Mother of us all, and her claims come first.” So he conceived of the Adyar Fund in 1922 and formed the Adyar committee to raise funds for Adyar and to help with the construction of the buildings. The first unofficial Adyar Day was celebrated February 17, 1923, in the United States, with members here raising money to send overseas. That date was chosen because it was not only the day Olcott passed away, but also the day Giordano Bruno, a student of Pythagoras was burned at the stake and the day Charles W. Leadbeater was born. Annie Besant, however, declared February 17 Adyar Day after a suggestion in 1925 from a Frenchwoman named Madame de Manziarly. In February 1926, to commemorate the first official Adyar Day, a pamphlet about Adyar was published with beautiful black and white photos of the estate.
Today, the Adyar Fund continues to thrive thanks to generous donations from many members. Adyar Day, however, is not only for fund-raising. It is a day to remember and give thanks to those who walked before us, who dedicated their lives to Theosophy, and who gave us the very special gift of Adyar.
If you would like to contribute to the Adyar Day Fund, you may write a check to TSA and mark “Adyar Day Fund” in the memo line. Mail it to TSA, P. O. Box 270, Wheaton, IL 60187. The devas of Adyar thank you!