The Swastika is one of the menageries of holy symbols in Sanatan culture (Hinduism, Jainism, Sikhism and Buddhism). In the West, it is more widely known as the badge of the Nazi movement. In classical Sanskrit the word Swastika comes from two words ‘su’, meaning ‘well’, and ‘asti’, meaning ‘to be’. In Gujarati it is called Sathio (સાથિઓ). The Sathio (Swastika) is used by traders to mark opening pages of their account books, on thresholds, doors of houses, on temple walls, etc. Also, it is created (generally by grains or vermillion powder) to witness auspicious ceremonies like weddings, foundation laying, etc.
During the Vedic period of our history, which happened before the matured Sarswatisindhu civilization reached its glorious period around 2600 BC, the sun was called Savitar in both Vedic and Prakrit Gujarati. This is obvious from the holy Gayatri Mantra in Rigveda.
Aum bhoohr bhuwah swaha; Tat savitar varenyam
Bhargo devasaya dheemahi; Dhiyo yonaha prachodayat
The lord of water, earth and heaven; Oh sun, the great god,
We worship your glory; Give us insight into the secret of your creation.
After the advent of the Brahmanical period and the construction of the Devanagari alphabet from the Brahmi alphabet in the first millennium BC, the original Savitar word was transferred into Classical Sanskrit as Swastika. Hence, Swastika is the representation of the sun.
Sir Williams Jones announced at Kolkata in 1786, the affinity of Sanskrit, Greek and Latin languages which led to the establishment of an Indo-European language group. This in turn necessitated the notion of people called Aryans who spoke the mother of all these languages of the group. The Western academics concluded that the Swastika was an Aryan symbol. Swastika quickly became popular in the West, appearing in many designs from the 1880s to the 1920s. People like Alfred Rosenberg associated it with a Nordic master race originating in northern Europe. So far the Swastika symbol had a positive connotation in Europe (see the inset picture) even though it was wrongly assigned solely to European heritage. The Swastika is called by various names like Crooked cross, Thor’s hammer, Black Spider, Cross gammadion, Fylfot – meaning “four feet”, Sun wheel, Hooked cross, etc. in various parts of Europe.
In the early twentieth century, the positive meaning of the Swastika symbol in Europe was subverted when it was adopted in twisted (originally in the normal) form as the emblem of the Nazis (National Socialist German Workers Party – February 1920). This association occurred because Nazism stated that the descendant of historical Aryans were the modern Germans and then proposed that, because of this, the subjugation of the world by Germany was desirable, and even predestined. The Swastika was used as a convenient symbol to emphasize this mythical Aryan-German correspondence. Since World War II, most Westerners see the Swastika as solely a Nazi symbol, leading to incorrect assumptions about its pre-Nazi and present use elsewhere.
Since the end of World War II, the use of Swastika in the western world was discouraged. There have been failed attempts by outside individuals and groups to educate Westerners to look past the Swastika’s recent association with the Nazis to its prehistoric origins. Hence Swastika remains a core symbol of Neo-Nazi groups in Western World.
In the past, all over the world people have used Swastika as an auspicious symbol. It appears as a repeating ornamental motif on a tomb in the Basilica of St. Ambrose in Milan, the “Friday” mosque of Isfahan, Iran and the Taynal Mosque in Tripoli, Lebanon. I have seen Swastikas in museums all around the world, from New York to Mexico City and Moscow to London. A close look at the Capitol building in Washington D.C. will reveal several friezes formed out of Swastikas. It is difficult, in fact, to find an old book on art, mythology and archaeology, without Swastikas profusely represented in them.
In India and the most of Indo-china, Swastika is used by common folks in positive sense in day to day religious rituals today. However, most of them are blissfully unaware about its negative connotation and the raging row prevailing in the Western World.
Since the Swastika is a complex symbol, it may not have been used independently by many human societies all over the world. Aeons ago it must have been diffused by some archaic folks. Several scholars theorise that there was a single origin for this sacred symbol. They point to the Proto-Indo-Europeans as the source of the symbol, noting that the Swastika was not adopted by Sumer in Mesopotamia, which was established around 3500 BC and also it has been not found in the Old Kingdom of Egypt which began in 2630 BC.
In archaeology the Swastika first appears in the excavated sites of the Saraswatisindhu culture and the oldest is dated to about 5000 years ago. It may have been present earlier than that time which may be proved by excavation of the remaining 97% sites so far identified. There are several stone tablets found from many ancient sites (Harappa, Dholavira, Banawali, Rakhigrahi, etc) with depiction of the Swastika on them. The following picture shows two of those tablets.
In antiquity sun was recognised by our forefathers as the source of all life and hence it was revered by them. In the beginning of this chapter we have demonstrated this phenomenon quoting the holy Gayatri mantra from Rigveda. This reverence for the Sun required its representation in physical symbolic form. The first representation was simply the picture of the sun as seen by naked eye. It was a circle indicating round sun and radiating lines from it indicating sun rays. This configuration is shown below in the first figure.
The original configuration then was simplified over the millennia through several stages, as shown in the above sketch and eventually the presently prevalent final form evolved to represent symbolically the sun.
This is the real and true meaning of the Swastika. It is simply a representation of the sun. By drawing Swastika with grains or other materials at the time of any auspicious occasion, we are invoking the Sun, the Lord of all creation, to witness the proceedings.