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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

From Symbol of Peace to Icon of Genocide

From Symbol of Peace to Icon of Genocide

The equilateral cross with the arms bent at a right angle is imprinted on the yellow colored decorated garment, which is spread vertically in between two people. The garment looks like a flag from some ancient Hindu temple and is entirely blocking the view from both directions. The people on both sides of the garment are anxious to see each other. It is not that they have not seen each other prior to the event, but after the garment is pulled down they will establish a new formal relation as father in-law and son in-law. But the Hindu priest is still reciting the mantras, and he has to conclude the chanting, before the garment bearing Swastika can be released.

This was the scene of a Hindu marriage ceremony in the United States of America, at Sri Satya Naryan temple in Middletown, Connecticut. “What are they doing with the garment and why is that symbol there?” a man asked, unfamiliar with the Hindu wedding and probably very much familiar with the Nazis and their atrocities that are often associated with the symbol.

“Such is the tradition,” another elderly man replied, clueless about the Hindu symbol’s other meaning. He was absolutely right from his point of view. The same ceremony is repeated at almost all of the Hindu marriages throughout the world. But the million dollar question still remained hanging, like the garment, unanswered, quite visible in the eyes of the gentleman.

“The Swastika is auspicious and it is associated with well being,” priest Pandit Hari Adhikari commented, taking a break from his chain of mantra. He broke the Sanskrit word into two pieces- Su and Asti, meaning good and being respectively, to establish the implication that the symbol is associated with the well being. Is it always the case?

Those born Hindu have come across Swastika symbols everywhere throughout their lives. In fact, it is one of the symbols that is seen and cherished the most. It is stamped on the Janma Kundali (the Vedic birth chart based on planetary calculation during birth), was on the decorated velvet belt that many Hindo men wear during their wedding, and was on the first gift that many receive from their in-laws.

The big silver and copper pots with Swastika symbols imprinted would be waiting for any visitor or important guest visiting a Hindu or a Buddhist familyForeign diplomats visiting Nepal or India are often surprised by the number of pots with the Swastika imprinted awaiting their arrival.

The Swastika is literally everywhere during especial occasions. The pots, the poles the pavements, you name it, you would see a Swastika symbol, generally in red or in yellow, all over the place. Golden swastika symbols carved neatly on the wall, ceilings and doors of temples are a common sight. The Swastika is so central to Hindu culture that it is difficult to imagine an occasion without its presence and even difficult for a Hindu, Buddhist or Jain to fathom that the symbol it is associated with a lot of hatred on the other side of the world.

Let us explore some information starting by defining the symbol itself. Priest Hari Adhikari in a separate conversation gave me the meaning of the symbol. According to him Hinduism uses both the Swastika facing the right and left equally, with a meaning. The right facing Swastika represents Pravritti which means the evolution of the universe and the left facing Swastika represents Nirvriti involution of the universe..

The word registered as a noun in the Webster’s online dictionary defines Swastika as the official emblem of Nazi Party, and further defines it to be many other different things such as Luck, Fascism, Samara or the Sun and these meanings are listed under a “special definition”. The dictionary accepts the fact that it is a religious symbol not only in Hinduism but in Buddhism and Jainism as well.

The Swastika is associated with enormous amount of pain too. The horror of Hitler’s cruelty and the millions of Jews, gypsies, homosexuals, and communists killed between 1933 and 1945 by the Nazis carrying a flag with the same emblem is another part of the Swastikas legacy. It is understandable that the legislation that came in 1945 respected the sentiment of those who became the victim of Nazis cruelty and banned the symbol. But did we not forget that a symbol has a long history? Isn’t it a fact that Hindus, Jains and Buddhists started using the symbol thousands of years back before it turned into a symbol of hatred for some in the twentieth century?

Many people have different opinions about the bars facing clockwise and anti-clockwise while defining the Swastika. Some think that the Swastika with the bars facing clockwise belongs to Nazis and the bars facing anti clockwise belongs to other religious groups. This is another common misunderstanding. Both the right facing and left facing swastika symbols are used by religious groups. The Hindu God Ganesh, commonly known as an Elephant God, is often portrayed sitting on the bed of Swastika facing both sides, mounted on a lotus flower. The Buddhists carve Swastikason the chest of Buddha and the bars are facing both sides. The truth is, since the right facing Swastika started being associated with Nazism, the Swastika bars were deliberately turned towards the left by Buddhists and Hindus after the twentieth century.

Nazis’ abuse of Swastika, transforming a peaceful symbol into a genocide icon, is beyond logic for many. Germany has unsuccessfully tried to ban the symbol throughout Europe, but is that justifiable? Swastika in various religions Buddhism uses the symbol at the front cover of Buddhist scriptures and Swastika is carved both clockwise and anti- clockwise on the statues of Buddha which represent dharma and universal harmony. Jainism too has tremendous veneration and value for the swastika because it is known to be the symbol of seventh Jina, the saint. The temples and the holy books in Jainism are taken to be incomplete without the symbol. Jain worship and place the offerings specifically on the Swastika. The Bon religion equally venerates the symbol. The symbol is widely accepted to be auspicious in China, Japan, Maldives, Mongolia, Taiwan, Korea, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and many more countries that are influenced either by Jainism Buddhism or Hinduism. Even the Churches built during 12th century influenced by the Roman design have swastika symbols for decoration.