The Hindu priest who conducted the “Graha Pravesh” rituals for our new home in 2005 in New York politely refused to draw the Swastika on the threshold of my front door. The ceremony was incomplete without the ubiquitous and revered symbol in one of the oldest living traditions in India, an ancient Hindu symbol of good fortune and well being.
“Yahan log galat samajhenge”. People here will misinterpret, the priest had said. And they did.
Gov Andrew Cuomo announced a reward based plan of action designed to combat hate crimes across the state of New York. Anyone can text “hate” to 81336 and the state police will spring into action. My state senators and assemblymen rightfully and proudly shared the news on their websites and social media pages; using images of anti-Semitic swastika graffiti as examples of hate crimes with the caption “Swastikas, ‘get out’ spray-painted”.
Nazis stole my beloved Swastika.
Then they geometrically skewed it, inextricably linked it to the worst atrocities mankind has ever seen, then they passed in on to generations of haters. For now, for most people in the west, the swastika is a symbol of hate.
For Indians and many other ancient cultures like the Vikings, Greek, Buddhists it has meant a symbol of prosperity and all things auspicious. Back home in India, every Hindu ritual and religious ceremony begins with the placing of a right handed, dotted swastika symbol. The walls of a traditional Hindu home are adorned with these Swastikas, each one a witness to the joys the family has seen over the years.
There is a swastika for every jubilation, as small as the purchase of a new mixer grinder or as huge as the birth of a child. A new bride will draw one as she enters her new home, a daughter will draw it on her dad’s new car, a father will draw one on papers of a land deal, and on every festival, a mother will refresh the paint on her beloved Swastika on her front door.
While the Jewish rightly see it as a symbol of fear, suppression, and extermination, for the Hindus it symbolizes jubilance, prosperity, and auspicious life events. Will these two ends ever reconcile?
The trench in between is full of grim, morbid life stories of Holocaust survivors. God knows I cannot even begin to imagine the despair of their traumatic history that manifests into the deep seeded hate for this symbol. While I go down on my knees to pay my respect to them, I also want to tell them as well as the peace loving west that it’s just an evil namesake, it’s not my swastika.
Will you listen to my story?
Researchers and activists around the world have tried to reclaim the swastika by examining the symbol’s ancient significance and pre-Nazi history. Many have tried to detach the symbol from its Nazi links and rightfully restore it as a time-honored symbol that predates script, not just scriptures. The Hindu Vedas where the word ‘swasti” or well-being was first heard were initially not written, but composed and remembered and preserved by Hindu Brahmans orally through their generations. A few centuries later, these scriptures were written in Sanskrit. The Nazi adoption of it is based on a mistaken interpretation of ancient Indian texts.It stems from the 19th-century German scholars translating old Indian texts, who noticed similarities between their own language and Sanskrit. They concluded that Indians and Germans must have had a shared ancestry and imagined a race of white God like invincible warriors called Aryans. The idea was seized upon by anti-Semitic nationalist groups who appropriated the swastika as an Aryan symbol to boost a sense of ancient German lineage.
The black straight armed hooked cross (Hakenkreuz) on the white distinctive circle with a red background would become the most hated symbol in the 20th century. This left handed, an anticlockwise swastika is destructive in its very structure. In their narcissistic, dire ignorance, the Nazis overlooked renaming this new symbol.
My swastika when translated from its Sanskrit root of “su” meaning good/well and “asti” meaning to be, means “for well being”. It is mostly red, always right handed with a small dot in each of the four squares. It offers a shield against the four elements and signifies the 4 dharmas -austerity, purity, compassion and honesty. It is also a symbol of the Lord Ganesha and the sun.
It tears me inside to see a symbol of life, well-being and eternity considered sacred for thousands of years was decimated by one man. Just as we would never see another human fondly name their newborn Hitler, the West would never see a Hindu household fondly adorned with their right-handed dotted Swastika. With a lump in my throat, I have made peace with this.
However much I believe in these causes, my purpose behind writing this piece is not to kick off a pro-Hindu or pro-Semitic or anti-fascist campaign on social media. It is simply to re-introduce a lesser known, ancient, much-loved namesake.
And in the process, if it can discourage one, just one fascist from spray painting an anti-Semitic swastika graffiti because he now knows it’s namesake is a beautiful, much loved, fortune seeking symbol somewhere in the world, my work here would have been done, and then some.