Indian Snake-Worship Cult Takes On World Bank
2008-07-17 0:00

By: World Liberation Wire Service |

A strange new war has broken out in the remote Himalayan statelet of Nagapur, pitting ancient Serpent Deities against the global bureaucrats of the World Bank.

Not to be confused with Nagaland, Nagapur is a small “princely state” in the Himalayan foothills between Uttar Pradesh and Nepal. Its highest peaks get winter snow, its lowest plains join the heatchoked tiger-and-orchid jungles of the Terai, but all within a hundred-odd square miles.

Nagapur was mentioned in the ancient Indian epic Mahabharata as one of the “cities” of the Nagas or semi-divine were-snakes. Nagapur is still noted for its tantrik snake temples, some of them decorated in medieval Nepalese style with “obscene” carved wood sculpture. The former ruling family claimed descent from an ancestral cobra, the Sheesh Nang.

The Ahirajahs of Nagapur maintained a degree of independence under the Moghuls, then under the British Raj, but the Indian government abolished their “Purse” in 1957. At present several rival branches of the family claim Pretender status, but all are reduced to genteel poverty at best. Until recently their political significance was nil.

In the past few years however one clan of the family has achieved some degree of notoriety thanks to its connections with an emerging “Fourth World” resistance movement in Nagapur. Poor peasants and “tribals” who depend in part on the forest for economic sustenance have struggled against various “Green Revolution” agricultural policies, dams, and development projects, some launched by the Indian Government and others by Global institutions such as the IMF and World Bank.

The resistance is not centrally organized but manifests as a loose front of NGOs, political parties, cooperative economic and agricultural ventures, and religious organizations. At its extreme edge it has given birth to several rival small and ineffective guerilla “armies”, officially denounced by the moderate wings of the movement, but (according to the Indian Government) secretly supported and funded by them.

The matriarch of the Vasuki family, H.H. the Begum Guga Chauhan, who died in 1998 aged 95, had been a Ghandian socialist all her life. In the 1980s she met certain “Fourth World” activists and radical environmentalists, many of them women, and decided to link her family’s fortunes (not its fortune, because it had none) to the peasants’ movement in Nagapur. In 1991 she founded the Nagapuri Monarchist-Socialist Party, ostensibly to support the claims of her grandson the Ahirajah to the throne of the principality, and ultimately to win independence from India. Until recently the Party has remained miniscule and has won no elections.

The Begum however did not limit her activities to politics. The family maintains a relation of patronage with Ananta Nath, one of the major Shaivite Naga temples of the country, situated near the hill station of Zafarabad, some 25 kilometers up-country from the capital, Nagapur City. In the 1930s certain wealthy Indian Theosophists endowed this temple with enough money to build a small new structure within the complex devoted to “all religions”, including painted statues of Jesus, Mohammed, Ali, the Buddha, Confucius, Lao Tzu, etc., all depicted in Hindu style as divine avatars.

This universalist syncretism appealed to the peasant and tribal devotees of the snake goddess Nagalata Devi, worshipped at the main temple, and soon a new cult began to emerge as one important strand within the Nagapuri Fourth World resistance movement. The Begum enjoyed great influence with the cultists (mostly Hindus but some Moslems and even Christians as well).

In 1997 a great-grandson of the Begum was born and named Nagarjuna, and proclaimed Crown Prince. The infant’s horoscope was said to be unusually auspicious, and rumors began to spread amongst the adherents of the Naga Goddess. As Hindu-Moslem syncretists they came to believe that the young prince was both the Kalki Avatar (the savior incarnation of Vishnu) and the Mahdi or Hidden Imam revered by Nagapur’s Shiites and sufi mystics.

There is some evidence that the Begum may have encouraged these rumors, and a legend is circulated that on her deathbed she confirmed the prince’s messianic role and predicted his ascent to the throne.

The prince’s father and current Pretender to the Ahirajah’s throne, Sri N.H. Vasuki, a mild-mannered elementary-school teacher with no apparent political ambitions who lives in a small bungalow in the hill station near the Temple, has attempted to downplay and even dampen the mystical enthusiasm that surrounds his son, now ten years old. In Nagapur however it’s easy to hear wild stories about the prince’s precocious brilliance and supernatural abilities.

The mildest of these tales are those that claim the prince already adheres to and preaches his great-grandmother’s ideals: he proclaims that he will reign but not rule, that all power must devolve to the village assemblies; that Nagapur must win independence in order to escape the ecological and economic catastrophe of “Development” and globalization; that satyagraha (non-violence) is the only way to achieve these goals; that all religions are one; etc.

On June 15 last year Indian newspapers carried stories of a guerilla raid against an experimental research farm owned and operated by the World Bank in a remote forest area of Nagapur. Shots were fired but no one killed, equipment was vandalized, crops set ablaze. The attackers escaped. Employees at the farm maintained that the guerillas were all children and teenagers. A few days later a communiqué to the Police took credit for the attack on behalf of a previously unknown faction calling itself “Adhipati (Nagapur Liberation Army, Monarchist-Socialist)”.

Adhipati in Sanskrit means “without a lord”, and the communiqué explains the reference to a Hindu scripture that says, “The state of liberation does not at all mean the extinction of individual self. The liberated self can actualize his desires by mere will. The liberated self is without a lord (adhipati), for he himself is his own lord and anything he wishes he can realize.”

Perhaps paradoxically, given this premise, the communiqué goes on to swear loyalty and devotion to the young prince Nagarjuna and to identify him as the “divine savior of his people”.

The prince’s father at once issued a statement indignantly denying any link between his family and “these juvenile delinquents”. It appeared that the “army” was indeed composed largely of runaway children and homeless young people, very like the Burmese rebel “God’s Army” led by thirteen-year-old twin boys, Johnny and Luther Htoo, Christian messianic visionaries captured by the Thai government earlier in 2001. (The New York Times called Johnny Htoo “angelic”, and it is certain that his followers considered him divine.)

In the ensuing scandal and uproar over the attack the young prince’s father was fired from his teaching job. Critics of the World Bank rallied to his defense as a scapegoat for the Bank’s “disastrous policies and global hegemonism”. The Congress Party Governor of Uttar Pradesh, S.N. Veeraswamy, condemned Sri Vasuki as a “charlatan” and demanded the dissolution of the N.M.-S. Party as a criminal organization. Allegations of “superstition”, “fanaticism”, “child endangerment”, etc., were heard in New Delhi. Charges were made (and denied) concerning Nepalese Maoist influence.

The young prince himself was of course unavailable for comment, although religious chromolithographs of him have begun to appear in the bazaars of Nagapur.

As of this date no further incidents have occurred, although several street demonstrations have erupted from time to time in the capital. The Indian Army and the U.P. Police have so far failed to apprehend any Adhipati warriors, although a number of “urchins” (as the Times of India put it) may have been rounded up in Nagapur City and Zafarabad and detained in State orphanages.

The situation is agreed to be “tense” but sources in New Delhi claim that the Government is in control. From the other side come allegations of police brutality. Recently a rumor has spread that local elections will be cancelled.

(One of the NGOs in Nagapur, the Agricultural Institute of Asia, monitors ongoing events there, although it too condemns the Adhipati (NLA – M.-S.) as “adventurist and misguided”. A support group in Amsterdam calling itself “Friends of Adhipati” is also known to exist.)

--WLWS (World Liberation Wire Service)

Jan. 8, 2003

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