The Theosophist, june 2001, part of On The Watchtower

HPB's Signet Ring(1)

By Radha Burnier

During my travels and often at the time of the International Convention, someone or other enquires about 'HPB's ring' and whether it can be seen. The story of HPB's signet ring has been related by former President C. Jinarajadasa, who heard it from Miss Francesca Arundale. It was published in the 'HPB Centenary Number' (August 1931), a special issue of The Theosophist. When HPB was staying with Miss Arundale and her mother in 1884, as she wanted a signet ring made according to her own design, Miss Arundale got it made. It was of dark green, almost black agate, engraved with the double triangle incorporated in the TS emblem and the word sat in Devanagari characters. Sat means 'Truth' in Sanskrit. At the same time, with HPB's permission, Miss Arundale got a similar ring made for herself. But there was a difference: HPB's seal was set on a heavy gold ring and was mounted on an oval frame with a hinge, which formed the lid for a shallow locket. Miss Arundale's copy of the ring was lighter and without locket or hinge. Jinarajadasa says HPB wore her ring from 1884 to the day of her death, after which it was passed on, in accordance with her wish, to Annie Besant. Dr. Besant always wore the ring - on the index finger of her right hand.

Miss Arundale too always wore her ring and at her death, we are told, it passed to her nephew, G.S. Arundale, who presented it to the ES Archives. It was that ring that Brother Raja (2) placed on the finger of N. Sri Ram at the inaugural meeting after the latter was elected President. Many members are familiar with the photograph depicting the occasion. The ring was passed on to John Coats when he became president and is now with me. It would therefore be more correct to call it the President's ring rather than to speak of it as the HPB ring. (3)

When Annie Besant died, George Arundale, who was her residuary legatee and became the TS President, acquired HPB's ring. On his death, Rukmini Devi came into possession of all his assets and affairs, and it is not known what happened to HPB's ring and to whom it was transferred on the demise of Rukmini Devi. 

Strangely, two rings particularly associated with HPB have disappeared from the memorabilia of the TS. The origin of the other ring, called the 'Rose Ring', is described by Col. Olcott in his Old Diary Leaves, and we summarize his account here. (4) After his visit to Mrs. Mary Baker Thayer of Boston, known as the 'Flower Medium' because in her presence flowers rained down, Col. Olcott handed to HPB a beautiful, half-opened rose sent by Mrs. Thayer 'as a gift of the spirits'. As HPB held the rose in her hand and smelt the perfume, she had the faraway look associated with phenomena. At that moment, her host, Mr. Charles Houghton, a lawyer, entered and asked to have a look at the rose. On HPB's handing it over to him, he suddenly said, 'How heavy it is! I never saw a flower like this. See, its weight actually makes it bend towards the stalk!' When he gave the flower to Olcott to see, HPB exclaimed: 'Take care, don't break it!' A point of light appeared in the heart of the rose and a heavy, plain gold ring leaped out, and the rose immediately straightened up. One evening a year and a half later, Mrs. W.H. Mitchell, the sister of Olcott, came for a visit and wanted to see the ring. After looking at it, she held it out towards HPB in the palm of her in order to return it. Instead of taking the ring, H.P. Blavatsky briefly closed Mrs. Mitchell's fingers on the ring. On opening her hand, Mrs. Mitchell and everyone present saw that three small diamonds were set in a triangle on what had been a plain gold ring. This ring was lost around 1979.

At a meeting of the Executive Committee held on 12 October 1979, with Mr. John Coats, President of the TS, in the chair, it was reported:

Two items had been stolen from the cupboard in Dr. Annie Besant's Room, used to house certain historical items associated with Madame Blavatsky. Between two and three years previously, the Subba Row Medal given to Madame Blavatsky has disappeared. Approximately two weeks before the Executive Committee meeting, it had been discovered that the Rose Ring had also disappeared. As the cupboard had not been opened for over a year, it was not known exactly when the ring had been taken. The matter had been reported to the police and investigation was proceeding. Since then, all other items from the cupboard had been removed to a Godrej (steel) almira in the Archives Department.

In the minutes of a later Executive Committee meeting held on 20 November 1979, also with President Coats in the Chair, it was reported:

... the police are checking the pawnbrokers' records for the Rose Ring. The General Manager is to confirm that a photograph of the ring has been published in the police gazette. A facsimile of the Subba Row Medal which had been presented to HPB would be made at the headquarters of the TS in America, Wheaton, where several blank medals are being kept, and the facsimile would be brought to Adyar. 

Apparently the Society was not destined to retain either one of these special objects, or the real HPB ring with the locket.

Footnotes

(1)HPB is an abreviation for H.P. Blavatsky.

(2) Raja is an abreviation for C. J. Jinarajadasa.

(3) Radha Burnier takes many things for granted here, that my readers may not. When she speaks of members, these are members of the Theosophical Society - Adyar, that she is currently the president of. When she speaks of being her father N. Sri Ram being elected president, it is of that same organisation. John Coats equally was a president of the Theosophical Society-Adyar. The same goes whenever she talks about people being president, or about the TS. She always refers only to the Theosophical Society-Adyar.

(4) See ODL, TPH, Adyar vol. 1, pp. 88 ff. for a full acount)