The TOS in Chennai

Three establishments run by The Olcott Education Society, all situated close to the international headquarters of the Theosophical Society in Chennai, India, do fine work for the needy. They are:

  1. The Olcott School that provides free education for over 700 children mostly drawn from the local fishing villages and that gratefully receives donations from Theosophists around the world;

  2. The H.P.B. Hostel that provides board for a number of boys attending the school;

  3. a Social Welfare Centre where day care for underprivileged children is offered and vocational skills taught to young women on the threshold of their working lives.

In addition, the Besant Memorial Animal Welfare Dispensary, about five minutes’ bicycle ride from the TS HQ, currently treats over ten thousand animals per year and has recently started an outreach programme for villages where there are no veterinary facilities. Medical care for animals has been offered at Adyar for around a century!

Staff at medical centre

Some of the volunteer TOS doctors at Adyar who offer eye, dental and general checkups to needy locals, as well as specialist advice in gynaecology, orthopaedics, paediatrics and ear, nose and throat ailments.

Algunos de los doctores voluntarios de la OTS en Adyar que ofrecen cuidados oftalmológicos y dentales y comprobaciones generales a los necesitados locales, así como consejos especializados en ginecología, ortopedia, pediatría y enfermedades de garganta,  nariz y oídos.


But there is more to relate about service work done locally. The Chennai branch of the TOS (one of over a hundred active branches throughout India) has its own dynamic programme.

It runs health and medical ‘camps’ for hundreds of poor people, besides a regular free medical service every Sunday morning. It also manages to gather funds to pay for medical and clothing relief during crisis periods. Besides these activities, a TOS healing group meets every week.

The TOS in Chennai also carries out environmental and animal welfare projects. In 2005 it initiated a clean up project for the pathways along the Adyar River within the Theosophical Society domain under the guidance of Dr Srinivasan. It also set up wooden nesting boxes on trees for birds around the Adyar Estate.

In 2003, it contacted animal welfare organizations, the Police and Telephone Departments, etc. to encourage the government in Chennai to start an Animal Helpline, which is now up and running.

The Chennai TOS’s biggest challenge, however, came when the tsunami hit on December 26, 2004:

clothes at main gate

Some of the bundles of clothes dropped by well-wishers at the main gate of the TS, Adyar.
Algunos de los paquetes de ropa dejados por bienintencionados a la entrada principal
de la ST en Adyar.

On behalf of the Theosophical Society, it found itself spearheading relief work for the victims both in Chennai and further down the coast. It was already, at short notice, helping with the organization of the international TOS Conference about to start at headquarters but then found itself confronted with a significant emergency relief operation. TS treasurer Miss Keshwar Dastur, Mr S. Harihara Raghavan and team worked long hours replying to concerned messages, processing donations from members around India and overseas, and sorting and delivering tons of clothes, foodstuffs, medicines, medical disposables and cooking utensils.

Reverse osmosis water treatment plant

One of the reverse osmosis plants installed in villages along the coast of Tamil Nadu to provide potable water.
Una de las plantas por osmosis instaladas en pueblos a lo largo de la costa de Tamil Nadu
para proporcionar agua potable.

Clean drinking water in the coastal districts of Tamil Nadu proved an urgent necessity and so as soon as possible the TOS facilitated the setting up of three reverse osmosis plants to desalinate groundwater. A contract was signed with Thirumalai Charity Trust to run and maintain the plants. The media were present in March 2005 at an official contract-awarding ceremony presided over by Radha Burnier, International President of the TS and TOS, with the State Relief Commissioner as chief guest. Reports were carried in several newspapers, on radio and television.

contract signing


Tsunami relief contracts exchange hands at a special ceremony held at TS HQ in March 2005.  Front left: Mr S. Harihara Raghavan and Centre, centre: Mr C.V.K. Maithreya, representing the TOS in Chennai.

Contratistas de la ayuda por el tsunami intercambian saludos en una ceremonia especial que tuvo lugar en la oficina principal de la ST en Marzo de 2005. Delante a la izquierda, el Sr. S.Harihara Raghavan, y Sr C V K Maithreya, representantes de la OTS en Chennai, .


In May 2005, Mr C.V.K. Maithreya, Mr S. Harihara Raghavan, Mr Gopal, Dr Sunita Maithreya, Miss Keshwar Dastur, Mrs Radha Muthiah and four others visited coastal villages where the water purification plants were being set up. They saw one that had just arrived and participated in the Hindu dedication ceremony. Mr Maithreya wrote:

‘The water purification system is working well and the villagers are happy. Piping has to be done if they are to get water without walking a long distance. At present women and girls do the job of fetching water. Men and boys don't do it. We have been talking about re-educating them on this point, diplomatically!

‘We were also at the sheds to be used for training women in tailoring with the sewing machines we are acquiring. We have purchased 91 machines and the Thirumalai Charity Trust, with whom the TOS is collaborating, has given 41 machines. Lastly, 33 professional grade machines were given by the TOS for commercial use, besides the ones meant for training.

‘The trip left us shocked and feeling disturbed about our brother and sister human beings who are experiencing untold suffering. We are happy to be the channels for providing whatever little help we can to alleviate their suffering. The task is very far from being done. We have just decided to set up one and perhaps two recycled paper making units for the tsunami victims to provide alternative employment.’

Since Mr Maithreya wrote these words, four more water purification plants have been put in place in collaboration with Thirumalai Charity Trust, a Danish company called Grundfos Pumps and a German one, K’a’rcher. Further, two waste recycling units for the making of paper products have been constructed. These are being operated by two self-help groups, the Annie Besant Ammaiyar Coastal Women’s Federation in Cuddalore and the Annai Theresa Coastal Women’s Federation in Pazhaverkadu. The TOS donated machines and tools for these operations.

clothing distribution

One of the clothing distributions made by TOS members in Mylapore, Chennai shortly after the tsunami struck.

Una de las distribuciones de ropa efectuada por miembros de la OTS en Mylapore. Chennai rápidamente después de la llegada del tsunami.


The final project in the work to help the tsunami victims has involved the providing of tools to masons, electricians & plumbers and idli making machines for women in the village of Injambakkam.  (Idlis are a kind of rice cake.)

However, there is no rest for the wicked – or for the dynamic, in the case of the TOS Chennai. Even while handling all these tsunami relief projects, the team managed to organize the purchase and despatch of 190 tents to the people of Kashmir, so badly affected by September 2005’s massive earthquake, and the distribution of clothing to 7,000 South Indian people left without resources after the severe flooding that hit in December 2005 (once again encroaching on the TS domain at Adyar).

In February 2006, the National Director and Secretary of the TOS in India, Sri B.L. Bhattacharya, and the International Secretary, Diana Dunningham Chapotin, came especially to Adyar to meet with the Chennai TOS team and to see all that they have accomplished in recent months. They expressed their respect for a local team that has worked exceptionally hard.



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