On June 23, 1912, five men clothed in white robes with embroidered motifs and towering white turbans, like orientals, appeared at Stonehenge. They portrayed themselves as such. The leader, a big and robust person with a thick black mustache, identified himself as Ayu Subhadra, ‘the messenger from Tibet’, and his group consisted of ‘Mr Karkhushru J. Tarachand, a Persian gentleman’. They declared that they were the embodiment of the universal connection among humanity and had arrived at the monument for their yearly trip.

At dawn, they circled the altar stone, reciting certain passages from the liturgy. They sung hymns and concluded their ceremony with a declaration of faith. They repeated the entire operation at eleven o’clock and then vanished. Despite being few in number and short-lived, they had a significant influence. Their rituals were detailed in the local newspaper and summarized with staged photos in a national publication. Since national journalists were not typically present at Stonehenge around midsummer at that time, it seems likely that the Universal Bond specifically invited the newspapers to cover the event. The declaration of faith was a unique blend of Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, and Zoroastrianism, as keen observers may have noticed. The first Druid order of the twentieth century made its initial public appearance in a unique way.

Three clear inquiries arise for a historian: what activities were taking place at Stonehenge at midsummer at that time, what was the Universal Bond, and what were its members specifically doing there? The first question has been recently researched by Chris Chippindale, Adam Stout, and Andy Worthington. Together, they have assembled the following image. The tradition of congregating at the stones to observe the midsummer sunrise originated during the late Victorian era. In 1860, the Earl of Caernarvon waited at the location for the sunrise and discovered he was the only person there.

By 1868, small groups of individuals were in attendance, which grew to hundreds by the 1870s. By the end of the century, Devizes bars were open all night to cater to visitors heading to the monument. Under clear skies and on a Saturday solstice, as many as three thousand individuals attended. Some originated from official institutions such as the Devizes cycling club and Marlborough College. Some attendees held positions of local authority, such the headmaster of Dauntsey Agricultural School, who occasionally delivered a speech followed by the singing of the National Anthem.

Most of the crowd consisted of local working-class individuals who were often disorderly, climbing on the stones and smashing bottles against them. Several cops were assigned to the task, but their numbers were inadequate to manage the behavior. In 1885, the local newspaper was advocating for intervention to maintain peace, namely intervention that was vigorous in nature.3 Sir Edmund Antrobus provided the fencing around the stones and implemented an entrance fee in 1901.

The legality of his action was contested in court, and the judge, upon deciding in his favor, was particularly influenced by the necessity to safeguard Stonehenge from common partygoers. One commenter believed that he thought the common people had shown themselves unfit to visit a place of historical significance due to their damaging behavior.4 The attendance at the morning event decreased at first but then increased to two thousand in 1908 due to favorable weather and a weekend date. However, the gatherings had become normal and no longer drew significant attention from the media until the Universal Bond appeared.

One issue that has to be addressed is the origin of this habit in the story. The answer must be inferred from external sources: in 1875, an observer questioned attendees about their presence at Stonehenge and found that they could not provide a clear reason, except for the tradition that something exceptional could be witnessed at sunrise on the summer solstice.5 A dual process can be suggested. One factor was the increasing education and reading levels among the general population at that time, which led to a rise in the production of guidebooks about Stonehenge.

This allowed the alignment of the stones with the summer solstice sunrise, originally observed by Stukeley and well-known among intellectuals, to become more widely known. The second aspect was technology advancements that enabled them to reach the stones promptly after being informed, allowing them to commence work later that same morning. The pivotal development was the creation of the bicycle, which enabled a significant number of attendees to arrive at the event.

In the 1900s, this was further supported and strengthened by the introduction of motor cars. Another aspect to note is that, while the majority of attendees were local residents, a few individuals from the capital city were present from the first. In 1872, out of thirty-five attendees, four were from London. Another reason is that the tradition became popular after 1870. In 1868, just four people, all members of the Bath Natural History and Antiquarian Field Club, who were scholars rather than the general public, watched the sunrise. In 1872, the thirty-five individuals previously stated were present, and they seemed like regular people. An observer pointed out that they would meet when the weather was favorable.

Answering the questions about the Universal Bond and their activities at Stonehenge may be more intricate and challenging. The newspaper reporters failed to understand, or at least did not highlight, that the group of individuals who appeared to be of Asian descent were not primarily from the Eastern region.

Ayu Subhadra, known as the ‘messenger from Tibet,’ was revealed to be George Watson Reid, a Scotsman with a rich background in religious and political affairs, who assumed the persona of a Buddhist avatar.


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