Posted by: earthlotus | Wednesday April 11, 2007



A “right-facing” Swastika in a decorative Hindu form.

The swastika (from Sanskrit svástika स्वास्तिक ) is an equilateral cross with its arms bent at right angles, in either left-facing (卍) or right-facing (卐) forms. The term is derived from Sanskrit svasti, meaning well-being. The Thai greeting sawasdee is from the same root, carrying the same implication.

It is a widely-used sacred symbol in Dharmic religions (Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism). Hindus often decorate the swastika with a dot in each quadrant. In India, it is common enough to be a part of several Devanagari fonts. It is also a symbol in the modern unicode. It is often imprinted on religious texts, marriage invitations, decorations etc. It is used to mark religious flags in Jainism and to mark Buddhist temples in Asia.

Archaeological evidence of swastika shaped ornaments goes back to the Neolithic period. In 1920 the swastika was appropriated as a Nazi symbol, and has since then become a controversial motif as a consequence. In the Western world, it is this usage as a symbol of Nazism that is most familiar, and this political association has largely eclipsed its historical status in the West.


The swastika has an extensive history. The motif seems to have first been used in Neolithic Eurasia. The swastika is used in religious and civil ceremonies in Hindu countries (especially Nepal and India). Most Indian temples, entrance of houses, weddings, festivals and celebrations are decorated with swastikas. 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. The symbol has an ancient history in Europe, appearing on artifacts from pre-Christian European cultures. It was also adopted independently by several Native American cultures.
Greek helmet with swastika marks on the top part (details), 350-325 BC from Taranto, found at Herculanum. Cabinet des Médailles, Paris.

In the Western world, the symbol experienced a resurgence following the archaeological work in the late nineteenth 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.[1][2] By the early 20th century it was widely used worldwide and was regarded as a symbol of good luck and success.

The work of Schliemann soon became intertwined with the völkisch movements, for which the swastika was a symbol of “Aryan” identity, a concept that came to be equated by theorists like Alfred Rosenberg with a Nordic master race originating in northern Europe. Since its adoption by the Nazi Party of Adolf Hitler, the swastika has been associated with fascism, racism (white supremacy), World War II, and the Holocaust in much of the West. The swastika remains a core symbol of Neo-Nazi groups, and is also regularly used by activist groups to signify the supposed Nazi-like behavior of organizations and individuals they oppose.


In antiquity, the swastika was used extensively by the Indo-Aryans, Hittites, Celts and Greeks, among others. In particular, the swastika is a sacred symbol in Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism — religions with billions of adherents worldwide, making the swastika ubiquitous in both historical and contemporary society. Recent discoveries have shown that Indus Valley Civilization also used the swastika symbol.
It occurs in other Asian, European, African and Native American cultures – sometimes as a geometrical motif, sometimes as a religious symbol.

Origin hypotheses

The ubiquity of the swastika symbol is easily explained by it being a very simple symbol that will arise independently in any basket-weaving society.[citation needed] The swastika is a repeating design, created by the edges of the reeds in a square basket-weave. Other theories attempt to establish a connection via cultural diffusion or an explanation along the lines of Carl Jung’s collective unconscious.
While the existence of the swastika symbol in the Americas may be explained by the basket-weave theory, its American presence weakens the cultural diffusion theory. While some have proposed that the swastika was secretly transferred to North America by an early seafaring civilization on Eurasia, a separate but parallel development is considered the most likely explanation.
Yet another explanation is suggested by Carl Sagan in his book Comet. Sagan reproduces an ancient Chinese manuscript that shows comet tail varieties: most are variations on simple comet tails, but the last shows the comet nucleus with four bent arms extending from it, recalling a swastika. Sagan suggests that in antiquity a comet could have approached so close to Earth that the jets of gas streaming from it, bent by the comet’s rotation, became visible, leading to the adoption of the swastika as a symbol across the world.
Bob Kobres in Comets and the Bronze Age Collapse (1992) contends that the swastika-like comet on the Han Dynasty silk comet atlas was labeled a “long tailed pheasant star” due to its resemblance to a bird’s foot., and further suggests that many swastika and swastika-like motifs may have been representations of bird tracks, including many of those found by Schliemann.
Barbara G. Walker, author of The Woman’s Dictionary of Symbols and Sacred Objects, claims that the crux dissimulata, an early swastika, represented the four winds. Concerning the short-armed version of this symbol, known as the gammadion because it is made up of four Greek gammas, Walker says this symbol was an emblem of the ancient goddess and probably represented “the solstices and equinoxes, or the four directions, four elements, and four divine guardians of the world.”

Archaeological record

The earliest swastika symbols of the archaeological record date to the Neolithic. The symbol was found on a number of shards in the Khuzestan province of Iran and as part of the “Vinca script” of Neolithic Europe of the 5th millennium BC. In the Early Bronze Age, it appears on pottery found in Sintashta, Russia.
Swastika-like symbols also appear in Bronze and Iron Age designs of the northern Caucasus (Koban culture), and Azerbaijan, as well as of Scythians and Sarmatians [4]. In all these cultures the swastika symbol does not appear to occupy any marked position or significance, but appears as just one form of a series of similar symbols of varying complexity.

Historical use
In Zoroastrian Persia, the swastika symbolized the revolving sun (Garduneh-e Khorshid), Mithra’s Wheel (Garduneh-e Mehr), fire, infinity, or continuing recreation. There is no reference to the swastika in the Vedas, the term svastika first appearing in Epic Sanskrit, but the symbol rose to importance in Hinduism and Buddhism in Maurya and Gupta India.
The use of the swastika by the indigenous Bön faith of Tibet, as well as syncretic religions, such as Cao Dai of Vietnam and Falun Gong of China, is thought to be borrowed from Buddhism as well. Similarly, the existence of the swastika as a solar symbol among the Akan civilization of southwest Africa may have been the result of cultural transfer along the African slave routes around AD 1500[citation needed].
The Tibeten swastika is known as nor bu bzhi -khyil, or quadruple body symbol, defined in Unicode point U+0FCC.


Western use of the Swastika in the early 20th century

The discovery of the Indo-European language group in the 1790s led to a great effort by archaeologists to link the pre-history of European peoples to the ancient “Aryans” (variously referring to the Indo-Iranians or the Proto-Indo-Europeans). Following his discovery of objects bearing the swastika in the ruins of Troy, Heinrich Schliemann consulted two leading Sanskrit scholars of the day, Emile Burnouf and Max Müller. Schliemann concluded that the Swastika was a specifically Indo-European symbol. Later discoveries of the motif among the remains of the Hittites and of ancient Iran seemed to confirm this theory. This idea was taken up by many other writers, and the swastika quickly became popular in the West, appearing in many designs from the 1880s to the 1920s.

These discoveries, and the new popularity of the swastika symbol, led to a widespread desire to ascribe symbolic significance to every example of the motif. In Germanic countries examples of identical shapes in ancient European artifacts and in folk art were interpreted as emblems of good-luck linked to the Indo-Iranian meaning.
Western use of the motif, along with the religious and cultural meanings attached to it, was subverted in the early twentieth century after it was adopted as the emblem of the Nazi Party (German: Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei). This association occurred because Nazism stated that the historical Aryans were the forefathers of modern Germans and then proposed that, because of this, the subjugation of the world by Germany was desirable, and even predestined. The swastika was used as a conveniently geometrical and eye-catching symbol to emphasize the so-called Aryan-German correspondence and instill racial pride. Since World War II, most Westerners have known the swastika as solely a Nazi symbol, leading to incorrect assumptions about its pre-Nazi use in the West and confusion about its sacred religious and historical status in other cultures.

Geometry and symbolism

Swastika   A right-facing swastika may be described as “clockwise”…

Swastika Counter-Clockwise  … or “counter-clockwise”

Swastika Red  The left-facing swastika can be found in both Hindu and Buddhist tradition.

Geometrically, the swastika can be regarded as an irregular icosagon or 20-sided polygon. The arms are of varying width and are often rectilinear (but need not be). However, the proportions of the Nazi swastika were fixed: they were based on a 5×5 grid.[4]
Characteristic is the 90° rotational symmetry (that is, the symmetry of the cyclic group C4h) and chirality, hence the absence of reflectional symmetry, and the existence of two versions which are each other’s mirror image.
The mirror-image forms are often described as:
           •   left-facing and, as depicted across, right-facing;
           •   left-hand and right-hand;
           •   clockwise and counterclockwise.

“Left-facing” and “right-facing” are used mostly consistently. Looking at an upright swastika, the upper arm clearly faces towards the viewer’s left (卍) or right (卐). The other two descriptions are ambiguous as it is unclear if they refer to the direction of the bend in each arm or to the implied rotation of the symbol. If the latter, whether the arms lead or trail remains unclear. The terms are used inconsistently (sometimes even by the same writer) which is confusing and may obfuscate an important point, that the rotation of the swastika may have symbolic relevance.

Nazi ensigns had a through and through image, so each version was present on one side, but the Nazi flag on land was right-facing on both sides ([5], at the bottom).
Seen as a cross, the four lines emanating from the center point to the four cardinal directions. The most common association is with the Sun. Other proposed correspondences are to the visible rotation of the night sky in the Northern Hemisphere around the pole star.

The name “sauwastika” is sometimes given to the left-facing form of the swastika (卍), based on D’Alviella (1894), [5], though the term is merely an alternate spelling of “swastika”. Indians of all faiths sometimes use the symbol in both orientations, mostly for symmetry. Buddhists outside of India generally use the left-facing swastika over the right-facing swastika although, again, both can be used. Claims to the effect that the left-facing swastika has inauspicious or “evil” connotations are without substance. In particular, the left-facing swastika is often carved in a see-through lattice in many entrance doors of Buddhist temples in China. When exiting the temple, one sees the reverse side of this lattice on the same door, which of course looks like a right-facing swastika.


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