Friday, November 20, 2009

Is Swastika a Symbol of Evil?

After days of deliberation, I have decided to write something on a cultural issue that I often had arguments with my Anglo-Saxon friends about. In countries like UK or US where Abramaic religions represent a majority of the population, the swastika has very little or no cultural significance. This lack of awareness, coupled with a general taboo of Nazi symbolism give the culturally ’sacred’ Swastika a negative connotation. A symbol that has had a rich history and millenniums of positive cultural meanings is often vilified, because of its resemblance to the Nazi emblem.

The Nazi Emblem Containing the Swastika
The Swastika officially became the emblem for the Nazi Party on August, 7, 1920, at the Salzburg Congress. Describing the new flag in Mein Kampf, the German fuhrer Hitler claimed that the swastika symbolized the victory of the ‘Aryan man’. Hitler had a penchant for distorting religious symbols which could be one of the reasons why he chose swastika with distortions. It is a cultural insult to use the Swastika as a war symbol, propagating a supersitition among Dharmic people(s) that the adoption of Swastika led Hitler to his downfall, despite his overwhelming military might. Today the symbol is commonly associated with Nazi Germany, the Holocaust, neo-Nazis and other hate groups who play on the fear psychosis and ignorance of Jews associated with Swastika.



Right facing Swastika used in a Buddhist temple in China
The Swastika originated and has been used for over 3000 years, with the anti-clockwise swastika dating back to 1000 BCE. It is used as a cultural symbol in China, India, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Japan, Vietnam and many other Eastern countries. As a religious symbol, the Swastika is used in Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and other Dharmic religions.In Buddhism, it represents resignation or enlightenment. In images and statues of Buddha, it could be seen on his chest, palms and feet during meditation or standing position. In Jainism the four arms Swastika re-affirms the belief of cycles of rebirth. The swastika was also a symbol of the Aryan people, a name which, in Sanskrit means “noble”. The Aryans were a group of people who settled in Iran, Northern India, Southern China, Pakistan, Slavic Russia, etc.. They believed themselves to be a pure race, superior to the other surrounding cultures. This inspired the National Socialist Germans to use the Swastika as an Aryan symbol as quite a number of North Germans were Nordic Aryans by ethnicity. Contrary to popular stereotypes, Aryans are not necessarily ‘white skinned blue eyed nordics’. Aryans come from different ethnicities across Eurasia, claiming their nobleness based on their numerous civilisations.



A left facting swastika used by Hindus and Jains
The word swastika is a corruptionof the word S-vasti-ka in Sanskrit which means “hastening of well being”. The Swastika is also given various names in different regions like wan-ji in Eastern China, man-ji in Japan, geg-gsang in Southern China, tetraskelion or gammadion in Greece.. It is a symbol of prosperity and good fortune in the Dharmic and Eastern cultures. It is widely used in both the ancient and modern world. One could find Swastika in temples, road signs, houses and various other public buildings in countries where cultural significance with the swastika is present. It could also be found on shops, necklaces, flags, letter pads and sometimes stamped on ballot papers during elections as a sign of good luck and fortune.




Road Signs in Taiwan Containing Swastika
The presence of Swastika in religious places in Asian countries gives the unaware or ignorant western tourists the impression they are ‘in the house of evil’ or the religious place has strong Nazi connections. Such an attitude leads to cultural clashes and racial insults which prompts the people to take drastic steps like having such tourists thrown out of the sacred places or the temple cleansed after their departure. In Puri in India, the Jagannath temple has been banned to foreigners and cleansed several times when an American couple insulted the Swastika symbol.

Beyond the Eastern and Southern Asia, the Swastika also used in many other cultures around the world. It was found in the relics of the lost city of Atlantis under the Atlantic Ocean. Greek priestesses branded Swastikas on their arms and goddess statues dug up at ancient Troy by Dr. Schliemann have Swastikas on the vulva. Romans took the Swastika with them on their march across Europe. It was emblemed in the female genitalia in those cultures as a sign of fertility or to ensure fertility.

Today more than half the world considers Swastika as most scared and precious symbol. The swastika has meant a lot to humans over this entire planet for all of our human history. It has had that high status and respect for thousands of years till today, the 23 years (1920-1943) when Nazis abused it is too short to smear the 3000+ years of elemental purity that this symbol represents.

Sadly there are groups today which still misuse the symbol of Swastika for racial hate and Antisemitism. This provokes people who think this symbol represents evil and Nazism and go ahead to insult the cultures associated with it. Condeming and banning the Swastika is the equivalent of banning the cross or the crescent - hardly a measure to combat racism. When we seek to stamp out an evil, we should take care not to perpetuate it in some other way. Hitler’s totalitarian regime banned many symbols. Adopting his methods is scarcely a wise way of removing his legacy. In ignoring the sensitivities and culture of people in the East, a ban would be an act of Western arrogance - the very kind of attitude Hitler encouraged. It would also be an ideological victory for Nazis and Adolf Hitler who would be deemed to have succeeded in robbing a religious symbol of its sacredness. The best way would be to let the Swastika be out in the open and give a sign to Nazi sympathisers that Hitler is not the winner, he failed in the desecration of a holy symbol of peace.

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