This familiar symbol is very well-known… for one reason or another. Depending on where you’re from you might immediately think of fascism and Nazi Germany when looking at this photo, although recognise that the symbol pictured here isn’t quite the same as the similar black symbol, tilted to the right, that was adopted by Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party.
The sacred symbol pictured above is the swastika (a Sanskrit word), an ancient sign of peace, well-being and good luck that originates from the Indian subcontinent and the religions of Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism. It dates back nearly 11,000 years.
Of course, it wasn’t a symbol of good luck and well-being for Europe’s Jewish population during World War 2, of which 6 million were murdered under Hitler’s regime. Extremely ironically, given its peaceful origins, it then became a lasting symbol of repression, fear, horror and genocide. In his autobiographical book of 1925, Mein Kampf, Hitler wrote “as National Socialists, we see our program in our flag. In red, we see the social idea of the movement; in white, the nationalistic idea; in the swastika, the mission of the struggle for the victory of the Aryan man, and, by the same token, the victory of the idea of creative work.” Personally, I can’t understand how Hitler could think that a single race is more superior than others, and I can’t understand how he could possibly see the peaceful swastika as a symbol of that idea!
In 2005 and 2007, attempts were made in the European Union to have the swastika banned but they were stopped by Hindu groups in Europe. What a difficult issue! On one hand the symbol (or, I should say, it’s appropriation) is one of horror for millions of people, yet on the other hand, it’s a symbol of peace for millions of others. Personally, I think the real symbol should be ‘reclaimed’ in the name of peace whilst looking ahead to the future, whilst acknowledging its awful appropriation and misuse in the past.
Given the horrible post-World War 2 associations with the swastika, whilst researching for this post I was fascinated to see an image of a British wedding dress from 1910 that had the swastika embroidered on its lace for good luck. And look at this link for other examples of pre-World War 2 uses of the symbol: vintage swastikas – including Coca Cola!!
What are your thoughts on the swastika?
Gwalior Fort, built in the 8th century in Gwalior, in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh