Following the outrage caused by the bad taste in outfit at a fancy dress party by British royal, Prince Harry, the Liberal group in the European Parliament have argued that, since all of Europe suffered because of the Nazis’ crimes, there should be a continent-wide ban of Nazi symbols. Unfortunately this has coincided with the long overdue campaign to reclaim the swastika by Hindus. Due to the ideological associations which this most ancient of religious symbol has accrued via still comparatively recent crimes against humanity, it may be worth mentioning some related issues which have so far been allayed. Certain groups, notably the Jews, who suffered under the Nazis, and were its explicit targets for extermination, may be apprehensive at the use of this symbol under which so many were annihilated on the basis that they were subhumans. This is something that should create equal apprehension among Hindus, as they also have been victims of the same ideology. Reference here is not only to the more well known cases of the attacks and insults which “Asian” immigrants suffered on an almost daily basis in the UK, but to the conveniently forgotten Holocaust of the Roma or “Gypsies” (who are descendants of Indian Hindus) under the same Third Reich that carried out the “Final Solution” to what it saw as the “Jewish Problem”. Hindu organisations should therefore be commended and supported in their efforts to reclaim the ancient symbol of the swastika, but need to ensure that it is firmly differentiated from the design and symbolism of the Nazi swastika, and anything associated with it.
The swastika is an ancient symbol associated with good luck, used regularly in places such as Hindu weddings, Jain iconography, and Buddhist temples. It is associated as a symbol of good luck and with the solar deity Surya. Hindus cannot be blamed that Hitler, who had no respect neither for Hindus nor Hindu culture, decided to steal their symbol for the visual manifestation and to give vent to his own nauseating ideas. If Hindus are to be blamed for the use of something like this, then are they to be blamed for the false use of the term “Aryan” to mean race? In fact the Sanskrit word “Arya” means person of noble quality, and does not connote race, nor even linguistics. So how did this ancient symbol of Hindu culture become associated with Nazi ideology?
The British Imperialist rulers of India began an earnest interest and research into the ancient civilisation of which they were now the colonial masters. One of the earliest was Sir William Jones (1746-94) who established the Royal Asiatic Society. A gifted linguist who studied Sanskrit, Jones is widely regarded as the father of “Indology”. Knowledge of this ancient and sacred Hindu language made many scholars realise not only its great antiquity, but also its affinity to most of the languages spoken in the West, an interest that was taken up most stridently by the Germans. A weak and divided people at the time suffering the threat of domination by either France or Austria, the Germans were split into various states and dukedoms, the largest of which was Prussia. This period of alienation, accentuated by events such as the fall of the Holy Roman Empire due to Napoleon’s conquest, led many German thinkers of the early nineteenth century to look for inspiration to India. These included Frederick von Schlegel, his brother Augustus Wilhelm, Wilhelm von Humbolt, Arthur Schopenhauer, and Hegel. There was also the rise of romanticism in Germany, a reaction to the industrialisation of European society that was fast gathering pace. An idealisation of the past before industrialisation could manifest itself in the poetry of Wordsworth, in Britain (the first nation to embark on what became known as the Industrial revolution) by which a rurally based society was replaced by one that was increasingly urbanised, technologically driven and found its output in factories rather than subsistence agriculture. But in continental Europe, romanticism meant something else. As well as idealising the pre-industrial “purity” of humans living in harmony with nature, the German romanticists also talked of the pagan heroes before the time of Christianity, in their view, brave warriors who held off the Romans in the almost impenetrable forests of central Europe. This however also had a more sinister side. Some romanticists wanted to free themselves of the “alien” Jewish contamination brought into German society by Christianity, as well as by the Jews themselves. This anti-Semitism is most obvious in the operas of Wagner, where Siegfried is elevated to the status of Teutonic messiah, almost Christ-like. In fact this renewed interest in the pre-Christian German pagan past bore more resemblance in its nineteenth century version to the inflexible dogma of the Church as it existed then, than it did to anything remotely resembling the ancient Germanic folk beliefs. Slavophilism in Russia with its idealisation of the peasant and village, even more virulent anti-Semitism, and deep suspicion of all things Western, including the much needed industrialisation (which could in fact have saved the Czarist Empire from falling to the vice of Communism) was another manifestation of this extreme romanticist trend.
As Prussia emerged as a military power and German unification was achieved in 1871, the British looked on with alarm. Indeed Sir Henry Maine, former Vice-Chancellor of Calcutta University said:
“..a nation has been borne out of Sanskrit.”
The idea, especially after the 1857 Rebellion, that Indians might unite like the Germans or French, under the power of the “Brahmans”, and this would seriously undermine the divide and rule policy which colonialism had engineered. This accentuated a process that had begun much earlier by a British educationalist in India, Thomas Babbington Macaulay (1800-1859), who wanted to create a class of Indians educated in the English language and way of thinking so as to uphold colonial rule, a self-alienated group which would act as intermediary between the “white masters” and the “dark subjects”. To this day, the term “Macaulayite” is used as the best term to describe a self-alienated Indian who feels closer to non-Hindu models to look at Hinduism, notably Marxism.
As Indians and especially Hindus took enthusiastically to the new schools and colleges which imparted western education, Macaulay saw this as a means of achieving another one of his goals, the mass conversion of Hindu society, especially its upper echelons to Christianity. He made this candidly obvious in 1836:
“Our English schools are flourishing wonderfully. The effect of this education on the Hindus is prodigious …… It is our belief that if our plans of education are followed up, there will not be a single idolator among the respectable classes in Bengal thirty years hence. And this will be effected without any effort to proselytise, without the smallest interference with religious liberty, by natural operation of knowledge and reflection. I heartily rejoice in the project.”
To help in this he needed a scholar who would help turn the Brahmans as the priestly caste among Hindus, against their own sacred writings, but in a scholarly way, that could be deemed as being “progressive”. They would then reject the Vedas for the New Testament followed by the rest of Hindu society en masse. Through Professor Horace Wilson, Boden professor of Sanskrit at Oxford, Macaulay found the devout Protestant and gifted Vedic scholar. This was the German Sanskritologist, Friedrich Max Muller. An ardent German nationalist, Muller was nevertheless a devout Christian, and for the sum of £10,000 was persuaded to work for the British East India Company by Macaulay, to translate the Rig Veda in such a way that it would destroy the Hindu belief in the Vedas. He made this plain in 1866, when writing to his wife about his translation of the Veda:
“…this edition of mine and the translation of the Veda, will hereafter tell to a great extent on the fate of India and on the growth of millions of souls in that country. It is the root of their religion and to show them what the root it, I feel sure, is the only way of uprooting all that has sprung from it during the last three thousand years.”
Though one cannot cast doubt on his intelligence and talent, Muller’s scholarship is nevertheless marred by this ulterior motive. This was only the beginning. It was Max Muller who gave “Aryan” a racial meaning, knowing full well as a scholar well versed in that ancient language, that Sanskrit “Arya” does not mean race.
The idea of Aryan race could not be contained. From this time forward the idea was advanced of an Aryan invasion by Indo-European, and obviously white-skinned European looking, tribes from Central Asia, which founded Hindu civilisation and authored the Vedas, and came to be widely accepted, even though it had absolutely no basis in any indigenous tradition of India, until Muller invented it as an ideological mechanism for colonial domination for his British masters. It was enhanced by those same romanticist intellectuals who wanted to free themselves of all Judaic influence brought upon them by Christianity, and saw this Aryan racial theory as another string to their bow. Like the artificial dating of the Vedas to 1400BCE, so as to be more recent than the books of the Bible, it had absolutely nothing to do with India itself, and the people of India as well as ancient Hindu civilisation had no part to play in it, had no say in the matter, but instead saw its rich spiritual treasures plundered to be used for the most materialistic and debased of motives. The swastika, symbol of ancient cultures par excellence, was an ideal mechanism with which to manufacture a mythical past, which never existed and which was produced by the national frustration of European power politics, the formation of nation states, competing aspirations of multi-ethnic self-determination, anti-Semitism, and the racist ideas of what was then scientifically acceptable Social Darwinism and eugenics, rather than any historical reality of Celtic and Germanic ancient Europe. Runic symbols, Norse gods such as Odin, and even the ancient Greek myth of Atlantis, all were exploited along with the swastika and idea of the Aryan race to bolster Nazi theory and ideology.
“…..I, as a man of Germanic blood, would, in spite of everything, rather see India under English rule than under any other”
“England will never lose India unless she admits racial disruption in the machinery of her administration or unless she is overcome by the sword of some powerful enemy … [and] Indian risings will never bring this about.”
And later in March 1945 on using Indian prisoners-of-war to fight for the Axis:
“The Indian legion is a joke. I believe that if Indians could be used to turn prayer-wheels they would be the most indefatigable soldiers in the world. But using them in a life-and-death war is pure madness. They cannot even kill an Englishman.”
The National Socialist fixation with a degenerate India and its indigenous Hindu inhabitants is retained to this very day. In 1999, American “designer” Nazi David Duke updated many of the ideas of Mein Kampf in his My Awakening where he reiterates the same false ideas of an Aryan race.
The use of the swastika should then be seen in the context of the aforementioned factors. The use of the Nazi swastika should be resisted. But that was never the swastika of Hindu civilisation, just as the racial term “Aryan” had never been the meaning of “Arya” in Sanskrit of the Vedas. The Hindu move to reclaim the swastika should be seen as apart of the wider aim to salvage Hindu culture and civilisation from the assault it has received from many sources. It should also lead academics and others to seriously ask other questions that have been conveniently ignored. Should the Aryan Invasion Theory, which forms the basis of the Master Race Ideology, be continued to be taught as fact despite its nineteenth century racist and proto-Nazi origins, as well as having no historical basis? Should the forgotten racial victims of the Nazi genocide, the Roma, be awarded compensation? Does the Roma presence in Europe have its origins in a genocide and imperialism in India which mainstream scholars conveniently ignore? Uncomfortable issues perhaps, but we should be able to at last face these long overdue facts. A public debate about the swastika and Aryan master race myth would be a good start that Hindu Human Rights fully supports. Indeed part of our work is to educate and stop the continuing abuse of Hindu symbols and traditions which go on to this day. Hopefully this continuing effort may stop the Nazis of the future.