It was nearing Diwali and my family had started decorating our home here in london a few days ahead of date. My grandparents are strictly against using artificial light bulbs and decorations when it comes to adorning the house for spiritual purposes and prefer traditional “diyas” and “rangolis” instead. So we carefully lit the entire house with diyas and decorated the doorway with a rangoli of the sacred symbol: the swastika. To those of you who don’t know, a rangoli is a colourful design traditionally made using flour, rice grains or coloured chalk. It is placed on the floor near the entrance to a house to welcome guests.
The next day, some builders whom my family had called to extend the left side of the house came by. Approaching our doorway, far from feeling welcomed by the colourful rangoli, they were reluctant to ring the bell, thinking it was a Nazi house; they had obviously noticed the swastika. They were about to leave when they noticed the brown faces lurking inside the supposedly Nazi house and thus, confusedly decided to ring the bell.
The first thing they asked when my mother opened the door was not when they should start work or how much they were going to get paid, but why we were displaying a Nazi symbol near the entrance. My mother had been asked this before and calmly explained to them that it was not a Nazi symbol but an age-old Hindu symbol of good fortune (swasti meaning “well being”). Furthermore, before it became an anathema in Europe, the symbol had been widely used as a symbol of peace, laughter, joy and good luck by many other different cultures and civilisations across the world, all the way from China to the Americas and from Europe to Africa. The builders were indeed shocked to learn this.
The question naturally arises as to how this ancient sacred symbol had the misfortune to become associated with Nazism? As it turns out, the Swastika, or rather the Hakenkreuz (mean hooked cross in German) had been a prevalent symbol in Europe in the pre-Christian era. It retained a marginal presence all through the Christian centuries. In Germany and Austria, the Halenkreuz became associated with the völkish (national-populist) subculture, from the 1870s onwards. By Hitler’s time, the Hakenkreuz had acquired various connotations ranging from harmlessly folkloristic to a more sinister association with the wave of racialist and anti-Semitic thinking that was sweeping Europe at the time. It was through this latter association that the symbol was understood by the budding Nazional Socialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei (NSDAP), National Socialist German Workers’ Party.
The adoption of the Hakenkreuz as the party symbol of the NSDAP took place at the initiative of the dentist Fredrich Krohn. Its adoption was by no means guided by the spiritual and metaphysical profundities that Hindus or the other cultures understood by it. Rather it was seen as a symbol of the Nordic race. And when Hitler started to meddle with it, his preference was for the rhetoric of conquest rather than for any mystical or spiritual significance. He redesigned the symbol, adopting the tri-colour black, red and white from the Second Reich’s flag designed by its Chancellor Otto von Bismarck. Hitler’s main concern was for a striking symbol to rival the Communist hammer and sickle, as a weapon in psychological warfare.
Even after being defeated, the Nazis have held the symbol hostage for more than 50 years, having misappropriated and contaminated its meaning. But the swastika had a long life before Hitler and the Nazis. Along with Hindus, the Swastika is an important symbol for many cultures, being intrinsically associated with their history and beliefs. It has been for centuries a symbol of peace, laughter, joy and good luck.
Leaving the swastika in Nazi hands would be the worst disservice we can do to all the civilizations that are spiritually connected with it and as such it would be wise of us to ignore Hitler’s experiment with visual design and proudly carry the swastika or at least not be frightened by it. But obviously its continual media association to ideas of “Master Race” as propagated by the neo-Nazi “skinheads” and Christian “Identity” Church / Movements such as the Ku Klux Klan and its various offshoots don’t help in this regard.
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