Significance of Swastika: the Hindu View

published on June 18, 2009
K. M. Muralidharan

From time immemorial, Hindus have used spiritual and cultural symbols. Of these symbols, Pranavam (Aum), Swastika, and Sri Chakra, are prominent and of special importance, each of these symbols unique in its own way. Though almost all of us know what a swastika is, few of us have any idea about the significance of swastika. Hardly anyone is able to explain why Hindus esteem the right-faced swastika, while most people regard the left-faced so-called ‘swastika’ as inauspicious, and use it very rarely, compared to the right-faced swastika. I have conducted some research on swastika as a Hindu symbol. Some of my findings and conclusions are reproduced below with the hope that it would benefit my Hindu brethren and the readers in general.

In devising symbols, Hindus have followed the natural man’s vision, impressions and imagination. A symbol creates waves of thought in the observer and is capable of producing a psychological atmosphere. Many of us might have noted that the swastika contains a cross in its middle portion, if left bereft of the four bent arms. But without the four arms, a swastika is no more a swastika; it then becomes a cross. In a cross one line crosses and violates the other. ‘Crossing’ his cherished things, by another person, is not liked by the common man. Recall the English expression that we use to rude interveners and those who try to throw a spanner in our work: “Don’t cross my path.” In the natural man’s vision and understanding, a cross   represents strife, conflict, violation, malice and harm. This is why a cross is inauspicious and undesirable as a natural symbolism. (What I say is applicable to natural and sane people. About abnormal cases, I offer no comment). It is due to this that ancient Hindus, with all their reverence for Surya, the Sun-god, still never used the cross as a symbol of the sun, whereas some thoughtless minds in some other parts of the ancient world, though very   rarely, have used the cross, as a symbol of the sun. The four bent arms of swastika, obfuscates the strife-element in the cross. A swastika, does not remind any sober observer about a cross. It looks rather a conglomeration of four ‘boxes’ arranged in a set pattern. In ancient Greece they took it to be a ‘concentric’ collection of four counts of the capital-letter gamma.  

The word “swastika” is derived from Sanskrit prefix su (meaning well, good, auspicious, great), and asti (be) plus the suffix ka (denoting a causing agent) added to the end. Swastika is, thus, ‘a thing that causes well-being, auspiciousness’.

Swastika, as a Hindu symbol, is the right-facing swastika. The left-facing ‘swastika’, strictly speaking, is not swastika at all, and the name ‘swastika’ is used popularly to denote that figure too, only due to the absence of an appropriate name for it. The left-handed swastika, called in Sanskrit  “sauvastika”, is the antithesis of swastika. Some tantriks regard sauvastika as a symbol of Kali, the Goddess of destruction. The left-handed swastika is not conducive to well being. Some Jain sanyasis have encouraged the use of aswastika. But to my knowledge, none of them have till date explained any symbolic or philosophical significance in respect of the left-handed aswastika. I will be deeply obliged to anyone who provides a satisfactory explanation as to why the left-handed aswastika deserves any reverence as a symbol. A friend wrote to me that the left-handed swastika was in use even at the time of Indus Valley civilization. That makes no difference, since, first, my friend has no claim that the left-handed swastika was in use during Indus Valley civilization, precisely as a sacred symbol, and secondly, the age-old practice and understanding among Hindu society with respect to the two forms of swastika favours the right-faced figure, whereas they discommend the left-faced one.

Burnouf, the French scholar in 1852 used the term sauvastika, which word is a vriddhi derivation of swastika. Burnouf arbitrarily and un-supported by any authority, used the term to mean ‘salutatory, benedictory.’ Max Muller in a letter parrotted Burnouf’s folly (or mischief ?). Rishi Dayananda Saraswati’s correct observation that Max Muller had the Sanskrit knowledge of a mere class-tenth student only, is worth recalling here. It should also be remembered that Max Muller was employed by the British to misinterpret Hindu scriptures and create confusion and low self-esteem among Hindus. Max Muller has the dubious distinction of introducing the false and mischievous theory of ‘Aryan immigration’ into India. Viewed in the above background, the sauvastika deserves no favourable consideration.

Swastika symbolizes an ideal life. This can be demonstrated by employing a simple device. Supply Dharma, Artha, Kama and Moksha — the four purusharthas (aims, essentials, in human life, according to Hindu tradition), into the four arms of a right-facing swastika, beginning from the top-left box, as shown in Figure-A below.

 Untitled.jpg

In Figure –A Dharma is placed in the first box, open upwards. That shows receptiveness to noble, sacred, worthy and divine influences. The second box, open to the right, takes care of artha (wealth). That signifies use of wealth for good, desirable purposes, and daana (the doling out of wealth) to deserving persons (satpaatra).  The third box covering all sides   except the bottom, contains third purushartha namely kama (desires, libido). It signifies control, dama over desires and sex-urge. Exercise of such control is the sign of a cultured man. And for a noble soul, who has led a meaningful life in respect of the first three purusharthas, the fourth one, the way of moksha (liberation) is open. That is denoted by the last box, open to the left. No wonder, Hindus regard the right-faced swastika, symbolizing this great principle of life, as auspicious.  The adjective ‘right-faced’, used for this figure, is thus meaningful in more than one ways.

The diametrically opposite and undesirable life-pattern is demonstrated by the left-faced Figure-B above, which I would call ‘aswastika’. When the four purusharthas are supplied in the four boxes of an aswastika, the exact opposite of the noble and ideal life-scheme, as represented by a swastika would result. Here, there is a block, an aversion to higher influences; open receptiveness to wealth, (the feeling that getting wealth alone is blessedness); a free hand allowed for kama (desires, libido); and for an ignoble guy who has passed such contemptible existence, troublesome for others, the way of liberation is blocked. This is why the left-faced ‘aswastika’ is regarded as inauspicious, and totally avoided at any religious or cultural venue of Hindus.                       

Again, it is worthwhile to place into the four boxes of swastika, the four traditional stages of life (ashramas), namely, Brahmacharya (celibate student-life), Garhastya (householder’s life), Vaanaprastha (retired life), and Sanyasa (renunciation) [see Figure-C above]. The well-ordered life represented by right-facing swastika signifies openness to higher influences in student life; ‘right-handed’ earning and right distribution of one’s wealth as a householder; suppression of base passions during retired life; and ultimately an open way to liberation, for such well-ordered person, in the last phase of life and in the ‘hereafter’. Needless to say, the exact opposite of these values is symbolised by the left-faced ‘aswastika’ (Figure- D above).

Swastika, as mentioned above, symbolises the values in human life, and hence its importance as a sacred symbol of Hindus. Like all the symbols and concepts in Hinduism, swastika too represents a higher philosophy, an ennobling thought, and natural, right-thinking symbolism.

Hitler and his ilk obviously did not think so much when they used the gammadion (swastika) as a Nazi symbol. The dictator, presumably, was under the impression that it was just another form of the cross, and he wore a plain cross on the chest pocket of his uniform, as evidenced by several photos of the Nazi leader, who was a devout Roman Catholic Christian. In Swedish, a swastika is called hakkors or hook cross, a clear indication that it has been considered a form of cross. Pertinently, no Nazi philosopher, including Alfred Rosenberg, has offered any cogent theory with regard to the significance of swastika according to Nazi philosophy. Hitler got the inspiration to use the swastika as a symbol for the NSDAP from the use of that symbol by the Thule-Gesellschaft (Thule Society), a German occultist and folk group in Munich, named after a mythical northern country in Greek legend. The Thule Society is notable chiefly as the organization that sponsored the Deutsche Arbeiterpartei (DAP), which was later transformed by Hitler into the Nazi Party. Thule Society also had no philosophical explanation regarding the swastika that they used.

Swastika is a sacred symbol of Hindus, Buddhists, Jains. Historically, many other native peoples of several regions the world over have regarded swastika as a sacred symbol. Aversion to Hitler and Nazism should not be used by white Christians of Europe to ban the use of Swastika in Europe. Hindus should challenge such ban orders before appropriate European courts of law. If swastika is to be banned due to its Nazi connection, then the cross also well deserves a total ban since Hitler used it on his chest-pocket. Even otherwise, if historical atrocities are any sufficient reason to ban a symbol, then which symbol deserves such ban in the first place than the cross, under which the notorious Cross Wars and hundreds of other declared and undeclared wars, hate campaigns, persecutions and organized criminal acts have been carried out, massacring millions of persons?  

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Responses

  1. Incognito Reply

    June 18, 2009 at 5:02 pm

    Good article
    Thanks a lot ! 5

  2. SK Reply

    June 19, 2009 at 2:34 pm

    Not convinced.
    Not convinced by your logic of how Figure A becomes holy and Figure B evil. I did notioce that a re arrangement of the 4 purusharthas can make it the opposite. your logic doesnt hold water. 5

  3. Vijayalakshmi Reply

    June 20, 2009 at 12:11 am

    Significance of Swastika.
    Many thanks to Sri Muralidharan ji for the excellent article,which should be sent for publication in Hindu magazines, so that more people can read and carry forward/spread the message to other Hindus. 5

  4. Ajithkumar Reply

    June 21, 2009 at 10:57 am

    Swasthika has more meanings
    While congragulating your article about swastika I feel to add some points which I had observed.

    1.The swastika has eight points and one center ponit where all is connected.This Eight points shows the ashta dik palas
    2.Again it symbolises the nava grahas as the eight points plus the center point.
    3.The swastiks is clock wise,all we in the universe-the planets and heavely bodies move clock wise.Blood circulation in our body is clock wise.
    4.If the swastika is rotated fast it becomes a chakra.
    I feel it is a symbolic repersentation of the cosmos which needs more reserch and studies.
    5

  5. K. M. MURALIDHARAN Reply

    June 22, 2009 at 10:14 pm

    A REJOINDER TO “SK”
    I am, like all other readers, an unfortunate loser in that the great logician “SK” has not shown the mercy to reveal his/her/its real name if the real thing is different from the assumed one.In case the real name itself is SK, I take my hat off to his parents (if authorship is attributable to them at all) for their admirable wisdom. SK is not convinced by my logic of how Figure A becomes holy and Figure B evil.

    I have started from the top left box of swastika, which starting is natural to man,(in giving titles to sets of photographs, for example, most journals the world over start from “top left” corner). A man writing with his left hand may not understand that it is natural for the vast majority of men to use the right hand for writing. SK says that a re- arrangement of the 4 purusharthas can make it the opposite.SK would show the magnanimity to tell us the logic, if any, for such re-arrangement. If done, the world will be obliged to SK for his/her/its logic which might hold a million gallons of water.

    I highly appreciate the observations made by Shri Ajithkumar. 5

  6. SK Reply

    June 23, 2009 at 8:00 am

    Let me clarify
    Pls keep my parents away from this discussion.

    I am not sure if you will publish this and then answer my question still as you raised it ,I will rephrase my question, Lets see Fig A,what happens if we exchange Dharma on the top left with Artha in top right. The same for the bottom two quadrants exchange kama and moksha. For example in Fig A when Artha is placed on the top left, as per your explanation it becomes a container with open receptiveness to wealth. and so on.

    By your explanation now it has the opposite effect.You did not explain why they are placed in those quadrants. Pls explain the reason why Dharma should be placed in the Top Right, and the others in the quadrants you have placed.

    When such important icons and symbols of our culture are explained, the explanation should be fool proof. Only when someone asks questions and they are answered properly, things understood clearly. Otherwise the article stoops down to propoganda.

    I expect a proper reply from your side, and not an emotionally charged like the last one. 5

  7. K. M. MURALIDHARAN Reply

    June 24, 2009 at 2:49 am

    AN EXPLANATION TO SK
    My last letter was not “emotionally charged” as SK thinks it to be. SK has perhaps not noticed the humerous vein of my rejoinder; a disinterested third person can see the correct mood. When plain facts about part of a great culture like Hinduism are presented, the exponent is at a commanding position with the backing of the knowledge of sages who were highly educated and knowledgeable. So when I, a humble exponent speak about a great symbol of Hindus, I can score points without getting emotional at all. On the other side, if anyone feels that I get emotional, I am proud about it, because what most of our “parabrahmas” lack abysmally is EMOTION.

    Coming to SK’s rejoinder, I note that SK has not much objection now regarding the starting from the top-left box. (At least he has failed to raise such objection in his “clarification”).

    What SK is bothered about now is:
    “what happens if we exchange Dharma on the top left with Artha in top right”. It was not I who gave the world the order of Purusharthas as “Dharma-Artha_ Kama Moksha”. That was the wise design of Hindu sages — the Rishis of yore.

    Once you are sure about the first box, (I am not sure how much sure SK is about it even now, despite my observation above about his last revealed position). Placing Dharma first, and in preference to the other three, makes us Hindus what we are. Placing Artha or Kama first will make one a fit and shameless follower of some crooked foreign guys who claimed to be prophets of a jealous, wicked and unprincipled clan-god (the credit of calling it clan-god is not due to me, that credit goes to Vivekananda). Not only we Hindus, but even our God is self-governed by laws — the law of Dharma. If a person does not understand why Dharma should be placed first, in preference to the other purusharthas, lo ! he does not understand the ABC of Hinduism. “Dharmo hi nreenam adhiko vishesho”. As ear as I can grasp, SK’s problem is not just about swastika, It is about Dharma. 5

  8. K. M. MURALIDHARAN Reply

    June 24, 2009 at 10:30 pm

    AN ADDENDUM ON DHARMA
    Owing to the set limit on words in one comment, I venture to write this addendum on Dharma.

    Purusharthas are the things for which a person should strive for in life. They have been divided into 4 by the sages, as Dharma, Artha (wealth), Kama (desires) and Moksha (liberation). The ideas of Dharme and Moksha are alien to Abrahamic religions. There is no equivalent for the Sanskrit word Dharma in any other language.

    Thouigh there are words like “liberation” in other languages, the concept of liberation for the soul from the continual cycle of birth-death-and-rebirth, is entirely a Hindu concept, untraceable in Abrahamic or other religions.

    Dharma is the most important one among purusharthas. It is the sum total of all those things which sustain social life. “Dharayati iti Dharma”. “Dharanaat Dharmam iti ahu”. Dharma is relevant for all, whereas even Moksha, the ultimate aim, is limited to a microscopic minority of men. Without Dharma, man is worthless. Ravana or Duryodhana had many admirable qualities in them, but the utter lack of Dharma made them despicable characters. Sense of justice and fairness, and duty-consciousness are essential parts of Dharma.

    Sense of Artha and Kama in the broad sense is present even in amnimals. Sense of Dharma is what makes a man. The Vedas are the root of all expressions of Dharma, since they were the first expressions of this noble and enlightening concept.In Abrahamic religions where an unprincipled and arbitrary god is the pivotal entity, blind obedience to the dictates of that god is the highest “virtue”. Not so in Dharmic religions. We have a principled approach to everything in life. Duty before rights, “you” before “I”, giving before taking, all such noble ideals which a HIndu follows, have their origin in our sense of Dharma. Hence the predominance of Dharma.

    There is no question, therefore, of sustituting Dharma with Artha or Kama, why, not even with Moksha. Even an atheist has to abide by Dharma. 5

  9. Padmanabha Holla S. Reply

    June 25, 2009 at 12:35 am

    Dharma is the Basis of all- Dharmo viswasya jagathah prthistha
    to get the puruashartha one should start withy the Dharma. otherwise the Artha and Kama will become like, ” Monkey holding Precious stone”. it will become useless or defenitly misused –

    Dharma is placed in the First place because in a movement towards the moksha pesrson has to change his nature from animal to purusha. “Dharmena Heena Pashubhisamana”.

    For understanding the importance of the Dharma in the life; also there should be a basis.

    All our activities should be based on dharma and should be for the protection of the Dharma.

    5

  10. Raj Reply

    June 27, 2009 at 11:13 am

  11. Vanamali Thotapalli Reply

    July 7, 2009 at 3:04 pm

    Swastika
    I live in the US and it pains me to see the likeness of this symbol treated as a hate symbol. I have asked how come since the KKK uses the cross as a their symbol, why is that the cross not regarded as a hate symbol? If you want numbers, the biggest number of killings occured in communist countries – the sovient union under Stalin and in china under Mao. Yet no one says that the communist symbol is evil.

    The symbol has the least to do with all the killings done by Hitler. He chose it because maybe he took a liking to it. But was his hatred of jews was fuelled by his religion?

    Funny how everyone connected to the holocaust has moved on – The Germans, the military, the guns that did the killing, are all absolved of any hate, but this poor symbol is elected to carry on the hatred and abuse.

    We Hindus must realize that the louder the voice the more effective one can be. Stay silent, cower in the corner, and all you get is abuse. I am a follower of Gandhi, I am not espousing violence, but I am asking each and every Hindu to speak. Write to web sites like these as well as newspapers and magazines. 5

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