Savitri Devi Mukherji: A portrait of Adolf Hitler’s 'priestess', and her last years in India
Savitri Devi is presently being ‘resurrected’ in India for the fillip she proffers to Hindu nationalism | #FirstCulture
Over 35 years after her quiet, sudden, and somewhat untimely death, Savitri Devi Mukherji – the Anglo-French but Greek-citizened proponent of neo-Nazi mysticism (esoteric Hitlerism, as worded in one formulation) – remains a willing source of immense critique, simultaneously admired and lampooned for her peculiar, even outlandish beliefs. While Mukherji was unexceptional in her passionate support for Nazism and later, Hindu nationalism, what was exceptional was her eloquent ability to present the textures of the two ideologies as mystical in character and millenarian in orientation. Central to her affront was the so-called Aryan myth – the belief that speakers of Indo-European languages constituted a distinct racial group which had originated somewhere in Central Asia and continued in uninterrupted historical existence. This was an idea fundamental to German Romanticism, particularly as the imagination that the spiritual East, too, had much to take inspiration from what was being crafted. The construction of the spiritual East also meant a historical brotherhood with Indians, for it was believed that a branch of the Aryans migrated to Iran and from there, bifurcated towards India where they evolved an extremely rich civilisation whose language was Sanskrit, itself the perceived progenitor of all other languages.
In Adolf Hitler’s firm hands, the myth of the Aryan race became one of racial purity – the Aryans were identified with Caucasian Europeans in general and the Germans in particular, constituted as a superior race whose claim to supremacy over the Jews was self-evidently justified. The macabre of this myth requires no introduction; suffice to say that with Hitler, the Aryan myth would become the basis of one of the most grotesque genocides in recorded human history.
In India, this myth was contested by three different interests. One contestation stressed that the myth of the Aryan race, in conceptualising foreign origins for at least a class of Indians, undermined the indigenous roots of Indian civilisation and curtailed the thrust of anti-colonial nationalism against a ‘foreign’ rule. Another, and of a less glamorous variety, was given by Jyotirao Phule and was premised on the inversion of religious and cultural myths. Phule argued that the Aryan myth was perfectly valid, for it substantiated and evidenced the violent dislocation of the Bahujan and Adivasi groups of the subcontinent by the invading, encroaching Aryans, who would later anoint themselves dvija, that is, twice-born and of superior caste designation. He extended it to the deconstruction of various myths – Holika and Ravana, Bahujan figures against whose burning two major Hindu festivals—Holi and Diwali—are celebrated, Mahabali, whose patronising conquest by Vishnu’s avatar vamana was an act of brahmanical supremacy, and suchlike. The third argument sought to make peace with the Aryan formulation, laudatory in spirit of the upper-caste Aryans to whom India owed its civilisation and the European Aryans who were reclaiming theirs – this strand would become the emergent current of Hindu nationalism.
To this strand, Savitri Devi would lend voluble allegiance. For Europe, she lamented how insidiously Judeo-Christian civilisation had spread, wiping away the world of the Aryans in the process. Although an Anglo-Frenchwoman, she chose to take Greek citizenship, valourising Greece as a glorious country where Aryan culture had flourished and whose many gods and goddesses were now mere ‘mythology,’ its beautiful classical structures reduced to hauntingly pristine ruins. The Judeo-Christian civilisation which had made its home in Europe was man-centric – it worshipped man and destroyed the diverse realm of the bios, that is nature. Savitri Devi was a key figure of the emergent philosophical conception of deep ecology, which resisted attempts to reduce ecological preservation to the purpose of sustainable human use and not the intrinsic value of ecology. In the profoundly mystical ideology that she fashioned, Savitri Devi suggested that the god-force was pervasive, flowing as much as in an animal as in the human.
Yet, despite her fervent exoneration, she never lived in Hitler’s Germany. She arrived in India in 1932, interested in studying the roots of Aryan paganism which she assumed originated in India. Here, Savitri Devi would marry a Bengali man, becoming Savitri Devi Mukherji, eventually acquiring the audience of Srimat Swami Satyananda of the Hindu Mission in Calcutta. She was deeply moved by this encounter and subsequently became an active figure in the mission, conducting lectures, meetings, and discussions across Bengal. It was Satyananda who introduced her to the idea of Hitler as Vishnu, bestowing on Hitler the cosmic significance of ushering a new world. It was in India, where Savitri Devi would spend many decades before her repatriation to Europe towards the end of life, that she found the opportunity to observe what she called a living Aryan civilisation whose gods and goddesses were still alive and worshipped and whose structures, although in need of protection, still flourishing. As a thinker advocating the regeneration of the Aryans in Europe, she cautioned the Aryans in India to the experience of Europe and the possibility of apocalyptic demise at the hands of the Muslims and the Christians — a sentiment that runs across A Warning to the Hindus (1939). Towards this cause, she forged connections with the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). In fact, a speculation that is illuminating on her life and times was that the purpose of her later sojourns in India was spying on the British for the Axis powers, convinced throughout that Germany would emerge as the victor and establish a new racial order in Europe.
By the end of her life, Savitri Devi moved to Delhi, eventually independent India’s capital. Here, she would be a petty pensioner with her ailing husband and confront the fall of the Third Reich. Throughout the period, she interacted with many neo-Nazi groups across the world; they found her insights on the mystical nature of Nazism instructive and her hope on its eventual return comforting. Her interaction with Ernst Zundel’s publishing house Samisdat illustrated the latter trend as theories citing that Hitler had actually not died but escaped or the sighting of ‘Nazi UFOs’ in Antarctica were floated. She was admired in Britain, and as the British Movement (BM) evolved on the lines of National Socialism. Savitri Devi found herself a central intellectual influence, especially to ideologues like Colin Jordan. Her ideas were carried even to Chile by Miguel Serrano and others of the Chilean Nazi Party. But these intellectual conversations will be short-lived – Savitri Devi returned to Europe after her husband’s death and toured intermittently, further receiving an invitation from the United States. She passed away in Britain on 22 October, 1982 before this could be executed, leaving behind a rich and ambiguously received body of ideas.
As a BBC report correctly observes, Savitri Devi is presently being ‘resurrected’ in India for the fillip she proffers to Hindu nationalism – it is no secret that the RSS took and continues to take great inspiration from Hitler and Mussolini. A similar process is underway in Europe and the United States as right-wing groups and individuals grasp political ascendancy. There are all kinds of legacies we inherit, but we can remember only few and must consciously forget many. In light of Savitri Devi’s legacy and the political ramifications of her ideas, perhaps there is virtue in the latter.
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