What is the Swastika?
The swastika is a very old symbol with use widespread throughout the world. It holds a high value in the Indian culture. The swastika ranks second to the most revered Indian symbol, OM. Like OM, the origins of Swastika are lost in the misty realms of the past and they can only be guessed by putting together the surviving clues. The swastika was first adopted by the Aryans as a symbol for the good of humanity. It has spread to many cultures and countries after that. The swastika finds its significance in almost all the spheres of Indian culture.
The swastika did not begin as a mere sign but as a symbol that orients us towards the ultimate reality by unraveling the mysteries of existence. So a detailed study of such an important symbol will help in deepening our knowledge in Indian culture and reaping the benefits that it has to offer us.
The ancient Indian philosophy explains the evolution of the world by saying that the center of the swastika represents the uterus, the origin point of the Universe, the vertical line, Shiva and the horizontal line, the female organ. Their cross forms the origin and evolution of the whole world. Thus, symbolically, the swastika's cross is said to represent God and creation.
The swastika is a primitive symbol or ornament in the form of a cross. The arms of the cross are of equal length with a section of each arm projecting at right angles from the end of each arm, all in the same direction and usually clockwise. The four bent arms stand for the four fold aim of human life called Purushartha: dharma, artha, kama and moksha. It also represents the world wheel, eternally changing around a fixed center, God.
Swastika is a Sanskrit word, su means ‘good’, asti means ‘to be’ and ka is a suffix. It is thus etymologically translated as ‘well being’ or ‘good fortune’. For Hindus, the swastika is a symbol of auspiciousness, prosperity and good fortune. It also represents the sun and the cycle of life. For the Hindus, the swastika's right-angled arms reflect the fact that the path toward our objectives is often not straight, but takes unexpected turns. They denote also the indirect way in which Divinity is reached--through intuition and not by intellect.
The right-hand swastika is one of the 108 symbols of the god Vishnu as well as a symbol of the sun and of the 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. The swastika is emblematic of masculine principle.
The left-hand swastika (called a sauvastika) usually represents the terrifying goddess Kali, night and magic. However, this form of the swastika is not evil. The sauvastika is emblematic of feminine principle. In astronomy, it designates the sun during fall and winter. It is the form most commonly used in Buddhism.
Swastika with 3 dots and a crescent
The swastika used in mediation is a special one, with additional marks. There are three dots above the swastika and a little crescent on the top of all this, with a dot in the middle. The four arms represent the four realms of possible births: human, heavenly, infernal, plant, and animal. The crescent and dot symbolize the land of the perfected soul, which is described in the scientific mapping of the general features of the universe as being in the shape of an inverted umbrella. The three dots represent the hope for final emancipation; they represent the ratna tray, the three jewels that one adopts and practices to escape from the cycle of life and death. A good luck yogic asana named ‘svastikasana’ is sometimes assumed in meditation in the form of an ‘inclosed’ as distinct from an outstretched cross. Here two crosses are formed by squatting with crossed legs and with arms closed over the chest.
Even though, the swastika was first used in Neolithic India, the symbol has an ancient history in Europe, appearing on artifacts from pre-Christian European cultures. In the period preceding the middle ages in Europe, the swastika was used extensively by the Indo-Aryans, Persians, Hittites, Celts and Greeks, among others. In particular, the swastika is a sacred symbol in Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Mithraism (Ancient Persian religion), religions with a total of more than a billion adherents worldwide, making the swastika omnipresent in both historical and contemporary society. The symbol was introduced to Southeast Asia by Hindu kings and remains an integral part of Balinese Hinduism to this day, and it is a common sight in Indonesia. It is also used by several Native American cultures.
The swastika is found as early as the pre-Vedic civilization of the Indus valley. At Mohenjo-Daro it is found on seals and pottery. From the Vedic era in India to the present time, the swastika has been a sacred sign engraved on the walls of temples and painted on houses. In the Ramayana it marks the ships departing for Lanka. It is found on coins and monuments. Today Hindus still trace it on their account books and their doorsteps. Hindus use the swastika to mark the opening pages of account books, thresholds, doors and offerings. No ceremony or sacrifice is considered complete without it, for it is believed to have the power to ward off misfortune and negative forces.
The swastika is regarded as a symbol of the muladhara chakra, the center of consciousness at the base of the spine, and in some yoga schools with the manipura chakra at the navel, the center of the microcosmic sun (Surya). In the Buddhist tradition the swastika symbolizes the feet, or the footprints, of the Buddha. It is often placed at the beginning and end of inscriptions, and modern Tibetan Buddhists use it as a clothing decoration. With the spread of Buddhism, the swastika passed into the iconography of China and Japan, where it has been used to denote plurality, abundance, prosperity, and long life. The swastika became important in Buddhism in the Mauryan Empire and in Hinduism with the decline of Buddhism in India in the Gupta period.
In India the swastika continues to be the most widely used auspicious symbol of Jainas. Among the Jainas it is the emblem of their seventh Tirthankara and is also said to remind the worshiper by its four arms of the four possible places of rebirth--in the animal or plant world, in hell, on Earth, or in the spirit world.
In the Western world, the symbol experienced a resurgence following the archaeological work in the late 19th century of Heinrich Schliemann, who discovered the symbol in the site of ancient Troy and associated it with the ancient migrations of Proto-Indo-Europeans. He connected it with similar shapes found on ancient pots in Germany, and theorized that the swastika was a significant religious symbol of our remote ancestors, linking Germanic, Greek and Indo-Iranian cultures. By the early 20th century, it was widely used worldwide and was regarded as a symbol of good luck and success.
Schliemann’s work soon became intertwined with the volkisch movements, for which the swastika was a symbol of Aryan identity, a concept that came to be equated by theorists such as Alfred Rosenberg with a German race originating in northern Europe. After its acceptance by the Nazi Party of Adolf Hitler, the swastika has been associated with Nazism, fascism, racism, the Axis powers in World War II, and the mass murder of Jews under the German Nazi regime from 1941 until 1945. The symbol of the Neo-Nazi groups is still the swastika and the activist groups regularly use it to denote their opinion of supposed Nazi-like behavior of people they oppose.
In Hinduism, the two forms of the swastika represent the two forms of the creator god Brahma: facing right it represents the evolution of the universe (Pravritti), facing left it represents the involution of the universe (Nivritti). It is also seen as pointing in all four directions (north, east, south and west) and thus signifies stability. Its use as a sun symbol can first be seen in its representation of the god Surya. The swastika is considered extremely holy and auspicious by all Hindus, and is regularly used to decorate items related to Hindu culture. It is used in all Hindu yantras and religious designs. Throughout the subcontinent of India, it can be seen on the sides of temples, religious scriptures, gift items, and letterheads. The Hindu god Ganesh is often shown sitting on a lotus flower on a bed of swastikas.
The swastika is found all over Hindu temples, signs, altars, pictures and iconography where it is sacred. It is used in Hindu weddings, festivals, ceremonies, houses and doorways, clothing and jewelry, motor transport and even decorations on food items such as cakes and pastries. Among the Hindus of Bengal, it is common to see the name swastika applied to a slightly different symbol, which has the same significance as the common swastika, and both symbols are used as auspicious signs. This symbol looks something like a stick figure of a human being.
The Aum symbol is also sacred in Hinduism. While Aum is representative of a single primordial tone of creation, the Swastika is a pure geometrical mark and has no syllabic tone associated with it. The Swastika is one of the 108 symbols of Lord Vishnu and represents the sun's rays, without which there would be no life.
The swastika symbol as it is used in Buddhist art and scripture is known in Japanese as a manji, and represents Dharma, universal harmony, and the balance of opposites. When facing left, it is the omote (front) manji, representing love and mercy. Facing right, it represents strength and intelligence, and is called the ura (rear) manji. Balanced manji are often found at the beginning and end of Buddhist scriptures.
Buddhism originated in the Indian subcontinent in the 5th century BC and inherited the manji. These two symbols are included, as part of the Chinese language. A manji marks the beginning of many Buddhist scriptures. The manji (in either orientation) appears on the chest of some statues of Gautama Buddha and is often incised on the soles of the feet of the Buddha’s statues. Because of the association of the right-facing swastika with Nazism, Buddhist manji after the mid-20th century are almost universally left-facing: 卍. This form of the manji is often found on Chinese food packaging to signify that the product is vegetarian and can be consumed by strict Buddhists. It is often sewn into the collars of Chinese children's clothing to protect them from evil spirits.
Jainism gives even more prominence to the swastika than does Hinduism. It is a symbol of the seventh Jina, the Tirthankara Suparsva. In the Svetambar Jain tradition, it is also one of the symbols of the ashta-mangalas. Astamangala are the eight auspicious symbols frequently represented on Jaina ritual objects : darpana (mirror), bhadrasana (throne), vardhamanaka (powder vase), kalasa (full water vessel), matsyayugma (pair of fish), srivatsa symbol, nandyavarta (an elaborated swastika), and swastika.
The swastika is considered to be one of the 24 auspicious marks and the emblem of the seventh arhat (enlightened one) of the present age. All Jain temples and holy books must contain the swastika and ceremonies typically begin and end with creating a swastika mark several times with rice around the altar. The Jains use rice to make a swastika in front of idols in a temple. Jains then put an offering on this swastika, usually a ripe or dried fruit, a sweet (mithai), or a coin or currency note.
The swastika has lived up to its variations as being both auspicious, as seen in the history of eastern and western civilizations and inauspicious, in the form of the black swastika which represented the holocaust of the Jews under the Nazis. Due to its dark use by the Nazis, the swastika has lost its positive image in the west which looks upon it as a symbol of destruction. Nevertheless with proper knowledge this ignorance is clearing up and the swastika is again being regarded as a symbol of good fortune.
The swastika is a universal symbol adopted by many religions after realizing the power and auspiciousness associated with it. The cross which Jesus Christ carried on his shoulders and on which he was crucified is a holy and auspicious symbol to the Christians. In Christianity, the swastika is sometimes used as a hooked version of the Christian Cross, the symbol of Christ's victory over death. Thus the swastika and the cross become symbols that denote the way (indirectly) in which Divinity is reached.
Carl Rice on February 20, 2019:
I was taught it was the "Four Winds"
Besarien from South Florida on August 21, 2017:
I think it is a symbol the Navaho used as well. Hitler ruined it forever, or at least for another century or two.
John Nevere on January 04, 2015:
Can anyone knew what was the name of India during the time of the Indus Valley Civilization?
koushal on December 02, 2014:
What is the role of the dots in the Swastika can anyone explain there history behind it. Some people says that one of the dot is the darkest than other dots what is the reason behind it.
Sweetypie2000 on August 02, 2014:
John Nevere on May 16, 2014:
What is the Swastika? The swastika is the symbol of the Indo-European tribes that conquered the most parts of the ancient world until it was replaced by the Christian Cross. Gauls, Vikings, Alans, Iranians, Medes, Celts , Aryas, Parthians, Goths and other Germanic tribes carried that symbol as a symbol for the worship of the Sun, just like in modern day Christianity where the Cross is worshipped in the death of Jesus. The swastika and the horse was never known in Egypt in ancient times until the Mittanic peoples interacted with them.
John Nevere on May 16, 2014:
For your information, the swastika was first discovered carved on ivory in the Paleolithic Age in Southern Russia 10.000 years ago, not in the non existent so called Vedic Indus Valley. There was never a Vedic Indus Valley. When the Aryan tribes invaded or migrated to India in prehistoric times the the Indus Valley Civilization had already disappeared due to climate change and geographical movements of the valley.
DEAL WITH IT on April 04, 2014:
puneet on December 14, 2013:
this aryan invasion theory is dead and it was forged to undermine indian civilization.it was proposed by likes of max mueller who never visited india but were writing about it.the aryan invasion theory is so false that everything about it is was written having one thing in mind,to justify the greatness of western civilization AND if somehow india is related,justify its downfall by calling it country of mixed "aryans".and the irony is aryan is not even the correct word its "Arya".then it was hijacked by another moron from germany who also supported india as a british colony even though he was about to fight a big war against britain.then that moron hijacked "swastika".the most funny thing is the people out of sindhu were called "mlechha"(a derogatory term) by hindus,and the so called scholars were claiming that "aryans" came from outside.they also claimed,"aryan" brought sanskrit and vedas.then the philosophy was brought by greeks.and mughals and muslims brought something else.in short india was just a country of savages and everything was brought from outside by invaders.lolz and indians are so stupid they suck it up just to be called "caucasoid".
Natalia on November 26, 2013:
Om Namah Shivaya , very informative article . Thank you
Frank G Anderson on April 12, 2013:
What of those four dots in the arms?
AARYAN on June 08, 2012:
I AM PROUD TO BE AN HINDUSTANI
mendonca.marvin (author) from Mumbai, India on July 10, 2011:
Spread love and not war!!
shub laab on March 24, 2011:
Its also called Hitler cross ...by adopting this symbol he ruled half world and killed thousand of common jew people...the only mistake which was the down fall for his empire was to use the holy cross and swatika simultaneously, because of which the power of both the symbols clashed and neutralised... and alas the defeat of the legend
spread love not war !!!
mendonca.marvin (author) from Mumbai, India on February 13, 2011:
I can answer your queries if you have any, Alex..
Alex on January 31, 2011:
This article is very informative and gives diverse views
mendonca.marvin (author) from Mumbai, India on January 30, 2011:
Thanks abhi332, hope you liked the contrast between the Eastern and Western civilization. I also brought out the parallels in Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism with regard to the Swastika.
abhi332 from USA on January 30, 2011: