Origins of Freemasonry
One of the first group activities undertaken by civilised mankind in peace times, has been the erection of huge edifices for shelter. Later grander structures were concieved and built to display the power, wealth and personal designs of the monarchs. Grand structures were built as emblems of the power and progress of the kingdoms. For this, workmen had to be employed in large numbers. They were carefully trained and they progressively attempted to acquire greater degrees of skill and perfection. They moved from place to place, executing orders, leaving behind monuments of fame, bringing fame and status to their masters.
Their skills were periodically updated with advances in the sciences to accomodate newer designs and an increased demand for excellence. Master craftsmen were grouped together, and had to develop a unique bond with a unity of vision enabling them to execute projects as one mind. The weakest link was liable to bring about disaster in the execution of the entire edifice. Obedience, hard work, perseverence, and excellence bonded their percepts of Brotherly Love, Relief and Truth. They worshipped their own Gods, were exemplary in the discharge of their civic duties; and always abided by the the law of the land where they were required to work. They lived in groups, in places close to their construction sites, which included the construction sites itself or the quarries from where they were quarrying stone for their construction work. They were controlled by the Master of the group. The payment of their wages, was decided according to labour. The Entered Apprentices were allowed a weekly allowance of corn, wine and oil. The Fellow Crafts were paid their wages in kind, which they received without scruple or diffidence, being satisfied that they were justly entitled to them as they had the greatest reliance in the integrity of their employers.
The groups observed their own religious beliefs according to their place of origin; and it was regularly impressed on them that they were never to forget their basic Faith wherein they had received their basic tenets. Progressively the groups acquired a Guild character where the Master of the Group was expected to procure work, enroll the required type of labour and craftsmen according to the nature of construction, including people from various places, following different faiths, speaking different languages, and varying in their manners and customs. Their technical merit continued to secure them work and a common bond of Masonic Brotherhood kept them together. Towards the end of the 15th century the Guilds had already acquired a special legal status, and were recognised as representative bodies of the workmen.
The concept of workmen getting recognition and award on the basis of their technological excellence; and not because of their origin, place of birth or religious belief was not generally appreciated in some countries. While some people in all countries were devoted to promote Universal Brotherly Love, Relief and Truth for the peaceful advancement of mankind, some others always opposed it equally vehemently. The institution has been able to survive in every age, because, even monarchs themselves, have been promoters of the arts, and have taken an active part in attending its meetings and joined in its Assemblies to promote unity. Many members of rank and oppulence willingly joined on the level, although it cannot be concealed that amongst the thousands who ranged under its banners, a large majority always belonged to the working class. Their language, manners and customs, and religious beliefs, were frequently at great variance with each other. The institution developed as a service organisation through the office of the Worshipful Master and the Senior and Junior Wardens. The Worshipful Master was to be democratically elected at regular intervals to rule the Lodge, the Senior Warden to see that wages were paid regularly - so far as due and demanded, and the Junior Warden to ensure that they were regularly called from labour to refreshment and refreshment to labour, so that pleasure and profit may be the result.
The word Lodge appears to have its origin in the initial history of the movement when the workmen were lodged together for board, lodging and mutual benefit. A system of identification involving Signs, Tokens and Words were devised. This helped to classify, various classes of workmen. It took a new entrant to the working group, considerable time and effort to acquire the necessary skills, to be made an Entered Apprentice. It gives a content and meaning to the membership based on a technical merit. It also explains why the formal membership was not extended widely, its inside activities and relationship amongst Bretheren was kept secret, publicity was banned and the secrets were so closely guarded. Obviously the large number of the aspirants to membership had to wait for long periods and give evidence of their continued devotion, hard work, expertise in their own craft; before they were considered for admission as an Entered Apprentice. It was presumed that no Entered Apprentice will be enrolled, unless there was a job for him. The Masonic Fraternity did not evolve any new religion. It was always understood that the conduct of each member will be governed by the Volume of Sacred Law of his respective Faith. Each member willingly subscribed to it. They held their tools and implements in great reverence, as it was excellence in the use of the same tools and implements which brought them promotion and better prospects in life.
In the beginning there were only operative masons. They were the masters of their profession, and passed on their knowledge to their devoted pupils. The use of the various tools of the trade were explained in detail. The naunces and details to be taken note of while using even ordinary tools of the trade like squares and compasses, plumb, spirit-levels, rules, guages, trowels were carefully and systematically explained. The workers systematically progressed through the paces, developing newer skills and further understanding the tenets of their craft.
Then dawned an era when non-operative masons were also admitted to the Guild. They were called speculative masons. They were men of good repute in society. These men embraced the basic philosophy of the Masons, that is Brotherly Love, Relief and Truth. They held a belief in the Supreme Being and in the equality of mankind. They were taught the symbolisms of the masons tools, and related the tools to interacting with mankind on the level with honour and dignity, and being upright and straight-forward at all times.
Thus was developed the very Ancient and Honourable Fraternity of Freemasonry. It has survived through the ages, for the practice of every moral and social virtue. Its foundation can be traced to the craftsmen and builders of the Mighty Pyramids, Ancient Temples, Mosques, Churches and Palaces, which are still a wonder of architectural merit, engineering precision, and perfection. They have brought fame and glory to their respective empires.
Freemasonry thrives in times of peace. It however suffers great damage in times of war, when the uniting forces of human nature are subdued and suppressed. For quite some time, the insitution faced religious persecution and hardship. In the 19th century, the Pope issued a Bull directing all Catholics to refrain from membership of a Lodge on pain of ex-communication. In France many known masons were persecuted for heresy. Many royal dynasties felt threatened by the tolerant, upright and level code of conduct followed by the Freemasons. They felt threatened by various groups meeting in private, enrolling members, granting them ranks and degrees, according to their own Ritual. Even as late as the Second World war, Freemasons were persecuted in Nazi Germany.
A United Consitution was drawn up to recognise and govern Lodges in and around London in 1717. A democratic tradition in the election of the Worshipful Master of a Lodge was prescribed. The Worshipful Master was authorised to appoint his team of officer bearers. Thus was born the concept of a Grand Lodge - a body to control and govern Lodges within it's historic jurisdiction.
Just eleven years after the formation of the Grand Lodge of England, constituted for the purpose of exercising supervision over the Lodges in London and its neighbouring areas, a petition was sent by a few Bretheren in India to constitute a Provincial Grand Lodge in Calcutta. The Petition having been granted, a Provincial Grand Master was appointed to supervise Masonic activity in India and the Far East in 1728.