The symbol of swastika is a great example of what happened to Hinduism in Europe and outside India. The Europeans saw in the symbol a variation of the cross. They also felt it was a symbol of the sun. In today’s world, some people consider it a symbol of the galaxy. These are nothing but constructs. Just as some European scholars invented the theory that Hinduism and Sanskrit were the inventions of the Aryans from Europe who invaded India, or yoga was a secular practice that had nothing to do with Hinduism, we have now many ideas and constructions which suggest that Swastika was a variation of the cross, symbol of sun, bird, hexagram, crescent moon, movement of time, comet or a galaxy.
The truth is Swastika is a Hindu ritual word and an auspicious symbol that has been in use since the early Vedic period. Since it has been such a popular and commonly used word in the Indian subcontinent since millenniums (at least since 2500 BC), it has both secular and religious meanings. It was never used in a racial sense or to denote the authority or supremacy of any particular group or religion. It has always been used to cleanse and sanctify a place or attract good luck, peace and prosperity.
In the stone ages and protohistory, ancient tribes and pastoral people might have used several symbols as their totem symbols or to practice magic and rituals. Therefore, it is possible that some symbols that closely resemble the Swastika might have been used in different regions of the world by some ancient tribes. However, the Swastika that we know today did not originate from them. India has been the only country where the word and the symbol have been used uninterruptedly at least for 4000-5000 years. There is no evidence that Swastika has been used on such a massive scale and for so long by common people anywhere else except in India. Because of its widespread popularity and positive image, it found its way into Buddhism and Jainism also. These religions did not invent Swastika as some want to argue. They adapted it.
Unfortunately, due to its association with the Nazi party in Germany, since the second world war Swastika has acquired a very negative reputation in the West. From the perspective of Hinduism, considering Swastika an evil or negative symbol is similar to calling the day as night. It is what happens when bad people take over something that is good and auspicious. It happened to Swastika. As Sri Aurobindo said, it also happened to wealth. Wealth is considered evil in many parts of the world because it is largely under the control of asuric forces. When good people fall into the company of the bad, the association itself creates doubts and confusion in the minds of people. If today a person wears a symbol of Swastika on his shirt and goes to a restaurant owned by Jews, he may be asked to leave because it invokes such strong emotions. It will be worse if that person happens to be a Caucasian because he may be mistaken for a Klan member. We must be thankful that Hitler spared the symbol of Aum and the practice of Yoga. Otherwise, we would have had trouble practising yoga or uttering Aum.
It may be true that Swastika might have been used by several cultures in the ancient world. However, since the earliest times, it has carried a great significance in Hinduism only. As we understand today, the Swastika was essentially a Vedic invention and a very sacred religious motif. For the ancient Indians it was not just a symbol, but an important concept. The symbol became prominent later, especially with the rise of ritual practices, festivals, temple traditions, and domestic, ritual worship in ancient India. Before that, Swastika was used in Vedic rituals both as a sacred world and a sacred symbol. Its importance seems to have grown further with the emergence of Tantra and the rise in the popularity of Goddess Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, good fortune and prosperity, as it was used in the construction of various Yantras and Chakras.
In the Vedic tradition, the word Swastika originated from the root word Swasti, which has several secular and religious meanings. The following are some of the common meanings attributed to the word Swasti in standard Sanskrit dictionaries.
1. A parting word used in the sense of may you be well, farewell to you, or goodbye.
2. A word used as an adjective at the beginning of another word or phrase to denote wellness. For example, swasti bhavate, swasti nama, swasti vacanam, svasyastu, swasti bhava (Shivam, or auspicious state), or swastimukha (a person, a bard, or a singer who utters auspicious mantras or prayers). In Hindi, the word swasth means health or good health.
3. A word used in conjunction with certain ritual practices that are meant to bring peace and prosperity. Example: Swasti-ayanam (making auspicious offerings during or after the ritual), or Swasti vacanam (uttering auspicious mantras before the commencement of a ritual).
4. A word as a noun or verb to denote speaking good, saying auspicious words, uttering a benediction or a blessing by a Brahmana after receiving his fees (dakshinas) from the host for performing the sacrifice, or uttering mantras for peace and prosperity.
5. Saying congratulations, or making an auspicious or congratulatory gift of flowers, etc., with good intentions, best wishes, and blessings. For example swastivacyam.
6. The word is also used to denote the end or conclusion of a ritual, a meeting or an activity, during which the participants would say, “Swasti,” and retire. The proper ending of any ritual with the utterance of concluding mantras is also called saying swasti. Thus, structurally a Vedic ritual begins with swasti and ends with swasti.
7. Svasti was also used in names. For example Aupasvasti was a Upanishadic teacher mentioned in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad.
From the above it is evident that originally swasti, was used as a ritual word that acquired in due course certain social, salutary, mental, physical, and material connotations. Swastika was one of its derivative expressions. It became equally popular among the people of India because of its religious significance and auspicious nature. However, in Hinduism swastika is not just an auspicious symbol or a good luck charm. It has several meanings, which are listed below.
1. An auspicious and mystic symbol or mark either on the body of a person, or a place, or on a thing to denote good luck and fortune, currently associated with Goddess Lakshmi and other deities.
2. Any lucky object that is supposed to bring good fortune, peace and happiness.
3. The meeting point of four roads. (This may be because the place where four roads meet, is the meeting place of the four guardians of directions (dikpalas), whereby the sanctity of the place is quadrupled. Also where four roads meet, there are better chances of meeting more people, doing more business, and more wealth coming to the traders from all directions). The crossroads is a frequently appearing symbol in the seals of the Indus Valley Civilization (5000 BC-2000 BC) as shown below:
4. One of the sitting postures in the practice of Lakshmi Tantra.
5. The crossing of the arms across the chest like a cross. This seems to be a reference to the upper body, the auspicious place where the heart is located.
6. A palace, temple, or building built according to certain specifications with a terrace in the front.
7. A triangular symbol made with rice for use in certain rituals.
8. A kind of cake, which was probably used to improve health and wellbeing.
9. A free-spirited happy woman or maiden. (Who would not feel good to see a happy, cheerful, and free-spirited woman?)
10. A particular mode of sitting by a yogini in the Tantra.
11. Garlic, which is considered a purifier and source of good health.
From the above, it is clear that the symbol of Swastika and the prayers and practices associated with Swastika were meant to purify ritual places, protect oneself from evil spirits, sickness and misfortune, and invite peace, prosperity and auspiciousness into one’s home, mind and body. The word is essentially associated with good health, which in itself is a great wealth, and source of purity, happiness, and the common good. It is an irony of history that such a positive and auspicious word acquired such a negative meaning in the last century due to the developments in Europe. It is time we take back our swastika and revive its ancient glory. Will it happen? It is doubtful. Imagine, if a political party in India decides to use Swastika as a party symbol! All hell will break loose.