The Swastika
Symbol of Auspiciousness

From Loving Ganesa
by Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami
Himalayan Academy, 1996

For Hindus, the swastika is a lucky cross associated with the good fortunes given by Lord Ganesha. It also represents the sun and the cycle of life. This ancient benevolent symbol is used today by housewives to guard thresholds and doors, by priests to sanctify ceremonies and offerings and by businessmen to bless the opening pages of account books each New Year's day. No ceremony or sacrifice is considered complete without it, for it is believed to have the power to ward off misfortune and negative forces. A series of small swastikas is a favorite border pattern for textiles. In Maharashtra, the rainy season is especially devoted to its honor, when it is drawn on the floor in elaborate patterns using colorful powders and flower petals.

It is said that the swastika's right-angled arms reflect the fact that the path toward our objectives is often not straight, but takes unexpected turns. They denote also the indirect way in which Divinity is reached through intuition and not by intellect. Symbolically, the swastika's cross is said to represent God and creation. The four bent arms stand for the four human aims, called purushartha: righteousness, dharma; wealth, artha; love, kama; and liberation, moksha. Thus it is a potent emblem of Sanatana Dharma, the eternal truth. It also represents the world wheel, eternally changing around a fixed center, God. The swastika is regarded as a symbol of the muladhara chakra, the center of consciousness at the base of the spine, and in some yoga schools with the manipura chakra at the navel, the center of the microcosmic sun (surya).

Found Throughout Earth's Cultures

The swastika is a sacred sign of prosperity and auspiciousness, perhaps the single most common emblem in earth cultures. As the Encyclopedia Britannica explains, "It was a favorite symbol on ancient Mesopotamian coinage; it appeared in early Christian and Byzantine art (where it became known as the gammadion cross because its arms resemble the Greek letter gamma); and it occurred in South and Central America (among the Mayans) and in North America (principally among the Navajos). In India it continues to be the most widely used auspicious symbol of Hindus, Jainas and Buddhists."

When Buddhism emerged from India's spiritual wellspring, it inherited the right-angled emblem. Carried by monks, the good-luck design journeyed north over the Himalayas into China, often carved in statues into Buddha's feet and splayed into a spectrum of decorative meandering or interconnecting swastikas. On the other side ofthe planet, American Indians inscribed the spoked sign of good luck into salmon-colored seashells, healing sticks, pottery, woven garments and blankets. Two thousand miles south, the Mayans of the Yucatan chiseled it into temple diagrams. Once moored to the ancient highiand cultures of Asia Minor, the emblem later voyaged around the Mediterranean, through Egypt and Greece, northward into Saxon lands, Scandinavia and west to Scotland and Ireland.

Nineteenth-century Americans picked up the symbol from the American Indians. Boy Scouts wore brassy swastika belt buckles, and a US World's Fair early this century minted flashy swastika commemorative coins. In the 1920s and early 30s the swastika was the emblem of the United States' 4th Infantry Division, proudly worn by soldiers on their left shoulder as an ancient good luck symbol, in yellow on a square red background.

Tracking the Swastika's Left and Right Forms

The swastika has throughout history mutated into a wide diversity of forms and meanings, but in its Hindu usage the right-hand swastika is far more prevalent and ancient than its left-hand counterpart.

Next to the Indus seal, the oldest Indian swastika motif appears abundantly on the early Buddhist sculptures, a period when Buddha was not depicted in human form—only his foot prints surrounded by dozens of right-hand swastikas. Similarly, the Jain emblem for their seventh TirthaMkara (path finder) is the symbol of the sun, the right-facing swastika. In Malaysia, the Sikh shrines all have right-hand swastikas as mystical ornamentation.

In some sources, neither swastika was assigned a negative connotation: the right-hand was a spring solar, male symbol, the left was an autumn solar, female icon. As the tantric sciences of Shaivism and Shaktism bifurcated into a left-hand and right-hand path the vama and dakshina the swastika may have followed into black or white mysticism and magic.

The Right-Hand Swastika

The swastika is an emblem of geometric perfection. In the mind's eye, it can be stable and still or whirl in perpetual motion, its arms rotating one after another like a cosmic pinwheel. It is unknown why and how the term swastika, "it is good," was wedded to this most ancient and pervasive of symbols. Most authorities designate the right-hand swastika as a solar emblem, capturing the sun's path from east to west, a clockwise motion. One theory says it represents the outward dispersion of the universe. One of its finest meanings is that transcendent reality is not attained directly through the logic of the mind, but indirectly and mysteriously through the intuitive, cosmic mind. Though Hindus use the swastika straight up and down, other cultures rotated it at various angles.

The Left-Handed Swastika

The left-hand swastika appears in many cultures, including Hindu. It often is used interchangeably with the right hand version, though the majority of Hindus employ the right-facing form. One school sees this swastika as that which rotates clockwise because a wind blowing across its face would catch the arms and rotate it to the right. But this is an unusual interpretation. Most see it as rotating anti-clockwise as the arms point as such. Some say this form signifies the universe imploding back into its essence. It has been associated with the vama, left-handed, mystic path that employs sensual indulgence and powerful Shakta rites, with night, with the Goddess, Kali, and magical practices. Another interpretation is that it represents the autumn solar route, a time of dormancy.

The Swastika After Hitler

Because of its association with the Third Reich, the swastika was and still is feared by many inside and outside of Germany, still held in contempt and misunderstanding, which itself is understandable though unfortunate. Now is a time for this to change, for a return to this solar symbol's pure and happy beginnings. Ironically, even now Hindus managing temples in Germany innocently display on walls and entryways the swastika, symbol of Lord Ganesha and hated insignia of Nazism, alongside the shadkona, six-pointed star, symbol of Lord Ksrttikeya and Star of David, cherished emblem of Judaism.

The Swastika and the Chakras

From a mystically occult point of view, the swastika is a type of yantra, a psychic diagram representing the four-petalled muladhara chakra located at the base of the spine within everyone. The chakras are nerve plexuses or centers of force and consciousness located within the inner bodies of man. In the physical body there are corresponding nerve plexuses, ganglia and glands. The seven principal chakras can be seen psychically as colorful, multi-petalled wheels or lotuses situated along the spinal cord. The seven lower chakras, barely visible, exist below the spine. The following is a list of the fourteen chakras, their main attributes and location in the body.

 

CHAKRAS ABOVE THE BASE OF THE SPINE
14 sahasrara crown of head illumination
13 ajna third eye divine sight
12 visuddha throat divine love
11 anahata heart center direct cognition
10 manipura solar plexus willpower
9 svadhishthana navel reason
8 muladhara base of spine memory/time/space
CHAKRAS BELOW THE BASE OF THE SPINE
7 atala hips fear and lust
6 vitala thighs raging anger
5 sutala knees retaliatory jealousy
4 talatala calves prolonged confusion
3 rasatala ankles selfishness
2 mahatala feet absence of conscience
1 patala soles of feet malice and murder

 

Meditating on the right-facing swastika, visualized as spinning clockwise, is a key to ascending to the seven higher chakras, which likewise spin clockwise. Meditating on the left-facing swastika, spinning counterclockwise, takes consciousness into the seven lower chakras, which spin counterclockwise.

Our loving Ganesha, sitting on the muladhara chakra, signified by the swastika, is "there for us" throughout our evolution from one set of four chakras to the next until all seven of the highest are functioning properly. He and His brother, Lord Murugan, work closely together to bring us all to Lord Shiva's feet, into His heart, until jiva becomes Shiva.

 

 

1