Swastika-shaped ornaments dates from the Neolithic period. An ancient symbol, it occurs mainly in the cultures that are in modern day India and the surrounding area, sometimes as a geometrical motif and sometimes as a religious symbol. It has long been widely used in major world religions such as Hinduism, Roman Catholicism, Buddhism and Jainism.
The swastika was appropriated as a Nazi symbol and gained further association with the Third Reich as the Reich gained influence. Though once commonly used over much of the world without stigma, over time the symbol has become a controversial motif, especially in the Western world.
The swastika has an extensive history. The motif seems to have first been used in Neolithic India. The symbol has an ancient history in Europe, appearing on artifacts from pre-Christian European cultures. In antiquity, the swastika was used extensively by the Indo-Aryans,Persians, Hittites, Celts and Greeks, among others. In particular, the swastika is a sacred symbol in Mithraism, Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism - religions with over a billion adherents worldwide, making the swastika ubiquitous in both historical and contemporary society. The symbol was introduced to Southeast Asia by Hindu kings and remains an integral part of Balinese Hinduism to this day, and it is a common sight in Indonesia. It also was adopted independently by several Native American cultures.
In the Western world, the symbol experienced a resurgence following the archaeological work in the late 19th century of Heinrich Schliemann, who discovered the symbol in the site of ancient Troy and associated it with the ancient migrations of Proto-Indo-Europeans. He connected it with similar shapes found on ancient pots in Germany, and theorized that the swastika was a "significant religious symbol of our remote ancestors", linking Germanic, Greek and Indo-Iranian cultures. By the early 20th century, it was widely used worldwide and was regarded as a symbol of good luck and success.
The work of Schliemann soon became intertwined with the volkisch movements, for which the swastika was a symbol of "Aryan" identity, a concept that came to be equated by theorists such as Alfred Rosenberg with a Nordic master race originating in northern Europe. Since its adoption by the Nazi Party of Adolf Hitler, the swastika has been associated with fascism, racism (white supremacy), World War II, and the Holocaust in much of the West. The swastika remains a core symbol of Neo-Nazi groups, and is used regularly by activist groups to signify the supposed Nazi-like behavior of organizations and individuals they oppose.
Religion and mythology
In Hinduism, the two symbols represent the two forms of the creator god Brahma: facing right it represents the evolution of the universe (Pravritti), facing left it represents the involution of the universe (Nivritti). It is also seen as pointing in all four directions (north, east, south and west) and thus signifies stability and groundedness. Its use as a sun symbol can first be seen in its representation of the god Surya. The swastika is considered extremely holy and auspicious by all Hindus, and is regularly used to decorate items related to Hindu culture. It is used in all Hindu yantras and religious designs. Throughout the subcontinent of India, it can be seen on the sides of temples, religious scriptures, gift items, and letterheads. The Hindu god Ganesh is often shown sitting on a lotus flower on a bed of swastikas.
The swastika is found all over Hindu temples, signs, altars, pictures and iconography where it is sacred. It is used in Hindu weddings, festivals, ceremonies, houses and doorways, clothing and jewelry, motor transport and even decorations on food items such as cakes and pastries. Among the Hindus of Bengal, it is common to see the name "swastika" applied to a slightly different symbol, which has the same significance as the common swastika, and both symbols are used as auspicious signs. This symbol looks something like a stick figure of a human being. "Swastika" is a common given name amongst Bengalisand a prominent literary magazine in Kolkata (Calcutta) is called the Swastika.
The Aum symbol is also sacred in Hinduism. While Aum is representative of a single primordial tone of creation, the Swastika is a pure geometrical mark and has no syllabic tone associated with it. The Swastika is one of the 108 symbols of Lord Vishnu and represents the sun's rays, without which there would be no life.
The symbol as it is used in Buddhist art and scripture is known in Japanese as a manji, and represents Dharma, universal harmony, and the balance of opposites. When facing left, it is the omote (front) manji, representing love and mercy. Facing right, it represents strength and intelligence, and is called the ura (rear) manji. Balanced manji are often found at the beginning and end of Buddhist scriptures (outside India).
Buddhism originated in the Indian subcontinent in the 5th century BC and inherited the manji. These two symbols are included, at least since the Liao Dynasty, as part of the Chinese language, the symbolic sign for the character
萬 or 万 (wan in Chinese, man in Korean/Japanese,
vạn in Vietnamese) meaning "all" or "eternality" (lit. myriad) and as 卐, which is seldom used. A manji marks the beginning of many Buddhist scriptures. The manji (in either orientation) appears on the chest of some statues of Gautama Buddha and is often incised on the soles of the feet of the Buddha in statuary. Because of the association of the right-facing swastika with Nazism, Buddhist manji (outside India only) after the mid-20th century are almost universally left-facing: 卍. This form of the manji is often found on Chinese food packaging to signify that the product is vegetarian and can be consumed by strict Buddhists. It is often sewn into the collars of Chinese children's clothing to protect them from evil spirits.
Jainism gives even more prominence to the swastika than does Hinduism. It is a symbol of the seventh Jina (Saint), the Tirthankara Suparsva. In the Svetambar Jain tradition, it is also one of the symbols of the ashta-mangalas. It is considered to be one of the 24 auspicious marks and the emblem of the seventh arhat of the present age. All Jain temples and holy books must contain the swastika and ceremonies typically begin and end with creating a swastika mark several times with rice around the altar.
Jains use rice to make a swastika (also known as "Sathiyo" in the state of Gujarat, India) in front of idols in a temple. Jains then put an offering on this swastika, usually a ripe or dried fruit, a sweet (mithai), or a coin or currency note. In 2001, India issued a 100-rupee coin to commemorate the 2600th anniversary of the birth of Mahavir, the 24th and last Jainist Tirthankara; the design includes a swastika.