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.


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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