In the process of researching for an essay I plan to write for this blog about how to conceive the Left Hand Path in a Pagan way, which I assure you is forthcoming, I felt it necessary to just double-check on Hindu Tantra, particularly its Vamachara side. In that process I looked into one of the sects often associated with the Vamachara family, the Kapalikas. Very little is known about them, and with no first-person Kapalika texts available we only have various third party texts (probably biased against them) to go off of, but the information available about them tells us that the Kapalikas were an order (some say sect) of Tantric Hindu ascetics who mainly venerated Shiva, particularly in the form of the wrathful deity Bhairava, who was believed to have revealed their teaching, and believed in attaining spiritual unity with Shiva Bhairava through various transgressive practices. These transgressive practices purportedly included ritualistic sex, occultism, eating and drinking from human skulls, wandering naked or wearing bones and covered with ashes, ceremonial rituals involving corpses, supposed sacrifices of brahmins (to re-enact Shiva’s beheading of Brahma), severe physical and mental austerities, and, of course, drinking heavily for both ritual and pleasure. Although they stressed self-sufficiency and transgression of social norms, they would not fit the narrow, modern definition of the Left Hand Path as defined by the solitary edification of individual ego and self-interest, and they sought unity with a Godhead much like the rest of Hinduism did, but they are nonetheless to be considered Left Hand Path by all historical metrics, and possibly in a somewhat extreme manner at that.
The rammifications of that are something to discussed more in the post I have planned, which I mentioned earlier, but for now, what interests me more, and which I am presently more interested in writing about here, is a mythological narrative attributed to the Kapalikas which depicts a violent and brutal conflict between the avatars of Shiva and Vishnu.
In David Lorenzen’s The Kāpālikas and Kālāmukhas: Two Lost Śaivite Sects (1972), we find a recounting of a narrative from a text known as the Goraksa-siddhanta-samgraha, which is attributed to the Kanphata Yogis, the followers of the medieval Hindu yogi Gorakhnath. The book features stories of the deity Bhairava, appearing as Ugra-Bhairava, dressed as a Kapalika, challenging the beliefs of other sects such as Advaita Vedanta as represented by Samkara. But the narrative we’re focusing on is the myth that serves as the origin story of the Kapalikas. In this myth, the twenty-four avatars of Vishnu at some point become arrogant, intoxicated with mada (“pride”, clearly in the sense that resembles hubris), and as a result they begin wreaking havoc and wicked destruction across the world. Varaha and Narasimha, along with other avatars, split the earth in two, frighten wild animals, oppress towns and villages, and make mischeif wherever they go, Krishna becomes lustful and given to adultery, and Parashurama kills off the kshatriya caste in droves in order to punish just one of them. All of this angers Natha (Shiva) and causes him to assume the form of twenty-four Kapalikas, skull-bearers. These Kapalikas fight the avatars of Vishnu, cut their heads off, and carry their skulls in their hands, thus earning their namesake. Being decapitated caused the avatars of Vishnu to lose their mada, and Natha thus replaced their skulls and heads and restored their life.
The myth is interesting in that Vishnu, within what is still a Hindu context, is through entailment the major antagonist, his avatars becoming hubristic and bringing destruction, oppression, cruelty, and wickedness to the world and causing people and animals to suffer. Lorenzen posits that the battle between the Kapalikas of Shiva/Natha and the avatars of Vishnu reflects an extension of the conflict between Jains and Kapalikas, the former having been supplanted by Vaishnavas in terms of popularity, who in turn shared Jain hostility towards what it perceived as the “excesses” of Tantric Shaivism. It’s worth noting that the Vaishnavas and Shaivas have been in conflict with each other within the scope of Indian history. Vaishnavas described Shavias as heretics, denouncing them for hating Vishnu, refusing to perform Vedic rituals, rejecting the caste system and covering their bodies with ash. Shaivas, in turn, also considered the Vaishnavas to be heretics. There are also some Puranas which state that Shiva killed Varaha, at Vishnu’s request of course, which apparently illustrates conflict between the Shaivas and Vaishnavas. The Kapalika narrative is certainly more blasphemous, at least in relation to Hindu orthodoxy and certainly Vaishnavism, than many narratives of the conflict. Usually we find nothing but reverence reserved for Vishnu and his avatars, especially Krishna, within the broad movement of Hinduism, but in this apparent Kapalika narrative, they’re shown as either monsters or wicked beings who cause destruction through their hubris and need to be killed and then revived in order to be redeemed.
What we see here is a remarkable example of Left Hand Path mythology in an ancient setting. Shiva, as Natha, as the patron god of an order of Vamachara Tantric Hindus, manifests as skull-bearing rebels against Vishnu and his avatars, who oppress the world with their hubris and misdeeds, thus the Vaishnavas (incidentally the largest group within Hinduism) are confronted and Hindu orthodoxy is blasphemed on behalf of the left hand path of Tantra. Because the transgressive orders and sects within Tantric Hinduism venerated Shiva and his consort, it is no coincidence that Shiva and Kali frequently recur within modern Left Hand Path circles. They do, after all, represent the “dark side” of the Sacred in their various guises, and even as they fulfill the function of the myths set out in orthodox Hindu myths they represent transgressive or antinomian pathways to enlightenment, and their followers within Tantra rejected society in order to become one with God. The Kapalika is also probably also one of the rare places where Krishna is punished for his hypocrisies instead of worshipped as the supreme being, so that alone makes it worthwhile. Feel free to also take this as a burn on those foolish esoteric Nazis who may try to operate in the Left Hand Path while taking Vishnu as their patron god.
In New Delhi this week, as US President Donald Trump visits India, violent unrest has been erupting for a few days now as Hindus clash with Muslims over a policy implemented by Narendra Modi, the current prime minister, known as the Citizenship Amendment Act. As of now 21 people have been killed and up to 200 people have been injured. What is noteworthy about these riots is that Muslim settlements in particular have been scorched while apparently Hindu settlements have not been scorched, suggesting that a significant portion of the violence and destruction would have been instigated by Hindutva extremists. The riots also see Hindutva mobs chanting “Jai Shri Ram”, meaning “Hail Lord Ram” (or Rama, an avatar of Vishnu), which is a major rallying cry for Hindutvas, and it is here that we can establish the major context as relates to Hindutva of these riots, and from there why we should not be surprised about these riots (other than in relation to the scale of the violence, of course).
We can begin with the Citizenship Amendment Act. Many commentators highlight that it is a law designed to make it easier for non-Muslims to gain Indian citizenship. It’s true purpose, however, is to directly exclude Muslims from Indian citizenship so that they could be deported. As part of this legislative program the Indian government introduced a National Register of Citizens, which requires all Indians to provide documentation proving that they are Indian citizens, while the Citizenship Amendment Act would grant citizenship documents to any illegal immigrants who are not Muslims. Furthermore the government is also building detention camps for the purpose of holding people who fail to attain citizenship, using the labour of the very Muslims that the government will later detain there upon its completion. While some would deny that this is intended to unjustly discriminate against Muslims, Amit Shah, Modi’s Minister of Home Affairs and close ally, has openly stated that the party intends to implement the CAA for the purpose of granting non-Muslims citizenship and then implementing the NRC in order to deny citizenship to Muslims (or “the infiltrators” as he calls them). This suggests that the Bharatiya Janata Party knows exactly what they’re doing by implementing this legislation – they want to create a country where Muslims are denied the basic rights of citizenship on the grounds of their faith. What’s more, what is happening in India has striking parallels to what happened in Nazi Germany. The Nazis similarly drafted legislation designed to exclude Jews from German citizenship through what was known as the Nuremberg Laws. And of course, we all know what happened to the Jews after that. Not to mention, Amit Shah has very publicly referred to Muslims not only as “infiltrators”, but also refers to them as “sucking the blood of this country like parasites”, which is in many ways an echo of kind of blood libel that was once reserved for Jews in anti-semitic tirades, such as the kind that were promulgated by the Nazis. We can safely conclude, then, that this legislation is the means by which India will transform into a fascist state, and so what Modi and his government are doing is fascism, plain and simple.
So it should come as no surprise then thhere have been multiple protests over this law for months. It is worth noting that said protests had not initially descended into mob violence, it was only relatively recently (as of Sunday) that clashes began to break out. Given that the Hindutvas have a habit of instigating and causing violence towards political opponents without provocation, we are left to assume that it is the Hindutvas, perhaps seeking to browbeat popular dissent, that are the primary cause of the violence.
Then there’s the “Jai Shri Ram” rallying cry. Last year, a Muslim man named Tabrez Ansari was murdered by a mob of Hindutva men in Jharkhand. They tied him to a pole, beat him, and forced him to chant “Jai Shri Ram” while he pleaded for his force, before ultimately handing him over to the police, who imprisoned him and left him to die from his injuries. The month before had seen a steep rise in violent attacks carried out against innocent Muslims by Hindutva thugs, who just like in this instance forced their victims to chant “Jai Shri Ram”, along with other nationalist slogans such as “Bharat Mata ki Jai” (“Long Live Mother India”) and “Pakistan Murdabad” (“Death to Pakistan”). The slogan “Jai Shri Ram” likely originated as a simple religious greeting, comparable to “Namaste” and the like. However, since the 1980s, the Bharatiya Janata Party and various Hindutva movements used it as a political slogan as part of their campaign to build a temple to Rama in a part of Ayodhya that they believe was controlled by Hindus and wrongfully usurped by Muslims. In 1992, the Babri Masjid mosque that once sat there was destroyed by BJP-aligned mobs, who chanted “Jai Shri Ram” in the midst of their destruction. Ever since, that chant has frequently accompanied various acts of Hindutva violence and rape, such as the Gargi College molestations that occurred earlier this month, and the BJP has adopted that slogan for their own purposes. As such, the chanting of “Jai Shri Ram” can be seen as the Hindutva equivalent of an Islamist terrorist shouting “Allahu Akbar” while carrying out his crimes.
Finally, as I learned about the riots one question struck me: what was Modi doing about these riots? After all, the last time I recall Modi presiding over a major religious riot was when he was Chief Minister of Gujarat in 2002, when riots Hindus began attacking and killing Muslims. Despite a Supreme Court ruling exonerating him, clearing him of complicity, there is still a sense that he did nothing to disperse the riots, or indeed may have instigated them himself, and it’s rather telling that, every time the subject comes up, he has a habit of dodging the subject and once even walked out of an interview wherein he was asked if he regretted that the killings happened. No one would assume that this was the action of a man of clear conscience, free of culpability or complicity, capable of defending his actions, other than a complete and total rube. Now that he is again residing over a major riot, this time as Prime Minister, it becomes pertinent to ask what his actions over the riots have been so far. Not much, I imagine, considering he’s rather busy doing trade talks with Trump, other than a tepid appeal to peace and brotherhood – tepid, I say, because his entire political project has been built atop anything but. And so far, I have been hearing reports about how police in New Dehli have done very little to intervene in the situation, with some police forces claiming they are helpless to act, and telling journalists that they cannot protect them. Needless to say this doesn’t sound like a situation that has been put under control.
In my opinion, the bloodshed in New Dehli is the culmination of a growing and strengthening fascist movement in India, and what we are seeing can be treated as a repeat of the atrocities that happened in Gujarat about 18 years ago. We’re seeing signs of a grim future for India, as the stage is set for what amounts to the rebirth of the Third Reich.
This weekend I stumbled across a video about Hindutva on YouTube, consisting of an interview with a man named Shashi Tharoor. Tharoor is an Indian politician, an MP serving under the Indian National Congress (which appears to be a liberal social-democratic party), and the author of a book entitled Why I Am A Hindu, in which he apparently discusses his relationship with the Hindu religion so as to repudiate the Hindutva ideology that has become prevalent in his country. I will leave the video at the end of this post for your interest, but for the purpose of this post, I’d like to cite a part of what Tharoor says in the video that I find pertinent.
Tharoor makes an important point about the character of Hindutva, namely that it is not actually a religious ideology in the sense that it serves as a representation of the Hindu religion, but instead a purely political ideology that distorts Hinduism for its own ends.
Hindutva is a political ideology. It’s not really a religious interpretation. It’s a political ideology that has hung itself on a hook that is embedded on the wall of religion. But it is not actually a religious ideology. What they’ve done is they have created a political project around the idea that the people who follow the religion are a distinct people. Some have even used the word Hindu race. They have their own culture, their own history, their own heroes. And this collectivity has somehow been humiliated, conquered, subjugated. 200 years of British rule, 1,000 years of Muslim invasions. Now the time has come for them to reassert themselves. And Hindutva is a project to advance the political agenda of those who believe this by trying to create a consciousness of separation amongst these self-defined Hindus.
Another insightful portion of the interview is the manner in which he describes the popular schism between Hindus in Indian society through his explanation of the argument he wanted to present in his book:
I wanted this to be an argument within the Hindu faith between people who consider themselves to be good Hindus, or decent Hindus, or believing Hindus, or seeking Hindus whichever phrase you want, but who don’t subscribe to this kind of notion of Hindutva, and those who have reduced Hinduism, far from the soaring metaphysics and philosophy inquiry and spiritual yearnings of the ancient texts, into something more akin to the team loyalty of the British football hooligan.
Now, while I think that it is impossible to truly separate Hindutva from the context of the Hindu religion, he makes a fairly astute observation of Hindutva as a general phenomenon. Indeed, the Hindutva ideology, being a nationalist ideology, expertly embodies the fixation on tribal identity and the belief that a nation is unique on the basis of its in-group. It is not even a matter of speculation to suggest that Hindutva basis its concept of Indian civilizational uniqueness on race, because as I have established before the earliest thinkers of Hindutva were quite explicit in their views about “the Race” and the need to preserve it. Indeed, such a rationale underpins the tendency of many Hindutvas, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, to support Israel. Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, the same man who praise the regimes of Hitler and Mussolini, said it “will gladden us almost as much as our Jewish friends” if Israel were to be created as an ethnic state for the Jews. In fact, he apparently opposed the UN on the proposal to partition Palestine into a bi-national Arab-Jewish state in 1947. If this doesn’t underscore the racialist basis for their support of Israel enough, Madhav Sadashiv Golwalkar spelled it out quite plainly in We, or Our Nationhood Defined:
The Jews had maintained their race, religion, culture and language, and all they wanted was their natural territory to complete their nationality. The reconstruction of the Hebrew Nation in Palestine is just an affirmation of the fact that Country, Race, Religion, Culture and Language must exist together to form a full nation idea.
In other words, the Hindutvas have always held ethnocentrism to be a central component of the nation state, and Hindutva has always been an ethnocentric ideology, as evidence by its tendency to support other movements that promote ethnonationalism during the 20th century.
Now, this racialist outlook and the way by which the belief system it wants to attach itself to is bastardized that it may be repurposed to serve the goals of racial politics to the point of effectively being detached from the broader religion, it reminds me of something else I’ve seen. In fact, I’m beginning to suspect that Hindutva is essentially the Indian equivalent of the Western phenomenon known as Volkisch Paganism (also known as Neo-Volkisch movements). The term Volkisch Paganism, in a modern context at least, refers to a belief system that seeks to blend paganism or pre-Christian polytheism with racially identitarian ideology – in particular, white nationalist or white supremacist ideology, often including neo-Nazism. In many cases, it is simply a kind of opportunism on the part of white nationalists to appropriate paganism for their own ideology, and it often seems unconnected to paganism, both historical and modern. While it is not universally true that pagan belief systems explicitly condemn racism, there is an example from the Greek poet Pindar which explicitly affirms that the “races” stem from the same source.
One race there is of men and one of gods, but from one mother draw we both our breath, yet is the strength of us diverse altogether, for the race of man is as nought, but the brazen heaven abideth, a habitation steadfast unto everlasting.
Thus we can determine with some confidence that the volkisch character of volkisch paganism is a modern construct, rather than a reconstruction of ancient philosophy.
In addition to this, I sometimes hear of Volkisch pagans opportunistically support Christianity in service of their racial ideology. A good example of this is how, some time after the Christchurch shooting, I encountered a volkisch pagan on the internet who praised Brenton Tarrant, the man responsible for the shooting, as a hero of the white race.
The supreme irony of this statement is that Tarrant cannot accurately be described as a pagan. The thing about his manifesto that you can point to in order to pin him as a pagan is the part where he says “I will see you in Valhalla”, which is of course the hall of Odin that serves as the resting place of Vikings who died in battle. However, even this follows directly from “god bless you all”, rather than any praise of Odin. However that is not all. While Tarrant claimed to be an agnostic on the subject of Christianity, saying “That is complicated. When I know, I will tell you.”, he nonetheless made a number of appeals to Christianity in his manifesto. For example, this is the part of his manifesto that was addressed to Christians.
“The people worthy of glory, the people blessed by God Our Lord, moan and fall under the weight of these outrages and most shameful humiliations. The race of the elect suffers outrageous persecutions, and the impious race of the Saracens respects neither the virgins of the Lord nor the colleges of priests. They run over the weak and the elderly, they seize the children from their mothers so that they might forget, among the barbarians, the name of God.
That perverse nation profanes the hospices … The temple of the Lord is treated like a criminal and the ornaments of the sanctuary are robbed. “What more shall I say to you? “We are disgraced, sons and brothers, who live in these days of calamities! Can we look at the world in this century reproved by Heaven to witness the desolation of the Holy City and remain in peace while it is so
oppressed? Is it not preferable to die in war rather than suffer any longer so horrible a spectacle? Let us all weep for our faults that raise the divine ire, yes, let us weep… But let not our tears be like the seed thrown into the sand. Let the fire of our repentance raise up the Holy War and the love of our brethren lead us into combat. Let our lives be stronger than
death to fight against the enemies of the Christian people.” ASK YOURSELF, WHAT WOULD POPE URBAN II DO?
And here is the part that he addressed to the Turks:
You can live in peace in your own lands, and may no harm come to you. On the east side of the Bosphorus. But if you attempt to live in European lands, anywhere west of the Bosphorus. We will kill you and drive you roaches from our lands. We are coming for Constantinople and we will destroy every mosque and minaret in the city. The Hagia Sophia will be free of minarets and Constantinople will be rightfully christian owned once more. FLEE TO YOUR OWN LANDS, WHILE YOU STILL HAVE THE CHANCE
And here is a section of the part talking about the radicalization of young men, wherein he basically makes the same argument as people like Jordan Peterson when they talk about secularism.
These men and women are not being being brain-washed, corrupted or misled. They are finally removing their blindfolds and seeing the reality of the the world and their peoples future. The truth that the West killed the notion of god, and proceeded to replace it with nothing. Brought forth two competing ideologies (communism and fascism)to replace this loss of god, then proceeded to allow both sides to slaughter each other to a standstill and then let corporate backed capitalists tear the survivor to pieces. Resulting in a society with no core beliefs, no purpose and no vision for the future.
All of these sections place a very strong attachment to Christianity as a cultural force for Europe. Even if we can assume that the shooter was not formally Christian, he could still be counted as pro-Christian in the sense that he considered Christianity, or more or less Christian culture, a positive civilizational force that needs to be defended from Islamic aggression – one could, in this sense, draw parallels to the way Hindutva prioritizes the desire to find Islamic aggression towards Hinduism as a civilizational-political force.
I hope these miscellaneous thoughts go anywhere in explaining why I have such hatred of things like Hindutva and Volkisch Paganism. They are opportunistic bastardizations of the creeds they claim to represent, and in practice serve as spiritual bulwarks for fascism. They must be opposed not only by secular individuals who believe in secular society, but also most vociferously by people of the very creeds that these ideologies defile.
This month, the Indian Science Congress Association held its 106th annual summit, as it traditionally does on the first week of January. In this summit, a number of Indian scientists have come out against the theories of Albert Einstein and Isaac Newton, who form part of the axis upon which modern scientific observation and understanding of the universe are based, while claiming that ancient Hindu religious texts are the actual basis of modern science. In one case, the head of a university based in south India actually claimed that stem cell research was already practiced in India thousands of years ago and was described in ancient texts. Another academic, G Nageshwar Rao, claimed that the Kauravas, the descendants of a king named Kuru according to the Mahabharata, were created via stem cell research as test tube babies. He also claimed that the astra and shastra, mythical weapons used by the gods in Indian mythology, were actually pre-modern guided missiles that had been used in India thousands of years before guided missiles were actually developed, and that the demon king Ravana was not only real but also possessed 24 types of aircraft and a network of landing strips in Sri Lanka. One scientist, Kannan Jegathala Krishnan, claimed that Einstein’s theories were “misleading” and that Newton “failed to understand gravitational repulsive forces”. A supposed paleontologist named Ashu Khosla claimed that dinosaurs were created by the deity Brahma, who he also claimed documented such creations in Indian religious scriptures. Essentially, the conference became a platform for Hindu creationism and attempts by religious ideologues to claim the history of modern science as the ancient history of India. There was also a naked appeal to base nationalism, as Krishnan even went so far as to suggest that gravitational waves should be renamed “Narendra Modi Waves”, after the current Prime Minister of India, and that the gravitational lensing effect should be renamed the “Harsh Vardhan effect”, presumably after the Indian politician of the same name.
As absurd as this must seem, and rightfully so, such developments are unfortunately not new to the Indian scientific community or to Indian society at large. In 2017, the junior education minister Satyapal Singh, who also happens to be in the BJP, claimed that planes were first mentioned in the Ramayana and that the plane was first invented in India eight years before the Wright Brothers by Shivakar Babuji Talpade. Such claims, however, remain unverified. The same man also claimed that there existed trees in the kingdom of Ravana (presumably referring to Sri Lanka, I guess) that didn’t need to be watered because they contained a mythical elixir named Chandramani, and that Charles Darwin’s theory of natural selection was incorrect. Of course two years before that a man named Anand Bodas claimed in that year’s Indian Science Congress that a Vedic sage named Bharadwaja invented the world’s first plane and that ancient planes had 40 engines. The home minister Rajnath Singh (another BJP politician) claimed that the principle of quantum uncertainity, which was theorized by Werner Heisenburg in 1927, is actually based on Vedic scripture. Rajashtan education minister Vasudev Devnani (yet another BJP politician) claimed that cows are the only animals that inhale and exhale oxygen in order to add “scientific significance” to the belief that the cow is a sacred animal. A BJP lawmaker named Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank at one point claimed that astrology is superior to science, literally calling science “a dwarf before astrology”, that a sage named Kanad conducted the first nuclear test one lakh year (that’s about 100,000 years) ago, and that ancient Indians had the knowledge of performing transplants. Another BJP MP named Shankarbhai Vegad, in his push for a ban on cattle slaughter, claimed that the urine and feces of cows are capable of curing cancer and other ailments. Even Narendra Modi himself once claimed that the Hindu deity Ganesha was the result of the literal attachment of an elephant’s head onto the body of a human boy, supposedly an ancient form of plastic surgery.
It’s tempting for me to look at this and be reminded of a sort of popular cult around Hinduism that’s been around for decades now, even among supposedly skeptical, scientifically-minded atheists. In fact, Carl Sagan himself described Hinduism as “the only religion in which the time scales correspond to those of modern scientific cosmology” and in one of his books he said that the Nataraja, the famous icon of the deity Shiva dancing the universe into destruction, represents an ancient understanding of what we now refer to as the Big Bang. He also talked about Hindu cosmology in one episode of his TV series Cosmos: A Personal Voyage. In my day I have seen the idea of Hinduism as an especially scientific religion is often spread by New Agers, as well as Hindus seeking to big up their religion, and I definitely see there being a sort of popular exotic fascination with Hinduism among spiritualists, occult circles, people who don’t believe in Christianity but look for other beliefs, pagans, some agnostics, a few atheists and almost certainly fellow travelers of the Left Hand Path. Indeed, historically I have not been above such exotic fascination myself, and I still see myself reading about Hinduism to this day even though I don’t ascribe myself to the religion, and I certainly don’t endorse any of the creationism and pseudoscience coming from Hindu circles.
However, the phenomenon we are seeing in India is not like the kind of exoticist obsession of Hinduism found in the West. Instead, it’s very likely that the kind of pseudoscience, creationism and revisionism we’re seeing is the product of the influence of Hindu nationalism, which is currently a very powerful movement in India represented by the ruling party.
You may have noticed it already, but there’s a pretty strong link between this broad trend of religious historical revisionism and the Bharatiya Janata Party, all the way up to the Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who leads the party in the Lok Sabha (the lower house of parliament) and serves as its chairperson in parliament. As many people in India have noticed, this is far from a coincidence. The BJP is a conservative nationalist party, and one of their main flanks appears to be an ideology known as Hindutva. The term Hindutva refers to a particular form of Indian nationalism and Hindu conservatism that stresses the singular importance of the Hindu religion in Indian politics and public life. Like pretty much all nationalist movements they tend to think of the cultural body as the defining body of the nation (a la Andrew Breitbart’s axiom “politics is downstream from culture”), and they believe that Hindu culture and Indian culture represent the same entity. Consequently they frequently pressure the Indian government to push for policies intended to “protect” Hindu culture from perceived threats. This would explain why BJP is so hellbent on introducing a version of scientific truth that aligns with Hindu myth and religious tradition.
It also lends to a particular hostility towards Christians and Muslims, whether they are born, raised and integrated into Indian society or not, because Christianity and Islam represent foreign religions in India, which according to Hindutva ideology represent a threat to the Indian nation. Judaism and Zoroastrianism are also excluded from the Hindutva milieu as foreign religions, while Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism are welcomed because they see them as extensions of the Indian Dharma or religion – the fact that those three religions contradict Hinduism in various areas doesn’t seem to be a problem with them, due to the fact that they all originate in India. This characteristic lends itself to a sense of ethnocentrism on the part the Hindutva movement, with religious identity being an extension of ethnic identity and opposing foreign peoples through their religious identity. Because of this, many commentators have compared Hindutva to the alt-right, and right-wing online movements sometimes embrace Hindutva.
The religious fundamentalism and nationalist agenda of Hindutva has already had a major effect on Indian society for some time now, and the BJP have already set about perverting the Indian education system in order to condition the public to their agenda. In 2001, a BJP MP named Murli Manohar Joshi managed to get astrology taught as a course in Indian universities as part of the national curriculum. But if that wasn’t enough, the BJP managed to get history textbooks altered to suit their political agenda. In 2016, public schools in Rajasthan released new social studies textbooks that removed all information about India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and which renamed the Indus Valley Civilization to the Sindhu-Saraswati Culture, presumably named after the Hindu goddess Saraswati, despite the fact that Hindu culture as we know it did not emerge until some time after the Indus Valley Civilzation. Many Rajasthan textbooks even outright glorify the Modi government. In Maharashtra, new textbooks altered the preamble of the Indian Constitution, replacing the words “dharma nirpeksh” (meaning “religion neutral”, thus implying secularism) with “panth nirpeksh” (meaning “sect neutral”) in order to paint the country as based on a national unity of Hindu sects rather than a secular democratic nation, and the state education board has even gone so far as to remove references to the Mughals from their history textbooks.
It’s here that we see in Hindutva some striking parallels with two other right-wing movements in different parts of the world. First, there is the state sponsorship of psuedoscience and religious fundamentalism, which has strong parallels with the American religious right and their tendency to side with creationism (the current Vice President Mike Pence is on record with his belief that evolution is “just a theory”) and evangelical fundamentalists, not to mention climate science denialists. Second, we have rampant historical revisionism, which is comparable to similar textbook controversies in neighbouring Pakistan based on Islamic nationalism (often to the point of removing references to minority religions), but also more pertinently to the Japanese conservative/reactionary organization known as Nippon Kaigi, which produces and distributes history textbooks written to reflect Japanese national pride at the expense of historical accuracy, particularly when it comes to World War 2 and the Nanking massacre.
But there’s another twist to the Hindutva movement. Historically, the Hindutva movement has also been sympathetic to 20th century fascism, as suggested by the appraisal of German and Italian fascism by Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, the progenitor of the Hindutva idea:
“Surely Hitler knows better than Pandit Nehru [the first prime minister of India] does what suits Germany best. The very fact that Germany or Italy has so wonderfully recovered and grown so powerful as never before at the touch of Nazi or Fascist magical wand is enough to prove that those political ‘isms’ were the most congenial tonics their health demanded.”
In fact, the BJP as a party is said to have emerged from another organization named Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (or RSS), a right-wing paramilitary volunteer organization also based in Hindutva ideology widely viewed as the ideological inspiration for the BJP. Their main goal is to establish India as a Hindu nation, rather than a secular one. This group is probably famous for encouraging the drinking of cow urine, claiming that it has the ability to cure diabetes and about 80 other diseases – another pseudoscientific claim likely meant to be tied to Hindu religious beliefs. However, this group seems to have been enamored with fascism. An example of fascistic sentiment within the group can be found in the writings of Madhav Sadashiv Golwalkar, the second leader of RSS, who espoused many beliefs that could be characterized as fascistic. For example, in his book We, or Our Nationhood Defined he stressed the supposed importance of preserving the racial-cultural purity of the Indian nation, citing Nazi Germany as an example of racial pride to draw lessons on racial and cultural unity from:
“To keep up the purity of the Race and its culture, Germany shocked the world by her purging the country of the Semitic Races – the Jews. Race pride at its highest has been manifested here. Germany has also shown how well nigh impossible it is for Races and cultures, having differences going to the root, to be assimilated into one united whole, a good lesson for us in Hindustan to learn and profit by. Ever since that evil day, when Moslems first landed in Hindustan, right up to the present moment, the Hindu Nation has been gallantly fighting on to take on these despoilers. The Race Spirit has been awakening.”
In Bunch of Thoughts, he described democracy as “to a very large extent only a myth in practice” and he believed individual freedom was merely a high-minded concept that for him “only meant the freedom of those talented few to exploit the rest”. That last point is worth noting as it could easily be interpreted as a critique of capitalism in a sense, however this was decidedly not from a socialist perspective considering both the rejection of democracy and his antipathy towards communism, which along with Christianity and Islam were the main targets of his condemnation who he believed had sinister designs for the Indian nation. Stated rejection of both capitalism and communism is very much a position found in many fascistic movements, with fascism often representing the “third position”.
The movement even had some ties with Savitri Devi (born Maximiani Portas), the infamous French fascist occultist who combined Hinduism and New Age spiritualism with Hitlerian ideology and who remains a powerful inspiration to modern esoteric fascist movements. During the 1930’s, Devi coordinated with RSS along with several other radical nationalist and fascist movements in India in order to promote her ideas about Aryanism to an audience she believed would be adopt them with open arms. At the time, those groups were heavily invested in resisting the influence of Islam in the country, considering Islam to be a threat to the nation. Devi believed the Indian Hindus were the only people on Earth who still worshiped the gods of the Aryan race (which of course would mean that the Nazi master race were devout Hindus) and could end the influence of the Jewish race in the world, and it was after meeting with Srimat Swami Satyananda (then president of the Hindu Mission in what was known as Calcutta) that she came to believe that Adolf Hitler was a mortal incarnation of the deity Vishnu. Indeed, this idea seems to have been surprisingly widespread among wealthy Indian Hindus in Kolkata, as well as in Nagpur where he apparently remains an idol to some Hindu nationalists.
In fact perhaps it’s worth mentioning at this point that Adolf Hitler and his writings, for some reason, don’t have the same stigma in India that they rightly do here in the West. For example, Hitler’s writings and Nazi memorabilia have attracted the attention of young Indians in the not too distant past, with Mein Kampf at one point being a bestseller in the country. In fact just the name Hitler is so uncontroversial there compared to the West that it even appears as the name of various businesses, such as the infamous Hitler’s Den in Nagpur and a clothing store named Hitler in Ahmedabad. It’s even becoming something of a comic trope in Indian politics, as last year an Indian MP named Naramalli Sivaprasad dressed up as Hitler and impersonated him in parliament while demanding more economic assistance to the state of Andhra Pradesh.
The RSS movement remains active and powerful within Indian politics, working to promote the BJP in order to get their political interests fulfilled in the halls of Indian power. In fact Narendra Modi himself got his start as an RSS activist before eventually moving on to working as an MP for the BJP. The RSS has also boasted about being involved in the Gujarat riots of 2002, in which up to 2,000 people were killed, most of them apparently Muslims. In 2017 one of their leaders, Kundan Chandrawat, claimed in a public tirade that “Hindu society” killed 2,000 Muslims in Gujarat as vengeance for the Hindu pilgrims who died in a train burning near a railway station of Godhra, and also stated that he would reward whoever brought him the head of Pinarayi Vijayan, chief minister of Kerala, a payment of one crore rupees (that’s approximately $140,000 or about £107,000). He also claimed that communists and Kerala’s Left Front government were responsible for murdering their comrades in Kerala, and he went so far as to say the following in his speech:
“You have killed 300 pracharaks and activists, we will present Bharat Mata with a garland of 300,000 skulls in return.
What may be the most surprising thing you’ll learn about Hindutva is that Hindutva movements are not only active in India, and in fact they have an extensive network of organizations active in the United States. According to a 2014 report entitled Hindu Nationalism in the United States: A Report on Nonprofit Groups, there are several groups spawned from the RSS and many other Hindutva groups active within the United States of America spreading their nationalist ideology. RSS has a subsidiary group named Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh (or HSS), which is active in the US and many other countries. There’s also VHP of America, VHP meaning Vishwa Hindu Parishad – another Hindutva organization, which is also accused of being involved in the Gujarat riots of 2002. The parent organization, VHP, is also considered a religious militant organization by the CIA and is also active in Canada, Germany, Australia, New Zealand and Fiji. VHPA claims to have established their first chapter in New York, following the relaxation of the laws concerning Asian immigration to the US during the 1960’s. Both of them are associated with RSS and serve the purpose of mobilizing young Hindus living outside of India, presumably with the intent of having them become loyal acolytes of Hindutva ideology. VHP is also the cultural wing of Sangh Parivar, serving the function of supplying “the pure spirit of the Hindu way of life”. Sangh Parivar in the US promotes textbooks that stress strict emphasis on the Vedas and upper-caste values, contain stories and quotations from their own leaders, lionized stories of the life of Chhatrapati Shivaji Bhonsle (a 17th century Indian monarch who promoted Indian tradition) and his supposed conquest of Islam, and claims that the increasing mistreatment of women in India can be blamed on “Muslim rule” in India. As of 2014, 140 HSS chapters have been identified in the United States. VHPA also runs several family camps in the US, with 16 chapters established nationwide.
Related to VHP is a group named Bajrang Dal, a radical Hindutva group responsible for carrying out attacks on Christian churches because of the alleged defaming of Hindu gods, getting involved in the 2002 Gujarat riots in which many Muslims were killed, and even attacks on ordinary people for celebrating Western holidays such as Valentine’s Day. There is apparently no tax-exempt equivalent to this group in the US, and they are recognized as extremists by the US State Department. They run a website named Hinduunity.org, which is registered to a New York address and apparently hosts a black list of people judged to have committed “crimes against the Hindu people” ranging from Osama bin Laden to the Pope, as well as various journalists, academics and human rights activists, including Angana Chatterji (an anthropologist and feminist activist who has spoken out against Hindutva groups) and Biju Matthew (an Indian-American Marxist activist who co-founded the Forum for Indian Leftists). The website was banned by the Indian government in 2006.
Like what the BJP have been doing in India, Hindutva affiliated movements have attempted to alter school textbooks to suit their agenda, thus placing them at the center of academic controversy. In 2005 two Hindu advocacy groups known as the Hindu Education Foundation and the Vedic Foundation, both of them backed by the Hindu American Foundation, attempted to push for changes in California’s sixth grade history textbooks, arguing that they maligned the Hindu religion by misrepresenting Hindu attitudes towards women’s rights, class (or in this case the caste society), the Aryan conquest of northern India and other subjects. They sought to sanitize or even rewrite history in various ways. The Hindu Education Foundation wanted to sanitize the history of the caste system by removing as many references to class antagonism as possible, especially concerning the Dalits (or untouchables), whitewash the history of women’s rights by replacing “men had more rights than women” with “men had different duties and rights from women”, homogenize Hindu belief by trying to conflate modern Brahmanism with the older Vedic religion, rewrite the history of the Aryan conquests in order to downplay the invasion, and even tried to claim that chariots were invented in India (when in fact they weren’t). The Vedic Foundation meanwhile sought to outright remove any references to Hinduism as a heterogeneous religion containing differing schools of philosophy and the religions affect on the status and labour of people in Indian society, replace any references to polytheism with monotheism, replace “Brahman” with “God” and “unity with Brahman” with “God realization” and also whitewash the caste system. At first, many changes they requested were accepted by the Curriculum Commission in a classic fit of capitulation to religious sensibilities, opposed only by a handful of indologists. However, in 2006, the special committee of the California State Board of Education voted to overturn most of the changes that were submitted.
So what do these groups have to do with Hindutva exactly? Well, the Hindu Education Foundation is a project of Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh USA, the American branch of HSS, which is itself a subsidiary of RSS as was already established. The Vedic Foundation is linked to VHP, which as we’ve also established is another pro-Hindutva group. The Hindu American Foundation, which backed both groups, is also tied to a number of Indian nationalist groups. The group’s founder, Mihir Meghani, was a member of RSS and on the governing council of VHPA. HAF leaders have also served as board members of the Vivek Welfare and Educational Foundation, which donated $10,000 to VHP and $4.2 million to the Hindu University of America, a subsidiary of VHPA. One of HAF’s directors, Sheetal Shah, attended a rally organized by the Forum for Hindu Awakening and a nationalist group named Hindu Janajagruti Samiti. HAF co-founder Aseem Shakula has also written a piece defending Narendra Modi over his visa denial and the group itself lobbied in opposition to said visa denial. Basically, the 2005-6 textbook controversy in California was Hindu fundamentalists who were allies or proxies of Indian nationalist groups looking to spread their ideology in the United States. This is a salient example within living memory of Hindutva groups attempting to spread their ideology outside of India, through dark money as is the tradition of the United States.
But Hindutva is not without approbators within the United States. David Frawley, an American Hindu teacher and writer of several books on yoga and Vedic scripture, recently claimed that people who oppose Hindutva but not Hinduism itself are dishonest because they “have rarely defended Hinduism from Marxist, Missionary or Islamist criticisms or projected any positive image of Hinduism in India or the world”. Of course, this is not such a strange statement on his part when you consider that he often endorses pro-Modi sentiment on his Twitter, and he himself has praised Narendra Modi’s election in 2014 and supports his re-election this year. Frawley also considers groups like Sangh Parivar to be comparable to Native American and Aboriginal interest groups, which given their own post-colonialist ontology does not actually do wonders for them in my view at least – post-colonialism, after all, is essentially just reactionary politics but for minority groups and because of that it’s dressed up in the veneer of progressivism. In September last year, Democratic lawmaker Raja Krishnamoorthi attended the World Hindu Congress, alongside RSS leaders and the Vice President of India, in order to preach the philosophy of Vivekananda, who was himself an ardent Hindu nationalist.
This of course brings us rather nicely to a blue elephant in the room known as Tulsi Gabbard, who this month announced her bid to run for President of the United States in 2020. Gabbard has garnered a mixed reputation in the US: one the one hand seen as one of the few authentically progressive politicians in the country, and on the other seen as a paleoconservative in disguise for her anti-Islamic stance and anti-interventionism (the latter of which is mostly treated as a positive thing). She does have some progressive credentials to her name, it must be said. She supported Bernie Sanders’ campaign for the presidency in 2016, is a supporter of universal healthcare and marijuana legalization, opposes the TPP, supports a $15 minimum wage and is in favor of renewing the Glass-Steagall Act. She also opposed the war in Iraq and US intervention in Libya, wants the US to pull out of Yemen, Afghanistan and Syria, and is opposed to the US providing foreign aid to Saudi Arabia. But she also has numerous problematic positions, such as her support for Israel, her soft stance on torture (in fact, at one point she said that when pressed she would likely approve torture), has an inconsistent position on the Iran deal, her anti-interventionist stance ultimately being contradicted by her hawkish stance on the war on terror (including her willingness to use drones in Middle Eastern countries where she deems necessary), the fact that she opposed same-sex marriage and worked with her father’s anti-homosexual campaigns until 2012, her coordinations with right-wing nationalists like Steven Bannon and, most importantly for this post, her support for Narendra Modi. Gabbard supports establishing close ties between the US and India, and has praised Modi as an inspiration to elected officials. She criticized the US government for denying Modi’s visa to the US over his apparent oversight or involvement in the 2002 Gujarat riots, which she has tried to downplay saying “there was a lot of misinformation that surrounded the event in 2002”. She congratulated Modi’s election in 2014, and she along with the Overseas Friends of the BJP organized his first trip to the US.
But her support for Modi is not her only connection to Hindutva. Although she is styled as one of the few candidates who doesn’t take corporate money, Gabbard has actually received thousands of dollars from a group called the Hindu American Foundation, which as was already established earlier is pro-Modi and has numerous ties to Hindutva-related groups. She also planned to attend last year’s World Hindu Congress with the likes of Mohan Bhagwat, current chief of RSS, but was forced to withdraw on the grounds that it would be a “partisan political event” after significant protest and threats of boycott by progressive South Asian activists. She also has close ties to Sangh Parivar, apparently through sympathetic donors. As such, Tulsi Gabbard can be seen as something of a proxy for Hindutva interests, most likely tied to her geopolitical interests concerning US alliance with India, as well as mutual hatred of Islam. Also, as something of a side-note, it’s worth mentioning that many Hindu nationalists share support for Israel in common with Tulsi Gabbard, and Narendra Modi himself considers Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to be a close friend. Thus, in a broad sense, we may consider that the unlikely event that the 2020 election were to come down to Trump versus Gabbard would amount to nothing more and nothing less than a contest between the interests of Christian and Hindu nationalisms.
Hindutva’s foreign acolytes and allies are not limited to the US, either. The French journalist Francois Gautier has also openly expressed his admiration for Narendra Modi, claiming that he was a great ecologist who “wanted to make Gujarat the greenest, most investor-friendly state of India”, and is generally a strong supporter of Hindutva movements. He has also claimed that India has been weakened by Buddhism as well as foreign religions, and has attacked the pacifism and liberalism of both Gandhi and Nehru. Gautier even likes to spread the dubious claim that the Kaaba stone in Mecca is actually a Shivalingam. Canadian conservative pundit Tarek Fatah participated in a number of summits hosted by BJP-linked organizations, is beloved by the Indian right-wing for his strident attitude towards Islam and Indian Muslims, and sometimes echoes talking points similar to Hindutva ideology through his Indian ancestry. He even goes so far as to claim himself to be of Indian identity, while attacking his opponents as being affiliated with Pakistan despite being born in Pakistan himself. The Belgian indologist Koenraad Elst is also a noteworthy supporter of Hindutva, and has received praise from the BJP for his bookRam Janmabhoomi vs Babri Masjid, where he apparently attempts to make a case for Ram Janmabhoomi being the actual birthplace of the mythical Rama, thus strengthening ideas of an authochthonous Hindu tradition and of Hindu revivalism.
Furthermore it’s possible that some Hindutva ideas may even have spread to Norway, inspiring the terrorist Anders Breivik. In Breivik’s manifesto, 2080: A European Declaration of Independence, India is referenced in 102 pages – that’s out of a total of 1,518 pages, but you could argue it’s still more than you might have expected. He accused the Indian government, at the time ruled by a liberal coalition referred to as the United Progressive Alliance, of relying on appeasing Muslims, Christian missionaries and communists, praised Hindu nationalist movements who rioted and attacked Muslims (while reflexively deeming such behaviour counter-productive), said that the goals of the Hindutva movements are “more or less identical” with his own, and cited India was one of a number of countries where he hoped his successors would carry on his mission – the others being Russia, the Philippines, China and Thailand. He also listed a number of websites for numerous Hindu nationalist groups. The groups listed are Bharatiya Janata Party (the current ruling party), Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the National Volunteers’ Organisation, Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad and Vishwa Hindu Parishad. Breivik also cites the works of authors like Shrinandan Vyas, who claims that Muslims killed millions of Hindus in religious genocide, and Kishori Saran Lal, who is often accused of being a spokesperson for RSS (to which he responds, rather conspicuously, by accusing his critics of having a left-wing bias), in order to advance his narrative of Muslims being a genocidal threat to India and the West. Breivik even ordered a badge of his own design (a crusader’s sword piercing a skull marked with the symbols of Islam, communism and Nazism) from India.
So what does all of this mean? Well, broadly speaking, it means that Hindutva is nowhere near the insular force that, to the average Westerner, it may seem. Ironically for a nationalist movement, one centered around India no less, Hindutva is not simply an idea confined to India. In fact, it can arguably be said to be a global movement at this point in time, albeit one centered around the interests specific to the Indian nationalist movement, one that has its eyes set on Hindu diaspora across the world and will come out against anyone who dares criticize the Modi government. The foot soldiers of Hindutva are present in the United States in the thousands, and there’s the very real prospect that one of their proxies could become President of the United States. Given Tulsi’s harsh stance towards Pakistan, this could have major implications for India-Pakistan relations, and may even affect the possibility of confrontation going forward. But in a broader sense, it represents a current of radical conservative nationalism with a global presence, or even fascism – the latter being rather hard to deny considering both the RSS’ Hitlerian inspirations and in turn their influence on Anders Breivik.
Hinduism is being used as a vehicle by religious fundamentalists, the Indian bourgeoisie, various petty-bourgeois forces, and reactionaries (and their network of think tanks) for their political purposes, possibly as just another effort to stop any kind of socialist or even social-democratic movement from gaining power in a time characterized by widespread economic instability in the world, but also India’s possible transformation into a new global superpower. It would be wise to keep tracks of the Hindutva movement as India undergoes this transformation, not least due to its infiltration of American society.
A while ago someone named Kabirvaani left an interesting comment on one of my very old posts about the Asuras, suggesting that page 300 of James Houghton Woods’ book The Yoga System of Patanjali references an Asura as the bringer of a psychotropic drug that confers enlightenment upon those who imbibe it. Intrigued, I decided to investigate the idea and searched for the book’s text, and found an online source for the book. While researching this subject, I decided to make this post about two subjects. The first is the subject proposed by Kabirvaani concerning the Asuras and psychotropic drugs, the second is a different theory proposed by another blogger named Kata no Kokoro, who suggested, commenting on another post, that the post-Vedic conception of the Asuras might be based on the philosophy of Carvaka – a school of Indian philosophy based on epistomological materialism – with the intent of demonizing that philosophy on contrast to the religious idealism of most Hindu schools and the authority of the Vedas. We will deal with both these subjects in the same post, to save me bothering with two separate posts.
The Asura maidens and their magic drugs
Before we get to what page 300 of The Yoga System of Patanjali has to say, let’s look at what the page before it has to say on the subject of how “Perfections proceed from birth or from drugs or from spells or from self-castigation or from concentration”.
1. The power of having another body is the perfection by birth.
2. [Perfection] by drugs is by an elixir-of-life [got] in the mansions of the demons, and by the like.
3. By spells, such as the acquisition of [the power of] passing through space and atomization [iii. 45].
4. [Perfection] by self-castigation is the perfection of the will, the faculty of taking on any form at will (kamarupin) [or] of going anywhere at will, and so on.
5. Perfections proceeding from concentration have been explained.
Note the second part. Apparently there’s an aspect of Indian yoga wherein a yogi can attain “perfection” through an elixir obtained through in “the mansions of the demons”. Who are the demons exactly? Of course, it is none of than the Asuras, the grand enemies of the Devas. From page 300:
2. He describes the perfection which proceeds from drugs. A human being when for some cause or other he reaches the mansions of the demons (asura), and when he makes use of elixirs-of-life brought to him by the lovely damsels of the demons, attains to agelessness and to deathlessness and to other perfections. Or [this perfection may be had] by the use of an elixir-of-life in this very world. As for instance the sage Mandavya, who dwelt on the Vindhyas and who made use of potions.
Regarding the lovely damsels of the demons, doing some digging I find that Vedic mythology does attest to female Asuras having knowledge of mystical plants and herbs. In the hymns of the Atharvaveda, specifically Book 7, there is a hymn that references a group of entities named the Asuri, who seduce the deity Indra by means of a magic herb.
“I dig this Healing Herb that makes my lover look on me and weep,
That bids the parting friend return and kindly greets him as he comes.
This Herb wherewith the Asuri drew Indra downward from the Gods,
With this same Herb I draw thee close that I may be most dear to thee.
Thou art the peer of Soma, yea, thou art the equal of the Sun,
The peer of all the Gods art thou: therefore we call thee hitherward.
I am the speaker here, not thou: speak thou where the assembly meets.
Thou shalt be mine and only mine, and never mention other dames.
If thou art far away beyond the rivers, far away from men,
This Herb shall seem to bind thee fast and bring thee back my prisoner.”
– Hymn XXXVIII of the Atharvaveda
The Asuri is said to refer either to a specific entity whose identity is unknown, or a group of beings. In either case, Asuri is simply the feminine pronoun of Asura, hence Asuri refers to female semi-divine or demonic beings. According to Nagendra Kr. Singh in Vedic Mythology, the Asuras were very knowledgeable on matters of magic and medicine and their women knew how to use magical and medicinal plants. They were said to hide such medicines under the ground so that the Devas could not find them.
So, while I have been unable to locate the female Asura I was referred to, I do learn that female Asuras are associated with magical plants within Vedic mythology. This establishes a mythological basis for the maidens of demons bringing the elixir of life in The Yoga System of Patanjali. There is definitely a tradition with Indian mythology wherein the Asuras provide magic medicines, which could have been extrapolated into what is described in the book.
We can perhaps think of the Asuras within Vedic mythology as possible sources of enlightenment through psychotropics, at least insofar as the premise of enlightenment through drugs is concerned. Of course, this is only within the older Vedic Hinduism. Since the Asuras are treated as demonic in post-Vedic Hinduism, this idea is probably treated as some kind of demonolatry by modern Hindus.
Carvaka and the Asuras
Carvaka (often spelled Charvaka), also known as Lokayata, is a school of Indian philosophy that rejects theism, reincarnation, karma, the soul or Atman and Moksha, and viewed the best means of acquiring as being not from revelation or religious scripture but through direct perception via the senses and through the practice of empiricism. Such a view is recognizable in the Western world as materialism or naturalism, and is associated with contemporary atheism. It was said to have been developed by a Vedic sage named Brihaspati at around 600 BCE. Curiously enough, Brihaspati is also the name of a planetary deity, the patron of the planet Jupiter, who was consider the guru of the Devas and related to the fire deity Agni.
There is a myth within the Upanishads in which Brihaspati is said to have created the Carvaka doctrine in order to deceive the Asuras. According to the Seventh Prapathaka of the Maitrayaniya Upanishad:
Brihaspati, having become Sukra, brought forth that false knowledge for the safety of Indra and for the destruction of the Asuras. By it they show that good is evil, and that evil is good. They say that we ought to ponder on the (new) law, which upsets the Veda and the other sacred books. Therefore let no one ponder on that false knowledge: it is wrong, it is, as it were, barren. Its reward lasts only as long as the pleasure lasts, as with one who has fallen from his caste. Let that false science not be attempted, for thus it is said:
(1) Widely opposed and divergent are these two, the one known as false knowledge, the other as knowledge. I (Yama) believe Nakiketas to be possessed by a desire of knowledge; even many pleasures do not move thee.
(2) He who knows at the same time both the imperfect (sacrifice, &c.) and the perfect knowledge (of the Self), he crosses death by means of the imperfect, and obtains immortality by means of the perfect knowledge.
(3) Those who are wrapped up in the midst of imperfect knowledge, fancying themselves alone wise and learned, they wander about floundering and deceived, like the blind led by the blind.
Sukra might be a reference to Shukra, or Shukracharya, who if you remember from my second Mythological Spotlight was the guru of the Asuras and the planetary deity of Venus. Indeed, Sukra is the Indian name for the planet Venus. It might be suggested that Brihaspati took the appearance of Sukra in order to deceive the Asuras into believing what were deemed false teachings, presumably to undermine their ability to defeat the Devas in battle in order to help the Devas defeat them. It is not certain if the Brihaspati mentioned in the Upanishad, but it is commonly held that the deity Brihaspati and the human Brihaspati are separate entities, which would make sense given it is unlikely that the Devas would have sincerely believed in materialist philosophy. Given this and the ability of the Upanishadic Brihaspati to transform into Shukra and his imperative on behalf of the Devas, I suspect that the Brihaspati referred to here is probably the planetary deity and not the human sage.
The Padma Purana also contains a dialogue in which Rudra (or Shiva) refers to Brihaspati as the one who proclaims the “much censured” doctrine of Carvaka. In the same text, Buddhism is also referred to as a false doctrine, proclaimed by an incarnation of Vishnu, and that Rudra proclaimed a “pseudo-Buddhist” doctrine referred to as Maya. Rudra also says that he ordered a man named Jaimimi to expound the doctrine of Purva Mimamsa – a doctrine that, while it seemingly endorses the authority of the Vedas, holds that the material universe to be endless and without liberation – which Rudra describes as stating godlessness and invalidating the Vedas. It is established here that the Hindu deities go out of their way to, within the context of the lore, deceive the enemies of the Devas by promoting Nastika doctrines (that is, doctrines that go against or contradict Vedic scripture, typically atheistic philosophies, thus heretical doctrines within the context of Hinduism) in order that they might defeat and destroy them.
Another example of this happening with regards to Jainism is when Vishnu sent a teacher named Mayamoha to teach the Asuras the Jain religion in order to that they could be defeated. The rationale behind such a theme seems to be twofold: (1) the Asuras are strengthened by following the Vedas and performing the proper rituals and penances, hence they lose power when they reject the Vedas, which serves to paint the Vedic religion as imparting power to believers, and (2) the non-Vedic religions are treated as so wicked and false that clearly they are either the doctrines of demons or tricks from the gods designed to weaken their enemies.
This theme is echoed in the Puranic myth of the Tripurasura, a group of three Asuras (Vidyunmali, Tarakshaka and Viryavana) who were the sons of Tarakasura. After the three Asuras perform a series of religious austerities known as tapasyas, Brahma grants them the following reward: they will live for a thousand years in three palaces for each of them – one made of gold, one made of silver, and one made of iron – which reside in different realms (one in heaven, one in the sky, and one on the earth) and align every thousand years, and can only be destroyed by an arrow that can penetrate the three realms when the palaces align. The Devas, feeling threatened by a bunch of Asuras having that much clout, appeal to the Trimurti to destroy them. Brahma refuses on the grounds that it was he who granted them the boon to begin with, and Shiva refuses because he saw that they weren’t doing anything wrong, but Vishnu comes up with a plan to trick them into becoming non-believers in order to justify their destruction. He creates a man out of himself, whom he named Arihat. Arihat was shaven and wore dirty clothes, thus he had the appearance of a bald ascetic monk. Arihat was instructed to teach the Tripurasura a religion that contradicts the Vedas – one which holds that there is no afterlife, that heaven and hell exist only on Earth and that there is no reward or punishment in any life after this one. After this, Shiva destroys the Tripurasura and their palaces once they align. Given the description of a lack of an afterlife and the emphasis on this world within this belief system, it is very likely that the “false religion” in this story is none other than Carvaka.
Another myth within the Mahabharata (specifically Book 12) describes a being named Charvaka, who is identified as either an Asura or a Rakshasa, who was believed to have impersonated one of the Brahmanas in order to accuse the Pandava prince Yudhishthira of killing his kin.
A little while after when the Brahmanas had become silent, a Rakshasa of the name of Charvaka, who had disguised himself as a Brahmana, addressed the king. He was a friend of Duryodhana and stood therein the garb of a religious mendicant. With a rosary, with a tuft of hair on his head, and with the triple staff in his hand, he stood proudly and fearlessly in the midst of all those Brahmanas that had come there for pronouncing benedictions (upon the king), numbering by thousands, O king, and all of whom were devoted to penances and vows. That wicked wight, desirous of evil unto the high-souled Pandavas and without having consulted those Brahmanas, said these words unto the king.’
“Charvaka said, ‘All these Brahmanas, making me their spokesman, are saying, ‘Fie on thee! Thou art a wicked king. Thou art a slayer of kinsmen. What shalt thou gain, O son of Kunti, by having thus exterminated thy race? Having slain also thy superiors and preceptor, it is proper for thee to cast away thy life.’ Hearing these words of that wicked Rakshasa the Brahmanas there became deeply agitated. Stung by that speech, they made a loud uproar. And all of them, with king Yudhishthira. O monarch, became speechless from anxiety and shame.’
When the real Brahmanas revealed his ruse, Charvaka was killed by their utterance of the Hun sound, the sound of Brahma. It is possible that the demon Charvaka was a demonization of the Carvaka school, a way of painting adherents of Carvaka as liars who deceive the public and impersonate the pious. However, this would depend on when the Mahabharata was compiled and published, given that the Mahabharata is likely to have been written at around 400 CE, many centuries after the emergence of the Carvaka school.
Finally, let’s look at the Upanishadic myth of Virochana, son of the Asura Prahlada, who together with Indra sought out the creator deity Prajapati to learn about the nature of Atman, the divine self or soul in Hindu theology. According to the Chandogya Upanishad, the two deities sought out his wisdom on the promise that whoever found it would gain the possessions of all worlds. After staying with Prajapati as his disciples and living the lives of Brahmacharis (as in, men who pursue Brahman) for 32 years, Prajapati tells both Indra and Virochana of the Atman and instructs them to see their reflections in a pan of water. After seeing their reflections, they left and relayed the revelations they believed themselves to attained. Virochana returned to the Asuras and told them that he learned that the body and the Atman are one and the same and thus the bodily self should be glorified, while Indra thought this was wrong, went to Prajapati for clarification twice before spending yet another 32 years with him as a Brahmachari, then another 5 years, before finally Prajapati told him:
“This body is subject to death yet it embodies the deathless and bodiless Atman. This embodied Self falls into the trap of all dualities like pleasure and pain, but the bodiless Atman is not touched by any duality. So long as the Atman resides in the body and attaches itself to them he seems limited and restricted, but again when freed from the body becomes one with the infinite spirit. When the Atman leaves the body, goes wandering freely in the infinite worlds. The eye, the ear, the senses, the mind are there only in order that the Atman may see and hear and think. It is on account of Atman and in the Atman that the things and beings exist. He is the Truth and the final repository of all existence.”
Indra comes to believe the doctrine of the Atman as the ultimate truth, as divine consciousness that embodies itself in the flesh in order to perceive the world and is freed from the body to wander infinity after the death of the body, while Virochana comes to believe that the bodily self is the self itself and the object of concern and reverence. Since Carvaka holds that consciousness exists only within the body, it is pretty likely that the doctrine Virochana and the Asuras learn is materialism, the doctrine of Carvaka.
To close this post, it’s worth noting the old Vedic character of the Asuras. As I’ve pointed out here many times before, Asura was once technically a title applied to the Vedic deities themselves, denoting the power, strength and might of the deity. They were sometimes also thought of as a semi-divine class of beings who were neither good nor bad, and possess the magical powers of maya. After some time though, as the old form of the Vedic religion got displaced by the new form of Hinduism, which was based on the Puranas and the Upanishads (which still claimed the authority of the Vedas as sacred mind you), Asura changed from a signifier of divine might, to a class of morally ambiguous semi-divine beings, to class of anti-divine beings if not outright a class of demons who are often materialistic. Perhaps this association with materialist doctrines stems from the conflict between orthodox Vedic Brahmanism and the emergent Nastika doctrines, such as Jainism, Buddhism, and Carvaka, as well as Tantric schools of Hinduism, not to mention the rise of a new form of Hinduism based on the Upanishads that sought to change the character of Hinduism.
As Hinduism was dealing with the Nastika doctrines, it made sense that, in order to maintain the authority of theistic Hindu doctrine, the Brahmanists and Upanishadists sought out to ridicule the Nastika doctrines, especially Carvaka. It also possible that they destroyed most first-person sources on Carvaka (that is, texts written by its adherents rather than its detractors), given the dearth of texts and information on Carvaka. Essentially, the new Brahmanists demonized the materialist doctrine, and other Nastika doctrines, by positioning them as doctrines believed by demons (Asuras and Rakshasas), often through the deceptions of the Devas and the Trimurti. The Asuras in and of themselves are not based on Carvaka, but the Carvaka doctrine became somewhat affixed to the Asuras through the Puranic and Upanishadic myths.
I watched a video from Thomas LeRoy, who you may recognize as the founder of a Left Hand Path organization known as the Sect of the Horned God, and in the video he talked about how he felt the Hindu deity Shiva was the best representation of the Left Hand Path in general. He feels that Shiva represents the consciousness of the individual (which he equates to the concept of Atman), in contrast to Vishnu’s connection with the consciousness of the universe (which he identifies as the concept of Brahman), and as the traditions of the Left Hand Path highly stress the importance of the consciousness of the individual, .
If you want, you can see the full video below.
In a sense, Atman referring to the individual consciousness can be a way of interpreting the concept of Atman, but while Atman is viewed as referring to the essential self, in Hindu tradition that same essential self is viewed as identical with Brahman, the consciousness of the universe. Shiva being the lord of individual consciousness in a Left Hand Path context is still an interesting way to elevate the individual consciousness and its importance in a Hindu context, and it definitely keeps Shiva interesting. In fact, it might be part of why my interest in him has stuck.
This interpretation also brings to my mind a Buddhist myth concerning Shiva. Shiva does appear in the Buddhist tradition as Mahakala, but that’s not his only iteration within Buddhist lore. There’s a story in Buddhist scriptures where Shiva appears as Maheshvara (one of his names which he often goes by) and is defeated by a bodhisattva named Vajrapani. In the story, the cosmic Buddha Vairocana wants to construct a mandala and requests Vajrapani to generate his adamantine family in order to do so, but Vajrapani refuses to cooperate with Vairocana because of Maheshvara “deluding beings with deceitful doctrines and engaging in criminal activity”. In response Vajrapani’s complaint, Vairocana permits him to bring Maheshvara and his entourage to Mount Meru in order to force them to comply with the doctrines of the Buddha Gautama. Vajrapani uses a mantra to drag Maheshvara and company to Mount Meru, and orders all of them submit to the Buddhist teachings, to which all of them comply except Maheshvara, who refers to Vajrapani as a “pathetic tree spirit”. The two challenge each other in magical combat, and after a series of battles Maheshvara eventually defeated by Vajrapani, and along with his wife Uma (clearly a reference to the goddess Parvati) he is tread upon by Vajrapani after his defeat. After Vajrapani’s victory, all of Maheshvara’s entourage submit to the teachings of Buddhism and become a part of Vairocana’s mandala, except for Maheshvara, who is killed, but he is reborn in another realm as a Buddha named Bhasmesvara Nirghosa, who is described as “Soundless Lord of Ashes”.
In Japanese Buddhism, there is a similar myth centering around Gozanze Myo-O (aka Trailokyavijaya), one of the Five Wisdom Kings (a powerful group of wrathful emanations of the Five Buddhas of Wisdom, intended to represent the overcoming of passions and all threats to the Buddhist faith). In Japan, Gozanze Myo-O is the one who subjugates Maheshvara (known in Japan as Daijizaiten) and his wife Uma, thus they are depicted as trampled beneath Gozanze Myo-O’s feet in representations of him. But rather than killing Maheshvara, as Vajrapani did, Gozanze Myo-O converts him and Uma into protectors of the Buddhist faith.
The story of Maheshvara’s defeat and/or subjugation is obviously a way of illustrating the purported superiority of Buddhism next to Hinduism, and thus the superiority of the Buddhas and bodhisattvas over the Hindu pantheon of deities, but I feel that if we are to consider Shiva as a deity representing individuated consciousness, then beings like Vajrapani and Gozanze Myo-O, in the act of killing or subjugating Maheshvara, become the destroyers of individuated consciousness. This of course ties in to the fact that the goal of Buddhist practice is, ultimately, the extinction of individuated consciousness.
It’s a shame too, because I don’t really look at beings like these the same way after thinking about it that way. The wrathful beings of Buddhist come across to me as expressions of powerful will and strength, so it is a shame when that becomes directed against individuated consciousness in support of religious doctrine.
Karma is a concept common in Eastern religions and culture, but is interpreted very differently here in the West by many people. Our understanding of karma is largely based on the Hindu and Buddhist concepts of karma, so these are the concepts I’ll focus on here. When most people think of karma, they tend to think of something like this:
But in reality, the concept of karma has nothing to do with this sort of thing in its actual context. People like to think that karma means you “get what you deserve” in this life through some force in the cosmos, possibly because it suits their desire for vengeance without them actually claiming their vengeance for themselves, but that’s not what karma is.
In the West we tend to think of karma as the invisible moral force of reward and punishment, but in the Hindu context karma refers to the action or deeds of a person. In fact, the word karma literally means “action”, “deed”, or “work”, referring to the actions or deeds of a person, and any reward or punishment would thus refer to the result of said actions. However, karma is tied to the concept of reincarnation in which the soul enters a new physical form after death, which means your actions in this life are more or less tied to the next life. In this sense, karma in Hinduism tends to play out more like this:
In addition, Hindu belief stresses that there is only one Self, but instead of the individuated self there’s a single consciousness or Self tying all life together. This means all life is connected, and every individual is not only part of all others but also part of the divine consciousness of the universe, in fact but a piece of this consciousness, thus the goal of Hindu spirituality is for each piece to reunite with this single underlying consciousness, often identified as either God or by the concept of Atman (this itself tends to depend on what school of Hindu thought you answer to). It also means that it’s not you being reborn in a new body, but rather Atman. It also means that the bad things can happen to other people as a result of one person’s karma, which is horrible. In fact, this was one of the ways that people tried to explain the tsunami that happened in Southeast Asia near the end of 2004, and it may sound glib but it’s not an unreasonable interpretation of Hindu belief. Either way, I feel that since your consciousness is not your own in Hindu belief and since reincarnation entails someone or something else inheriting the fruits of your past actions, someone or something else is going to get screwed over by your actions, which is just illogical and wrong.
It works much the same in the Buddhist faith, except that in Buddhism there is neither a single divine consciousness nor individuated consciousness. Reincarnation is still based on karma or actions, but karma was also defined by Siddhartha Gautama as intention itself. This means that even mental action, the thought or impulse to perform physical and verbal actions and that influences such actions, can affect the next life. In broad terms, it also means that even a good action motivated by personal desire can be impure and lead to an impure rebirth, and the highest states of being, along with enlightenment itself, hinge on selflessness, which is stupid.
In general, karma just means actions, but it’s funny how even though the concept of karma entails actions rather than a justice system designed to reward or punish them, the theme surrounding the concept of karma in many religions seems to be that your actions will be punished after this life rather than within, and I can’t seem to agree with the idea that the cosmos dispenses any sort of reward or punishment for actions that, if reincarnation is to be believed, you are no longer technically responsible for. And the thing is, if Hinduism and Buddhism are to be believed, you either don’t have an individuated consciousness, or your consciousness is not your own anyway, so how the hell are you responsible for actions that aren’t even yours either way?
In past blog posts written on the subject of Hinduism I have often mentioned the mythical conflict between the devas and the asuras, and have not written favorably about the devas. However, I don’t feel I’ve written a lot about why the devas are particularly bad, or why the asuras sometimes didn’t deserve being dominated by the devas in a whole lot of detail. I’ve also come to find examples of why Vishnu is actually a dishonorable and contemptible deity. For the purpose of this post, instead of commenting on the narrative itself like I did only last year, I choose to refer to specific mythological cases that point to the devas being far from the good guys and the asuras not always being evil. For the case of Vishnu and the devas I won’t try and cover every story, since that would be insane, just the ones I feel highlight their devious character. I already talked about one myth: the myth of the churning of the milk of oceans, in which the devas and the asuras “collaborated” to churn out the nectar of immortality using the serpent Vasuki, but there are some myths I have not written my personal take on, and some myths I may have mentioned before not written about in any detail to speak of.
Vishnu helps the devas cheat the Asuras in the form of Mohini
Although I said I wrote about the myth of the churning of the ocean of milk, there’s an aspect of that myth I did not write about before in previous posts. After the devas and the asuras churn the sea of milk, the heavenly physician Dhanvantari (who was actually a form of Vishnu) arose from the ocean of milk and he carried the nectar of immortality in one of his hands. The devas and the asuras fought fiercely to possess it, until eventually the asuras won the nectar from the devas. While the asuras celebrated, the devas pleaded with Vishnu to help them take the nectar of immortality from the asuras. Before the asuras managed to drink the nectar of immortality, Vishnu took the form of an enchanting woman named Mohini, who distracted the asuras with her dancing, which led to them becoming totally enticed by here beauty and allowed her to snatch the nectar of immortality from the asuras so she can distribute it among the devas.
However, not all the asuras fell for this trick. The asura Rahu figured out that Mohini was actually Vishnu, and that her dancing was but a devious ploy to steal the Amrita from them. In order to get a share of the nectar of immortality, he disguised himself as one of the devas in order to drink some of the nectar of immortality, but the gods Surya and Chandra saw through Rahu’s disguise and informed Mohini. Mohini then decapitated Rahu before he could finish consuming the nectar, which mean that his head was somehow immortal but not his whole body. By the time the pitcher was empty, the devas got more of the nectar than the asuras. Vishnu had successfully cheated the asuras out of the nectar of immortality, and when the asuras tried to attack the devas, the devas defeated them in battle. Only the devas gained the nectar of immortality in the end, not through honorable means but because they complained to Vishnu about losing it to the asuras, who won it from them in the first place.
By the way, the churning of the oceans and the fighting for the nectar all started when Indra, who was a deva and not an asura, insulted the sage Durvasa when his elephant threw down a garland of flowers offered by the sage, which led the sage to curse the devas so that they lose their strength.
The subjugation of Mahabali by Vamana
Mahabali, or just Bali, was an asura who, unlike most asuras, was highly regarded among the people. He was actually known as one of the most virtuous asuras of all, who once governed Kerala as a benevolent king. He was known to be very generous, charitable, and righteous, and even gods such as Brahma recognized this. After defeating the devas in battle with the help Sukracarya, the teacher of the asuras, Mahabali extended his rule to the realm of the devas. During that period of time Mahabali invited his grandfather Praladha to heaven to accept a very honorable seat there, after which he was appointed the same position Indra held for the devas, and he then asked Praladha for advice on how to be a proper ruler and carry on the government of the heavens, and Praladha told him “Only virtue will always win. Rule the kingdom without deviating from virtue.”. Following his grandfather’s advice, he did indeed establish a kingdom based on virtuous rule in which everyone was happy and content, and there was no corruption, crime, or discrimination based on class or caste. Of course, not everyone was happy about this. The devas didn’t like it at all that they were defeated by an Asura, no matter how righteous he was, and Indra was particularly upset that Mahabali not only defeated him and claimed his position in heaven, but he also showed the devas how much of a proper ruler he was. So Vishnu incarnated as a dwarf, named Vamana, and requested three paces of land from Mahabali as measured by his feet. Despite the warnings of Sukracarya, who tried to tell him that Vamana was deceiving him, Mahabali granted him this request. After which, Vamana grew in size to cosmic proportions, and covered the whole world and the realm of the heavens with his first two steps, and Mahabali offered his head as the place of his final step in order to prevent the destruction of the world, which led to him being pushed into the netherworld and losing his status as the ruler of the three worlds.
Vamana revealed to Mahabali that he was actually the god Vishnu (in his fifth avatar), of whom Mahabali was a devotee, and he claimed that he was testing Mahabali. But in actuality, Vishnu was actually trying to remove Mahabali from power through deceit and trickery, and Sukracarya knew that all along. It was nothing more than deviousness on the part of the Vishnu at the request of the devas, and through that trickery the devas did reclaim lordship over the heavens.
Parashurama, the genocidal warrior avatar of Vishnu
I have a distinct feeling that some of you who know me may look at just the above image and ask me “how can you not like this guy?”, and my answer would be because he’s a genocidal maniac, and for an avatar of Vishnu no less (the sixth to be exact). Some time after Parashurama received an axe and martial arts training from Shiva, his father Jamadagni was visited by the king Kartavirya and hosted a grand feast for the king. Kartavirya asked how Jamadagni managed to do this, and showed him a calf of the Kamadhenu, a sacred cow said to provide its owner with whatever he/she desires, that was given to him by Indra and had the power to grant wishes. Kartavirya became jealous when he was denied the calf, and stole the calf. What does Parashurama do when he finds out? He kills Kartavirya and his guards before retrieving the calf. Naturally, some time later, Kartavirya’s sons discover his corpse and work out that Parashurama killed him, so while Parashurama was gone they travel to the hermitage of Jamadagni, surrounded him, and killed him with arrows before decapitating him and taking his head with them. When Parashurama returned from a pilgrimage and discovered his father’s murder, he was enraged, and hunted down the sons Kartavirya in revenge, then took his fathers head in order to conduct his cremation. You’d think that this would be over, but after this whole mess Parashurama goes way over the top and vows to kill all members of the Kshatriya caste. He travels across the land and murders all members of the Kshatriya caste, regardless of whether they were innocent or guilty of anything. The Kshatriya caste constituted of the military elite who wielded secular authority, as opposed to the religious authority held by the Brahmin caste. According to the Mahabharata, the Kshatriya caste had become arrogant and corrupt, oppressing the people instead of protecting them, but this means nothing because Parashurama doesn’t simply kill the tyrannical members of the Kshatriya caste, he kills all of them even the ones who weren’t evil. Parashurama also gives power to the brahmin priests after the end of his campaign of genocide, and performs a sacrifice, so if anything the story has that undertone of “Vishnu comes to earth to murder all the secular rulers, regardless of their crimes, to give power back to religious leaders” so any morality of his tale is lost.
I’d also like to mention that Parashurama’s father, Jamadagni, wasn’t such nice a character on his own. When he found out that his wife Renuka felt physically attracted to the gandharvas she saw in the sky and briefly lost devotion to her husband, he became enraged and ordered one of his sons to decapitate Renuka. When his son refused, Jamadagni petrified him. He did the same with each of his sons except for the young Parashurama, who submitted to his commands and decapitated his mother Renuka. This pleased Jamadagni. However, because of this act of obedience, Jamadagni offered two boons to the young Parashurama, who requested the resurrection of his mother and that his brothers no longer be petrified. I don’t like how that aspect of his story turns out, because just think of it: imagine if you’re forced to decapitate your own mother by your angry and jealous father, but because you obeyed his commands, he revives your mother and then everybody’s happy? That’s horrible! This is Old Testament standards! Come to think of it, the whole story of Parashurama doesn’t feel entirely different to a lot of the violent stories of the Old Testament. Not to mention, since Parashurama was an incarnation of Vishnu, Parashurama was Vishnu the entire time. So Vishnu in the best interests of the cosmic order and all that is good beheads his mother rather than oppose his father, which you’d assume he’d be capable of doing since Parashurama is actually Vishnu (and don’t give me anything about how Parashurama was just a boy; look what Vishnu is capable of as Krishna when he was young), and later in his life he murders the entire kshatriya caste regardless of whether anyone it was good or bad and regardless of what they did to him, and justifies it with his own quest to avenge his father’s death, which he had already done by killing Kartavirya’s sons? There’s no reason to think of any of this anything other than totally wrong and totally mad, unless you are fucked up on religion.
I’ve talked before about how Krishna was basically a hypocrite who thinks everyone should abandon their self-desire and worship him as God Almighty while he got to do whatever he wanted for himself, but it turns out I only scratched the surface back then. In the Mahabharata, Vishnu in his eighth avatar is as manipulative and dishonorable as it gets, all supposedly in the name of upholding goodness in the world. In one instance, Krishna weakens Duryodhana, the eldest of the Kauravas, so that he may lose in battle against Bhima, who was supported by Krishna. It started when Duryodhana’s friend Karna was killed on the battlefield. Duryodhana was usually said to never shed a tear for anyone, but he shed a tear for Karna because he held Karna in high regard. His mother, Gandhari, saw Duryodhana losing confidence, and wanted to bestow a blessing unto him to make his body virtually invincible. For this blessing to work, his body had be exposed and unclothed. Apparently Krishna must have been aware of this because he urged Duryodhana to cover the area of his privates before meeting his mother, which meant that now Duryodhana’s body was virtually invincible except for his thighs and private parts. When Duryodhana challenged Bhima, his rival from the Pandavas, to a mace fight, Bhima almost lost to Duryodhana until Krishna signaled him to strike the area of his thighs, which was not blessed by Gandhari, which mortally wounded him. The problem? Hitting someone at the thighs or below the waist is against the rules of mace fighting, and Krishna encouraged Bhima violate the warrior code and defeat Duryodhana by fighting dirty in the name of bhakti (devotion to God).
Speaking of cheating, I should mention how Karna died. During the war of Kurukshetra, one of the wheels of Karna’s chariot sank into a deep pit in the ground. Since his charioteer refused to lift it out of the ground, Karna had to do it himself. Arjuna, Karna’s opponent, delayed in killing him because it was dishonorable and against the rules of war for Arjuna strike Karna down while his chariot is unable to move. But Krishna urged Arjuna to kill Varna while he was still struggling with the chariot anyway, which is dishonorable according to the rules of war. On top of that, Krishna at one point even praises Karna as a great warrior and a virtuous man, this is before ordering Arjuna to kill him. Before all this, Krishna sent Karna’s mother, Kunti, to try and persuade Karna to join the Pandavas, but Karna denied this offer. Kunti requested that Karna promise not to harm any of the Pandavas in battle and not to use his celestial weapons twice, and so Karna promised to not harm any of the Pandavas except Arjuna and to only use his celestial weapon once. Krishna knew this, and he knew that Karna’s celestial weapon would be a threat to Arjuna, so he provoked a rakshasa named Ghatotkacha to attack Karna and his forces, which caused him to expend his celestial weapon. Karna also had celestial armor and earrings which might have led him to victory against Arjuna, but Indra convinced him to trade them for the celestial weapon previously mentioned, and Indra did so at the behest of Krishna in order to exploit his reputation as a charitable and honorable person. What kind of deity who promotes good would manipulate the outcome of a battle by exploiting the honor and character of his opponent?
There is an important event in the Mahabharata in the Pandavas and the Kauravas have a game of dice, after the Pandava leader Yudhisthira is challenged by Duryodhana’s uncle Shakuni. Yudisthira gambles everything: their wealth, their brothers, his wife Draupadi, and the lives of the Pandavas, and he lost every single time. Krishna did not seem to reprimand the Pandava for betting on human lives in a game of dice, nor stop them from doing so. All he did about the dice game was prevent Draupadi from being totally disrobed by granting her an infinitely spawning fabric to cover her body. Draupadi herself criticizes Yudhisthira for gambling the Pandava’s kingdom to Duryodhana and Shakuni, especially considering he was unskilled at gambling, but Krishna does not. Instead, he uses the incident against Duryodhana, who points out to Krishna that Yudhisthira accepted the challenge of his own free will, that it wasn’t their fault the Pandavas were defeated, and that Duryodhana ordered the return of the wealth the Pandavas had lost (through Yudisthira gambling it away) in the dice game, as well as releasing. Krishna himself starts the war of Kurukshetra by mouthing off to Duryodhana rather than reprimanding Yudhisthira for his reckless behavior, and he doesn’t seem to care about the point of view of the Kauravas or that Yudhisthira considered human beings an object of betting. This to me reveals Krishna as not just biased, but as a being who thinks humans being gambled is not as important as how bad he thinks the Kauravas are, or as important as his conception of a greater divine order or greater dharma. Or you could just say, nothing is more important for Krishna than his own egomania. Speaking of which…
The killing of Shambuka by Rama
Shambuka was an ascetic who was killed by Rama, Vishnu’s seventh avatar. Why did Rama kill Shambuka? Apparently it was because Shambuka wanted to attain the state of devaloka and attain godhood. He didn’t kill anyone, he didn’t rape or molest anyone, he didn’t steal anything, as far as I know he didn’t commit any moral crimes. All he did was perform penances for the purpose of attaining a level of divinity normally reserved for not just Indra, but Shiva as well.
By this point, Rama had supposedly reigned as a benevolent king, but I personally would think that killing a man for unorthodox religious practices is not something a benevolent king would do. This would be like Jesus killing one of those Gnostic practitioners of the Left Hand Path for attaining a level of godhood equivalent to the Christ, or like Zeus killing an Orphic practitioner for seeking to deify his soul and join the gods and heroes in the afterlife. Rama killed Shambuka for the same reasons that YHWH destroyed the Tower of Babel or why the Greek gods punish humanity for reaching to the heavens or besting them in competitions. It is pure egomania unbefitting of a supposedly benevolent king.
Apparently, according to some sage named Vashishtha, Jambuka’s penances were forbidden except during the Kali Yuga and that his penances inadvertently caused the premature death of the son of a brahmin. Not only are believers supposed to buy that (which would be bullshit enough), but apparently after Shambuka is killed by Rama, the boy suddenly returns to life (which is even more bullshit). Are people actually expected to find that right? Why should the bizzare religious practices of an ascetic lead to the death of a young boy, with no explanation at all as to how? And why can’t the gods come up with a way to revive the boy without killing the equivalent of a Left Hand Path ascetic? This story makes no sense when examined and only shows Vishnu to be the same kind of tyrant as YHWH and Zeus.
The three asuras
This is the last story pertaining to Vishnu or the devas. Three asuras named Vidyunmali, Tarakaksha, and Viryavana perform austeries, and this pleases the god Brahma so much that he wants to grant them any boon they desire (except for immortality, which he can’t grant). They grant Brahma a very specific and unusual request: they requested three forts be built, with the first one gold, the second one silver, and the third one iron. They further requested that they would live in each fort for 1,000 years, that these forts would be place in different realms (the heavens, the sky, and the earth), align once every thousand years, and that death shall come to them when one can destroy all three forts with a single arrow. Brahma granted this request and asked an asura named Maya to build the forts, after which the three asuras lived in the forts prosperously. The devas didn’t like this at all, even though they weren’t essentially doing anything wrong, so they demanded Brahma do something about it. Brahma couldn’t do anything since he granted them the boon in the first place. Then they turned to Shiva, but he wouldn’t do anything because he knew the three demons weren’t doing anything wrong, and because they still worshipped the Shiva linga and followed the Vedas. Then they turned to Vishnu, who suggested that since they weren’t doing anything wrong, they should be persuaded to deviate from the religion of the Vedas. Apparently the gods think non-belief justifies murdering innocent beings. So Vishnu created a man to go and spread a materialistic teachings that contradict the Vedas and convert the three asuras to it, so that they can justify destroying them. After the three asuras were converted, and after 1,000 years, Shiva was convinced to destroy the forts of the three asuras.
Why? What kind of god or person would conceive this? Why should these three asuras who didn’t do anything wrong be destroyed for not following the religion of the Vedas, or be persuaded to deviate from their religion just because they’re asuras who got a break for performing austerities? There’s no way this makes any moral sense whatsoever. After being converted, there are no evil actions alluded to at all. All the three asuras did was stop following the teachings of the Vedas and stop worshipping the Shiva linga. That can’t possibly merit any kind of destruction! All it proves is that, in Hindu myth, the asuras are automatically worthy of destroy for doing no wrong, that the gods are perfectly OK with destroying apostates (or at least as long as they are asura), and that Vishnu is enough of a bastard to openly suggest that three asuras who have done nothing wrong can be destroyed as long as they don’t believe the Vedic religion.
The case for the asuras
Not all of the asuras are necessarily good, but when they are good, they seem to be more good then the devas. There are specific examples of asura rulers who are said to have ruled with benevolence, justice, virtue, and nobility, while I have not found a single example of a deva doing so. In fact Indra, the king of the supposedly good and orderly devas, tricked women into having sex with him about as much as Zeus did. There is little to say about the Asuras as a whole however, and in fact I’ve found that most of the well known Asuras did little or nothing to deserve being called “evil” other than fight the devas for control of heaven. For instance, Mahishasura. Mahishasura is considered to be a symbol of evil to be defeated by good, but I have not found any specific actions he may have done to warrant being called evil. In fact he was pious in his austerities, despite his ultimate desire for power. The only real character flaw I’ve found about him is that he considered women to be weak (which is the reason he allowed himself to be vulnerable only to women). Other than that, all he did to earn the emnity of the gods was attack the devas and fight for control of the heavens, which is the same trait ascribed to all of the asuras in Hindu mythology, but ultimately his most egregious “sin” was that he challenge Indra and the devas to a fight and won. Just like with Mahabali.
Or how about Raktabija, the asura slain by Kali? I’ve searched high and low for any evil actions on his part, and found nothing. No character flaws, no evil actions, all I’ve found out about him is that he fought against the gods and received a boon that meant that if a drop of his blood be spilled then more asuras would multiply out of him. What about Sumbha and Nisumbha, the asuras whom Raktabija fought alongside? There’s no real evil deeds to speak of for them. There’s one case where an asura named Karambha is brutally killed in the water by Indra in the form of a crocodile, but Karambha was doing nothing more than performing austerities for the god Varuna, thus did nothing to deserve it. Really all the asuras usually do is fight against the devas and their established order while seeking power for themselves. The only truly bad or nasty asuras I can think of are Vritra (for stealing the world’s waters), Hiranyaksha (for kidnapping the earth goddess), Hiranyakashipu (for trying to kill his son just for being devoted to Vishnu, and killing anyone who didn’t worship him), and Narakasura (for apparently kidnapping 16,000 women).
Hindus sometimes stress the ideas that the asuras, partiuclarly the more powerful asuras, represent ego because they challenge the devas and the gods, who represent the moral/religious order ordained in the heavens. In my opinion, since the order of the devas was established by cheating the asuras out of the nectar of immortality, which they won through sheer force of will against the devas, so ultimately the asuras are rebelling against a moral order that is unjust, biased against them, and was only established through dishonest means. Whenever the asuras defeat the devas it feels like the asuras manage to do it through sheer force of will and after performing austerities to the gods usually Brahma, Vishnu, or Shiva, and the devas only defeat the asuras with the help of the same gods and Durga. It’s rather strange how Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva grant boons to the asuras after being pleased by the austerities they perform, but are still willing to let the devas coax them into knocking them down to restore their order! As a matter of fact, the asuras so often come so close to defeating the asuras that without the help of Vishnu or Shiva they would lose. For instance, when the asura Jalandhara arranged that Vishnu make his home in Ksheera Sagara (the ocean of milk) after almost being defeated by Jalandhara, the devas where defeated by Jalandhara and his army without Vishnu’s aid. It was only after Vishnu weakened Jalandhara by having sex with his wife Vrinda while disguised as Jalandhara that the devas were able to defeat Jalandhara, having lost the power derived from his wife’s fidelity and devotion. To me this still means not only are the devas weak on their own or don’t bother to become stronger on their own, but it also cements Vishnu as a dishonest prick (to be fair, Jalandhara tried to do the same thing to Parvati, but I don’t believe that justifies a supposedly all-good Vishnu doing the same thing).
Sometimes the Asuras are painted by interpreters as the individual ego fighting to oppose the outer supreme consciousness of God in addition to the moral order created by the devas. That only seems to make the asuras more sympathetic to me becuase (a) they represent the isolate and individuated existence promoting its own existence apart from the order established by religious belief, and (b) this supreme consciousness seems interested in making sure all follow its will or become harmonious with it and forcefully incorporate all that dares to elevate itself to the level of the divine.
Ultimately the asuras in Hindu myth are vehicles for the Hindu concept of self versus God and the established order, but I also feel that the concept of the asura can be an Indian expression of that which is Left Hand Path: immortalizing the self and creating your own order as opposing to obeying God’s order.
Remember just three days ago I posted about that book I read and how I realized or remembered many of my disagreements and/or problems with Hindu thought? Well today I realized there was one area of Hindu thought I forgot to cover: the myth of the conflict of the devas and the asuras.
Traditionally, the devas represent order and the asuras represent chaos, although the devas are also said to represent the forces of the mind and spirit and the asuras represent elemental forces and vital passion. In the Vedic religion, the devas used to represent the forces of nature and the asuras the forces of human society. According to that book I read, the conflict between the devas and asuras is supposed to be a cooperative rivalry and a dynamic equilibrium. In other words, they’re supposed to be forces that struggle with each other as a form of balance. The problem with that is there are several things undermining this idea of what the struggle means.
The first is the respective origins of the devas and the asuras within Hindu mythology. The asuras were born from a goddess named Diti, the limited one, while the devas were born from Aditi, the limitless one. That alone suggests a bias towards the asuric forces by suggesting they were born of ignorance and limited vision while the devas of truth and infinite vision, and this certainly undermines the idea that these are forces of mind and matter struggling for equilibrium with each other.
The second is the churning of the ocean of milk. Vishnu advised the devas to seek diplomacy with the asuras, and they formed a temporary alliance with the asuras so that together they may churn the nectar of immortality by using the serpent Vasuki as a churning rope, with the promise that the devas and the asuras would share the nectar. But what Vishnu actually intended was for the devas to have the nectar all to themselves, and he managed to convince the asuras to yank the head while the devas yank the tail, thus the asuras are subject to its hot and toxic breath with the devas in safe company. This seems very odd to me consider that most of the time Hinduism values self-abnegation and self-sacrifice, or at least that’s what the myths imply, and since the devas are supposed to embody dharmic ideas of truth and virtue, wouldn’t they be the ones subjecting themselves to Vasuki instead of letting the asuras get coaxed into suffering for them? And speaking of supposed self-sacrifice, Shiva swallowing the poison that Vasuki released in the process is widely said to be a sign of self-sacrifice, but is also really weird when you consider that, for Shiva, this is not really a dangerous or fatal thing to do at all. We wouldn’t be able to handle Vasuki’s poison, and the devas and asuras would likely have reason to worried about it (in fact the main worry was that the poison would contaminate the ocean of milk and destroy creation), but Shiva could easily swallow that poison and all that would happen to him was his throat would turn blue. That aspect of the myth doesn’t really represent self-sacrifice because Shiva could easily go through with it with no real danger to him, it actually represents Shiva’s power to prevent premature destruction and to take in everything that no one else can.
That aside, let’s move on from the samudra manthan (the ocean of milk story) and move on to other aspects of the problem with the conflict. For instance, if the conflict was really supposed to be about a balance of two forces both integral to the cosmos, why is there so much emphasis of the “good” devas winning over the asuras? The occasions when the asuras defeat the devas don’t seem to be treated with any equality, or any manner other than negative. Besides that, the devas only seem interested in maintaing their control and hegemony over the universe, and in preserving the Hindu faith. For instance, the whole reason Vishnu becomes Kalki is because of the faith being in decline and people no longer worshipping. And stories such as the story of Mahabali show that, even if an asura was benevolent, that doesn’t matter because the devas won’t tolerate losing control of the universe even once.
Now, to be honest, I like the idea of the asuras and devas as forces struggling in equilibrium with the asuras representing elemental energy and vital passion with devas representing structure and order, which would actually leave room for evil spins on both the asura and deva principles (for instance, animalistic passions turning rotten or structure being based on evil or made dishonorably), thus balance would be emphasized as an important virtue for the individual. That would certainly be how I would use the deva-asura paradigm, though it would rely less on the actual mythology and its hegemonic wars. However, this post is not about how I use the paradigm, it’s about the Hindu use of the paradigm, and in the Hindu faith, this is not what happens. Even if it was like that in Vedic Hinduism, it is not how it is in post-Vedic Hinduism, in other words the Hinduism you know. Once you look into it, you see that it’s basically just another “good” and “evil” conflict.
I’ve been reading a book about Hinduism, specifically the difference between Judeo-Christian thought and “dharmic” thought, and I am reminded of a few things.
First, from what I have read, the sattvic or “selfless” state is still idealized above even the rajasic or tamasic states, considering that, if you aren’t selfless/sattvic, you are encouraged to live by codified rules set for you and seek the guidance of a spiritual master who is sattvic. Coupled with the Krishna stories, which emphasis the utilitarian ideal of the common good, the implication is that thinking on your own terms and not having to listen to a guru or God is discouraged unless you are “selfless”, not thinking on your own interests. To me, this is hypocritical for a religion that supposedly believes in mankind’s own divinity and spiritual potential. Even if each individual has one’s own unique path, that is not influenced by you in traditional dharmic ideas, it’s influenced by your “karma” or actions taken in a past life. But at least you get to choose what deity you want to worship, or even none at all, and often in Hinduism.
Second, I am reminded of the other ideas I do not believe in; reincarnation, the idea that we are burdened by the actions of some past live you might not even have ever heard, the idea that justice is distributed by the universe, and the idea of the falsehood of the self (which to me also spits on the idea of karma as a self-made destiny since how do you make your own choices if there is no individual self?). I also seem to question their concept of Atman, which should refer to inner self but actually refers not to any individual spiritual self or immortal soul, but posits that the “real” self is actually God rather than any individual self. There is another idea I learned was present in Hinduism. I have my doubts regarding another idea I learned was central to Hindu belief. Apparently, they believe that the cosmos is possessed of an integral unity, no separate essences, entities, or objects. I feel it may be more likely that there isn’t a unity of all things. Even if there is something that connects all things, that doesn’t still say there is unity between all things, just a common origin.
Third, in my continuous attempts to integrate Hindu (and even Buddhist) ideas and lore, I feel like I’m trying to move forward too fast instead of sitting down to enjoy my current spiritual perspective (the perspective of a spiritual core self that you yourself fight to preserve until the day, and of the inner world shaped by you and how the outer world affects and inspires you). I could incorporate anything I want that inspires me, so why not be comfortable with images, aesthetics, and entities that come from a system that I don’t necessarily subscribe to, or need to subscribe to, and they wouldn’t necessarily have to represent those systems anyway.
One last thing about the book I read: I feel that while it does offer an enlightening perspective towards Hindu or dharmic ideas, that same perspective actually leads me to only more disconnect to these ideas. The author also seems far too unfair with his perspective on the West, a little pompous on his perspective on the East too. Not all of Western ideas are based on Judeo-Christian ideas, in fact the West is capable of potent antidotes for Judeo-Christian ideas and hypocrisy, and not just atheism either. The author seems to think any unity created by the West is purely synthetic. Yes, we aren’t always united in the right way or for the right reasons, but even if it was, all unity, in both West and East, is not to last. All unity falls apart eventually, sometimes slowly sometimes fast. But why put so much emphasis on cohesion and harmony anyway? Does anyone ever stop to think that maybe putting cohesion as the highest ideal is actually a foolish idea?
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