There were a few topics relating to the Pagan community that I thought of talking about here, and it seems that the most pressing concerns a controversy relating to an organization known as Indica, an umbrella of apparent polytheist organizations including the Indic Academy, of which Edward Butler, a polytheist academic and the proprietor of a website about Neoplatonic polytheism called Henadology, is a director. Indica bills themselves as “an institute for global study of indigenous knowledge, seeking to bring about a renaissance of indigenous wisdom”. We might infer from this that they are, at least in theory, advocates for indigenous religious belief systems, and thereby for polytheism, though they actually seem to focus particularly on Hinduism, so I’m theory at least you might think of them as a Hindu advocacy group. In any case, Indica recently hosted a conference entitled Conference on Polytheism Today & Tomorrow: Dialogues on Pluralism and Polytheist Art, hosted by Edward Butler and consisting of a series of discussions from different polytheist voices coming from a variety of traditional backgrounds. It was honestly a very good opportunity to hear perspectives from the world of modern polytheism. That’s why it’s such a shame to report that, some time after that conference, a problem emerged when apparent connections between Indica and the Hindutva movement were brought to everyone’s attention.
I’ve written a fair bit about the Hindutva movement within the last two years, but for the purpose of this article it bears defining Hindutva again. Hindutva is the name given to a broad right-wing nationalist movement in India that seeks to consolidate Indian society on the basis of a theocratic nation state defined by a kind of ethno-centric version of Hinduism. The Hindutva vision is inherently exclusionary: only Hindus and adherents of other dharmic faiths are meant to exist in the Hindutva vision of society, while Christians, Jews, and Muslims are to be cast out, according to the Hindutva ideologues themselves. Unsurprisingly, Hindutva ideology was originally inspired by National Socialism and Italian Fascism, as the founding fathers of the Hindutva movement, Vinayak D. Savarkar and M. S. Golwalkar, openly praised Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini for their fascist and xenophobic policies. Thus, Hindutva belongs to the family of ideologies broadly referred to as fascism. In addition, as part of the Hindutva agenda, advocates of Hindutva tend to promote the idea of India as an exceptional civilization through historical revisionism, fundamentalism, and pseudo-science, not unlike the far-right in countries such as the USA, France, Israel, and Japan. Hindutva is represented in mainstream Indian politics by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which in turn emerged from a Hindutva volunteer organization called Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), itself notorious to this day for being involved in sectarian violence aginst non-Hindus and especially Muslims (who the RSS are known to have lynched).
So, how does this come back to Indica? Well, apparently it had emerged that Edward Butler, the man organizing the conference, might have some sympathies to the Hindutva movement. This seems to connect with an article that appeared on Indica Today, titled “Hindutva In The 21st Century“, which was originally published there on September 15th, but recently promoted on their Twitter account a few days ago. The article is a glowingly positive assessment of Hindutva, Indica Today promotes it on its Twitter with the tag “Spiritual Nationalism”, and Edward Butler promoted it with the caption “reclaim Hindutva”. This of course is not too long after Butler was apparently forced to defend his association with the Indic Academy over its relationship to Hindutva ideology, which he did by casting the term Hindutva as an “elastic term” used by anti-Hindus to attack any celebration of Hinduism. This, if we’re being very honest, sounds like the line taken by supporters of Hindutva, who identify their ideology with Hinduism as a whole, even whereas a lot of Hindus don’t.
This apparently is not an isolated incident. Back in 2018, he seems to have promoted an article from The Economic Times, an Indian news website generally understood to be conservative-leaning, which appears to praise the Chinese state media outlet The Global Times over its own claims that Hinduism in India is responsible for the suppression of “radical Islam” and thus India’s wider standing in the international community. In 2019 he lionized India as a kind of bastion against the “frontal assault of Islam and then Christianity”, while telling an apparent Hindutva supporter who spoke of an “ongoing battle” that “all of us who worship the shining ones owe you our aid and support in that battle”. Yes, Butler has openly stated that he believes that all polytheists are obliged to support the Hindutva movement. Hindutvas are not even the only folkists that he’s supported in the past. Butler’s previous colleagues include Galina Krasskova, a Heathen priestess who happens to openly support the white supremacist Asatru Folk Assembly and, despite claiming to oppose folkism, complained that the AFA was constantly being “dogpiled” by other Pagans, and Sannion (real name: H. Jeremiah Lewis), a fascist Hellenic polytheist who worships Dionysus and claims that Dionysus told him to wear the Nazi Sonnenrad (a.k.a. the so-called “Black Sun”, which is actually not the Black Sun as I’ve discussed previously) in order to justify constantly wearing it. Butler, of course, has periodically denied that these people advocate for folkism or fascism, but their record is not too hard to come by and speaks for itself.
Sticking to the subject of Hindutva, let’s focus on the article Butler shared recently, and more particularly its author. The Indica Today article “Hindutva In The 21st Century” is written by a man named Navaratna S. Rajaram, and seems to have been posthumous considering that Rajaram died in December 11th 2019. Rajaram is, let’s say, a colourful character. He at one point claimed that the Vedic Indians taught the Pharaohs of Egypt how to build the Pyramids, thus seemingly making India the progenitor of those same Pyramids. He also claimed that ancient India was a secular state, while also denouncing secularism as irrelevant to pluralism, as well as claiming to have deciphered the Indus script. He tends to frequently denounce much of Western Indology as Eurocentric, claiming many scholars don’t even understand the basics of Indian language, and often blanketly refers to them as liberals and Marxists. In the Indica Today article, Rajaram attacks secularism as something that can never “define a nation” and conflates Hindutva with Hinduism (or Sanatana Dharma) as a whole in order to present Hindutva as an extension of religious Hinduism and a broadly tolerant and pluralistic ideology rather than the exclusionary and fascist ethno-nationalism that it actually is. Meanwhile, Rajaram is also known widely in India as something of a “pioneer” in Hindutva scholarship, and is praised by the Indian right-wing because of it.
Rajaram is not the only link between the Indica family and the Hindutva movement. Just three weeks ago, Indica hosted what they called a “Hindutva Paradigm Book Tour”, which promoted a book called “The Hindutva Paradigm: Integral Humanism and Quest for a Non-Western Worldview” by Ram Madhav, which purports to examine the economic philosophy of Deen Dayal Upadhyay as a “human-centric” worldview capable of managing “the new world order”. Ram Madhav was also the national general secretary of the BJP and a national executive of the RSS, and has another book, “Because India Comes First”, which is also promoted by Indica and seems to advocate for right-wing nationalism while attacking “liberal fascists”. Incidentally, Deen Dayal Upadhyay was himself a Hindutva ideologue who seems to have adapted his concept of “Integral Humanism” from the organicist philosophy of M. S. Golwalkar, and in fact Upadhyay was the leader of the Bharatiya Jana Sangh (BJS), an RSS branch that preceded the modern BJP, until his death in 1968. And there are several other Hindutva books promoted by Indica, such as the “Savarkar” series by Vikram Sampath. More strikingly, last year Indica Today also promoted Vinayak D. Savarkar, the same man who openly praised Adolf Hitler and Nazism against Jawaharlal Nehru, as “a hero who stands tall in our History”, and continues to promote their article doing so. Indica still repeatedly praises and offers tribute to Savarkar, and just five days ago called upon authors and intellectuals to pay homage to Savarkar by reviewing his books. All of this by itself should be a clear refutation of Edward Butler’s apparent claims that Indica is a “non-political” organisation.
But these are still not the only links to Hindutva movement to be discovered. As Devo from The Twisted Rope has pointed out on their post on the subject, there are several members of the Indica team that have verifiable links to the Hindutva movement. Indic Academy seems to have been founded by a man named Hari Kiran Vadlamani. Although Vadlamani calls himself an “Indic Liberal”, he certainly has no issues with having the likes of Koenraad Elst, a Belgian right-wing activist who is, believe it or not, an RSS sympathizer, going on his platform to discuss his work. Karanam Aravinda Rao, one of Indica’s leaders and trustees, was the Director General of the Police in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, who retired in order to pursue his religious interests and now claims that international commentary on the Indian farmer protests is evidence of a vast international left-wing conspiracy to destabilise and take over India. Keep in mind that Indica bills him as an “anti-Naxal expert”. Vishal Agarwal, another trustee and author at Indica Today, takes money from the Hindu American Foundation and appears to promote the “Out of India” theory, a Hindutva narrative which holds that the Indo-Aryans were actually indigenous to India rather than having migrated from Iran, alongside other revisionists such as Michael Danino. Yet another trustee, Avatans Kumar, is a vocal supporter of Vinayak D. Savarkar and current Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and also likes to engage in all kinds of Covid-19-related crankery. In their Academic Council you’ll find Michael Danino, who I mentioned already as a historical revisionist, Meenakshi Jain, a Hindutva ideologue who promotes several books by other Hindutva ideologues, Subhash Kak, a right-wing computer scientist who not only supports the “Out of India” theory but also claims that the Rig Veda contained evidence of advanced computer science and astronomy, and M. D. Srinivas, a professor theoretical physics who is also a founding trustee of the Centre for Policy Studies, which is a think tank dedicated to “the essential civilizational genius of India” and the creation of “a polity that would allow the Indian genius to flourish and assert itself in the present day world”, and also seems to be associated with RSS. In fact, one of its Chapter Convenors is an actual BJP member named Jigar Champaklal Inamdar. All told, Hindutva is not only promoted by Indica, it’s also represented right at the top of its organisation and its internal hierarchy.
It has been said that Butler finds himself willing to defend these people on the grounds that polytheists of all stripes need to band together, possiblty in solidarity as a positive community or against a common enemy, in this case monotheism. But this is ever the problem with “unity” isn’t it? The same problem manifests way too often within the political left, where every so often you deal with expectations for the entire left to band together in unity, despite the obvious irreconcilable ideological differences contained within it and which, throughout history, have for the most part been reconciled principally through violence: with Bolsheviks suppressing anarchists, socdems, and left-communists, social-democrats ratting out communists to the state, anarchists occasionally attacking Marxist-Leninists, and so on, and so forth. Or, alternatively, it can be certain figures within the left, such as Caleb Maupin and Jimmy Dore, who argue that left-wing activists should unite with anyone else who opposes the capitalist system, even if they happen to be in the far-right or are outright fascists. This is a long-standing phenomenon within progressive/leftist circles that frequently has to be combatted, because it damages left-wing causes by allowing fascist infiltration to take place. Chip Berlet’s 1999 essay, titled “Right Woos Left“, is exhaustive but essential reading on the subject from a historical perspective.
The problem is thus: “unity” is not too valuable as an object in itself. As Ocean Keltoi once said, should we be expected to “unite” with bigots like the Asatru Folk Assembly while they openly advocate white supremacist politics, or for that matter with anyone who will not take the most basic stance you can take on condemning white supremacy? I would extend the question further. Would the whole of mankind unite with its oppressors, simply because it would mean that we all “get along”? Or should the problem of tyranny be resolved with the violent removal of tyrants, as it has often been done? Must the abused unite with their abusers, and victims with their victimizers, and the murdered with their murderers, because of some abstract and frankly fanciful belief in the goodness of coming together in itself? If your answer to this question is yes then, I’m sorry to tell you this, but you are functionally insane and your moral compass is fundamentally unreliable. I know it sounds harsh and you may even think that my questions are ridiculous, but I do believe that it is logical to conclude that if unity with everyone is an inherent good then unity with those who want to destroy or oppress you would be entailed, and that is just morally untenable.
And as to Butler’s apparent object of unity, perhaps we can address this too. I would agree wholeheartedly that monotheism and its secular cousin represents a force of spiritual hegemony that must be tirelessly opposed and deconstructed in order to realise the true depths of spiritual freedom for the world. I don’t think many Pagans would oppose that, at least in a vacuum. But while I would hardly hestiate to point out that the Quran contains some clearly violent denunciations of polytheism and also explicitly commands Muslims to not marry polytheists, and would criticise anyone trying to skirt that, I think we’re doing the discourse about Islamophobia a bit of a disservice if we fail to mention that a lot of attacks on Muslims are racially coded. I mean think about it. A lot of the same people who point out some of the violent and authoritarian content of the Quran don’t seem to have the same problem with the same type of content in the Bible. Admittedly, certain New Atheists and Satanists would be more consistent about that, but even then, are they? If they were, they’d have to conclude, starting from the premise that there is a clearly defined “Christian/Western Civilization” as opposed to “Islamic Civilization”, that both are based on violent and authoritarian creeds. Except, of course, that they don’t. The caveat might be that the West went through secularization and reform whereas the Islamic world didn’t. But the Islamic world too was subject to a phase in which rationalism, often an actually fairly rigid variety, took hold only to be replaced, and contrary to what Sam Harris and others who insist that there was no “Golden Age”, the philosophy of antiquity travelled through the Islamic World and influenced many sophistications in Islamic philosophy. Yet while classical philosophy is put on a pedestal by Christians, if only so they could claim it was secretly monotheist, the Islamic philosophy that was influenced by classical philosophy is simply ignored.
Hindutvas similiarly ignore any contributions that Muslims may have made tro philosophy, culture, art, or anything in India. Hindutvas also tend expand their concept of “Hinduness” as a political identity to include not only Hindus but also Buddhists, Jains, and Sikhs – all groups that practice religions that originated in India and are part of the family of dharmic religions – while excluding all other religious groups within India, such as Muslims and Parsis. Such is the mark of a worldview whose core political identity is based on ethnicity or race, which must then exclude all groups that do not define it or, from their perspective, somehow intrude upon it.
That is one reason why people like Edward Butler should not take the claims of the Hindutva movement seriously. Another reason, of course, is that the whole claim that Hindutva somehow represents the traditional continuation and preservation of Hindu polytheism is simply a lie. Vinayak D. Savarkar, one of the founding fathers of Hindutva, the man that Indica hails as a hero of indigenous Hindu polytheism, was actually an atheist who opposed many aspects of Hindu tradition. He described himself as a rationalist, opposed vegetarianism, which although not mandatory is promoted in Hindu scriptures and is often considered a matter of tradition, he opposed the Hindu tradition of considering the cow as a holy animal, and from there argued against cow protection, since he considered the cow to be a “pitiable” animal that was only the mother of the bullock and whose worship supposedly made the Indians docile, he rejected the concept of sacred land or geography, he apparently refused to allow the observance any traditional Hindu rites for his wife when she died, and even refused to allow her body to be brought home on the grounds that it was “no use lamenting her dead body”. This man is supposed to be a “defender of traditional Hinduism”? Ironically enough for modern Hindutvas, such as Navaratna S. Rajaram, who believe that the Hindu religion is what defines the Indian nation, the founder of Hindutva insisted that “Hinduness” was not defined by religion at all, but rather was simply defined by shared country, race, and civilization, and it is this secular ethno-nationalist outlook, not religious Hindu tradition, that is the origin of the base concept of Hindutva. The only reason Sarvarkar invoked Hinduism or any concept of Hindu identity was in a nationalistic sense, under the auspices of reclaiming territory from Muslims and British colonialists.
In a bizarre way, Savarkar actually seems to be an interesting 20th century example of the way modern volkisch Pagans, such as Marcus Follin (a.k.a. “The Golden One”) and Varg Vikernes, seem to reject any belief in gods or anything expressly divine while adopting the pre-Christian religions and myths of old as something of a cultural expression, an identity to be consolidated. The volkisch movement that swept Germany and gave rise to Nazism was less a sincere revival of any indigenous Germanic polytheism and more a kind of secular cultural ethno-nationalism which adopted romantic adaptions of Germany’s pre-Christian past, which were frequently syncretized with Chrisitian mysticism and/or other latent aspects of German Christianity, in order to create a modern unified conception of “German religion”, as part of a mobilized racial body politic to be directed by a nationalist state. Of course, the Nazis who later took power were not so secular, and supported a mystical and revisionist from of Christianity known as “Positive Christianity” as the religious basis for National Socialist ideology, while opposing and criminalizing secularism, paganism, and most forms of occultism.
The way that Hindutva ideologues talk about indigenous sovereignty and liberation is also a lie, and exists solely to recuperate the rhetoric of geniune indigenous national liberation as practiced by the oppressed. The thing to remember about Hindutva nationalism is that, beyond its more general ethnocentric quality, it is also fundamentally a kind of colonizer or oppressor nationalism. M. S. Golwalkar spelled it out himself when, in Bunch of Thoughts, he wrote that the most important step to realizing Hindutva ideology would be to “bury for good all talk of a federal structure” and “sweep away the existence of all autonomous and semi-autonomous states within Bharat”. Essentially, Golwalkar advocated for India to be consolidated as one single unitary government, organized as a highly centralised state, with no regional autonomy and there by no “fragmentational, regional, sectarian, linguistic, or other types of pride” that might be “playing havoc with our regional harmony”. This, particularly when paired with their proposals for an irredentist Akhand Bharat (“Undivided India”), together create the picture of a nationalism based not on anti-colonial freedom but on the oppression of autonomous and indigenous peoples, whose identity and liberty would be smothered by a single unitary nationalist identity, as dictated by imperialists and oppressors, as opposed to any kind of a liberationist concept of nationalism.
On top of that, the RSS never actually participated in any anti-imperialist/anti-colonial struggles in India. If there was any enthusiasm on the part of RSS membership to participate in events such as the Dandi March, that enthusiasm was emphatically discouraged by RSS leadership. And sometimes the RSS actively opposed expressions of nationalism or pro-independence politics. M. S. Golwalkar criticized RSS members who wanted to participate in independence struggles, the RSS apparently abstained from participating in the Quit India movement, which demanded the end of British rule in India, and even after India gained independence from the British, the RSS opposed the then-new tricolor flag, claiming that no Hindu would ever own it because it was based on an “evil” number (the RSS superstitiously believed that the word “three” was evil), and frequently denounced the newly independent government of India for its secular constitution, which they deemed inferior to the laws of the Manusmriti, which the RSS campaigned to replace the constitution.
Not even the self-sacrificial defiance and anti-colonial bravado attributed to Savarkar is credible. Whereas other anti-colonial revolutionaries, such as the Marxist anarcho-communist revolutionary Bhagat Singh, led a hunger strike while in prison, accused of murder, and faced execution for his cause, Savarkar repeatedly pled for mercy from the British after his arrest in 1911. In fact, Savarkar actually pledged allegiance to the British colonialists following his release from prison, and actively recruited Indians to join the British armed forces. This is after he was previously going off with the Free India Society to organize Indian students to fight for Indian independence. Sarvarkar was a “freedom fighter”, but only until the authorities caught him, and then he begged them to let him join their side instead. He was a coward. And while in prison, begging to be released, Savarkar glorified the British Empire and called for patriotic Indians to cooperate with the British government against the “fanatic hordes of Asia”. All this, taken together, is the reality of the Hindutva that Edward Butler ignorantly celebrates to the point of adovcating to “reclaim Hindutva”.
And let’s address the elephant in the room that is Hinduism, since Butler is prepared to conflate Hindutva with Hinduism as a whole while praising Hinduism as a bastion of surviving indigenous polytheism and pluralism against the tyranny of monotheism. I would insist that the reality is more complicated than this narrative might suggest. For starters, Hinduism is not solely to be understood as a polytheistic religion. In fact, there are certain implications to the concept that can be interpreted in a monotheistic way. There were also Hindu theologians and sects who argued for one deity as the supreme being, personality and agency behind everything, not unlike the monotheism observed in the West. This typically comprised of Vaishnavites, who worshipped Vishnu or Krishna as Bhagavan (or Svayan Bhagavan, meaning “God Himself”), though there were also Shaivites who worshipped Shiva in a similar fashion. It is true, though, that Hindu texts tend to affirm a plurality of perspectives through the idea of multiple deities as different expressions of the same divine principle, though I don’t know if that can adequately be described as “polytheism” per se, since polytheism at base would entail the existence of multiple divine agents or intelligences and not necessarily just different manifestations of the same agency or presence. It could be argued, however, that the practice of worshipping multiple deities, even under the belief that they all represent the same divine power, could constitute at least a functional polytheism, with certain sects practicing a form of monolatry within that.
It must also be said, though, that the pluralism attributed to Hinduism, while genuine, is not always reflected in the history of Hinduism in practice. Hinduism is certainly a broad family of religious doctrines and theologies, rather than a single monolithic creed, and you will certainly find a great diversity of teachings and sects, to say nothing of its grand and beautiful diversity of deities. But even the history of Hinduism is not without sectarian conflict or attempts to establish orthodoxy. We see some philosophical sects, such as Carvaka, seemingly translated as demonic enemies of dharma and the divine, and as Wendy Doniger has documented there has been bitter conflict between some sects, particularly between Vaishnavites and Shaivites, which has even seen them demonize each other’s gods. Hindu “reformists” were also in the habit of denouncing certain practices they didn’t like under the umbrella of “the left hand path”, as part of a campaign to consolidate conservative moral order which blamed those practices for the colonization of India by the British Empire.
With that out of the way, I think I should finally turn towards the real controversy surrounding all this. Indica’s Conference on Polytheism Today & Tomorrow brought together a wide diversity of polytheistic voices. Aliakai, Stephanos Chelydoreus, Ptahmassu Nofra-Uaa, Theanos Thrax, P. Sufenas Virius Lupus, Justin Shaffner and many more to discuss the different perspectives of their traditions in the context of modern polytheism. After everyone got wind of Indica’s connections to Hindutva, all of those people came under fire for having associated with Indica, and were questioned over their alleged affiliation with Indica. Several of the guests, at least as far as I’ve seen, have no affiliation with Indica. Only Edward Butler would have that distinction. Many had no idea what Hindutva even was. While that’s not a particularly good thing, it’s not entirely fair to have a go at these people for lacking knowledge on the subject or the Indica, especially when, once it became clear to them that Indica was bad news, they publicly denounced Indica.
I think it must have seemed difficult, given that many of them had previously had positive relationships with Edward Butler. In fact Butler seems to have played a role in inspiring the work of other polytheists to release books. Might we say that Butler was a positive influence despite his odious connections and positions? Might we say retroactively that he was nothing but bad news know that we know about his infatuation with Hindutva? These are questions I don’t quite have easy answers for. I for one can believe that it’s much harder for people who’ve met and worked with him, not realizing his motives, to deal with all this, than it is for self-styled internet watchdogs who quasi-professionally compile dossiers for both real and merely accused fascists. But however valuable Butler’s work might have been, it is my suspicion that his interest in Hindutva colours apsects of his thought and analysis, which might prove to be a danger to the Pagan community, and since Hindutva is a form of fascism, that can’t be tolerated. As such, Butler cannot continue to provide a nexus between the Pagan community and the forces of Hindutva. The scrutiny should thus be reserved for Edward Butler and Indica, not for the people who merely appeared at the Indica conference.
Edit Notice, 28/01/2022: In light of the findings presented in a later post, “Nazism is not, and never was, Pagan”, a section of this post has been edited to reflect the fact Hitler and the Nazis were in fact a Christian and not secular.
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