Wednesday, December 24, 2008
Swastik (or Swastika) means different things in different cultures and religions and because it's so incredibly popular and spreads across cultural boundaries it can be a symbol of both good and bad depending on the context. In Hinduism though, Swastik is a symbol of good though and stands out because of the incredibly insightful philosophical depth involved in the idea behind it!
Yes, Swastik (or Swastika) is an extremely special symbol in Hinduism and I'll be elaborating on it in more details in the rest of the article but before that let me provide some background information first -
Archaeological origin and history of Swastika (Swastik) - Before delving into the religious perspective, I'd like to explain how Swastik (Swastika) could've originated. Indus Valley (Harappa) is one of the earliest places where Swastik (Swastika) is found and these civilizations were mainly basket weaving ones and if you notice, the symbol of Swastik (Swastika) resembles the basket weave design (basket weave pattern picture on the left). So, that gives us some indication as to how Swastik (Swastika) might have originated in history. I should also note that Swastia (unlike many other ancient symbols) has its origins at reasonably advanced stages of the ancient societies. Also, we may observe that Swastik (Swastika) is a symbol of good rather then bad from a strictly archaeological point of view.
Now, I'd like to explain Swastik (Swastika) from a religious point of view -
Swastik (Swastika) in Hinduism and India - Swastik (Swastika) has been a symbol of good luck from time immemorial in Indian (Hindu) homes. Swastik (Swastika) can be seen drawn at doors, walls and many auspicious places in Hindu homes to signify good luck and well being. Swastik (Swastika) is also found even more prominently around many festivals and coming from a hindu family. As a kid, I've drawn Swastik (Swastika) myself on the walls in my home around Diwali for a long time.
Meaning of Swastik (Swastika) in Hinduism religion - Swastik, even if overall a symbol of good luck and well being, might mean different things in different sects/region/aspects of Hindu religion. I'll go over all of the below -
1) Swastik (Swastika) is associated with the symbolism of Lord Vishnu - 108 diffrent symbols are associated with Lord Vishnu and Swastik is one of them. Swastik (Swastika) can be seen drawn on the right palm of Lord Vishnu or sometimes held in hand or held or drawn in some other form around Lord Vishnu.
2) Swastik (Swastika) as a symbol of Brahma (one of the Trinity in Hinduism) - One interesting thing about Swastika is that if it's viewed from above then it looks as if its pointing in all directions simultaneously! This coincides with the four "all seeing" faces of Brahma and therefore at times Swastik might be associated with the symbolism for Brahma.
3) Swastik (Swastika) as a symbol for Surya (Sun god) - This sort of follows from the previous points in many ways. Sun is sometimes associated with various symbolisms used for Lord Vishnu and Swastik can be sometimes used as a symbolism for Surya (sun god) too! Also, since the top-down Swastik (Swastika) has this peculiar multi-directional (or direction-less depending on how you look at it) characteristic, it's again associated with the mid-day Sun's rays falling in all directions simultaneously. So, as you may observe, this association is pretty strong from both religious and nature worship point of view and even more so in the ancient times when nature worship was indeed at it's pinnacle.
4) Swastik (Swastika) as a symbol of life and preservation - This sort of follows from the above points. Swastika is one of the symbols of Lord Vishnu and Lord Vishnu in turn is associated with the preservation of life (as in one of the Trinity in Hinduism) so Swastika is seen as a symbol of life and preservation. Further, Sun's rays are directly associated with good crops and more enough food for the winter season so the overall association of Swastik (Swastika) with life, preservation and well being, as a symbol of the Lord Vishnu (preserver of life), Surya god and Sun's rays (good crops, food production) is reinforced. So we observe that even from a strictly pagan religion and basic sustainability point of view Swastika (Swastik) becomes a very important symbol of good luck and well being.
5) Swastik (Swastika) as a symbol of stability - This is kinda part of the whole overall well being thing but there is one more thing I should note about the structural aspect of Swastika. Swastika, as (might be) originated from the Basket weave design, also signifies stability because this basic structural component, of the big structure (let's say a basket), ensures that the big structure (based on Swastik design) will hold. This basic idea adds to the well being aspect as can be noticed and makes Swastik (Swastika) even more important.
6) Swastik (Swastika) as part of Ashtamangala - Ashtamangala (or Ashta-Mangala) is part of a tradition in Hinduism (and Hinduism's offshoots) that refers to eight sacred symbols as an offering to God (gods) on various auspicious occasions. These symbols might differ from region to region and sects to sects but Swastika has been seen to occur quite prominently in various combinations along with other symbols like Conch/Shell, Sinh (Lion), Bull, Lotus, Wheel, Mirror, Matsya / Meen (fish), Elephant, Dhwaja (Flag/Banner), Kalasha (vase) etc. It's even more prominent in Ashtamangalas in Shwetamber Jainism but in other Ashtamangalas sometimes Swastik is replaced by related symbols like Endless Knot and such.
7) Swastik (Swastika) as a symbol of Ying-Yang (wàn 萬) in China and Manji/Omote (萬) in Japan - This is not really related to hinduism but historically we know that far eastern (chinese and japanese etc) religions (buddhism basically) are really offshoots of Hinduism. More specifically, Buddhism is an offshoot of Hinduism and the Hindu symbols have been carried over to China and Japan still retaining more or less the same basic philosophies. So we see that in China it is found to be again associated with well being and luck directly and Ying-Yang indirectly. In Japan it changes slightly to mean Ying-Yang but the fundamental symbolism stays the same. If you look closely, the symbol Ying-Yang itself resembles Swastik, Ying-Yang is sort of a more round version of Swastik.I mentioned the meaning of Swastik in these far eastern cultures because it's primarily carried over from Hinduism and Buddhism is for the most part modified Hinduism.
The deeper philosophical insights into the real meaning of Swatik (Swastika) in Hinduism - Above points that I made do the job of explaining the contextual meaning and significance of Swastika in Hinduism and related religions. The most important and often overlooked or misunderstood aspect of Swastik (Swastika) is the one related to the Chinese Ying-Yang symbolism. Before I go about explaining this aspect of philosophy behind Swastika, let me explain why I chose the Chinese Ying-Yang symbol here. The Chinese Ying-Yang symbol is closely related to a major Hindu philosophy called Nivritti and Pravritti! Ying-Yang is basically about the duality of the universe and in some context it can refer to the the Evolution and Involution of nature the same was Pravritti and Nivritti do. I understand that the very topic of Nivritti and Pravritti deserve it's own article (if not a few books) so I won't be able to do justice to the topic of significance of Nivritti and Pravritti in Hinduism in the current post but I promise to write another fuller article dedicated to Nivritti and Pravitti and how they relate to Hinduism; suffice to say here that Nivritti is involution and Pravitti is evolution of nature and how human life unfolds.
In other words, Pravitti is about a human's actions acting as both source and end of the causality loop; and Nivritti is the opposite process of trying to break free from this infernal causality loop by understanding the true nature of universe. Please remember that both Pravitti and Nivritti are absolutely required for the universe to work, it's just that Pravitti is about choices that we semi-consciously make (through causality) while Nivritti is about the choices that we consciously make. It gets a bit deeper though with many tangents but they are unrelated to the current Swastik (Swastika) topic and I'll be writing more about them in the Pravitti vs Nivritti article. But the takeaway part of it is that Swastik (Swastika) has a strong association with deeper concept of Pravitti and Nivritti. How though? Basically, Swastik (Swastika) can also be viewed as pointing in two opposite directions at the same time (let's say left and right or up and down). You might argue that it's pointing towards more than two directions but the key point here is that Swastik (Swastika) is pointing towards *opposing* directions *simultaneously* (keywords being "opposing directions" and "simultaneously"). As you can readily observe, it directly related to the simultaneous coexistence of opposites aspect of Ying-Yang and Pravitti-Nivritti. This is a very fundamental concept in almost all eastern philosophies and even western philosophies (Abrahamic religions) have some vestiges of this in things like coexistence of God and Satan and Good and Evil etc. And Swastika signifies this Ying-Yang, Coexistence of opposites and Pravitti-Nivritti philosophy beautifully by it's peculiar geometry!
So this was about the meaning of Swastik (Swastika) in Hinduism with some light thrown on the origin of the symbol and how it applies to some core philosophies around the world. If you'd like to write a comment or ask a question, please feel free to use the comment box below. I'll appreciate any comments and corrections from the knowledgeable readers and will be happy to elaborate more on my understanding of Hinduism and it's core philosophies.
at 8:27 PM