What is a swastika?
The swastika (Sanskrit svastika, "all is well") is a cross with four arms of equal length, with the ends of each arm bent at a right angle. Sometimes the crossing lines are horizontal and vertical and other times they are an angle, forming a central "x" shape. Sometimes dots are added between each arm (e.g. the "swastika rangoli" picture below).
The swastika is an ancient symbol that has been found worldwide, but it is especially common in India. Its name comes the Sanskrit word svasti (sv = well; asti = is), meaning good fortune, luck and well-being. This original meaning of the swastika is a far cry from Western associations of the symbol, which are largely negative.
The swastika is most commonly used as a charm to bring good fortune (in which case the arms are bent clockwise), but it has a variety of religious meanings as well, which are described below.
Religious symbolismThe right-hand swastika is one of the 108 symbols of the Hindu god Vishnu as well as a symbol of the sun and of the Hindu sun god, Surya. The symbol imitates, in the rotation of its arms, the course taken daily by the sun, which appears in the Northern Hemisphere to pass from east, then south, to west. (It is also a symbol of the sun among Native Americans.)
The left-hand swastika (called a sauvastika) usually represents the terrifying Hindu goddess Kali, night and magic. However, this form of the swastika is not "evil" and it is the form most commonly used in Buddhism.
The auspicious symbol of the swastika is very commonly used in Hindu art, architecture and decoration. It can be seen on temples, houses, doorways, clothing, cars, and even cakes. It is usually a major part of the decoration for festivals and special ceremonies like weddings.
Use by the Nazis
The Nazis adopted the swastika because it was understood as an Aryan symbol indicating racial purity and superiority. (The Nazis propogated a historical theory in which the early Aryans of India were white invaders.)
There may also be a connection with the swastika's magical connections, for Hitler and other Nazi leaders were keenly interested in the occult.
- John Bowker, ed., Oxford Concise Dictionary of World Religions (2000).
- "swastika." Encyclopædia Britannica (2007). Encyclopædia Britannica Online.
- Swastika - Wikipedia (January 2007)