The BJP’s holy war

So, we’re here it would seem. This past week we’ve seen a historic escalation of tensions between India and Pakistan that will probably, though some would say not assuredly, lead to war between the two countries – a decidedly grim prospect for the region and perhaps beyond considering both countries possess an arsenal of nuclear weapons. Before we get into the main angle I had in mind for this post it’s worth going over just what happened, and it’s worth keeping in mind several developments had been occurring on Tuesday alone.

Ever since the partition of India from the British Empire in 1947, there has been conflict between India and Pakistan at the borders of the two countries, with particular attention paid to the Kashmir territory, but the last few weeks have seen major conflagration on the India-Pakistan border. In February 14th when a Deobandi Islamist terror group named Jaish-e-Mohammed attacked Indian convoys in Pulwama. The Pakistani government denies being involved in the attack, and the group is not obviously connected to the Pakistani government (although the Indian media frequently claims the opposite), in fact the group is officially banned in Pakistan. However, that didn’t stop India from sending its jets over the border in order to strike Pakistani territory, claiming that they were attacking a terrorist camp. In response, Pakistan began firing shells at India, and is even beginning to hint about the use of nuclear weapons.

This, I think, should be a concise enough summation of the surrounding events. Now, then, we can get to the angle I want to postulate – that India is the primary aggressor in the recent standoffs, and that the intent behind this is to wage holy war with Pakistan.

For starters, while the Indian government claims it was striking Jaish-e-Mohammed in Balatok, Pakistani locals tend to say that no damage was done to Jaish within the area. This raises the question of just what India attacked if not a Jaish base. That they attacked Pakistan in response to Jaish-e-Mohammed’s attack suggests that they consider Jaish-e-Mohammed to be an ally of Pakistan or a proxy of Pakistan. Although there is no real evidence that Jaish-e-Mohammed is backed by Pakistan, some scholars and the Indian media like to claim that Pakistan funds them. It is possible that the Indian government assumes this as well, and that this was the rationale to strike at Pakistan in response to being attacked by Jaish forces.

Oh, and speaking of the Indian media, One key thing to remember is that Indian media on the subject of Pakistan, especially right now, is about as untrustworthy as American media is on countries they either don’t like or think should be invaded by the US. In fact, the Indian media is in full spin generating falsehoods about Pakistan’s role in the recent standoff in order to cultivate manufactured consent for war in the Indian population. One Indian Express article for example claims that Pakistan used F-16 aircraft to attack Indian bases, without actually presenting any evidence (despite having “here’s the proof” in the headline). It is entirely possible in my view India is seeing the same type of disinformation campaign that presaged the American invasion of Iraq in 2002.

But why I do I suspect a big religious angle to the coming conflict? Why holy war? Well, the first thing that stuck out for me is how, hours after the airstrikes launched at Pakistan, the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi took a metro journey in Dehli from Khan Market to East of Kailash in order to visit the ISKCON Temple (also known as the Glory Of India & Vedic Cultural Centre), as well as apparently unveiling a giant Bhagavad Gita at an event held there. More starkly, in that same event he gave a speech following the air strikes wherein he said this:

“The power of God is always with us to save the Earth from the enemies of humanity. We are attempting to spread this message with complete authenticity to the evil spirits and asuras. Today is very significant.”

Judging from the context of this speech, it’s very clear that Modi is referring to the nation of Pakistan and its people as demons, as Asuras (the enemies of the Devas) and as enemies of humanity, from whom the Earth is to be saved. This is very explicitly not only a prelude to conflict within the region and a sign of India’s intent to fight Pakistan but also a clear invocation of the Hindu religion in support of the coming war.

It is also worth noting that a major goal of Hindutva ideology is the creation of the Akhand Bharata (or “Undivided India”), an irredentist project aimed at bringing together the whole Indian subcontinent under the rule of India. This of course would require the subjugation of Pakistan by India so that it may come under its rule.

But what is the angle on the part of the BJP for such holy war? In my view, the answer may lie in good old-fashioned political maneuvering. There is to be a general election in India this year, expected to be held between April and May, and from what I understand Narendra Modi has been declining in popularity. In August 2018 his popularity slipped below 50% for the first time, and by the end of the year many Indians began to consider that their lives have worsened under his tenure as Prime Minister. However, the recent strikes against Pakistan have been a source of hope for the BJP, as Indians have been taking to the streets to celebrate India’s attack on Pakistan – which has been interpreted as a sign that Modi’s popularity may be set to grow again just a few months ahead of his potential re-election.

So, while I have no doubt Pakistan is pretty dangerous in this situation as well, I suspect India is acting as the primary aggressor in this mess, seeking to engender a holy war in the region in order to crush Pakistan so that Modi can stay in power for a little longer in order to flex on Islam. Kind of a petty way to send millions of people to their deaths if you ask me.

The rise of Hindu nationalism in India and beyond

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.

Narendra Modi depicted in “‘Chai Pe Charcha” with Ganesha

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.

The fact that the world famous Taj Mahal was built by a Mughal emperor doesn’t seem to bother Hindutvas for some reason.

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.

Naramalli Sivaprasad, dressed as Hitler for some reason

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.

Leftists, beware.”

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.

Bajrang Dal members seen burning a cross-shaped effigy, possibly being used as a symbol for Valentine’s Day

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.

Tulsi Gabbard seen presenting Narendra Modi with a copy of the Bhagavad Gita as a gift

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 book Ram 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.

The badge that Anders Breivik ordered 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.

The phenomenon and ideology of devil worship in India

It appears that that India is seeing more cases of alleged devil worship and black magick within the last few years, leading to reports of “Satanic cults” springing up within the country. Because of this it is of some value to take a look at what exactly these cults believe. Do they actually represent a form of Satanism as is being reported, or is it simply a form of edgy spiritism that utilizes Satan for its own ends? Are we dealing with a serious philosophical or spiritual tradition here, or just something that a few deranged individuals do for fun?

To start with, let’s take a look at the extent of the phenomenon in question. It’s not clear, but there has been increasing coverage of stories of devil worship since at least 2013, centering around the regions of Kerala and Nagaland. At one point the Vatican news outlet Agenzia Fides claimed that Nagaland was host to around 3,000 teenage devil worshipers in the summer of 2013. In 2014, in the Christian majority region of Meghalaya, the local government has started carrying out night patrols in an attempt to police so-called Satanic activities, with particular attention being paid to graveyards based on the belief that devil worshipers gather in graveyards in order to conduct their rituals at night. Particular concern is often paid to Kerala, where apparently a number of bizarre ritualistic crimes have taken place over the years, sparking concern of a rise of so-called Satanism in the region. Notable activities reported within Kerala include theft and/or desecration of communion bread for the purposes of performing a Black Mass, desecrations of churches, and even murders. What is interesting to note about Kerala is that it is considered the most literate and progressive state in India, which suggests that the rise of black magick and devil worship isn’t confined to the poor and religiously and socially backwards parts of the country.

But just what does this phenomenon represent as a broad system? Media reports on the subject will often talk of it in the context of “Satan worship” or “Satanic cults”, but having scoured said reports, I am unsure what this is based on. VICE actually did an article on the subject a few days ago in which Zeyad Masroor Khan investigates one group of people engaged in some sort of black magick in the city of Aligarh, located in the state of Uttar Pradesh. For Khan, the supposed “Satanism” described in India . In fact, here is what Khan makes of the overall philosophy of the group:

“The philosophy of the “blood brothers” is based on a combination of ideas derived from Satanic literature, religious texts, paganism, the popular art and fortuities—the sign that they say universe keeps throwing to them about the existence of forces that created it.”

In other words, it’s a hodge-podge of what appear to unrelated concepts, brought together by either the vague sense of a search for esoteric knowledge and power, affinity with darkness (not to mention dark music such as black metal), and possibly a proclivity towards superstition. It also seems to be more decadent than the Satanism you find here in the West, with members of the black magick group frequently taking illicit drugs whilst studying their philosophy.

Some members of the group have a different interpretation than others. Here is what is described of the conception of Satanism held by one of the members of the Aligarh black magick group, who goes by BlackLeg.

“For him, Satanism is not “a religion”. “In its essence, it’s about worshipping yourself,” he said. He said there’s no conflict between his beliefs and those of his religious girlfriend.

BlackLeg’s philosophical view of Satanism contrasts with some of the things V said his group participated in. “We did everything,” V told me, “from desecrating holy books to asking people to stand on the Quran, to test their devotion. Some of us did that, while the weaker ones refused.””

Apparently some members of the group are more inclined to the LaVeyan, philosophical angle of Satanism, while others (possibly the majority) are into actual black magick coinciding with a vague of theistic worship of the infernal pantheon – I say vague because I know most theistic Satanists I know actually have a guiding spiritual philosophy or ideology underpinning their belief system, and because of the lack of information surrounding their actual beliefs.

This, of course, is just one group, in what might be the only article I’ve seen that actually attempts to go into detail as to what the Indian devil worshipers believe. The rest of the articles I’ve come across make no real attempt to articulate the kind of “Satanic” belief system they think they’re dealing with.

For instance, in the case of a 2013 UACN article titled “Satan worshippers suspected in theft in Kerala church“, the main source of suspicion of Satanism on the part of by local church authorities is the disappearance of communion bread, which is suspected to be proof of Satanists using it to perform a Black Mass. To be fair, it does sound like something the Church of Ahriman would do (though they ultimately returned the communion wafer they stole in order to avoid a lawsuit by the Oklahoma City Archdiocese), but on its own this is not much evidence of Satanism, and we have only a plausible guess to the motives of the incident. Another UACN article, dated to 2012, claims that Satanists attacked a church in Mizoram. What does this attack have to do with Satanism you might ask? Apparently because police found a stack of burned Bibles and, I shit you not, a large A sign signifying anarchy. Yep. It’s that lame. Any Satanist worth their salt will tell that this does not necessarily equate to an actual Satanic ritual. Ironically, the article points out the advice of experts who implicitly hint that the activities of these youths are not influenced by a coherent Satanic philosophy, but largely by Western pop culture, particularly horror moves. Unfortunately, this is also interpreted from the Christian lens as being the influence of celebrities who, allegedly pray to Satan in order to gain fame, wealth and power – which, let’s face it, is about as sensible as Paul Joseph Watson’s claims about Pizzagate and the Illuminati.

In a 2017 article from Firstpost, the main subject is a man murdering his family members so as to “detach” their souls from their bodies, supposedly to free them. The man was also said to be involved with astral projection, which police suspect to be tied to Satan worship. In no way is it actually established what connection there is to Satanism or even Satan worship at all. The only thing vaguely related is the discussion of the communion bread theft incident from earlier. Also discussed is the selling of consecrated hosts stolen from churches. The fact that it seems that it is Christians who are selling the hosts suggests that the connection to Satan worship is not quite so clear cut. The article brings up the concept of “Satan worship” several times but does not seem capable of attaching to the various crimes to any coherent phenomenon of Satanism. In fact, within the same article you can find similar black magick practices within Hindu cults which suggest that what Indian media refers to as “Satan worship” is actually just a kind of Hindu black magick that has been around for centuries, just that I guess some people decided to dress it up in some vague diabolism lifted from horror movies. Perhaps the only thing actually connecting these things to Satanism or Satan worship is either the general loose conception of black magick, long held to be part of the doctrine of Satan, or the blasphemy associated with some of the actions, such as the stealing and selling of consecrations, which surely are the sign of Satanic activity according to India’s Christian population.

Sometimes even the police in India have trouble believing the whole angle of “Satan worship”. In the case of a murder committed by Cadell Jeansen Raja, police doubted his claim that he was a Satan worshiper and had him referred to a psychiatrist, who noted his interest in paranormal beliefs and concepts and suspects him to be living in his own reality, but otherwise the interrogation was said to be ongoing. Police also suspect that his murder was actually motivated not by supernatural belief, but instead by revenge. They say that Raja’s stories about his beliefs regarding astral projection, Satan worship and the paranormal were fabrications, and that his real motivation was his desire to avenge a long period of neglect by his family and a personal suspicion that his father was cheating on his spouse with other women. Raja is currently admitted to a mental hospital in Oolampara.

In an ironic twist, there is something that, in a loose sense, you could interpret as “demon worship” that occurs in India that is also entirely part of the expansive Hindu religion! In the small village of Peringottukara, located within the Thrissur district of Kerala, locals worship a deity named Kuttichathan through special and costly pujas and sacrifices overseen by holy men in order to gain prosperity and dispel black magic. The name Kuttichathan means “little ghost”, sometimes interpreted as “little demon” or “little imp”, and he does sometimes get interpreted as a demon. However, Kuttichathan also seems to be the name of a deity named Vishnumaya, a deity of wealth, magic and illusions. Vishnumaya is held to be a son of the deity Shiva, born of carnal union between Shiva and a human woman named Kulivaka, and he acquired his name because he took the form of the deity Vishnu using his magic. The closest thing to “devil worship” in India is Hindu worship centered around a demigod born from one of the supreme deities, though it is suspected by some that the pujas devoted to him are part of a money-scheming by religious ideologues preying on the gullible.

So, there you have it. The phenomenon of “Satan worship” in India is not a coherent movement of Satanism, but the appropriation of folk black magick for either rebellious or criminal ends, and in at least one case it’s just a convenient pretext to hide someone’s real motives for committing horrible crimes. In one case it’s a strange intersection of gothic and extreme metal subculture, occult philosophy, Indian black magick, drugs and general teenage rebellion. Many cases are mysterious acts of blasphemy that have less to do with authentic Satanism and more to do with youthful rebellion. There is no guiding ideology behind this phenomenon. I suspect the charge of “Satan worship” is an invention of both Indian media and Christians.

A man dressed up as Kuttichathan as part of a theyyam (a kind of ritual performance)

Mythological Spotlight #2: Shukracharya

 

Shukracharya as depicted by Pieter Weltevrede 

Description

In Indian mythology, Shukracharya is the guru and preceptor of the Asuras (the antigods of Hindu myth) and one of the Navagrahas of Hindu astrology. The Navagrahas are a group of deities associated with the planets, the Sun and Moon, and the north and south lunar nodes, and Shukracarya was the deity associated with the planet Venus, which is sometimes believed to be the most benevolent astrological influence. As the lord of the planet Venus, he was associated with pleasure, romance, wealth,  jewellry, reproduction, comfort, passion, art, music, dance, love, and the spring season, and he presides over Fridays. Shukracharya also goes by the name of Asuracharya, due to him being the guru of the Asuras. Shukracharya also seems to be a devotee of the deity Shiva, and by performing penances or austerities to Shiva he gained the power of the Sanjivani Mantra, a magical formula capable of resurrecting the dead. Shukracharya is described as handsome, as being of agreeable countenance, and as being proud of his knowledge and spiritual power, but also as having a hatred for the devas and the deity Vishnu, and as the guru of the Asuras he is at odds with a being known as Brihaspati, the guru of the devas associated with the planet Jupiter.

History

Shukracharya was said to have been the son of Bhrigu, who was one of the seven great sages or Saptarishi and is credited with being the father of Indian astrology. At some point in his life he went on to study the Vedas under a sage named Angirasa, but was repulsed by what he saw as favoritism towards Brihaspati, who happened to be one of his sons, and decided to study under a sage named Gautama (not to be confused with Siddhartha Gautama) instead. After the time in which Shukracharya learned the Sanjivani Mantra, Brihaspati become the guru of the Devas. Due to Shukracarya’s hatred of the devas, and his hatred of Vishnu (due to the latter’s killing of Shukracharya’s mother), he become the guru of the Asuras. In this capacity, Shukracharya would use the power of the Sanjivani Mantra to revive the armies of the Asuras. The Devas would kill the Asuras, but Shukracharya would revive them.

Shukracharya would come to be the advisor of many Asura kings, including Mahabali, Jalandhara, and Vishiparva. When Vishnu incarnates as Vamana in the story of Mahabali, Shukracharya instantly recognizes Vamana as Vishnu and tries to warn Mahabali about Vamana, but Mahabali did not listen and chose to grant Vamana’s request, leading to him being crushed by Vamana when he becomes gigantic in size. Shukracharya is also the one who appoints Jalandhara as king of the Asuras after seeing his power, and tells Jalandhara of how Vishnu deceived the Asuras out of their right to some gems that were churned out of the ocean, inspiring him to go to war with the devas.

The Devas were, naturally, feeling threatened by Shukracharya’s knowledge and power, particularly his power to resurrect the dead. After pressured their guru Brihaspati to come up with a way to resurrect their armies, but Brihaspati told them that he did not know any formula that could do this. Brihapati’s son, Kacha, offered to go to Shukracharya in order to learn the art of resurrection and the Devas allowed him to do so. Shukracharya could not send Kacha away for seeking to learn the Sanjivani Mantra, so he accepted him as his disciple and allowed him to stay in his ashram, and in return Kacha served Shukracharya with all his heart. However, over time, the Asuras knew of Kacha and became suspicious, sensing that Kacha was sent from the Devas so that they could learn the Sanjivani Mantra and resurrect their armies in battle. So they killed Kacha, but Shukracharya figured out this had happened and resurrected him, and every time Kacha was killed he would be resurrected. After six attempts, the Asuras killed Kacha again, this time powdering his bones and mixing it in Shukracharya’s favorite drink (somarasa), and so when Shukracharya drank it he unwittingly ingested the mortal remains of Kacha. Eventually, Shukracharya realized what had happened, and initially lamented that he could not resurrect him this time. But his daughter Devayani, who had fallen in love with Kacha, persisted, and eventually he chanted the Sanjivani Mantra and sprinkled water on his body. Kacha was resurrected, but he tore out of Shukracharya’s stomach in order to come back to life. Shukracharya died, but since Kacha had learned the Sanjivani Mantra, he was able to revive Shukracharya. Having completed his studies, and having become frustrated with the Asuras killing him constantly, he requested that Shukracharya allow him to leave, which he did. Kacha was now able to teach the Sanjivani Mantra to the devas, but he could not use it himself due to being cursed by Devayani for rejecting her offer of marriage.

There’s not much more for me to say other than there are some who believe that Shukracharya is the same as Allah, the supreme being of Islamic belief, but that seems like it’s basically the same as saying Freemasonry is the same thing as Baal worship, and there’s no evidence of any link between Shukracharya and Allah. Also, the people who make the claim also try to point out that the mythological Asuras are in fact referring to Muslims. You don’t need me to tell you that that’s down right nutty.

Conclusion

Shukracharya seems like an interesting character, and he seems to have been very powerful and influential among the Asuras. That he was able to see through Vishnu’s tricks is pretty telling with regards to how intelligent he must have been. I find it very interesting that a being associated with love and benefic influences is also a being intensely motivated by his hatred toward Vishnu and the devas, and he seems to have been happy to impart his knowledge to those who seek it in earnest, even when it was someone who was helping the enemy (though he may not have known that). It’s also funny that such a being was associated with Venus. I’m not saying Shukracharya was the Indian equivalent of Lucifer, but there’s a lot about Shukracharya that I think can be related to Lucifer, if perhaps superficially. All-in-all, I think there’s a lot about him to be interested in.

What the fuck is happening in India?

You won’t believe what I’ve heard of recently out of India. In a village in the Baghpat district of India, a girl named Meenakshi and her younger sister have been “sentenced” to rape by an all-male council who seems to be operating outside of India’s legal system. They’ve ordered that the girls be raped, their faces blackened, and that they be paraded naked, apparently as “punishment for their brother eloping with a married woman from a higher caste, and the two girls in question are fleeing the village and pleading for protection from India’s Supreme Court.

There’s absolutely everything wrong with what’s going on here. The most obvious of these things is that sexual violence is apparently something people use to punish people, which no civilized or well-ordered social system would ever allow. The fact that it’s an all-male council ordering this also clearly reeks of misogyny. Then there’s the fact the council claims it is enforcing an “eye-for-an-eye form of justice”, which seems wrong to me for at least two reasons: (1) the principle of lex talionis (eye for an eye justice) doesn’t apply if you’re “punishing” someone who didn’t commit a crime instead of someone who did commit the crime, and most crucially (2) why the fuck is adultery considered a criminal offence, let alone one that can be punished with the sexual violence the council describes? But what’s really striking is that these village councils are operating completely outside the legal authority of the Indian government, which would make their rulings entirely extrajudicial in nature. According to Amnesty International, who are running a petition in order to ensure that the girls are protected, there are a number of village councils (referred to as Khat Panchyats) across India that are unelected and operate outside of India’s legal system, and are often run by older men from dominant castes who prescribe rules for social behavior and interaction. India’s Supreme Court condemns these councils as “kangaroo courts” and their rulings are deemed illegal, but apparently that doesn’t mean much because these councils continue to operate in rural areas of India and continue to carry out their decisions outside the legal authority of India’s government, and to me this means that India’s government is more powerless to do anything about these councils than it should be.

An Indian cartoon illustrating pretty much what is going in parts of India.

This is something that can’t be allowed to continue, and the worst thing about it is this not the only time something like this has happened in India. In January of last year, a village tribunal in West Bengal decreed that a 20-year old woman be sexually assaulted by 12 people as “punishment” for falling in love with a man from outside of the community and then failing pay a fine of 50,000 rupees imposed by the village council. Four years earlier, in the same area, village elders ordered a young woman to strip naked and walk before large crowds for having relations with a man from a different caste. In July that same year, a village from the state of Jharkhand ordered the rape of a 14-year old girl after her brother was accused of assaulting a married woman. As a matter of fact, sexual violence in general is a serious problem in India, one that gained major exposure after an incident in 2012 where a young girl was gang-raped and left to die in Dehli, and unfortunately one that India’s government has been accused of having a poor track record of dealing with. Despite promising to crack down on rape and sexual violence and despite strengthening rape laws, the Indian government hasn’t done a lot to prevent women from having to fear for their lives, especially in rural villages where the government doesn’t seem to be doing a lot about the village councils who operate outside the legal authority of the government. In the case of the latter, the problem is that these councils operate on old forms of tradition that view women not as individuals, but as representations of the “honor” of a man or a community, a horrible view that seems to have gone unchanged in rural parts of India.

Some conclusions regarding Hinduism and my own beliefs

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?

Vishnu, the Buddha, the devas, and Hindu lore

In India, Buddhism is not very popular despite the fact that it originated there. Part of the reason is the fact that Hinduism seems to have adapted the story of the Buddha, Siddartha Gautama, into its own lore. Specifically, there is a Hindu belief that the historical Buddha was the ninth avatar of the deity Vishnu, who is said to preserve the universe and protect its balance.

Different reasons are put forward for why Vishnu assumed the form of Buddha within this theory. Some believe Vishnu was promoting the idea of ahimsa (non-violence) in this form, others believe Vishnu wanted to see if people would remain faithful to the Vedic dharma, and there’s a story in the Puranas which suggests that Buddha was born to delude and confuse the enemies of the devas by preaching “false views” and thus weaken them. You could say this was a ploy to convert Buddhists into the Hindu tradition, but you could also say it was a smear campaign against Buddhism (which was viewed as a nastika or heterodox religion) on the part of orthodox Hindu thinkers.

Vishnu and his ten avatars (Dashavatara), including the Buddha.

The Puranic interpretation is the one I find odd. Why would the gods, who are supposedly interested in the truth, go out of their way to deliberately deceive humans, let alone demons, for any reason? How’s it any different from how, in Christian tradition, God apparently lets Satan and his demons “mislead” his own creation? In modern Hindu lore, the gods (or devas) chose the path of truth and their enemies (the asuras) supposedly chose falsehood (in reality it’s about Hindu ideas of spirituality versus materialism), and to me it often just seems like a worthless conflict. Think about it: although there are sometimes genuinely evil deeds punished by gods, usually it’s just either the gods trying to maintain hegemony over the world under the guise of preserving righteousness and the balance, or a mere morality tale of Hindu/Brahmanist social and spiritual ideas defeating materialism and godlessness.

This is also why I barely take Hindu mythology seriously or with the level of religious devotion that may or may not be accidentally implied, and merely use or venerate Hindu gods as a pagan (while not actually worshipping them or providing externality to their existence) but not their mythologies, because in Hindu mythology the gods are mainly a vehicle for both a morality tale and a concept of an external god, since they are merely forms of God in Hindu tradition.

Why Gandhi is overrated

Those who have read my blog probably know me for rejecting and criticising the figures that everyone else takes up as their saints or social gods. Mother Teresa, The Dalai Lama,  even Jesus (assuming he physically existed). There’s also, among more recent figures, Pope Francis. Gandhi is no exception, for he is another figure who has been granted a halo by a society that seeks someone to say the things the masses want to hear.

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi is widely known for being a saint who championed non-violent resistance and his notorious hunger strikes and stern rejection of his own desires. He certainly fought against British colonial rule, but that alone will not make him a saint.

I’ve always seen him as nothing more than somebody with an artificial halo who is famous because he tells our people what they want to hear, on top being just another ascetic. But that’s the least of my problems with his image.

In South Africa, where he began a career as an attorney, he published articles supporting racial segregation, clearly indicative of him as a racist figure.  And he actually shared a bed with his two nieces, naked, supposedly in order to test his ability to resist the temptations of the material world.

Also, he was a hypocrite. For someone who advocated non-violence and pacifism, and for someone who opposed colonialism, Gandhi in 1918 agreed to actively recruit the people of India to fight during World War I, though in his defence he stated that he wouldn’t personally kill anyone and that he probably did it to for the cause of Indian independence. Even then though, while I should respect anyone’s willingness to fight for anything, in Gandhi’s case it just seems hypocritical.

Honestly though, my main problem with Gandhi is that, whether he intended it or not, he became a cult, and after he died he became even more of a cult for the masses who just seem to worship him. Everyone seems to think he changed the world, but he didn’t. In my opinion, all he did was sell peaceful protest to the world and preach pacifism, which we are now kinda high on. But that’s it. He didn’t do anything. All you see is world leaders spouting crap.

Detachment from the Hindu philosophy

I’ve been doing some research and some thinking, and I am realizing that there isn’t any hope for me and Hindu philosophy. I have had trouble reconciling Hinduism with individualism, and I think the reason for this is because individualism is simply not present in Hindu philosophy.

The first reason for this is because of the obvious values of devotion to God and self-abnegation or self-sacrifice. Individualistic philosophies place emphasis on the individual, and thus the self. Hindu philosophy, meanwhile, values the surrender of the self to God, the abandoning of desire and want, and the cessation of the self and the idea of the individual, and Hindu rishis often describe individualism as a path that leads nowhere, thus marking what is actually anti-individualism. I find that Hinduism’s emphasis on this idea of self-surrender inescapable, as is their emphasis on God, and I can’t find any hope of bringing individualism into it.

Then you have the concept of Dharma. If Hinduism is not a religion, then it is a way of life based on this concept of Dharma, which is about duty (which I have traditionally seen as an artificial moral obligation imposed by others), drawing close to the family and family traditions, and thus family values (which I see as little more than social conservatism), and sacrifice. Again, I find this easily contradicts the spirit of individualism, since individualism is about you, yourself, and your freedom to walk your own path, as opposed to following society, thus it goes against any communal attitudes. I don’t follow the traditions of my family, I follow what I believe and for myself.

The fact is, individualism isn’t very big in Indian philosophy, or that matter many Eastern societies. In the West, we are quite familiar with individualism as a philosophy which values the individual as free to walk his own path (though this is not to say Western society has always valued the individual, or even honestly values the individual today), but many Eastern societies such as India and China valued family and clan more than the individual (China in particular traditionally values social harmony over the individual). In Indian society, there was much importance given to family and the group, only rarely did the individual take centre stage.

I still love Hindu mythology, lore, symbols, gods, and art, and still adore the force known to their culture as Shakti (which I find is related to the horned force, or the raw primal force, or Chaos), but I cannot subscribe to the Hindu philosophy and I cannot identify as Hindu. Ultimately I am a Satanist, and a pagan, because that is where my beliefs and philosophy lie, all I can do is venerate Hindu gods my own way, or in a much more pagan sense. And I like to think I still have a connection to the lore but not the philosophy. Although, I still have some interest in Tantra, and I have no major beef with Carvaka, despite its atheism and materialism (which I find to be rather dull especially for Indian philosophy).

Of course, it could be possible that those who wish to surrender themselves to a higher force simply have the wrong idea of how to approach the force of Shakti, as a dear friend of mine tells me.

The truth about the caste system

When talking about Hinduism and Hindu beliefs, people often mention the caste system, and often associate and lump the caste system in with Hinduism, as though it was actually religiously mandated. In reality, this is far from the truth.

The Indian caste system is actually a social idea, mandated by Indian society, not religion. It was never sanctioned by Hindu texts, despite what some in the West may believe. While Hindu texts do mention a system of social stratification that divides people based on class, work, and other things, it is merely described, not advocated or mandated. Some even think the caste system is an invention of the British colonialists, but this is debatable, and some question the idea as little more than revisionist history.

Not only is the caste system a societal creation rather than divine or religious mandate, and not associated with Hinduism, it’s also not even unique to India to begin with. Lots of societies had social stratification back then, and sadly still do today. In the Indian subcontinent alone, the idea of a caste system is also practiced by small groups of Christians, Muslims, and Buddhists, though keep in mind I do mean small groups.

The idea of caste being religiously or spiritually mandated probably comes from a major misunderstanding on the part of Westerners, particularly those who have confused social mandates with religious ideas.