Saturday, August 15, 2009


The Swastika is an ancient symbol symbolizing eternal life. It is rooted in Hinduism though is probably even more ancient. It is a apiritual and beautiful symbol that reverberates through the shared histories of India, the Byzantine Empires and ancient Rome. It was only relatively recently that it was subverted by Nazis' into a symbol that we identify as hateful and taboo. During the Nazi round up of all non arians, Jews were forced to wear a star of David and Homosexuals a pink triangle to identify themselves. Both are now worn as symbols of pride. In India, the Swastika is not taboo - it means the same to people there as it has for millenia, an ancient and beautiful symbol indicating the passing of time, reincarnation, eternal life. It is my personal goal to not let the Nazi's claim the Swastika. Though it was hard at first in India to see it used so frequently, eventually I became used to it, and now it no longer belongs to the Nazis for me. They stole it, and at least in my heart its back in its rightful place. I know that its a symbol that carries an immense amount of pain and terrible associations for so many people, but if you let it mean that to you, you've let them steal one more thing. Lets bring this symbol into the daylight and make it impossible to be used as a symbol of hatred. 


A kite maker applies shredded glass to the kite strings. Behind him, on the wall, is a painted image of a swastika. 

Inside a temple in Ahmedabad, a man worships Krishna who sits upon a woven scarf depicting a red swastika. 

In Italy I came across the symbol again in ancient buildings. In particular the Mausoleum of Galla Placida and the neighbouring Basilica of San Vitale. The Mausoleum was built around 400 AD and the mosaics are the oldest in Italy. You are not permitted to use flash inside the Mausoleum so it was hard to capture the images I wanted. The 'Great Buildings' website shows off the beautiful mosaics so well so I have used their image below, with mine as close ups.

In the Basilica of San Vitale some of the flooring had been propped up for rennovations and I again caught sight of the swastika motif. 

I know I have so much more to learn.  In Ravenna, though I did not go there (a huge oversight) there is an Arian Bapistry. Arians worshiped Arius, a Christian Priest who maintained that Jesus was not 'of' God - sacrilege in the eyes of the catholic church. I know I am incredibly ignorant on these connections but I am very curious to learn more about the connection between this concept of Arianism, (and by the way..Arian is a very popular name in India), the swastika, and the adoption of both by the Nazi's. I do know that research that has since been debunked claimed that caucasians originated from Northern India. Hitler latched onto that research and hence his interest in some of these Indian concepts nad his adoption of the swastika. In India I had conversations with a couple of people (one a maths teacher) who repeated this fallacy to me, claiming to be of German ancestry because they are from Northern India. It makes my skin crawl to hear it, knowing that racism runs so deep that such people hold onto these notions of the superiority of paler skin and the knowledge that Hitler's legacy continues to breath life into racism around the world. 

You will hear people say that the Indian Swastika is reversed compared to the Nazi one. It makes a nice story - as if this spiritual symbol was subverted and twisted into the reverse of its original meaning. However, the Indian swastika can be drawn in either direction and I always saw it as a clockwise symbol (which is the same as the Nazi one). Of course it is differently styled and the Nazi symbol stands on a point. The cold hard lines of the black on red of the Nazi swastika bespeak to its rigid cold cruel origins, whereas the soft wavy lines of the Hindi symbol feel kinder, and far removed from Nazi Germany.