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Ten Things You Need to Know About the Swastika

DateAugust 3, 2023

It means ‘all is well’

‘Swastika’ is a Sanskrit word. It is a combination of ‘su’ (meaning ‘good’) and ‘asti’ (meaning ‘to exist’). It means ‘all is well.’ Thus, the swastika is a symbol of auspiciousness and good fortune. One can see it in most Hindu homes, business establishments, cars, printed materials, temples, and ashrams.

It adorns the front entrance of Hindu homes

In many Hindu homes, one can see a picture of the swastika adorning the threshold of the front entrance. On the day of Diwali, people wash away the old swastikas and reapply them. They may also include them in their rangolis (drawings made using colored powders, rice, and grains, or flowers to decorate the ground of courtyards). Some also create it by arranging diyas (clay lamps) artfully.


It has many symbolic meanings

The limbs of the swastika have many meanings in Hinduism.

They signify the 4 Vedas (Rig, Yajur, Sama, Atharva). They also represent the four goals of life – Dharma, Artha, Kama, and Moksha (right action, worldly prosperity, worldly enjoyment, and spiritual liberation). The limbs could also symbolize the four seasons, the four directions, or the four yugas, or epochs (Satya, Treta, Dvapara, Kali).

It is a part of other religious traditions

Other faiths that have their origins in India also use the swastika to mean auspiciousness. In Buddhism, the swastika represents the Buddha’s heart and footprints. For Jains, it is the symbol of the 7th Tirthankara (literally meaning “ford-maker,” a liberated soul who shows the way for others), with the arms signifying one of the four places where a soul can be reborn in the cycle of birth and death.

It is an enduring and ancient symbol

The swastika has been one of humanity’s enduring symbols since ancient times. The oldest known use of the symbol goes back to the end of the last Ice Age. A figurine that was carved with a recognizable armed plus sign dating to 10,000-13,000 BCE was discovered in Ukraine. It is not clear how these ancient people interpreted it. The symbol has been in use in the Balkans for at least 8,000 years. The swastika was used during the Indus-Saraswati civilization extensively, with archeological evidence going back to at least 4,000 BCE.

Different peoples had their own version of the swastika

People in ancient Greece and Turkey used it. So did the Celts and Nordic people. The Germanic peoples used it. For the Phoenicians, it symbolized the sun. In Armenia, petroglyphs using swastika-like symbols were found. Pottery found in Kush (modern Sudan) in Africa shows clear armed plus signs. West African cultures were familiar with the symbol. In China, neolithic cultures used the symbol, too, well before the spread of Buddhism. In North America, the native peoples used similar symbols. To the Hopi people, it signifies wandering clans. To the Navajo, it’s a whirling log that they use during healing ceremonies.

The symbol had a major resurgence in the 19th century

The swastika witnessed a major resurgence in its use, especially in North America and Europe, in the 19th century. Before the use of hakenkreuz by the Nazis, swastikas and similar symbols appeared on Coca-cola and beer bottles. It featured on the badges of the Boy Scouts in the US and other scouting groups in Europe. Even now, there is a town called Swastika in Ontario, Canada. The US Army’s 45th infantry division, during the 1920s until the time of the Nazis, used it as a sleeve insignia. Until 1939, one could see it on the planes of the UK’s Royal Air Force.

The Nazis used it to represent their idea of Aryan identity

The Nazis believed in the Aryan Invasion Theory. They thought that there was a “master race” of Aryans who invaded the Indian subcontinent. But ‘Aryan’ actually means ‘noble’ and is related to people’s conduct. Recent genetic evidence indicates that mass migration into India happened well before the time period pertaining to the Aryan Invasion theory. Also, there is no evidence of any invasion by outsiders during this time period in India’s sacred or historic texts. The Nazi name for the emblem was hazenkreuz, which was incorrectly translated as “swastika” instead of “hooked cross’ in English translations of Hitler’s autobiography, Mein Kampf.

The European Union wanted to ban the swastika

After World War II, the world came to know about the Holocaust in which millions of innocent Jews perished in the Nazis’ concentration camps. In many parts of the world, the swastika became a reviled symbol due to its association with the Nazis. In recent times, the European Union tried to ban all use of the swastika. But Hindus rose in protest as it was their sacred symbol. A representative of the Hindu Forum of Britain declared that the swastika has been around for 5,000 years and symbolizes peace. They observed that banning all use of the swastika would be like banning the Christian cross, as the racist Ku Klux Klan used burning crosses to terrorize African Americans in the US. In the US, the Hindu American Foundation helped a college student to escape expulsion for displaying a Hindu swastika in his fraternity house. There have been many efforts to dispel the misunderstandings about this ancient symbol through interfaith dialogues.

In 2008, a resolution recognized the positive history of the swastika

In 2008, a resolution was passed at the 2nd Hindu-Jewish Leadership Summit. It formally recognized the long and positive history of the symbol. The resolution says: “Swastika is an ancient and greatly auspicious symbol of the Hindu tradition. It is inscribed on Hindu temples, ritual altars, entrances, and even account books. A distorted version of this sacred symbol was misappropriated by the Third Reich in Germany and abused as an emblem under which heinous crimes were perpetrated against humanity, particularly the Jewish people. The participants recognize that this symbol is, and has been sacred to Hindus for millennia, long before its misappropriation.”


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