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The Sign of the Swastika

Throughout India, the image of the swastika is as ubiquitous as the image of the serpent. It appears on Siva temples, the doors of homes, as a decoration on mobile food-stalls, in folk art and on rugs, and exists as a significant design or yantra at ceremonial occasions.

To the Western world, however, the swastika is probably the most disturbing image that has ever been associated with a political regime. The Nazi Party of Germany used its powerful pattern to full advantage during the Second World War.

Surrounding their use of the image there exists a widespread misconception concerning the representation of the symbol. It is commonly thought that the motif of the Third Reich was an inverted swastika, a deviation from the original ancient design. The point needs clarification.

Regardless of the swastika's configuration, i.e. right-angled or left-angled, the symbol's significance does not suffer; it merely indicates two opposing principles, evolution and dissolution.

The swastika has both spiritual and social implications. Its use by millions of people in India for ceremonial and decorative purposes is primarily a sociological application. Its more esoteric meaning is possibly obscure to many.

Cosmology and the Swastika

Like e.g. the serpent, the swastika crystallizes fundamental principles relating to natural universal processes and their relationship to terrestrial life and was designed to evoke an intuitive or emotional response rather than an intellectual understanding.

`Swastika', a Sanskrit word, means literally `well being' which has many variables depending upon the application. As the serpent is the symbol of the creative, energizing force of the Supreme Spirit, the swastika is representative of that life-force being set in motion to initiate the cyclic workings of nature. Both images are thus closely inter-related.

The ancient Vedic seers described the original cosmic creative process as `the churning of the milky ocean' whereby fields of subtle substance become condensed into gross matter; a view that is now widely accepted today in energy-field physics research.

This `churning' is represented geometrically in Tantric ritual as a four armed cross within a circle and the cross is meant to be imagined as oscillating backwards and forwards as in a churning motion. The forward movement clockwise is towards evolution while the anti-clockwise movement is towards dissolution. The circle represents the universe in its potential un-manifested state prior to creation and is called in Hinduism `Brahmanda'. The Hindus also believe that the universe periodically dissolves and is then re-created. The period between dissolution and re-creation is known as `Pralaya', a time of rest between creative periods. A period of creativity is called `Manvantara' and both periods (i.e. creation and dissolution) constitute a `Kalpa' or a cycle of creation. The dissolutionary process due to the inevitable pull of gravity and a slowing down of the expanding evolutionary process has been labelled by Western cosmologists as `the big crunch'. The entire creative process is again more descriptively labelled by the Hindus as `the breathing out of Brahma' (the Creator in the Hindu Trinity) while the dissolutionary process is seen as `the breathing in of Brahma'. This cyclic process of cosmic, periodic, involution, evolution and dissolution is symbolized by the forward and backward movement of the cross.

The four arms of the cross are known as `the four arms of Vishnu', the Supreme Deity in Vedic times who later became the `preserver' in the Hindu Trinity. Vishnu's role is to maintain order, balance, and cohesion throughout the created universe. This is the `mystic cross' which later found its way into all religions with certain modifications as the Egyptian Cross, the Chinese Tau, the Cross of the Rosicrucians and the Christian cross.

The created is sustained by continual opposition between two forces, i.e. attraction and repulsion which act and react via a process of flux that is mirrored in the activity of all nature from the breathing of plants, the action of the human lungs, bio-rhythms, the flow of energy in a dynamo, to the expansion and contraction of the Earth itself.

It is the oscillating motion of the cross within the circle which symbolizes that opposition between positive evolutionary forces and negative dissolutionary forces that give birth to the swastika in both its configurations, i.e. right-angled or left-angled.

The whole of creation is bound by this principle and by the ultimate balancing of these two polarities, `well-being' that is an ideal state without conflict, may be achieved. On a personal level, this ideal condition, as any individual knows, may at its best be only a sometimes thing during the course of day to day living. The point of eventual neutrality or perfect balance between the two forces, is equilibrium -- thereby no existing conflict between negative and positive. If it were to become an actual consistent condition, the very purpose of life itself (which is innately felt by most individuals as growth towards an ideal or perfection, or total `order') would be pointless and the evolutionary process would cease to be of significance. The cross at rest symbolizes that final perfect balance or equilibrium -- Pralaya.

On Siva temple throughout India the right-angled swastika is ever present which indicates the transforming and evolutionary aspect which Lord Siva represents in Hindu philosophy.

The Sociological Aspect

The swastika as a Vedic image finds expression in the magical ritual worship or `sacrifice' known as Yagna. The purpose of the sacrifice is to ensure the fertility and well-being of the individual, his family and domestic animals and ultimately the whole community. It constitutes an offering to the Gods, or universal forces, to sustain them in their task of maintaining the world, directing its manifold generative activities and at the same time ensuring protection against the sometimes-malevolent forces of the Grahas or nine planets.

Dr. V.Hasanali of the former Soviet Institute of Climatology and Medicine, has stated in a paper published in Moscow that the vital activities of humans are affected not by individual factors but by the sum total of certain external factors. These factors include solar or gravitational anomalies, sharp fluctuations in atmospheric pressure and magnetic disturbances. In respect of these geophysical conditions there are increased chances of misfortune occurring on certain unfavourable days when the functioning of human responses is affected. (The Indian Magazine, Sydney, May 1987).

The modern understanding that planetary movements can influence sunspot activity and thus the solar wind which, in turn, affects the magnetic field of the Earth to which nature is attuned, may well be seen to endorse the ancient Hindu's views about the Grahas.

The form of the Yagna or ritual may involve, for example, a circumambulation in which a horse is walked in a circle, clockwise, to effect a cure for its disease. This clockwise movement is called `Pradakshina' and indicates a natural evolutionary function. It is used in respect of sacred trees, shrines, etc., and is performed as an act of reverence or respect. It is believed to bestow merit and prosperity and acts as a protective circle preventing harm coming to the circumambulator. It also delineates a sacred area. Temples are revered in this way and it is not uncommon to observe a priest in prayer moving clockwise around a sacred enclosure or a Stupa. If circumambulation is performed in the opposite direction it is called `Apradakshina' and has a malign influence resulting in misfortune or death. In funerary rites or in cases of houses subject to intrusion of snakes, this reverse direction is followed by the priest. The image of the swastika accompanying the Yagna is either drawn or formed on the ground in the appropriate evolutionary or dissolutionary pattern.

This ancient ritual of circumambulation, continued in India today, particularly in the rural areas and in villages, is based on the principle that natures' forces integrate and disintegrate in spiralling fields of energy, a fact proved in recent times by advanced Energy Field Physics research. (`A Morphogenetic Process in Low Energy Electromagnetic Fields'. S.S. and S.P. Barsamian. Journal of Biological Physics. Stillwater, Oklahoma, U.S.A. 1998).

The Swastika and Buddhism

Buddhism emerged from Hinduism and, the swastika, borrowed from the Hindus is a symbol of esoteric Buddhism. As such, it was placed over the heart of the Buddha, stamped on the breasts of departed initiates and planted wherever Buddhists have left their mark. It is regarded as the symbol of esoteric Buddhism and the mark of a perfectly evolved being whose soul (or spirit) has entered Nirvana or liberation from the world of matter.

The image of the Buddha's foot or Sri-Pada, shows the swastika on each of the toes. The symbol is seen on the underpads in a left-handed or anti-clockwise configuration, which would become a right-angled or clockwise image if an imprint of the foot was imagined.

Five, e.g. five toes on each foot, five fingers on each hand, five senses is relative to the concept of potentiality which shows that nature tends to build on a system of five-fold construction. This principle in Hinduism is called `Pancha Bhootas' and has to do with the five states of creative substances and their relationship to the five sensory faculties. The substances are as follows: 1. Light -- relative to the sense of sight. 2. Air -- relative to smell. 3. Sound -- relative to hearing. 4. Liquid -- relative to taste. 5. Solid -- relative to touch.

When all five senses function in harmony, `well-being' is the result. To a Hindu or Buddhist Initiate, `well-being' in its highest sense would mean `enlightenment attained'. Thus the significance of the ancient symbol is again apparent.

The Swastika in other Civilizations

The swastika was evident on the seals of the Mohenjo Daro civilization in the Indus Valley as well as on the Rongo Rongo tablets of Easter Island. It was found in Troy, in Mesopotamia, and is still used by the Navajo and Hopi Indians in the U.S.A in their rituals and artwork as well as by the Tibetans.

Its use in Germany in the 1930's and 1940's provided the most dramatic illustration of the power of the symbol. The grand plan of the Nazi regime was not only politically based but to achieve the ideal of `superman' as per the philosophy of Nietzsche in the shortest possible way. The Third Reich was first of all an `occult' order, its underlying motive being the achievement of human perfection through the destruction of the old decadent order; to create a new dimension in human potentiality; an evolutionary process.

Backing up the principle was the constant confrontation with the right-angled swastika, adopted from the ancient Vedic Aryan symbolism and made even more powerful by the angle at which it was presented and the use of the image in black, surrounded by white against a vibrant red background.

As a `Yantra' or a design to effect consciousness it clutched at the deepest centres of human emotion. The use of the image, however, was to inflame rather than instruct. That was the default.


All over India and much of the East, the swastika in either of its configurations, is commonly regarded as a sign of `good luck'. Good luck is related to the literal translation of `Swastika' which is `well-being', and is understood in its mundane aspect by most of the populace. The idea of well-being originates from the principle of balance; in relation to a human being a harmonious cohesion or union of spirit, mind and body. This allows a state of health to exist whereas imbalance and chaos create illness.

Widely used as a talisman to counteract possible negative or demonic influences, it is particularly evident during ceremonial occasions such as weddings (the union of male and female principles) and at births.

The origin of the swastika has become a source of speculation for researchers over time. Mentioned in the Vedas, the Upanishads and the Mahabharata, the symbol has its origin with the Vedic Aryans, its meaning having been clearly defined by the Nagas or Vedic Initiates. One Naga king was named Swastika. The serpent and the swastika are siblings; the serpent as the energizing creative force in the Universe, the swastika as that force in motion. Both are fundamental aspects of Vedic cosmology. Ananta Sesha, the cosmic serpent, symbolic of timeless eternity, displays the swastika on its multi-hooded image.

The symbol reflects and distills the wisdom of its original architects; those who understood that the forces of attraction and repulsion form the underlying substance in the creative scenario and apply to every facet of life from tiny atom to distant star.