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The first time that I traveled to India I was surprised to see the swastika. It is everywhere, on religious sites, flower arrangements, and in people’s homes. Was India full of neo Nazis was my initial thought. Is this where they all came, when they ran away from Germany. But somehow the thought of Hans settling down to become a bratwurst and sauerkraut wallah did not seem to gel.

It wasn’t till I was in Jew Town in Cochin, where I saw a company called Swastika Spices that I realised something was afoot.

Swastika actually comes from a Sanskrit word and its existence dates back to the Neolithic period of India’s existence. It is a mark to signify good luck or “That which is associated with well being”*

In antiquity the symbol was extensively used by the Indo-Aryans, Persians, Hitties, Celts and Greeks. And is today a sacred symbol in Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Mithraism.

No Nazis here

No Nazis here

In Hinduism the symbol comes to represent the two forms of the god Brahma. Facing right it represents the evolution of the universe, and facing left its involution. It also signifies stability and groundness and is considered extremely holy by all Hindus. The Hindu god Ganesha is often shown sitting on a lotus flower on a bed of swastikas. The symbol adorns temples, signs, altars and any iconography that is sacred.

So how did the symbol get into the hands of the Nazis? Well in the 19th century the archaeologist Heirich Schliemann discovered the symbol at the site of Troy and associated it with the ancient migrations of proto-indo-Europeans. He connected it with similar markings found on pots from ancient Germany. He theorized that the swastika was a “significant religious symbol of our remote ancestors”.

The swastika became a symbol of “Aryan” identity. Unfortunately Adolph Hitler adopted the symbol and its meaning now came to represent Nazism, fascism, white supremacy and the Holocaust. A far distance from the good luck charm. Well that is if you are not a Nazis.

A search on wikipidia has a wealth of information on the symbol and its meaning in different cultures. I for one still find it hard to look at the symbol and and not connect it to the Nazis. I am sure Mr. Hitler new what he was doing when he chose the swastika but unfortunately he has tainted its existence for ever in the West.

I noticed in a recent film here “Mumbai Meri Jaan”, about the train bombings in Mumbai, that one of the characters was wearing a swastika T shirt. The character also happened to be a Hindu who was xenophobic and anti Muslim. I hope this is not the sign of change for the swastika in the East.

If the semiotics surrounding the symbolism of the swastika takes on this Western fascist role – well there may be a few peace loving temples looking for plasterers. I would love to carry a swastika as a good luck charm, or maybe tattooed on my forehead, but trying to explain this to everyone I ever meet in my Western life would be just too dull. Maybe I will stick to a rabbit’s foot.

* Ref: Wikipedia

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