Buddhism facts

History of the swastika: 6 facts

Swastikas have a long history and are widely used around the world today.

The state of Victoria in Australia has banned the display of swastikas. After racist incidents rose 750% in the past year and a half, Victorian lawmakers moved to ban the Nazi-linked image.

“Victoria has now become the first (state) in Australia to ban the public display of the Nazi symbol, acknowledging its role in inciting anti-Semitism and hatred,” tweeted Jacyln Symes, Attorney General of Victoria and Minister of Emergency Services.

Brazil, Germany and Hungary also ban public displays of swastikas.

Although the swastika is identified with Nazism today, the symbol has a long history and continues to be widely used in art, architecture, and religious devotion today.

Here are 6 facts about this powerful symbol.

Asian origins

The word swastika comes from the Asian language Sanskrit, where swastika means good luck and success. The earliest images of swastikas in Asia date back thousands of years.

Images of swastikas were a common design on ancient Mesopotamian coins and were engraved in temples and homes. These ancient swastikas appeared in two forms: the more familiar version associated with Nazi Germany which appears to rotate clockwise, and an anti-clockwise version (called sauvastika in Sanskrit).

While the swastika was associated with the movement of the sun across the sky and had positive connotations, the sauvastika was commonly associated with night, fear and death.

Associations with idolatry

Swastika images have been found in cultures around the world, including Europe and Native American art. (Swastikas – and sauvastikas – are especially common in Navajo art.) The meanings of these designs varied. In many cases, swastikas were associated with various gods and goddesses in various cultures. In India, swastikas are associated with the god Ganesh, bringer of luck, while the reverse sauvastika is used as a symbol of Kali, the Hindu goddess of death.

hindu swastika

In northern Europe, this image was associated with the Norse god Thor, who controlled storms and thunder and was one of the most powerful idols in the Norse pantheon. In Buddhism, swastikas represent the intellect of the Buddha. They are often imprinted in Buddha statues on the heart, feet or hands and are sometimes used to decorate Buddhist temples and ritual garments.

For followers of the Jain religion, swastikas represent their seventh saint and are also used to represent the concept of rebirth. In May 2022, archaeologists excavating near the Gyanvapi Mosque in the southern Indian city of Varanasi found two ancient swastikas carved near the old mosque, suggesting that this symbol was sacred to Muslims in the region.

Even Christianity used the swastika symbol. Early Christian and Byzantine art contains swastikas. Some versions of crucial gemthe “jeweled cross” that was popular in the Middle Ages, was depicted as a swastika.

Popular motif in Asia today

swastikas – and sauvastikas – continue to be popular designs in much of the world today. In Indonesia and India, swastikas are carved into homes and temples as a sign of prosperity.

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Swastika is also a girl’s name in India, where it means lucky.

19e German popularity of the century

In the 1800s, the great German archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann (1822-1890) did much to popularize archeology – and also the image of the swastika. While excavating the site of ancient Troy in Turkey, Schliemann unearthed images of ancient swastikas. He had seen similar designs on old pottery in Germany and was excited by the coincidence.

Schliemann formulated the theory that a common Euro-Asian civilization used swastikas in their religious worship and that the image spread widely across Asia and Europe in ancient times. This theory fit perfectly with the nascent (and now largely discredited) idea that a common Aryan ancestral civilization settled in present-day Iran, then spread to Europe and India, bringing with it his religious symbols and language (as well as his supposedly superior genetic makeup). ).

Swastikas became popular in the 1800s in Germany and elsewhere in Europe, and for a time they were seen as a symbol of Europe’s ancient past. But the openly racist tones of German interest in their “Aryan” ancestors turned the swastika into a nationalist symbol. Known as the Hakenkreuz, or hooked cross, in German, swastikas eventually became associated in Germany with far-right and anti-Jewish sentiment. After World War I and the fall of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the swastika was the symbol of groups who wanted to create a racially “pure” German state.

Nazi embrace

As he wrote his anti-Jewish screed Mien Kampf in 1925, Adolf Hitler describes the creation of a new German flag: a black swastika on a white disc, placed on a red background. The colors of his proposed flag echoed the old Imperial German flag, and the swastika represented a racially pure “Aryan” Germany. After taking power in 1933, Hitler ordered that the Nazi flag he had designed be flown on all government buildings.

A protest in New York two years later was the ostensible impetus for Hitler to demand that his swastika flag be made Germany’s national icon. One day in July 1935, several hundred Americans invaded the German liner SS Bremen while docked in New York Harbor. They were outraged by recent anti-Jewish actions in Germany and wanted to protest. They took the swastika flag from the mast of the ship and tore it up, throwing it into the Hudson River.

Hitler’s government protested this decision and vowed revenge. Shortly after, as the passage of the infamous Nuremberg Race Laws disenfranchised Jews in Germany and entrenched anti-Jewish discrimination in German law, Hitler ordered the passage of a flag law. . The Nazi flag, with its large swastika, was now the official flag of Germany.

Ban on swastikas today – and renewed popularity

After the Holocaust, many European countries – including Germany and other countries allied with Germany during the Second World War such as France, Italy, Hungary and Austria – banned the display of swastikas. While displaying a swastika is illegal in much of Europe today, in some other parts of the world swastikas are a ubiquitous symbol signifying growing hatred of Jews.

The Anti-Defamation League notes that: “Among white supremacists, the swastika is a very common symbol…Since the release (1998) of ‘American History X’, a favorite white supremacist film, it has been very common among men as supremacists get a swastika tattooed on their left breast to emulate the main character of this movie.A trend seen most often in California among white power gang members is the popularity of tattoos. with a very large swastika.

USA today noted that the popularity of swastikas has been on the rise for some time: “It’s more popular than ever among non-ideological enemies – children, vandals, anyone looking to shock or rebel or express a personal grudge against someone who happens to be Jewish, black, Hispanic or gay.

Part of this trend, the paper notes, is that organized hate groups have begun trying to discourage the use of swastikas, assuming that such an offensive symbol harms their image and could scare off potential supporters.

This seems to have been the case recently in Gaza. There, in 2019, Hamas, the terror group that calls for the destruction of the Jewish state, told its supporters to stop waving Nazi swastika flags at protests because it made them too extremist. and could deter international supporters from supporting the terrorist group.

With the recent rise in anti-Jewish hatred around the world, we may see more swastikas displayed – not as ancient Asian religious symbols, but as anti-Jewish motifs.