Wednesday, 23 November, 2022
HomeOpinionDavid Frawley is the American hippy who became RSS’s favourite western intellectual

David Frawley is the American hippy who became RSS’s favourite western intellectual

Text Size:

His command over Hindu scriptures and ability to quote from them in multisyllabic English make David Frawley a great catch for the Sangh.

He routinely criticises former Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, calling out his “love of Marxism compounded by his disdain for Hinduism”. He tweets regularly against the “anti-Hindu communists of Kerala” for their stand on Sabarimala. He is an admirer of Prime Minister Narendra Modi for bringing “back dignity to India and a voice at a global level”. And he insists that the Vatican is most powerful in India.

All this makes him the Sangh Parivar’s guaranteed third favourite American, after self-professed nationalist Donald Trump and their most intimate biographer, Walter K. Andersen.

In fact, if the Sangh Parivar were to have invented a scholar to bolster their intellectual deficiency and take on their favourite bugbears, they couldn’t have done better than the 68-year-old David Frawley aka Pandit Vamadeva Shastri, usually of Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA, and lately of various conferences, literature festivals, and ministry of external affairs workshops across India.

Also read: RSS is changing, has greater self-confidence, more transparency and diversity

One of the 10 children in a Catholic family in Wisconsin, a self-confessed hippy at the height of the anti-war protests against Vietnam in America, self-taught scholar of yoga, Ayurveda, Vedas, astrology and Vedic history, Frawley is the Indian right-wing’s intellectual pin-up, singular poster boy in their sparsely populated ranks, and their one-man army against decades of what he calls “Nehruvian socialism, its Marxist shadows, dynastic arrogance, and intellectual pretensions”.

David Frawley with Atal Bihari Vajpayee, 2000 | drdavidfrawley/Facebook
David Frawley with Atal Bihari Vajpayee, 2000 | drdavidfrawley/Facebook

His command over Hindu scriptures in the original language and ability to quote from them chapter and verse in multisyllabic English make him a great catch for the Sangh. His work provides the cerebral compass to an otherwise rag-tag coalition of trident-wielding swamis, venom-spitting gaurakshaks and WhatsApp-educated unentitled urbanites. The sheer absence of thought leaders within the Sangh Parivar, which has been dominated by Deendayal Upadhyaya’s indeterminate and undistinguished Integral Humanism as well as a series of mofussil Maharashtrian Brahmins, has ensured he stands out. His popularity is evident, in over 1,42,000 Twitter followers, in requests for selfies at most public spaces, and in reprints of his books, most recently by Bloomsbury, which having re-published his What is Hinduism? A Guide for the Global Mind is now doing the same with Arise Arjuna: Hinduism Resurgent in a New Century. His back catalogue of 50 books in 25 translations should keep several publishers busy. Add to this, his avuncular affability in an environment dominated by poisonous name-calling, and it is clear why he is in such demand that he spends almost six months of the year in India with his partner, yoga shakti practitioner Shambhavi Chopra, who conducts mind-body-spirit rejuvenation workshops.

Some of the bright young conservative scholars speak highly of his thought leadership. Hindol Sengupta, author of the well-received Being Hindu, describes him as being part of a long tradition of Western seekers and scholars engaging with and expanding the scope and nuance of India’s spiritual heritage.

‘’The names of Sister Nivedita, the Mother at Auroville and Ram Dass come to mind. Dr Frawley, in my opinion, is in this line of exemplary people who have engaged and enriched India’s spiritual heritage through their lifelong study and research on its various forms. Using the prism of practice, Dr Frawley, winner of one of India’s highest awards for public service, has made an invaluable contribution in the service of Indian spirituality both within India and around the world,” Sengupta said.

Frawley’s work spans many worlds. Since the ‘70s, he is one of the few who has written and practised in each. Beauty blogger and yoga teacher Vasudha Rai says his book Ayurveda and the Mind: The Healing of Consciousness has made a huge impact on her teaching and writing.

Economist Sanjeev Sanyal, who believes the idea of Aryan invasion has now conclusively been proved wrong, owes a lot to Frawley’s pioneering work Gods, Sages and Kings: Vedic Secrets of Ancient Civilisation. Here, he discovered 150 references to the ocean in the Rig Veda, showing that India was an “advanced, spiritual and poetic culture, not a group of primitive nomads”. Sanyal says Frawley has made an important contribution to modernising and reinterpreting Hindu ideas for a global audience. “Although himself of Western origin, he has been a strong advocate for understanding Indic culture from an Indian perspective rather than one captured by Western academia or missionaries,” he said.

David Frawley with Narendra Modi, 2015 | drdavidfrawley/Facebook
David Frawley with Narendra Modi, 2015 | drdavidfrawley/Facebook

Frawley’s gradual assimilation into the Indian intellectual terrain also shows the long-term game plan of Sangh Parivar acolytes and ideologues, which mirrors how L.K. Advani cultivated a clutch of English-speaking public school educated journalists post-1984. Enormously influenced by Dr Vasant Lad, who set up an Ayurveda institute in Albuquerque, Frawley then started a dialogue with B.L. Vashta, an Ayurvedic scholar in Pune. Vashta introduced him to members of the Sangh Parivar, most importantly K.S. Sudarshan who was to become the fifth sarshanghachalak of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) between 2000 and 2009.

“He was a gentle, Gandhian soul,” says Frawley, who also spoke at his shraddanjali.

Also read: Four years of Narendra Modi have not just failed India’s middle class but also the RSS

This was also the time, early ‘90s, when a young pracharak invited him to a conference to debate conversions in Hyderabad. Ram Madhav was then with Pragna Bharati (which now calls itself a think tank) and was soon to become the lynchpin of the BJP’s foreign outreach programme. He remains a close associate of Frawley, who is a starred speaker at his India Foundation events. There was a similar encounter with a then-unknown pracharak in 1996 in Boston. Frawley recalls with a smile: “So we were speaking to a group of Hindu students. There was I, Subhash Kak (his computer scientist friend and sometime co-author) and a man introduced by our host as the future prime minister of India.” It was, of course, Narendra Modi.

Frawley became a Hindu 30 years ago through the process of shuddhi, conducted by Vashta, and has seen his extended parivar grow from a group of people “under siege” to being in positions of power.

He is a great proponent of renaming and reclaiming cities, streets and temples; of the need for a renaissance of India’s great Dharmic civilisation; and of combining the knowledge of the Vedas with the practice of yoga.

His open disdain for “Stalinist Communism” has won him many detractors as well. Historian S. Irfan Habib says he is no scholar of any standing, and prefers to call him a pamphleteer promoting Hindutva politics and worldview.

“We should not see these people even as right-wing scholars because that also provides them some respectability,” Habib said. “For me, R.C. Majumdar as a right-wing historian deserves respect due to rigour in his work. I may disagree with his interpretation of facts but will respect his scholarship. Frawley and his ilk invent facts and history to suit their present political motives and prejudices. One cannot be a credible scholar merely by abusing left liberal scholarship, the challenge is more serious than that.”

David Frawley with Mohan Bhagwat at the World Hindu Congress, 2018 | drdavidfrawley/Facebook
David Frawley with Mohan Bhagwat at the World Hindu Congress, 2018 | drdavidfrawley/Facebook

For Frawley, once described by The Week magazine as a well-known fascist, the brickbats are customary but the bouquets are a validation of years of often lonely work popularising the spiritual aspects of yoga in the US, and reminding Indians about their own heritage at home.

Always a curious child, he says he was part of what he calls a “whole generation influenced by the Beach Boys, the Beatles, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, yoga, Hinduism”. He would take some graduate classes at the University of Colorado on cosmology and metaphysics and even drove to the University of Southern California to take some classes until he discovered he had more books on the Vedas than there were in the university’s library. He started studying and writing privately, banging away at his old typewriter and writing on the Upanishads and Vedas.

Also read: UP government approves renaming of Faizabad as Ayodhya and Allahabad as Prayagraj

He also started corresponding with the Sri Aurobindo Ashram in Puducherry. The Mother’s secretary M.P. Pandit visited America, and later published Frawley’s work in India, in particular a 500-page tome on the Rig Veda. That’s also when he met Dr Vasant Lad and finally found what was to be his home – Santa Fe, New Mexico, in 1983, in one of America’s oldest cities with tremendous Latino influence, which has now emerged as a hub of multiculturalism – it hosts an ashram devoted to Mata Amritanandamayi. The City Different as it is called was perfect for Frawley’s own American Institute of Vedic Studies.

Frawley, who was given a title of Vamadeva Shastri by Vashta in 1995 and Padma Bhushan by the government in 2015, says he never had a plan or agenda. “We were just a small group of people under siege, battling a hostile administration and an even more negative media.” Hinduism has given him a new way of seeing. His work has attracted followers such as Deepak Chopra, who sought him out in 1993 to help with training at his California centre after he stepped away from Transcendental Meditation.

He believes there is nothing toxic in the identity politics being practised in India today. “Hindus have been oppressed for far too long by foreigners. They have been the most accommodating for so long. It’s time for an awakening. India should not be a footnote to Western civilisation. It was shortchanged at Independence after the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi, the deaths of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel and Sri Aurobindo. It needs to reinvent itself especially at a time of the trifecta of global challenges: of technology, drugs and digital addiction,” he says.

Kak, now on the Prime Minister’s Science, Technology and Innovation Advisory Council, has known Frawley since the ‘90s. He heard about him at the Hanuman Temple in Taos, New Mexico, when his family was on a tour of American national parks and began a long association with him. Frawley is immensely influential, he says, because he has “emphasised the need for Indians to become intellectual kshatriyas and stand up for truth. I believe his urgings are bearing fruit”.

As is perhaps the Sangh’s emotional investment in him.

The writer is a senior journalist. She was Editor of India Today between 2011 and 2014.

Subscribe to our channels on YouTube & Telegram

Support Our Journalism

India needs fair, non-hyphenated and questioning journalism, packed with on-ground reporting. ThePrint – with exceptional reporters, columnists and editors – is doing just that.

Sustaining this needs support from wonderful readers like you.

Whether you live in India or overseas, you can take a paid subscription by clicking here.

Support Our Journalism


  1. A very biased article, to say the least!

    “Self-professed nationalist”, “intellectual deficiency”, the choice of words make this article look more like vendetta rather than one designed to stimulate scholarly debates.

    I always thought Irfan Habib to be a third-rated JIHADI scholar peddling lies about the virtues of Islamic rule in India, while simultaneously discrediting and demonising the ancient Hindu and Buddhist heritage of the land.

  2. A hippie and then an admirer of the RSS. What a contradict. Frawley missed the trolley and is lost. He wants to remind Indians about their heritage at home. Please if you want to imerse your self in the Ganges – please do the diaspora a favor and leave us alone. We are professionals seeking a better life for ourselves and our children. There are the most of us wanting a secular life in the US, UK, Australia, New Zealand, and other places. There are many Indian people who absolutely detest what you, Mohan Bagwat, and the other saffron cladded jokers is turning into.

  3. Who is habib to say about hindu religion. I bet you are a communist it is not bad to fight against injustice i ask to habib is he a hindu. No he is not. Stalin is second dreadful leader after hitler please accept. If left wing will fight for dignity of every individual rather than minority they will. Please reply that any of the muslims in our country so far supported the hindus when some students muslim students made derogatory statement against hindus. Minority is marginalising themselves. Why i will learn from brahmins i have my brain. The print i remind you that please do not try to judge hindu religion with your view it has its own philosophy

  4. The Print, The WIRE you never disappoint me, because the only thing I expect from you guys is flotsam and jetsam kind of NEWS.

  5. Hate Hindus , destroy hindu culture. That is your agenda. But you will not succeed. Proud to be hindu.

  6. we will beat you all anti national naxals. you do not have right to talk about such a great foreign born son of mother inda.

  7. Such a useless article, I wasted my time in reading this. What is your problem if he writes against Nehru, and communists of kerala of course both of them never followed gandhian principles and his values. Right wing don’t have small number of intellectuals in the mean they don’t argue with fools who don’t know anything about India, that’s it.

    • I had the misfortune of sharing the platform with him in a Yoga conference in Philadelphia long ago. If you need a blockhead this is the man. His best contact in India was the astrologer Sri. B.V. Raman. If one is genuinely interested in knowing India’s past she should read Debiprasad Chattopadhyaya’s “Science and Society in Ancient India” and not the bullshit that vamadevacharya dishes out. Dr. Rao has hit the nail on the head and also on some heads which don’t receive sense to enter in!

    • So much of hatred for Hinduism and Hindus in the name of your secularism, liberalism and free speech.. You one book wonder are a hired so called intellectual goon who has nothing constructive to contribute..there is no depth, originality or truth in what people like you say..people like you are wasting your energy.. Believe with time your hypocrisy will be out and you alone will be reading your articles.. Shame on you..

  8. Very disappointing article by a senior journalist. Equating Hinduism, only religion in the world as rest are ideologies, with a organization! Nobody can save Indian journalism. It has hit abyss.

  9. I’m appsuled by the ignorance and arrogance of you. Being born in India you have yet to internalise the core ethos of the land.
    You sling mud on flimsy constructs that RSS is culturing these influencers.
    It’s sad that when one forgets his/her own heritage and even after getting reminded of it tries to making folks doing it. Why ?
    Stop dpitting venom and get some peace for yourself first before you pen another silly piece.

  10. Nice try! The man has a mission and it’s a unique with gifted talent. Arguing hos-pos is just not going to cut, if you study history 101. Sure it will attract a few of his followers to your sloppy writing but remember but that’s what you expect from India today editor. Again Nice try! My best, keep digging more but try to make it interesting by veryfying some facts otherwise it’s a beautiful cunning job. His score is bit bigger than what you have been able to deceive in words. But hay! Who am I to comment??? A way to go

  11. Church created mnc with church literature control iver all history and culture degradation of native by spreading lies hatred presenting confluct history of guilt english empire as muskim tried to rule india but they could not convert and demolish hindu indic tradition which were more developed and more democractic with freedom still existed all church islam totally brought destruction and hatred anI’mmosity with utopian muslim they created new class of secular beast who alway feel gulity of hindu cukture and become s4thooges of western left hidden slAvery and colonisation still supported by congtess

  12. The Supremacy of Ancient Indian Civilization does not requires the certificates of either Left or Right. The irony is that whoever is doing research on Ancient Indian History or Knowledge is just able to touch upon a pond of Knowledge out of whole Ocean and starts giving expert opinion without understanding its effect on the Reality or Truth. The whole modern Science is based on research on Ancient Indian Knowledge & Scriptures which so many western Scholars acknowledge but our own researcher fail to notice. The Great Ancient Monuments throughout India clearly states the advancement of our forefathers whose legacy we failed to carry over to this age. But still whatever remains and we have is enough to display the riches of our ancient past. Anyone who has a doubt can contact me.

  13. In fact Irfan Habib is a pretender. He is a fanatic posing as a left hostorian, and is at the root of all the trouble on Ram Mandir and the avoidable friction between the two major communities on that issue according to a truly authentic K.K. Mohammed, an archaeologist of repute and who is sceintific in his approach. Habib is the one inventing and misinterpreting history.

  14. Hinduism has survived Mughal invasion, British invasion and Vatican’s hostile takeover attempts. Why Hinduism still survives is a mystery. A couple of clans which call themselves religion but are more like multilevel marketing scams are constantly trying to convert Hindus into their folds but Hinduism keeps going strong.

  15. Drawid frawley books have great scholarly values! His reference to every sentence he writes becomes a challenge to leftist cabal who call themselves as scholars and still cannot quote or translate single sanskrit verse! His depth on subsject is so deep with yogic interpretations to commonly translated literaral meanings! He is not just a western hippie with vedic interests, he is a rishi in white skin!

  16. This article is nothing but an example of two very common fallacy types – Ad Hominem and Strawman.
    The journalist, and that too a ‘senior’ one, would have made a great contribution to ‘critical reasoning’ if she had countered what David Frawley has been propounding with her own set of logical and well informed arguments. Alas but she is indulging in same kind of ‘put other down’ rhetoric that she accuses David of. Suggests where the intellectual bankruptcy is pervasive.

  17. This article could only have been written by a deracinated idiot who can get taken in by the flaky pamphlets written by this fool called Vamadeva. There is no discussion of this guy’s views on Hinduism in this article. This is not surprising given that the writer is a journalist who has, perhaps, never read a half-decent translation of any Hindu epic or scriptures. Frawley has a visceral hatred for Nehru and socialism. He understands neither. This guy is like the other ‘poster boy’ of Hindutvavadis: Konraad Elst. No one in the academic world anywhere takes him seriously. He just spews Hindutva rhetoric. For utterly rootless Indians, any white person spouting what they claim to be Hindu scriptures is enough to rhapsodize about them. Next time, the writer must make a conscious effort to understand what this guy has to say about India/Hinduism/Nehru/Communism and so on before giving him free publicity. As for Vajpayee and Modi meeting this guy, well, who else can they meet?? If it is a white guy who supports them, that’s good enough. Please, for heaven’s sake, don’t be taken in by such nonsense.
    The Editor of ‘The Print’ has to be mindful about not giving space to hatemongers. I’m not sure that you care.

  18. Why is being an Hindu scholar is such a bad thing? Why are educated Indians hate them but so acceptable of Islamic Scholors? At least Hinduism did not grow through violence, Islam has well documented history of violence and anyone who mermorises Koran and Hadith is a scholar, but someone who slogged away his young life learning and researching on a subject nothing to do with his life with no obvious gains to be had from it. Just pure mind seeing truth, which Hinduism encourages.

  19. Anyone who talks about Vedas and Indian civilization is ‘RSS’ for mainstream leftist media. They see RSS everywhere. I would take David Frawley anyday over anti-Hindu bigots like Audrey Truschke which Indian psudo-leftists patronize . In fact Indian marxist historians completely lost in India. They completely depend on American leftist Hindu phobic historians to push their case.

  20. Like many “pseudo-intellectuals” in the Left wing, David Frawley is also a pseudo-intellectual of the Right wing. R. C. Majumdar’s book “History of the Hindus”, though it has a Rightist tilt, is based on rigorous research. It glorifies ancient Indian proto-history, history and traditions without vilifying the other cultures. David Frawley, on the other hand is full of hyperbole, fantasy and occasionally hatred.

  21. Kaveree ji , these mofussil Maharashtrian Brahmins had/have only one and simple thought of Making Hindu religion & people and of course Bharatvarsh glorious ! Looking at the condition of thoughts & thought leaders of other hues , it was/is good for RSS not to have of those kinds . Its surprising still energy is rather wasted in using innovative English & constructing fancy analogies to denigrate RSS personnel than analysing why RSS thought has occupied mind of Indians . With warm regards , Abhay Kher a mofussil Maharashtrian Brahmin

    • Hahaha. These mofussil Maharashtrian Brahmins are just trying to make how are you, while the Hindutwa sun shines. They are revivalist patriarchs, who will make very good bedmates with the predatory bishops and the regressive imams of the Abtahamic religions.

Comments are closed.

Most Popular