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How to salvage the true significance of our ancient Swastika

Diwali 2022 came against the backdrop of the banning of Hakenkreuz in Victoria and New South Wales through their respective Nazi Symbol Prohibition Bills.

By Avinash V. Karpe, Rohini V. Kadam and Rohitash Chandra

While Diwali of 2022 comes to an end for the Hindu community worldwide, it seems to get grander every year in Australia. However, what was different this year, was that it came against the backdrop of the banning of the Hakenkreuz in Victoria through Summary Offences Amendment (Nazi Symbol Prohibition) Bill 2022. This was followed by New South Wales enacting similar legislation. More importantly, these laws recognised that the Swastika is culturally significant to Buddhist, Hindu, Jain and other faith communities.

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Figure 1. Screenshot of State of Victoria’s Summary Offences Amendment (Nazi Symbol Prohibition) Bill 2022.

Other states such as Queensland, Western Australia, and Tasmania have now indicated their intention to follow the suit.  Furthermore, Victoria has also indicated that it will initiate an educational campaign to raise Swastik’s origin and its significance. 

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However, as I coordinated with ABC’s Melbourne team over this fortnight to organise the story of Swastika’s importance in Diwali rituals and in the temples, I had some worrying observations,

  • How did Swastika got misappropriated by Hakenkreuz in the first place? Who were the people responsible?
  • Despite the public documentation available on this since the 1940s, why did academic historians in Australia and beyond, allow this to get amplified, rather than course correction (to teach the right history to students) over the decades?
  • Why have Hindus, Buddhists and other cultures to whom Swastika belongs, failed to educate the general Australian public regarding this over several decades?

Origin of Swastika

A lot has been written about the origin of Swastik (Root: Su = Well or good + Ás = Being), so I will try to keep it to a minimum here. In Hindu culture, the earliest mention of Swastik comes from Vedic literature, considered to be the oldest literary creations in existence. Of these Chapter 1.89.1 is very famous as Shánti path mantrá (Meaning: Peace Lesson Mantrá), as indicated below.

स्वस्ति न इन्द्रो वृद्धश्रवाः | स्वस्ति नः पूषा विश्ववेदाः|| Swasti Na Indro Vriddhashraváh | Swasti Ná Pooshá Vishwa-Vedáh | May the glorious and successful Indra bless us. Pushan, omniscient and nourisher of all, bless us. स्वस्ति नस्ताक्षर्यो अरिष्टनेमिः | स्वस्ति नो ब्रुहस्पतिर्दधातु || Swasti Nah táksharyah Arishtanemih | Swasti Nah Brihaspatih dadhátu | May the Tarksha/Surya/Arun/Garuda whose chariot wheel continues uninterruptedly bless us. May Brihaspati also bless us by endowing us with knowledge

Many Hindus recite this mantrá during the worship of Ganeshá, Vishnu, Laxmi, Shivá and many more. Furthermore, an entire Chapter 10.63 of Rigved deals with the importance of Swastik.

But, how old is Swastika? While most Western Indologists indicate Vedás to be dated at least to 1,500 BCE in written form. However, some of the most recent hydrology and astronomy-based studies have shown that the oral tradition of Vedas goes as back to a minimum of 7,000 BCE to 23,000 BCE, respectively. Another important text is the Ramayana, historical text which has been written about 500 BCE ago, but the storyline is claimed by some researchers to have taken place as early as 12,000 BCE. In Ramayana’s Sunder Kánd (5.4.7), it is indicated that – 

प्रजज्वाल तदा लन्का रक्षः गण गृहैः शुभैः || सित अभ्र सदृशैः चित्रैः पद्म स्वस्तिक संस्थितैः | वर्धमान गृहैः च अपि सर्वतः सुविभाषितैः || ५-४-७ Then that city of Lanka shone brilliantly, being well decorated by the houses of Rakshasas. These were modern houses which equaled white clouds, which were surprising with the shape of lotus and Swastika, and which were auspicious. 

Based on these 2 sources, we can safely say that Swastik indeed is an ancient symbol and represents positive values in society and culture. A recent Coalition of Hindus in North America (CoHNA) article provides an excellent historical, cultural, and global significance of Swastik, from Buddhists, Jains, and even the Native Americans. 

What went wrong? Where did the whole misappropriation begin?

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When Adolf Hitler came to power in the mid-1930s, he adopted the symbol of Hakenkreuz as the symbol of the Nazi party. Robert Payne, one of the prominent biographers of Hitler indicated that Hitler was inspired by the Hakenkreuz symbols on the walls of the Benedictine Monastery when he was a young boy at the monastery. While writing his autobiography, Mein Kampf, Hitler indicates the significance of Hakenkreuz in a dedicated chapter. 

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Figure 2. Screenshot of Die nationalsozialistische Flagge (The National Socialist flag) chapter of Mein Kampf (Left),with E.T.S Dugdale’s (Right), and James Murphy’s (Bottom) translations.

In fact, the word “Swastik/ Swastika” is not mentioned anywhere in the original German version of the book. As Figure 3 shows, the earliest English translation of Mein Kampf, written by E.T.S Dugdale in 1933 mentions Hakenkreuz as Hooked Cross and not Swastik/Swastika. Considering that Hitler supported the British colonization of India, it is extremely unlikely that he would take the symbols of (in his own words)“an inferior race” and put in his “superior Aryan race’s” representational symbols!

However, the mistranslation first happened through a later translation of 1939, of Irish Catholic Priest, James V Murphy (Figure 2, Bottom). By this time, due to the atrocities of the Nazis on the German Jewish community, the Catholic church, which was very supportive of the Nazi movement, started abandoning them in light of significant political pressure from the Anglosphere. Perhaps due to this, Hakenkreuz was falsely equated to Swastik. Under the circumstances, that would not have been surprising. However, one of the surprising things is how the academicians post-1940s have tended to incorrectly picturise the Swastik as Hakenkreuz.

A simple search in Google Scholar indicates this tendency (Figure 3).

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Figure 3. Top 10 links that come up in a Google Scholar search for the word Swastik. Except for Thomas Wilson’s work in 1896, almost every search turns up relating to Nazi Germany. 

But, why would academicians do this to the sacred Swastik? Even Professor Max Mueller in 1880, had indicated his fears regarding such a thing happening. As a result of this, decades’ worth of generations have been provided with an incorrect education of history. Whatever the reasons were for such a motivation for the academicians, it is necessary that the current and upcoming academicians do not repeat the same mistakes as the past academicians have committed. 

As a starter, current scholarships provide ample opportunities for the academia to course correct. For example, as a part of the Summary Offences Amendment (Nazi Symbol Prohibition) Bill 2022, the Victorian government has indicated that it plans to initiate a campaign to teach the general public about the importance of Swastik through various educational programs.

Significance

Swastik is one of the oldest symbols of human history, and its significance amongst various cultures is known. However, following the Jewish holocaust, for several reasons, it has been mislabelled as Hakenkreuz despite the word “Swastik/Swastika” never being mentioned in the original Mein Kampf. Following its first mislabelling in 1939’s translation, generations of students in universities and schools have been taught incorrect history. As several governments across the world now ban Hakenkreuz and distinguish it from sacred Swastik, it is the responsibility of academics to course correct, and educate the current and future generations on the global significance of this symbol.

Timeliness

Diwali 2022 came against the backdrop of the banning of Hakenkreuz in Victoria and New South Wales through their respective Nazi Symbol Prohibition Bills. We present Swastik’s context in light of Victoria and New South Wales banning the Hakenkreuz symbol and differentiating it from the sacred Swastik symbol of Hindus, Buddhists and other global communities.

This issue has been particularly highlighted as a part of the recent Diwali celebration by ABC and SBS, to educate the Australian public about the sacred symbol. As a part of the proposed education campaign announced by the Victorian government, starting January 2023, this article elaborates towards the responsibilities of academia to educate about the relevance of Swastik in cultural aspects of different communities.

This article predominantly targets the academia to course correct the incorrect education of the previous seven decades so that the upcoming generations do not remain misguided about further sacred symbols such as that of Swastik. 

Contributing Authors: Dr Avinash V. Karpe is a post-doctoral researcher at the Swinburne University of Technology, and a member of social organizations SETU and the Australian Hindu Association. Dr Rohini Kadam is a researcher at the School of Engineering, Swinburne University of Technology, and a member of social organizations SETU and the Australian Hindu Association. Dr Rohitash Chandra is a Senior Lecturer in Data Science at the UNSW School of Mathematics and Statistics.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The Australia Today is not responsible for the accuracy, completeness, suitability, or validity of any information in this article. All information is provided on an as-is basis. The information, facts, or opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of The Australia Today and The Australia Today News does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.

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