How an auspicious sacred sign was twisted to become the graphic embodiment of hate and intolerance. Kalpana Sunder explores the extraordinary history of a potent emblem.
The equilateral cross with legs bent at right angles – that looks like swirling arms or a pattern of L shapes – has been a holy symbol in Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism for centuries. And, of course, the swastika (or the similar-looking hakenkreuz or hooked cross) is also a symbol of hate, embodying painful and traumatic memories of the Third Reich. The symbol of Nazism, it is associated with genocide and racial hatred after the atrocities of the Holocaust.
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The swastika has a long, complex history – much older than its association with Nazi Germany – dating back to prehistoric times. The emblem was a sign of well-being and long life, and was found everywhere, from the tombs of early Christians to the catacombs of Rome and the Lalibela Rock Churches, to the Cathedral of Cordoba. "The motif appears to have first been used in Eurasia, as early as 7,000 years ago, perhaps representing the movement of the sun through the sky… as a symbol of wellbeing in ancient societies," says the Holocaust Encyclopedia.
The word swastika comes from the Sanskrit roots su (good) and asti (to prevail), meaning wellbeing, prosperity or good fortune, and has been used in the prayers of the Rig Veda, the oldest of Hindu scriptures. In Hindu philosophy it is said to represent various things that come in fours – the four yugas or cyclical times, the four aims or objectives of life, four stages of life, the four Vedas. Swastika is even a girl's name in certain parts of India.
In Buddhism, known as the manji in Japanese, the emblem signifies the Buddha's footsteps. To Jains it means a spiritual teacher. In India, it's a symbol of the sun god with a clockwise orientation, and the auspicious symbol can be seen, often smeared in turmeric, drawn on thresholds and shop doors as a sign of welcome, or on vehicles, religious scriptures and letterheads. It is displayed at weddings and other festive occasions, to consecrate a new home, and while opening account books at the beginning of the financial year, or starting a new venture.
In Indian philosophy it represents the fourth state of consciousness, which is beyond waking, sleeping and dreaming – Ajay Chaturvedi
Ajay Chaturvedi, author of Lost Wisdom of the Swastika, tells BBC Culture: "The swastika is a four-dimensional cube used in Vedic Mathematics, and also symbolises an entire state of being in Indian philosophy – the fourth state of consciousness, which is beyond waking, sleeping and dreaming. The sign as used by Hitler was demonising [it]… and using it in politics, without any understanding of what it stood for in Indian philosophy, where symbols are always backed by meaning and deep significance."
Windows created in the shape of the swastika on a building in Lalibela, Ethiopia (Credit: Alamy)
Different civilisations associate the sign with outstretched hands, four seasons, four directions or with spreading light in all directions. In the 19th-Century book The Swastika: The Earliest Known Symbol, and Its Migrations, Thomas Wilson documents how the swastika was found all over the ancient world, on everything from quilts and shields to jewellery. Some believe that its shape was inspired by an ancient comet. The Ancient Greeks used swastika motifs to decorate their pots and vases. The ancient Druids and Celts also used the sacred sign, and in Norse mythology the swastika represented Thor's hammer.
The National Museum of the History of Ukraine houses a wide range of objects featuring the symbol. The oldest is probably a mammoth-ivory figurine of a bird, found in 1908, with a meandering swastika pattern on it that was carbon-dated to 15,000 years ago. Seals depicting swastika motifs have been found in the Mohenjo-Daro and Harappan ruins in Pakistan.
There are few more potent symbols with alternative meanings than the swastika in its many iterations – Steven Heller
US art director Steven Heller, author of Swastika: Symbol Beyond Redemption? tells BBC Culture: "I am a graphic designer. Symbols and signs and how they are used and manipulated is important to my practice. There are few more potent symbols with alternative meanings than the swastika in its many iterations."
Before World War Two, the swastika was used in branding – seen here at the Carlsberg factory entrance (Credit: Alamy)
In the early 20th Century, the swastika was widely used in Europe as a symbol of good luck. Interlocked swastikas were used in textiles and architecture. "The sign was used in many ways before Hitler adapted it. A sign of good fortune, fertility, happiness, Sun, and it was given spiritual import as well as commercial value when it was used with or as a brand or logo," says Heller. In the early 20th Century, the swastika was used as a symbol of good luck in advertising, architecture and jewellery. The Danish brewing company Carlsberg, headquartered in Copenhagen, used the symbol as its logo from 1881 to the 1930s, and then discontinued it because of its Nazi association.
Until recently, the Finnish Air Force used a swastika as an insignia on its badges. Rudyard Kipling featured the symbol on many of his book covers because of his association with India. It was used as a symbol by the Scouts in Britain until 1935 – like Kipling, Robert Baden Powell may have picked it up in India. For the Navajo people in the US, the right-facing swastika was a symbol of friendship, which they gave up after World War Two.
Hindu cultural organisations and religious groups have tried to explain that the Nazis did not use the swastika, but a hooked cross. The Nazi swastika has the arms turned to 45 degrees giving a slant to the symbol, whereas the swastikas of Hinduism are presented with the base arm lying flat.
A complex history
When Adolf Hitler was looking for a symbol for his newly launched party, he used the hakenkreuz, rotating the swastika to the right and omitting the four dots – he then adopted this as the party's emblem in 1920. Joseph Goebbels, Hitler's minister of propaganda, passed a law in May 1933 that prevented unauthorised commercial use of the hooked cross.
In Hindu tradition, the emblem is frequently used at festive occasions such as weddings (Credit: Alamy)
It has been suggested that Hitler's adoption of the symbol may have had its roots in Germans finding similarity between their language and Sanskrit, and drawing a conclusion that Indians and Germans came from the same "pure" Aryan ancestry and lineage. During his extensive excavations, the German archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann discovered, in 1871, 1,800 variations of the hooked cross on pottery fragments at the site of ancient Troy, which were similar to artefacts from German history. "This was seen [by the Nazis] as evidence for a racial continuity and proof that the inhabitants of the site had been Aryan all along," writes anthropologist Gwendolyn Leick.
Of course, cultural appropriation usually harms the original culture. The German Orientalist Max Muller wrote to Schliemann, and warned him to avoid using the word swastika on the icons: "Swastika is a word of Indian origin, and has its history and definite meaning in India. I know the temptation is great to transfer names, with which we are familiar, to similar objects which come before us… the occurrence of such crosses in different parts of the world may or may not point to a common origin."
Not everyone agreed with this interpretation, however. In his book The Sign of the Cross: From Golgotha to Genocide, Dr Daniel Rancour-Laferriere, an expert on Christianity, suggests that Hitler's decision to use the hakenkreuz as a symbol of the Nazi party "may have been due to his childhood upbringing at the Benedictine Monastery in Austria, where he repeatedly saw the hooked cross in many places".
In Hinduism the swastika cross has for many centuries been a symbol of religious devotion (Credit: Alamy)
But over the decades, the swastika has become a contentious and controversial cultural icon. In his book The Swastika and Symbols of Hate, Heller says: "The swastika is an ancient symbol that was hijacked and perverted, twisted into the graphic embodiment of intolerance." In many European countries including Germany, public display of Nazi symbols is prohibited by law, and violating such terms is a criminal offence.
New York State Senator Todd Kaminsky introduced a bill in the New York Senate in 2021, which would require schools in the state of New York to teach that the swastika is an example of a hate symbol. Due to the bill's national implications, organisations including the World Hindu Council of America urged the New York Senate to differentiate between the original swastika and the Nazi hakenkreuz.
Director of advocacy and awareness for the World Hindu Council of America (VHPA) Utsav Chakrabarty said, "We acknowledge the horrid way the swastika has been misused and misinterpreted… For the past 70 years, the swastika continues to remain a vilified and maligned symbol. This must be corrected. Instead of censoring the symbol, we must celebrate the positive history of it."
An ancient mosaic in Uzayzy, Jordan, shows a version of the sacred emblem (Credit: Alamy)
Even members of the Jewish community have highlighted on several occasions the way in which the sign has been misused. "A distorted version of this sacred symbol was misappropriated by the Third Reich in Germany, and abused as an emblem under which heinous crimes were perpetrated against humanity, particularly the Jewish people. The participants recognise that this symbol is, and has been, sacred to Hindus for millennia before its misappropriation," said the declaration made at the Second Hindu Jewish Leadership Summit in Jerusalem held in February 2008.
I want to neutralise the swastika, to remove its association with evil, so that no one need fear it anymore – Edith Altman
Swastikas have however been allowed in the filming of historical movies and the making of video games. There have been some attempts to redeem its image by artists down the ages. The symbol was included by pop star Madonna in a video in 2012, accompanying the song Nobody Knows Me. Madonna later said that she used it to show growing intolerance of people to other communities and people.
The KiMo Theatre in New Mexico, USA, is adorned with traditional Navajo emblems (Credit: Alamy)
In 1993, a Jewish artist named Edith Altman – who lost her grandparents to the Holocaust – created an installation entitled Reclaiming the Symbol: The Art of Memory. She painted a gold swastika on a wall above a black Nazi swastika painted on the floor. "I want to neutralise the swastika, to remove its association with evil, so that no one need fear it anymore," she told the Chicago Reader.
The anti-Semitic use of the swastika did not end with World War Two. Even today racist neo-nazi gangs use the sign to desecrate Jewish graves or houses of worship. Some people feel that its taboo status has enhanced its appeal for hate groups. "The latest 2021 police figures from the two cities with the largest Jewish populations, New York and Los Angeles, show both cities tracking for a record year for overall hate crime, with Jews being the most targeted in New York and third most targeted in Los Angeles," says Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism (CSHE), and a professor of criminal justice.
In 2020, a 21-year-old Indian student in the US, Simran Tatuskar, faced a backlash on social media after she attempted to portray the swastika as a peaceful symbol that should be included in the school syllabus. One group tweeted: "In Nazi Germany, one of the first things anti-Semites did was erase the history and persecution of the Jews, minimise their struggles and appropriate their beings. By normalising the swastika, this is repeating that vicious cycle." Ultimately Simran Tatuskar had to clarify her position on the issue, and apologise for any unintentional misunderstanding.
The Shoin Shrine in Hagi, Japan, features the ancient sign (Credit: Getty Images)
Before the 2021 Olympic Games in Japan, the decision to drop the Japanese symbol (the manji) for temples on tourist maps, and replace it with a pagoda icon, provoked a backlash. When the elements of a culture are adopted out of context, it seems, its history and heritage become tainted.
As Brian Levin puts it: "Unfortunately, but rightly, the most recent and widespread use of the swastika as a symbol of Nazi hatred and genocide will forever cast an indelible shadow over its lengthy history and alternative meaning. It is important, however, to note that expanding our teaching of history and civics can incorporate not only the origins of symbols, but how they can be co-opted and rebranded to the most evil of ends."
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In Buddhism, the symbol is known as “manji” and signifies the Buddha's footsteps. It is used to mark the location of Buddhist temples. In China it's called Wàn, and denotes the universe or the manifestation and creativity of God.What is the symbol of swastik? ›
swastika, equilateral cross with arms bent at right angles, all in the same rotary direction, usually clockwise. The swastika as a symbol of prosperity and good fortune is widely distributed throughout the ancient and modern world.What is the meaning of swastik in English? ›
swas·ti·ka ˈswä-sti-kə also swä-ˈstē- : a symbol or ornament in the form of a Greek cross with the ends of the arms extended at right angles all in the same rotary direction. : a swastika used as a symbol of anti-Semitism or of Nazism.What is the Indian peace symbol? ›
The equilateral cross with its legs bent at right angles is a millennia-old sacred symbol in Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism that represents peace and good fortune. Indigenous people worldwide used it similarly.What is the symbol of Toman? ›
Being short for Tokyo Manji Gang, Toman uses the manji symbol constantly: on their uniforms, on their bikes, and the fact that their meetings are held at a shrine.What is the symbol in Tokyo revenger? ›
Tokyo Revengers is about youth toughs in the Tokyo Manji Gang. The manji symbol (卍), the Buddhist swastika, appears on the Japanese-language manga title and throughout the original anime.What is swastik pyramid? ›
Swastik is the sign of lord Ganesha and pyramids are embossed on it. (total pyramid =153 in all) This is an auspicious item to keep in the home. You can fix it on the outer wall of your house or room.What is the difference between OM and swastik? ›
Swastik is known for good fortune and well being. it is a sacred symbol in Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism. Aum symbol refers to soul and ultimate reality, entirety of the universe, truth, divine, supreme spirit, cosmic principles, knowledge.What is the Hinduism symbol? ›
Aum (or Om)
Is a symbol made up of three Sanskrit letters, A, U, and M. It is the most important symbol in Hinduism as it represents Brahman or god and is believed to be the sound heard at the time of the creation of the universe.
🉑️ means “acceptable” or “permitable.” This emoji can literally represent the word “yes” in a response to a question, but it's also used as a symbol for acceptance or deciding to accept a circumstance or situation. It's a good way to emphasize inspirational or motivational messages.
Making swastik at the entrance of the house is considered auspicious, it brings luck and prosperity. Swastik also reduces disease and mourning, and increases happiness and prosperity. If your house has a larger entrance door than the other doors in the house, it is considered auspicious.What is the importance of swastik? ›
Popularly, this gets translated as 'all is well. ' The swastika is thus understood to be a symbol of auspiciousness and good fortune, and is regularly donned on Hindu homes, businesses, printed materials, cars, temples, and ashrams.What is the upside down peace symbol? ›
But inversions can and do have opposite meanings: An upside-down peace sign (the symbol for nuclear disarmament) also known as a crow's foot, today represents global peace.What is the Cherokee symbol peace? ›
The laurel branch is a symbol for peace, which the United Cherokee Nation of Indians desires.What is the symbol of peace in the Bible? ›
The use of a dove as a symbol of peace originated with early Christians, who portrayed baptism accompanied by a dove, often on their sepulchres. The New Testament compared the dove to the Spirit of God that descended on Jesus during his baptism. Christians saw similarities between baptism and Noah's Flood.Is Tokyo Revengers based on true story? ›
Is Tokyo Revengers based on a true story? As it turns out, Ken Wakui was a gang member back in 2000 and that is which inspired the Tokyo Revengers story. So the author definitely took some inspiration from his past as a gang member to craft the story of Tokyo Revengers.What is a Japanese manji? ›
Noun. manji (plural manjis) (Buddhism) A left-facing Japanese swastika, primarily used in Buddhism.What is manji in Japanese? ›
In Japan, the swastika is called manji. when you type out the word on your computer, chances are the swastika symbol will come up (卍). The manji doesn't have the kind of stigma in Japan as it does in the West, and is used pretty frequently in Buddhist tradition.What does Tenjiku symbol mean? ›
5. Tenjiku(meaning "heaven") is the obsolete Japanese word for ancient India, being the Japanese pronunciation of the archaic Chinese name for India, "Tianzhu". It is used in such works as the Japanese translation of Journey to the West.What is written on Mikey's jacket? ›
The hoodie is inspired by Mikey, a founding member and leader of the Tokyo Manji Gang who also goes by the name Invincible Mikey. On the front of the hoodie it reads “Throughout Heaven and Earth, I alone am the honoured one” (天上天下，唯我独尊) while on the left arm it says “President and Founding Member” (初代総長).
Bonten is also known as Japan's most feared crime syndicate. All Bonten members wear formal business attire. They have a tattoo derived from Izana Kurokawa's earrings inked on various parts of their bodies. Bonten is engaged in a variety of illegal activities, such as gambling, fraud, prostitution, and murder.What is a spiritual pyramid? ›
At the spiritual level the pyramid is a symbol for the integration of self-and soul. The base of the pyramid stands for the body, the sides show the spiritual endeavours and the top point symbolises the harmonious union of the human with the God.What is Brahma pyramid? ›
Brahma copper pyramid removes the negative impact of center Vastu defect. This yantra can be placed in the center of the house for Vastu correction. This yantra can be concealed in the ceiling of the house Brahma pyramid can also be placed under the floor in the center of the house.What is a Vastu pyramid? ›
Vastu pyramids are considered to be energized instruments that hail with their own set of supreme powers. Vastu pyramids are considered to be important. Vastu Pyramids play an effective role in nullifying the negativity in your home.Is it OK to wear the Om symbol? ›
You can wear Om bracelet with beaded Rudraksha or gold chain to spruce up your casual or semi-formal outfits. Just by wearing the Om bracelet, you can actually feel the power of the divinity around you. Om bracelets are available for both men and women and come in several styles.Does Om mean God? ›
It can also be identified as a deeply religious symbol in Indian philosophy, where it is believed that God first created sound and everything then arose from it. The Upanishads claim that Om is indeed God in the form of sound. Buddhism and Jainism also strongly associate with Om.Which God means Swastik? ›
In Hinduism, the right-facing symbol (clockwise) (卐) is called swastika, symbolizing surya ('sun'), prosperity and good luck, while the left-facing symbol (counter-clockwise) (卍) is called sauwastika, symbolising night or tantric aspects of Kali.What is the oldest religion? ›
The word Hindu is an exonym, and while Hinduism has been called the oldest religion in the world, many practitioners refer to their religion as Sanātana Dharma (Sanskrit: सनातन धर्म, lit.What is the symbol that looks like a 3? ›
In everyday handwriting, the ampersand is sometimes simplified in design as a large lowercase epsilon Ɛ or a reversed numeral 3, superimposed by a vertical line. The ampersand is also sometimes shown as an epsilon with a vertical line above and below it or a dot above and below it.What is the symbol of Islam? ›
Crescent and Star: The faith of Islam is symbolized by the Crescent and Star. The Crescent is the early phase of the moon and represents progress. The star signifies illumination with the light of knowledge.
Yeet is a slang word that functions broadly with the meaning “to throw,” but is especially used to emphasize forcefulness and a lack of concern for the thing being thrown. (You don't yeet something if you're worried that it might break.)What is * symbol called in English? ›
|Symbol||Name of the symbol||See also|
|⟨ ⟩||Angle brackets||Bracket|
wish. 祝你成功！ [Zhù nǐ chénggōng!] Wishing you every success! 祝你生日快乐！Which photo to keep in entrance? ›
As per vastu, you should keep idols and photos of Ganesha and Lakshmi at the entrance of your home to welcome good luck, wealth, and prosperity.Which god should be placed at home? ›
It's auspicious to keep white Ganesha Idol at home. Apart from Lord Ganesha, you can place Goddess Lakshmi and Saraswati. The trinity Lord Ganesha, Goddess Lakshmi, and Goddess Saraswati are considered auspicious to place in Pooja room at home.Which side of door to keep Swastik? ›
Places to keep Swastik symbol:
You can keep it in the northeast corner of the puja room in your house. It is also ideal to hang it at the entrance of the room.
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Zero '0' lines of symmetry are there in a swastik.
Another possibility is that it embodies Love Makes You Evil. There's also the version of where the heart symbol is rotated upside-down, showing that the heart symbol represents the exact opposite of its usual right side-up meaning.What is the symbol of freedom? ›
July 2, 2021 - At 2,080 pounds, the Liberty Bell has long secured its place as a national symbol of freedom, equally as celebrated on the Fourth of July as the copper-laden Statue of Liberty.What does a broken cross tattoo mean? ›
The peace symbol (also called the "broken cross," "crow's foot," "witch's foot," "Nero Cross," "sign of the 'broken Jew,'" and the "symbol of the 'anti-Christ''') is actually a cross with the arms broken. It also signifies the "gesture of despair," and the "death of man.
The medicine wheel is a sacred symbol used by the Lakota and others to represent spiritual knowledge and a connection to everything in the universe. It is a symbol of unity, good health, well-being, honor, and recognition.What is the Cherokee sacred animal? ›
The Deer Clan is one of the 7 Cherokee Clans making the White-tailed Deer a sacred animal. Cherokees from this clan were the keepers, hunters, and trackers of the deer, as well as keepers of the deer medicine. Deer Clan members were swift runners and therefore, messengers.What is the Cherokee word for death? ›
Study the words and phrases below.
|ENGLISH||TSALAGI (CHEROKEE)||Phonetic Pronunciation|
|Death (of a person)||Ayohuhisdi||Ah-yo-hoo-hee-s-dee|
A version of the cross symbol was used long before the Christian era in the form of the ancient Egyptian ankh.What are the 3 main symbols of Christianity? ›
Either a cross, a fish or a crib: Christian symbols are often encountered in everyday life - and not only in church or the cemetery. But we often know little about their origins.Why is fish symbol of Jesus? ›
The Greek letters for ichthus (meaning “fish”, pronounced “ICK-THOOS”) became an acronym: I=Jesus; X=Christ; O=God's; Y=Son; E=Savior. Today, the person who displays the fish symbol has accepted the same New Testament teaching that these early Christians accepted: that Jesus Christ is their Lord and Savior.What does manji mean in Japan? ›
Manji (era), a Japanese era name. A type of sai (weapon), a traditional Okinawan weapon. The alternative term for a charpai.What does Japanese manji mean in English? ›
Noun. 卍 まんじ • (manji) swastika, especially a left-facing swastika. (cartography) indicates a Buddhist temple on maps. (youth slang) awesome, hype.What is the Japanese character manji? ›
Originally, 卍 (manji) is a mirror image of the ancient religious icon called the “swastika symbol”, and has been used in Japan and many other countries (See the Wikipedia article for the details). In Japan, it is used as a map symbol for temples.What does the name manji mean? ›
Meaning of Manji: Name Manji in the Indian origin, means Flower-stalk; Creeper; A variant form is Manjee. Name Manji is of Indian origin and is a Girl name. People with name Manji are usually Hindu by religion.
卍 【マンジ】 swastika (esp. counterclockwise form as a Buddhist symbol), fylfot, gammadion, swastika-shaped family crest, wow, yeah, ugh, yuck, awesome, really, let's go.What does bonten symbol mean? ›
Bonten (梵天) is the Japanese name of the Hindu creator god Brahma, which is also the namesake of the gang Brahman. The 梵 Kanji is shared with Brahman and the 天 Kanji is shared with Tenjiku (天竺).What anime is manji from? ›
Manji (卍, Manji) is one of two main protagonists of Blade of the Immortal, the other being Rin Asano. In addition to appearing in the manga, Manji has appeared in the two series' animated adaptation where he is voiced by Tomokazu Seki and Kenjirō Tsuda in Japanese.What are the three symbols of Japan? ›
The Imperial Regalia of Japan, also known as the "Three Sacred Treasures of Japan," are the sacred sword (kusanagi), the mirror (yata no kagami), and the jewel (yasakani no magatama), symbolizing the imperial virtues of valor (the sword), wisdom (the mirror), and benevolence (the jewel).How did manji become immortal? ›
A swordsman who was cursed by worms that give him immortality, Manji goes on a journey to get rid of his immortality and bodyguards the orphan Rin due to how similar he finds her to his late sister.What is bonten in Japan? ›
Botan nabe (ぼたん鍋, wild boar stew) is a Japanese dish made with meat from wild boars. The name comes from the appearance of the meat as it is arranged before cooking. It looks like the flower "Botan (牡丹)" (English: peony). Another name for this food is Inoshishi-nabe (猪鍋).Why is it called bonten? ›
Religious and Mythological Theme Naming: Bonten is the Japanese name of the Hindu creator god Brahma. The Syndicate: Bonten is one of the largest organized crime groups in Japan and is involved in various illegal activities such as gambling, fraud, prostitution, and murder.What does Sano mean in Japanese? ›
Japanese: written 佐野 'small field'. This name is found throughout Japan.How many manji are there? ›
Guru Amar Das ji divided the spiritual realm into 22 parts or Manji; he appointed one influential Sikh in each part to deliver the sermons on his behalf. This system was called the 'Manji' system. The head of each Manji was called a Manjidar.Is swastik a name? ›
Meaning of Swastik: Name Swastik in the Indian origin, means Auspicious. Name Swastik is of Indian origin and is a Boy name.