The swastika is a very old symbol with widespread use throughout the world. It holds a high value in the Indian culture. The swastika ranks second to the most revered Indian symbol, OM. Like OM, the origins of Swastika are lost in the misty realms of the past and they can only be guessed by putting together the surviving clues. The swastika was first adopted by the Aryans as a symbol for the good of humanity. It has spread to many cultures and countries after that. The swastika finds its significance in almost all the spheres of Indian culture. Literally, Swastika connotes ‘of good fortune’, where ‘Su’ stands for ‘well’ and ‘Asti’ for ‘being’. Technically, one may say that a Swastika symbolizes Sun’s progress across the heaven. Thus, it represents ‘the action of the origin of the Universe’.
The swastika did not begin as a mere sign but as a symbol that orients us towards the ultimate reality by unraveling the mysteries of existence. So a detailed study of such an important symbol will help in deepening our knowledge of Indian culture and reaping the benefits that it has to offer us.
The ancient Indian philosophy explains the evolution of the world by saying that the center of the swastika represents the uterus, the origin point of the Universe, the vertical line, Shiva and the horizontal line, the female organ. Their cross forms the origin and evolution of the whole world. Thus, symbolically, the swastika’s cross is said to represent God and creation.
The swastika is a primitive symbol or ornament in the form of a cross. The arms of the cross are of equal length with a section of each arm projecting at right angles from the end of each arm, all in the same direction and usually clockwise. The four bent arms stand for the four fold aim of human life called Purushartha: dharma, artha, kama and moksha. It also represents the world wheel, eternally changing around a fixed centre, God.
Swastika is a Sanskrit word, su means ‘good’, asti means ‘to be’ and ka is a suffix. It is thus etymologically translated as ‘well being’ or ‘good fortune’. For Hindus, the swastika is a symbol of auspiciousness, prosperity and good fortune. It also represents the sun and the cycle of life. For the Hindus, the swastika’s right-angled arms reflect the fact that the path toward our objectives is often not straight, but takes unexpected turns. They also denote the indirect way in which Divinity is reached–through intuition and not by intellect.
The right-hand swastika is one of the 108 symbols of Lord Vishnu as well as a symbol of the sun and of the sun god Surya. The symbol imitates through the rotation of its arms the course taken daily by the sun, which appears in the Northern Hemisphere to pass from east, then south, to west. The swastika is emblematic of the masculine principle.
The left-hand swastika (called a sauvastika) usually represents the terrifying goddess Kali, night and magic. However, this form of the swastika is not evil. The sauvastika is emblematic of the feminine principle. In astronomy, it designates the sun during fall and winter. It is the form most commonly used in Buddhism.
Swastika with 3 dots and a crescent
The swastika used in mediation is a special one, with additional marks. There are three dots above the swastika and a little crescent on the top of all this, with a dot in the middle. The four arms represent the four realms of possible births: human, heavenly, infernal, plant and animal. The crescent and dot symbolize the land of the perfected soul, which is described in the scientific mapping of the general features of the universe as being in the shape of an inverted umbrella. The three dots represent the hope for final emancipation; they represent the ratna tray, the three jewels that one adopts and practices to escape from the cycle of life and death. A good luck yogic asana named ‘svastikasana’ is sometimes assumed in meditation in the form of an ‘inclosed’ as distinct from an outstretched cross. Here two crosses are formed by squatting with crossed legs and with arms closed over the chest.
Even though, the swastika was first used in Neolithic India, the symbol has an ancient history in Europe, appearing on artifacts from pre-Christian European cultures. In the period preceding the middle ages in Europe, the swastika was used extensively by the Indo-Aryans, Persians, Hittites, Celts and Greeks, among others. In particular, the swastika is a sacred symbol in Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Mithraism (Ancient Persian religion), religions with a total of more than a billion adherents worldwide, making the swastika omnipresent in both historical and contemporary society. The symbol was introduced to Southeast Asia by Hindu kings and remains an integral part of Balinese Hinduism to this day, and it is a common sight in Indonesia. It is also used by several Native American cultures.
The swastika is found as early as the pre-Vedic civilization of the Indus valley. At Mohenjo-Daro it is found on seals and pottery. From the Vedic era in India to the present time, the swastika has been a sacred sign engraved on the walls of temples and painted on houses. In the Ramayana it marks the ships departing for Lanka. It is found on coins and monuments. Today Hindus still trace it on their account books and their doorsteps. Hindus use the swastika to mark the opening pages of account books, thresholds, doors and offerings. No ceremony or sacrifice is considered complete without it, for it is believed to have the power to ward off misfortune and negative forces.
The swastika is regarded as a symbol of the Muladhara Chakra, the center of consciousness at the base of the spine, and in some yoga schools with the Manipura Chakra at the navel, the center of the microcosmic sun (Surya). In the Buddhist tradition the swastika symbolizes the feet, or the footprints, of the Buddha. It is often placed at the beginning and end of inscriptions, and modern Tibetan Buddhists use it as a clothing decoration. With the spread of Buddhism, the swastika passed into the iconography of China and Japan, where it has been used to denote plurality, abundance, prosperity, and long life. The swastika became important in Buddhism in the Mauryan Empire and in Hinduism with the decline of Buddhism in India in the Gupta period.
In India the swastika continues to be the most widely used auspicious symbol of Jainas. Among the Jainas it is the emblem of their seventh Tirthankara and is also said to remind the worshipper through its four arms of the four possible places of rebirth–in the animal or plant world, in hell, on Earth, or in the spirit world.
In Hinduism, the two forms of the swastika represent the two forms of the creator god Brahma: facing right it represents the evolution of the universe (Pravritti), facing left it represents the involution of the universe (Nivritti). It is also seen as pointing in all four directions (north, east, south and west) and thus signifies stability. Its use as a sun symbol can first be seen in its representation of the god Surya. The swastika is considered extremely holy and auspicious by all Hindus, and is regularly used to decorate items related to Hindu culture. It is used in all Hindu yantras and religious designs. Throughout the subcontinent of India, it can be seen on the sides of temples, religious scriptures, gift items, and letterheads. The Hindu god Ganesh is often shown sitting on a lotus flower on a bed of swastikas.
The swastika is found all over Hindu temples, signs, altars, pictures and iconography where it is sacred. It is used in Hindu weddings, festivals, ceremonies, houses and doorways, clothing and jewelry, motor transport and even decorations on food items such as cakes and pastries. Among the Hindus of Bengal, it is common to see the name swastika applied to a slightly different symbol, which has the same significance as the common swastika, and both symbols are used as auspicious signs. This symbol looks something like a stick figure of a human being.
The Aum symbol is also sacred in Hinduism. While Aum is representative of a single primordial tone of creation, the Swastika is a pure geometrical mark and has no syllabic tone associated with it. The Swastika is one of the 108 symbols of Lord Vishnu and represents the sun’s rays, without which there would be no life.
The swastika symbol as it is used in Buddhist art and scripture is known in Japanese as a Manji, and represents Dharma, universal harmony, and the balance of opposites. When facing left, it is the omote (front) Manji, representing love and mercy. Facing right, it represents strength and intelligence, and is called the ura (rear) Manji. Balanced Manji are often found at the beginning and end of Buddhist scriptures.
Buddhism originated in the Indian subcontinent in the 5th century BC and inherited the Manji. These two symbols are included, as part of the Chinese language. A Manji marks the beginning of many Buddhist scriptures. The Manji (in either orientation) appears on the chest of some statues of Gautama Buddha and is often incised on the soles of the feet of the Buddha’s statues. Because of the association of the right-facing swastika with Nazism, Buddhist Manji after the mid-20th century are almost universally left-facing: 卍. This form of the Manji is often found on Chinese food packaging to signify that the product is vegetarian and can be consumed by strict Buddhists. It is often sewn into the collars of Chinese children’s clothing to protect them from evil spirits.
Jainism gives even more prominence to the swastika than does Hinduism. It is a symbol of the seventh Jina, the Tirthankara Suparsva. In the Svetambar Jain tradition, it is also one of the symbols of the ashta-mangalas. Astamangala are the eight auspicious symbols frequently represented on Jaina ritual objects: darpana (mirror), bhadrasana (throne), vardhamanaka (powder vase), kalasa (full water vessel), matsyayugma (pair of fish), srivatsa symbol, nandyavarta (an elaborated swastika), and swastika.
The swastika is considered to be one of the 24 auspicious marks and the emblem of the seventh Arhat (enlightened one) of the present age. All Jain temples and holy books must contain the swastika and ceremonies typically begin and end with creating a swastika mark several times with rice around the altar. The Jains use rice to make a swastika in front of idols in a temple. Jains then put an offering on this swastika, usually a ripe or dried fruit, a sweet (mithai), or a coin or currency note.
Each and every primitive cult of the ancient civilization had adopted the Swastika symbol but the Harrapan Civilization was the first to begin the usage of this graphic symbol. Later, Samarra in Mesopotamia and Susa in Persia also started widespread usage of Swastika. Archeologists have found widespread usage of Swastika in ancient Greece, Crete, Rhodes and Cyprus.
Again, the custom of employing the Swastika symbol on coins was common in the ancient Indian and Greek cultures; in ancient northern Italy, Swastika was ritually carved upon the urns of the funerals.
Research on Swastika
Various extensive researches have been conducted by many scholars for finding out the origins of Swastika and one such scholar named Jamna Das Akhtar says that “In Lycaonia on a Hittite monument, it appears as an ornamental on the border of the robe of a person engaged in offering sacrifice. In the designs on jars excavated in Capadocoax, there are found spirals, Swastikas and crosses.”
Another eminent researcher named Colley March identifies the Swastika as symbol which denotes rotation around an axis; while Rene Guenon says that the symbol is more or less of a mystic centre.
A swastika symbolizes the power and motion of the Sun and the symbol has been interpreted as a solar wheel. As maintained by a school of thought, a typical Swastika is a constellation of movement separated into four parts allied to the four poles representing the four cardinal directions.
Sir G.C.M. Birdwood, a 19th century scholar, maintains in his research report that, “the right-handed Swastika symbolises Ganesha and left one personifies goddess Kali or stands for night and destruction.” In his publication in The Art of India, Birdwood states that “the left-handed Swastikas never avow themselves, and the right-handed seldom bear on the forehead the peculiar mark of their sect for fear of being suspected of belonging to the other branch.”
Significance in Ancient Cult
The tradition of Swastika is prevalent since the existence of the cult of Sun-worship which is again the ancient most. Sun dispels darkness, brings life and light onto the earth without which the existence of mankind would not have been possible. A number of symbols and seals unearthed by archeologists support the fact that people of the Indus Valley Civilization believed in the worship of the Sun God.
Swastika has remained an extremely sacred symbol since the times of Aryan Civilization. Even today Swastika symbol is sketched with red vermillion in various Hindu festivals as the symbol of auspiciousness. In various Hindu occasions including Nuptial ceremony, Anna-prashan, Mundan, Lakshmi Puja etc. presence of a Swastika is compulsory. A Swastika also symbolically defines Lord Ganesha and the symbol generally depicts as a male character. But, sometimes it also personifies the Shakti cult. Most interestingly, the celestial transition of the Sun to the Tropic of Capricorn which is considered an auspicious moment in Hindu astronomy is depicted in the form of a Swastika.
Swastika in various Hindu Scriptures
Vayu Purana – In this text, the hundred hoods of the Lord of Serpents, who resides on the Devakuta Mountain, are adorned with Swastika or Lord Vishnu’s Chakra.
Matsya Purana and Shiv Purana – Swastika represents one of the eight different Yogic seats.
The two prominent types of Swastika as mentioned in the scriptures are as follows –
– A right-handed Swastika à Associated with the Sun God, Emblem of Vedic Solar Vishnu, Symbolic to the world wheel i.e. cosmic positions and evolution.
– A left-handed Swastika à Depicted as revolving anti-clockwise, Considered a female and inauspicious, Represents the sun during the period of Autumn and Winter.