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Sense and Meaning of the Swastika Symbol

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    What does the symbol mean?

    The swastika is a cross that has its ends bent at right angles- it ends up looking like a spine. In geometry, the swastika is described as a 20 sided polygon (a.k.a. an irregular icosagon). Heller (2008) notes that the swastika is also referred to as a “Gammadion,” “Hakenkreuz” or a “Flyfot.”  It is also referred to as the “hooked cross” in German “the Hakenkreuz.” The swastika has various meanings across the world. The symbol of the Swastika is about 3000 years old. It originated from various religions. In Hindu religion, it was written on the bodies of people to give them good luck. The swastika is found in Hindu architecture because in that religion the symbol means luck or rebirth (i.e. Samsara or Brahma). Balchin (1944) notes that the symbol is also found in the ruins of the ancient city of Troy. In Sanskrit, the swastika is referred to as “svastika” which literally means, “good to be.” Specifically, “su” means “well” while “asti” means “being.” In the worship of the Aryan sun gods the swastika is considered as a representation of the sun.

    Temples: Influence of cultural understandings

    The swastika is used in the decoration of Hindu temples. Furthermore it is found on Hindu altars, pictures, sacred scripture, letter heads, gifts, iconography and signs. On a daily basis the symbol is used during Hindu weddings, feasts, ceremonies, houses, passages, clothes, jewelry and decoration on food as well as pastries. The people who built temples which have swastikas in them as we see it today in the remains had a very high regard for the symbol. In the minds of these people who built these temples the swastika was inevitable because it brought good luck to building and ensured its sacred nature. To these people, the swastika is sacred, thus a part of their worship. Apart from temples, the swastika is also found on artifacts belonging to various groups in history- Indo Asians, Hittites, Slavs, Celts, Greeks, etc. Some of these artifacts such as books, clothes, vases and goblets were used regularly in temples. Heller (2008)

    Why so many different meanings?

    The swastika has very many different meanings because it has been around and used for a very long time. The symbol has existed for many years. During this time, various ethnic and religious groups have attached meaning to it and interpreted the symbol according to their own terms. It is used in Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism. Furthermore, Heller (2008) adds that the swastika is a sign among the Navajos and Nordic people. The swastika symbol is also found in many cultures across the world- Chinese, Japanese, Indian and Southern European. In each of these places the swastika has a different name and it is interesting to note that among the Chinese the swastika is turned anti-clockwise. In these different cultures, the swastika has different meanings namely: life, the sun, good luck, strength and power. The current association of the swastika to Nazi Germany blinds many people from the various meaning which the symbol has across the world. The Germans used the swastika because they believe to have originated from the Aryan race. Since the Aryans used it, the Germans too adopted it. This was long before the Nazis began to use it. The Nazi party officially adopted the use of the Swastika on the 7th of august 1920 during a congress in Salzburg.

    Similarities and differences of the swastika across two cultures

    In Hinduism, Heller (2008) writes that the swastika is used as a symbol representing the sun god, “Surya.” Since the symbol faces all directions, the swastika represents stability. The swastika is considered holy in Hinduism. This is why the symbol is used to decorate many objects in that culture.

    In Buddhism the swastika is also known as the “yung drung” (in Tibet) and in this religion it represents eternity. In Japanese the swastika is referred to as “manji.” This literally means that the symbol which represents eternity. Furthermore the swastika also symbolizes harmony in the universe as well as a balance between opposites. When the spines on the swastika face left, it is referred to as “omote’ and represents love and mercy. However, on the other hand, when the spines face right, it is referred to as “ura” and represents strength and intelligence.

    Jainism gives a great deal of prominence to the swastika. According to traditions in Jainism, the swastika is one of the symbols of the “ashta-mangalas.” As a result, the swastika is a very important symbol- all temples and holy books in this religion must have a swastika. Furthermore, ceremonies in temples begin and end with signs of the swastika made with rice around the altar. This is similar to Christianity were the sign of the cross is made. In Jainism, the sign of the swastika is done. Among adherents of Jainism in Gujarat, India, the swastika is known as the “sathiyo.” In Gujarat, swastikas are made of rice in front of idols and worshippers place offerings on the swastika. These offerings are diverse and range from dried fruit and sweets to currency notes. As an important symbol in Jainism, India issued a 100 rupee coin in honor of the 2600th anniversary of the birth of Mahavir (an important figure in Jainism) and this coin has a swastika on it.

    In many of religions of the world, the swastika is a sacred symbol which has specific meaning attached to it. In many cases it is said to bring good luck. This is a major similarity with regard to the swastika among the many religions of the world- Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism and Mithraism.


    Many people across the world today are quick to write off the swastika as a symbol which Hitler used on red flags with which he perpetrated his destructive mission. In many places, the swastika evokes sad memories of concentration camps run by the Nazis. However, the swastika was used long before Hitler came on the scene. It is an interesting study to note the different meanings of swastika among various groups and faiths.


    Balchin, W. G. V. (1944) “The Swastika” Folklore Vol. 55, No. 4 (Dec.)

    Heller, Steven (2008) The Swastika: Symbol Beyond Redemption? New York: Allworth Press

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