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The origin of the Swastika

When people see the swastika in the Western world it draws specific images and meanings. Understandably people associate it with the Nazis and the atrocities they committed against innocent Jews and other minorities during the second World War. This is certainly an understandable reaction but it’s worthwhile to realize that like many symbols the Swastika does not have the same meaning to every culture historically or even today.

The thing is the Nazi’s didn’t invent the Swastika they simply stole it from other cultures. Historians don’t even know exactly how old use of the symbol is although examples have been found dating back over 3,000 years. Examples of its use have been found in both Asia and Europe long before the Nazi’s. Even the Germans had started to adopt it as a symbol in the 19th century predating Hitler’s insanity. In these cultures it’s long been a symbol of good fortune the word itself comes from Sanskrit su meaning “well) and asti meaning “being”.

The other part of this that’s important to understand is that outside of the Western world it remains a positive symbol associated with life and good fortune. While most people associate the direction which the swastika faces (left or right) as making the difference this is not the case. In Hinduism (one of the major religions that uses it along with Buddhism and Jainism) a right facing swastika is associated with life, Vishnu and the Sun and one facing left with Kali and death as well as being the form typically associated with Buddhism. Neither direction has an evil connotation in these Eastern traditions nor do Hindus and Buddhists who come to the US use it to disrespect the Jewish people or the suffering brought about by the Holocaust.

Certainly this doesn’t justify the use of the swastika by Neo Nazi organizations nor really the efforts of well meaning groups to “reclaim” its meaning who should be more aware of the insensitivity of using it. On the other hand it’s unfair to look down on people using a symbol their religion was using literally thousands of years before Hitler was even born particularly when those people are immigrants who may not be fully aware of the implications it holds in Western society.

Copyright 2014 Kevin P Meares All Rights Reserved

Links

http://www.holocaust-trc.org/the-holocaust-education-program-resource-guide/the-swastika/

http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Holocaust/Swastika.html

http://www.religionfacts.com/hinduism/symbols/swastika.htm