Swastika: One Symbol, Two Meanings

Swastika: One Symbol, Two Meanings August 22, 2014

The swastika symbol has some pretty heavy baggage in the western world and that’s a real shame. I think many people in the west are not even aware that it is a Hindu symbol and not invented by Hitler, though that is starting to change.

Straddling the two worlds between America and India, I’ve observed that most people in America are unaware of the swastika’s original meaning of good fortune and most people in India are unaware of the powerfully evil connotations it has in the west.

HPIM1974

Those worlds are starting to come together now, though. As more and more Hindus practice their religion in America, non-Hindu Americans can’t help but notice the swastika symbol present on so many Hindu paintings and images.

I remember a Jewish friend of a friend shocking everyone he knew on Facebook by blithely posting about being at a party with a swastika on the front door. Later he revealed that it was a Diwali party.

I hope that the swastika’s meaning of good will, peace, fortune, and balance can come to the forefront again in the west. But there’s a lot of negative for it to overcome. Even now if you Google “Swastika” it is overwhelmingly Nazi and neo-Nazi images.

Our friend Tandava at Western Hindu blog has also written about this subject: http://western-hindu.org/2013/10/19/a-picture/#more-1689


Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!


TRENDING AT PATHEOS Hindu
What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • We printed wedding invitations in English and Bengali. The American friends and family members did not get the Bengali ones, so I put the swastika on those, and other marriage symbols on the English ones instead. There is definitely a time and a place for educating people but wedding cards sent out to 200 people isn’t that time and place 🙂

  • I have a shawl a friend gave me with the swastika on it as part of the print, also the name of Ram is wriitten in devanagari (is that what you call it?). He bought it in India and gave it to me as a gift though he hardly knew me I was just a part of the meditation center. I understand the meaning of the swastika is different in India. I wonder though about wearing shawls. In America wearing a shawl is for an old person but meditators say a shawl keeps the Shakti in, otherwise you become a sieve. I don’t know. The sieve comment is interesting though on a general level. I feel my energy being dissipated but I blame society and politics and human relationships.

    • Ambaa

      I have never heard that about the sieve! Perhaps we should ask about that on FB and see if others have heard it.

  • sashi

    Hitler, a white,never came to India and knew nothing of HInduism yet he did so much damage to Hinduism through swastika.
    i fear how much harm a white can do, who knows everything of Hinduism.
    Hitler,a white and a christian killed millions but Hindus are labelled as fascist by the white christian intellengentia.do you need any other proof of your moral bankruptcy?

    • mike

      lol. who are white christian intellengentia? who exactly are you callng morally bankrupt?

      • Ambaa

        All I hear about Hindus in the west is how good and nice it is. No one here has ever called Hindus fascist that I know of. Hindus in America are respected for valuing peace.

        • mike

          the first guy i ever came across (on the internet) anyone who hated gandhi was dongo. he is a bangladeshi muslim. and now i see loonwatch.com questioning the new PM modi. they seem to think he is a nazi.

        • Kumar

          This guy (sashi) is a fraud. In all his comments he has only hatred to offer against something (including dharma). I think he has an ulterior motive for making such comments.

        • sashi

          look whatever you say i am not going to think positive of you people.
          Indian gave you yoga and what u gave them in return is hot yoga and sexual yoga

          Indian gave swastika and you changed into nazism
          you took kamasutra frm India and gave us back pornography.
          Hindu Yoga was free but american patented it.
          Ayurveda was free in India but now americans have started patenting its formulas.
          DON’T you think u have made it all about money and pleasure.
          You people take good things frm any country and then change it into a thing of money and pleasure.

          i know you people have capacity to turn even Buddha into a thing of money and pleasure.And the trend has already started.
          why does it happen only in west?

          do u think we can trust u people in anyway?

          • Ambaa

            One point of correction: Nazism isn’t the fault of Americans. Everything else on your list sounds pretty accurate. I don’t personally practice Hinduism for money and pleasure and I’m not sure what I can do to stop that happening. If you have practical advice, I’m very interested.

            I don’t think this only happens in the west. There’s plenty of false gurus in India raking in cash. Some people are jerks.

          • sashi

            you can be 1 of those fake gurus too.believe me.
            you have to come to India and learn good Hindi.Then you have to forget your english completely.

            Then dress in saffron and go to people and tell them that you were meditating in the Himalayas for the last 200 years and that is why you have turned white with the god’s blessing.

            Believe me everyone will trust you word by word.
            People are really dumb,you can use them.Also tell them some trancedental things which they cannot understand.Buddha and all other sadhus did the same thing.

            within days every one from a beggar to a billionaire will be under your feet.You are the next Goddess.

  • Daniel Pose

    It is a shame that the misnomer “swastika” was applied to the German socialist symbol (the “Hakenkreuz” or hooked cross) to (bury, mask, conceal whitewash) rehabilitate socialism and also to distance the Christian Cross, all by slandering a foreign symbol (the swastika) instead. People who actually want to rehabilitate the “swastika” will explain the above in order to distinguish the “swastika” from the “Hakenkreuz.” Most people who read this will continue to slander the foreign symbol and word (swastika), as if they too desire to rehabilitate “socialism,” to promote/protect the Christian cross. http://rexcurry.net

    In that sense, Hitler did not damage the swastika, as he did not call his symbol a swastika. Other people gave Hitler’s symbol that name in order to damage Hinduism, and cover-up for the cross and socialism.

    The misnomer “swastika” was done (and continues to be done) to cover up Nazism’s origin in American Christian Socialism, via Francis Bellamy (author of the “Pledge of Allegiance” -the origin of the Nazi salute and Nazi behavior) and his cousin Edward Bellamy (author of “Looking Backward” -the origin of the National Socialist movement) – see the work of the historian Dr. Rex Curry.

    German socialists used their symbol to represent crossed “S” letters for “socialism” (the name of their group and what they called themselves) and that is why it was turned 45 degrees from the horizontal and always pointed in the “S” letter direction. It was similar to other symbols of German socialism (i.e. the SS symbol is two “S” letters for “Schutzstaffel”; the VW is a “V” and a “W” for “Volkswagen”; the SA symbol is an “S” and an “A” for “Sturmabteilung”; and the NSV symbol is an “N,” an “S,” and a “V,” for “NationalsozialistischeVolkswohlfahrt”) – again, see Dr. Curry’s work.

    In the book “Swastika the earliest known symbol and its migrations” by Thomas Wilson (published in 1894 at page 771) Professor Max Muller cautioned against the use of the term “swastika” and said “I do not like the use of the word svastika outside of India. It is a word of Indian origin and has its history and definite meaning in India. * * * The occurrence of such crosses in different parts of the world may or may not point to a common origin, but if they are once called Svastika the vulgus profanum will at once jump to the conclusion that they all come from India, and it will take some time to weed out such prejudice.” Muller’s prediction was amazingly accurate, and it is amusing that he labeled so many people in the world today as “vulgus profanum.”

    • Ambaa

      I had never heard that it wasn’t Hitler who called it a swastika. Interesting.

  • Ragtimelil

    Some Native Americans (Navajo) also used the same symbol but most stopped when they discovered what ugliness it had been associated with.

    http://nativeamericanjewelrytips.wordpress.com/2010/06/10/native-american-symbol-whirling-log-swastika/

    • mike

      wiki mentions the whirrling logs of the navajo if you goto the page on swastika.

  • Kumar

    The Nazi swastika was counter-clockwise, but in Hinduism both clockwise and counter-clockwise symbols are used. Moreover, the Nazi swastika is always tilted, but the Hindu symbol is most often used in the zero-inclination form. Of course we also use the dots which were never used by the Nazis
    It is an ancient symbol and in south asia its use is very very common. The sensitivity in west to this is understandable, but education is key to transforming people’s views. When people will know that the symbol’s roots and how it is viewed in Hinduism then they will (slowly) learn to accept it.

    • mike

      not always. you must not watch the history channel much. i’ve seen it flat. one on top of a building that gets blown up is not at 45 degrees.

      • Kumar

        Are the other forms institutionalized ? Variations of many things exist, but if they are not formalized then one cannot accord too much importance to that.

        In Hinduism, many forms of Swastika are used at a very regular basis. From what I know that is not the case with Nazis. If I am wrong then please be my History Channel. I cannot pay for the subscription though … J

        • mike

          are the other forms institutionalized? well it was on top of a big government building. let me google.
          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ckZHqfilTBM

          • Kumar

            Interesting … that is an interesting way to institutionalize something …. LOL

          • mike

            i could have sworn there was also one with the eagle on top with the wreath in its talons. can’t find it.
            who knows maybe that one blown up was misinstalled?

          • mike

            i knew i’ve seen it before. i’m watching the military history channel right now. ‘saddam and the third reich’. they are going back to the grand mufti of jerusalem and the rise of teh baath party. anyway, twice they have shown nazi banners, not flage but banners that are attached top and bottom on a staff and hang vertically. and the swastika is flat.
            like this one at 5:19…https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TTOqtA1rDNE

          • mike

            it just hit me. you don’t think the nazis blew it up? do ya? this is filmed after the fall of berlin and allied forces are blowing it up.

          • Kumar

            Nah. We were talking about institutionalizing and you point me to a sign on the top of an ‘institution’. I thought that was ironical and funny. 🙂

    • Ambaa

      What does “titled” mean?

      I do think people are beginning to learn!

      • Kumar

        Thanks for pointing out the typo. 🙂 I meant tilted.

        • Ambaa

          Oh! I didn’t realize! Hahaha. I thought it was supposed to be “titled” and I was wracking my brain trying to understand what that might mean!

          • Kumar

            LOL !!! Thankfully you can edit your remark here. That should save other people time. 🙂

    • Amar

      HIndus actually are at fault somewhat, because they (we) never claimed or propagated or tried to spread our faith, before internet West was not aware with the core principles of Hindus, now as things are changing it may take a little time- surely it is going in right direction, Christians like I-slam are totally against idol-worshiping, this is why there were confusions.

      • Ambaa

        Indeed. I don’t know that we need to “propagate” the faith, but I do think it’s good for us to be sure of ourselves and confident in Hinduism. We don’t have to spread it or convince others to follow it, but we do have to be strong in who we are and not try to deny or hide our faith. You know what I mean?

        • Amar

          I knew that both the terms are not the right terms, so instead of trying to find out the right word I just wrote, still better term is making people aware or be confident at being Hindu.

          • Ambaa

            Exactly! I totally agree 🙂

    • ForTheMusic

      don’t worry..i have been trying to educate people about the symbol. And how Hitler abused it.

    • Vineet Menon

      Not only South Asia, it is a very ancient symbol found all over the world (including Pagan iconography).

      https://welshmythology.files.wordpress.com/2014/08/swastika.jpg

    • mjm

      “the Nazi swastika is always tilted” not true.

  • mike

    some chick tried to do a rehabilitate the swastika month. acoording to wiki there are buildings with swastikas on them in the historical registry. the symbol was popular in the west in the 20s and 30s. i think amelia erhart wore one why she tried her flight. guess they can’t be that great of luck.
    i remeber a daily show when colbert was the field reported ane he went to a place called swastika acres. found a family named white and one named brown. it was hilarious, he was talking to the whites about keep the browns out, then to the browns the whites wanted to keep them out.

    • Ambaa

      Wow. Just wow. Colbert is pretty hilarious.

  • Daniel Pose

    It is confusing to say that “The Nazi swastika was counter-clockwise,” in that there is nothing necessarily “counter-clockwise” about it. It is clearer to say that the German socialist hooked cross is in the “S” letter direction. That is because German socialists used it to represent crossed “S” letters for their socialist dogma (see the work of the historian Dr. Rex Curry). Later versions of the German socialist hooked cross are always tilted. That there were earlier German socialist hooked crosses that were NOT tilted shows that they deliberately altered it to highlight the “S” letter appearance for their socialist dogma.

    And, of course, the Hindu swastika uses the dots which were never used by German socialists.

    Education is key to transforming people’s views. Then, people will know that the Hindu symbol is a different symbol and they will (slowly) learn to accept it. We can help by referring to the German socialist symbol as a hooked cross (Hakenkreuz) and by pointing out that it was used as alphabetical symbolism of “S” letters for their socialist dogma.

    • mike

      well i don’t know if you can totally disassociate the nazi movement from the subcontinent. is not aryan sanskrit for noble. i always thought hitler was trying to trace the german lineage to the ‘first civilized people’? it’s kind of a compliment to the people of the subcontinent. many people consider the indians to be the birth of the caucasian race.

      hitler was pulling from all over the place. who was the first reich?

  • Rohan

    You still see them on lamposts in Berlin i think

  • Amar

    the most ancient symbol associated with the Sun is Swastik.
    http://www.tribuneindia.com/1999/99may23/sunday/head1.htm

  • michael
  • Toonces

    To anyone in Europe, Eastern Europe, Russia, North and South America, Australia, Japan, Canada and Africa, the Swastika is a symbol of death, gas chambers, ovens, slavery and torture. Because of this, it is extremely insensitive for Hindus to force people in other countries to look upon this evil reminder. The Swastika is to Europeans, Americans and Jews exactly the same thing as the Confederate flag to African Americans who suffered under slavery.
    It is insensitive and abusive to display this hateful symbol. The pain is just too great.
    Perhaps if Hindus were persecuted, enslaved and murdered under this symbol, they would understand better why it is wrong to force it on others just for their own selfish pleasure.
    Stop displaying the Swastika. There is no need for it in the modern age when people should be sensitive to others.

    • Ambaa

      A very prescient comment! I am working on a post about why now is not the time to “reclaim” the swastika. When I first wrote this article three years ago I thought maybe we could, but with the tension in the world today it definitely isn’t the time. There are people still alive today who have been tremendously hurt by people using this symbol. I will say that if you see it in India, many Indians are unaware of how it was used by Hitler