The vital core of Theosophy is the existence of the Fraternity of Mahatmas. This sacred fact gives meaning to the subtleties of cosmogenesis and the complexities of anthropogenesis. It shapes all practical Theosophical efforts. The Mahatmas stand ready to help and uplift all who seek the summits of wisdom. Theosophy shows the path of perfectibility by which a human being may pass beyond the sense of alienation from his fellows and plunge into the divine isolation at the centre of the conscious unity of all life. One who follows this path gradually learns to assume full responsibility for his nature and existence and to act upon the implications of such knowledge. When he gains the lucidity of universal self-consciousness and loses all separative self-concern, he becomes a Mahatma, a Great Soul. Damodar K. Mavalankar was a man who walked this path as far as mortal eyes can see.
Damodar was born in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, in September 1857. As one born into the Karhada Maharashtra Brahmana caste, he received an excellent traditional Hindu upbringing. The wealth of his family afforded him equally sound English education. When very young, he became gravely ill and was expected to die. During the worst of this period, he had a vision in which a resplendent being ministered to him, and he soon recovered. He saw this being twice again in visions: once when seriously ill and once in a deep meditation.
Between the ages of ten and fourteen, Damodar studied Hindu Dharma devotedly, keeping all the religious practices appropriate to his station. As he began his academic studies ritual gave way to scholarship, though his basic ideas and aspirations remained unchanged. According to his own testimony, he had not found real peace of mind, and he lived for the day's routine, social position and personal gratification. But in 1879 – the year H.P.Blavatsky and H.S.Olcott arrived in Bombay to establish a centre for the Theosophical Society – Damodar read Isis Unveiled. He immediately rushed to Bombay to pay his respects to the remarkable author who displayed such wisdom, fearlessness and devotion. Caring nothing for the opinion of the world, she displayed the assurance of one who knew that Masters exist and are active in the midst of mankind.
When Damodar entered the Headquarters of the Theosophical Society in Bombay, he was stunned to see a portrait of the man who had appeared thrice in his visions and to learn that this Mahatma was one of those behind H.P.Blavatsky and the Theosophical Movement. Convinced that he had found the gate that leads to the Path of Truth, Damodar applied for membership in the Theosophical Society on July 13, 1879. On August 3 he was initiated into the Society. Shortly thereafter he wrote:
Damodar sought and received his father's permission to live at the Headquarters, and he soon took up the taxing duties of Joint Recording Secretary.
Damodar also sought his father's blessing on his resolve to live the life of a sannyasin. He had been betrothed to Laxmibai as a child and was expected to join her in the life of a householder. When it became clear that his desire to become a chela of the Masters was deep and irreversible, he was allowed to sign over his large portion of the ancestral inheritance to his own father on condition that the girl be cared for in the family home all her life. Though broken-hearted, she nobly abided by Damodar's decision and lived the life of a saubhagyavati – one whose husband is alive – long after Damodar's disappearance into Tibet and until her own death at about age sixty.
Damodar's father, uncle and elder brother joined the Theosophical Society, but all resigned when he renounced his caste. H.P.Blavatsky and Colonel Olcott counselled Damodar to reflect carefully upon this bold and weighty decision. Having done so, he declared that all worldly interests
When in Ceylon in 1880 for a lecture tour, H.P.Blavatsky, Olcott and Damodar together took Pansil, the Southern Buddhist ceremony of Pancha Shila in which one vows to uphold the five precepts taught by the Buddha: compassion, truthfulness, purity, sincerity and temperance.
Neither vows publicly undertaken nor external personal details can ever reveal the most vital and critical activities of a chela, for these take place in the recesses of the mind and heart. Yet an intimation of the motive force behind Damodar's meteoric ascent on the path of discipleship can be found in his letters to William Q. Judge. On October 5, 1879, two months after entering the Theosophical Society, Damodar advised:
This subtle balance between the strict performance of duty and complete freedom from attachment to the wheel of birth and death derived from Damodar's arrow-straight attitude toward his teacher. In a letter to W.Q.Judge, dated January 24, 1880, he wrote:
Damodar frequently returned to the subject of the Adepts, "because that is the only subject I am interested in," dwelling upon them without allowing enthusiasm to displace his natural reticence.
By 1880 the eye of the Master was upon Damodar. Towards the end of the year, he had seen Adepts in their astral forms and had been taken on an astral journey by one of them.
A letter which he received from one of the Masters confirmed the reality of this astral journey.
Damodar earned the privilege of meeting his Master in Lahore in November 1883. Shortly thereafter, Damodar and H.S.Olcott spent a few days at Jammu in Kashmir as guests of the Maharaja. Damodar disappeared without warning, only to return in three days transformed. Olcott recorded that Damodar was "seemingly robust, tough, and wiry, bold and energetic in manner: we could scarcely realize that he was the same person." He returned to Adyar, now the permanent Headquarters, and with fresh zeal took up his secretarial duties, including management of the publication office of The Theosophist.
By now both H.P.Blavatsky and H.S.Olcott travelled frequently in the cause of Theosophy, and increasingly Damodar became the acting head of affairs at Adyar. While the Founders were in Europe in 1884, the tragic Coulomb affair exploded in Adyar. During the dark period when charges of false claims and trickery were hurled at his teacher's head and the names of his revered Masters were touted in public, Damodar remained cool, uncompromising and firm. "The powers of black magic," he wrote, "are due to the will power engendered by a concentrated form of selfishness." Without seeking to protect himself, he refused to compromise his teachers, speak of private matters, or waver from a deep spiritual loyalty to the Theosophical Movement and those furthering it. He stood the trial along with a few others while many fell away or took ambiguous positions. He achieved the honour of being allowed to travel to his Master's ashram in Tibet.
H.P.Blavatsky returned briefly to India and blessed his privileged journey. On February 23, 1885, thirty-six days before H.P.Blavatsky left India for the last time, Damodar set out aboard the SS. Clan Grant. Reaching Calcutta on the 27th, Damodar spent early March in Benares and returned to Calcutta on the 14th. On March 30th he received a telegram which ordered him to Darjeeling. His travel plans were arranged and he left for the north on April 13, passing through Runjeet, Vecha, Renanga, Sanangthay, Bhashithang, and stopping in Dumrah on the 18th. There he waited for instructions from Longbu, three miles distant. On the 19th he entered Sikkim and on the 23rd was allowed to go to Kali. There he sent his coolies, personal possessions and diary back to Darjeeling.
Nothing more is known of Damodar's life. According to those who saw him last, he joined the company of a mysterious person and passed into Tibet. H.P.Blavatsky and others received occasional letters from him until her passing, but their contents are unknown.
Damodar embodied the highest virtues of the Bodhisattvic path and the pristine principles of Sanatana Dharma. While undergoing the severest trials of the soul and great external strains, he corresponded with Theosophists, with friendly and hostile newspapers, and with interested parties across the globe. He wrote articles of penetrating understanding and remarkable noetic insight.
In outlining the Three Objects of the Theosophical Society, he emphasized the first – to form a nucleus of Universal Brotherhood without distinctions of any kind – and noted that few can consciously enter the Brotherhood because most do not aspire "to conquer the immense difficulties encountered between Intellectual Solitude and Intellectual Companionship." This gulf is permanently bridged by "mutual Intellectual Sympathy" without bigotry, dogmatism or preconceptions of any sort. It can be built only in a life of meditation.
When the will is directed with unremitting devotion to knowledge of Self and harmony in action, the aspirant has taken up the practice of Raja Yoga.
Damodar K. Mavalankar won a paramount place in the constellation of illustrious Theosophists of the nineteenth century and earned the greatest privilege that can come to any human being – acceptance as a chela by the Mahatmas. H.P.Blavatsky thus paid homage to D.K.Mavalankar: