The Nazi appropriation of the swastika remains one of the twentieth century’s starkest examples of how cultural appropriation has harmed originating cultures. The Nazi regime took a symbol out of its cultural context, appropriated it by divorcing it from its original intentions and then imbued it with meaning for which it was never meant — finally using it as a harbinger of evil.
For the Hindus and Buddhists in India and other Asian countries, the swastika was an important symbol for many thousands of years and, to this day, the symbol can still be seen in abundance – on temples, buses, taxis, and on the cover of books. It was also used in Ancient Greece and Rome, and can be found in the remains of the ancient city of Troy, which existed 4,000 years ago. The ancient Druids and the Celts also used the symbol, reflected in many artifacts that have been discovered.
There are a variety of symbolic meanings associated with the limbs of the swastika in Hinduism. They can be interpreted as the four Vedas (Rig, Yajur, Sama, Atharva), the core Hindu scriptures. They can be thought of as the four goals of life: Dharma, Artha, Kama, Moksha (right action, worldly prosperity, worldly enjoyment, and spiritual liberation). The limbs are also interpreted as representing the four seasons, the four directions, and the four yugas, or epochs (Satya, Treta, Dvapara, Kali).
The word ‘swastika’ is a Sanskrit word (‘svasktika’) meaning ‘It is’, ‘Well Being’, ‘Good Existence, and ‘Good Luck’. However, it is also known by different names in different countries – like ‘Wan’ in China, ‘Manji’ in Japan, ‘Fylfot’ in England, ‘Hakenkreuz’ in Germany and ‘Tetraskelion’ or ‘Tetragammadion’ in Greece.
Hinduism, the right-hand swastika is a symbol of the God Vishnu and the Sun, while the left-hand swastika is a symbol of Kali and Magic.
Swastika is one of humanity’s most enduring, ancient symbols. The earliest swastika ever found was uncovered in Mezine, Ukraine, carved on an ivory figurine which dates back an incredible 12,000 years. In Buddhism, the swastika is a symbol of good fortune, prosperity, abundance and eternity. It is directly related to Buddha and can be found carved on statues on the soles of his feet and on his heart. It is said that it contains Buddha’s mind.
However, in the early 20th century, various right-wing adherents of the so-called “völkisch” movement in Germany, a movement in large part dedicated to uncovering a romanticized and largely mythical German/“Aryan” past, adopted the swastika as a symbol.
So how did the Nazi Party acquire this symbol and use it to such great effect that it permanently converted the swastika into a symbol of hate, anti-Semitism and infamy.
This fascinating story is told by Prof. Malcolm Quinn, in his work The Swastika: Constructing the Symbol. In 1874 the businessman and adventurer Heinrich Schliemann, started excavations in Turkey at a site he believed to be the lost city of Troy of the Homeric epics. As he dug, he found spheres and pottery fragments bearing the images of swastikas. Wanting to find out what these symbols meant, Schliemann sought the advice of scholars, one of whom was the anti-Semite orientalist Emile-Louis Burnouf who had seen this same symbol in the lexicon of the Hindu epic the Rig Veda. The Vedas also talk of the Aryan nations.
So Burnouf and his associates decided that the swastika was the ancient symbol of the Aryans, invading warriors who came from the north to displace the existing people of India, and that these were the same people represented by the Swastika symbols in the pottery fragments of Troy.
Brunouff died in 1907, and a few decades later this symbol became the perfect emblem for Hitler’s ambitions for Germany. The Nazis didn’t want their history to be associated with Christians because Christianity was associated with Jews. When they gained control in 1933, the Nazi party symbol became the national symbol. In May of that year, the Reich’s leading designer, Goebbels, issued a decree called “The Law for Protection of National Symbols,” which insured the transcendence of the swastika by preventing its unauthorized commercial use.
Since 1945, the swastika has served as the most significant and notorious of hate symbols, anti-Semitism and white supremacy for most of the world outside of Asia. Its display is prohibited in Germany and some other countries, leading some right-wing extremists to devise variants or alternatives to the swastika that would evoke a similar effect. In the United States, the swastika is overwhelmingly viewed as a hate symbol.
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