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What is a Swastika?

By R. Kayne
Updated May 17, 2024
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A swastika is a geometric symbol made of two intersecting, straight-backed Zs at 45° angles to each other. It is sometimes referred to as a cross with broken arms. Though it's been recorded throughout history as a spiritual good omen, it is most notably known in the West as the Nazi Party symbol.

Some people might be surprised to learn that swastika is not a German word, but Sanskrit. Sanskrit is an ancient Indian language, and the word translates to "a little something that brings good luck" or "well-being." It is considered an auspicious symbol that might be worn on the clothes or body, similar to the Irish four-leaf clover. Co-opted by the German Nazi Party of World War II as a national emblem of Aryan pride, it became a hated symbol in the West, where its benign ancient roots remain overshadowed.

Adolph Hitler’s adoption of the symbol was not totally without reason. The Nazi Party subscribed to the then-popular Aryan Invasion Theory, which held that Nordic peoples of Europe or Central Asia invaded and conquered India one to three millennia before the birth of Christ. The Nazis believed these Indo-Germanic peoples to be the original "pure white" or "master Aryan race," and India to be the birthplace of civilization. Philologist William Jones of the late 18th century even suggested that Sanskrit, Greek, and Latin might have come from an original Indo-Germanic language, now lost to the world. These Aryan associations appealed to Adolph Hitler, and the swastika unfortunately became irrevocably intertwined with genocide and racial hatred.

Modern day hate groups in the West continue to use it as a symbol for neo-Nazism, racial purity, gender purity, and proactive hate mongering. Some of these hate groups are closely associated with fringe militia groups, loosely organized civilian armies that hate government, which they see as destroying the white race through supporting racial equality.

In India and other nations, the swastika remains a positive religious symbol, true to its roots. It is often depicted on celebration cakes, in motifs and tile designs, and in basket weaving, paintings, and jewelry.

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Discussion Comments
By SarahGen — On Nov 05, 2012

Can anyone tell me more about the origin of the swastika and the Aryan Invasion theory?

Could it be possible that Aryans did not invade India but rather Indo-European language originated in India and then spread all the way to Europe?

This makes more sense to me because I think Sanskrit is the oldest language and it originated in India.

By bluedolphin — On Nov 04, 2012

@MikeMason-- I don't think that will ever happen. Swastika will always be seen as the symbol of the German Nazi party before anything else.

By stoneMason — On Nov 04, 2012

@strawCake-- But why should people, especially those with German background, have to avoid the symbol because people will associate it with the Nazi party? I know it's inevitable that people make that association to some degree. But I also think that we need to move on and stop judging people based on history.

I wish we could educate more people about the roots and true meaning of the swastika so that it is no longer only associated with Nazism.

By SZapper — On Sep 28, 2011

@strawCake - I don't blame you guys for smashing that vase. It would be very unfortunate for someone to see it and think your family subscribed to racist and hateful ideals.

I actually saw someone the other day that has a swastika bumper sticker on their car. It made me very uncomfortable. I was also surprised, because I live in a fairly liberal area. We definitely don't have an active Aryan Nations group anywhere around here. Still, I suppose hateful people can live anywhere.

By strawCake — On Sep 27, 2011

My family is German on my mother's side. We were going through some of my great aunts things after she passed away, and we found a very nice vase with, interestingly enough, the Sanskrit version of the swastika on it. We believe she got it on a trip to India many years ago.

However, we didn't want to keep anything that had a symbol on it that also stood for such atrocities. So after a very brief discussion, we smashed the vase and threw away all the pieces. We also didn't want to keep it and have anyone thing we agree with Nazi ideals just because we're of German background!

By turquoise — On Sep 27, 2011

@anon52897-- Actually, that's exactly what swastika means in sanskrit- a cross with same distance arms that are bent. Each arm points at one of the cardinal directions. I guess this is proof that the German Hakenkreuz is taken from the Sanskrit/Indian swastika.

@ysmina-- My view is that this was chosen as the symbol of the Nazi party because of its meaning. I've also read that it stands for stability, strength and being grounded. I think this is exactly what the Nazi party wanted, to always remain strong and last forever.

I agree with you that it's sad that when we see the swastika, we don't think of the religious meaning in Hinduism, but the political meaning of the Nazi party.

I wonder how Hindus living in Germany feel about this? Can you imagine what would happen if a Hindu family in Germany wanted to put the auspicious swastika sign on their door? I don't think the consequences would be too great.

By ysmina — On Sep 26, 2011

@fify-- Thank you for that information. It seems that we know a lot about the place of swastika in the Nazi party, but very little about the original swastika and it's role in Hinduism. It's unfortunate that the swastika of hate is better known than the swastika of peace.

I don't really buy the argument about Indo-Germans being the true Aryan race and Sanskrit being an Indo-German language. I think this was just a story that Hitler and the Nazi party came up with to justify their use of the swastika symbol. They supported their ideas with the Aryan Invasion Theory. I don't know why Hitler really chose the swastika for his party symbol. I think it is more of a coincidence than anything.

It is quite ironic how he used the symbol of peace and good luck as he carried out such unfortunate and horrible acts though.

By fify — On Sep 26, 2011

I am from India. The swastika is a very important symbol in Hinduism. Like the article said, it represents good luck, auspicious events and peace. It is not exactly the same as the German swastika, because we draw a dot in each quadrant of our swastika and the Hindu swastika is usually drawn in red color. We believe that the swastika represents the rays of the sun. The sun is also a deity in Hinduism called Surya and the sun is important because it makes things grow and keeps everything alive.

In my family, the swastika is drawn where ever we desire auspiciousness and good luck. It is on the door of our home and also in the pooja (prayer) area in our home. We also draw the swastika on pooja talis, the trays we pray with and offer to the Hindu deities. It is drawn in the temples also.

By anon126782 — On Nov 13, 2010

My family has roots in Germany on my mothers side of the family as well as my wife's side.

My Mother's family was German Catholic until the

40's or 50's when the local German Catholic Church was discontinued. Most likely this coincides with the outbreak of World War II. Quite a coincidence, wouldn't you say?

By anon52897 — On Nov 17, 2009

Germans don't call it a swastika. The German term is "Hakenkreuz" (crooked/hooked cross).

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