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The Tribune - Sunday Reading
Sunday, May 23, 1999

The mystique of Swastika

By Shiv Darshanlal Sharma

A SURVEY of literature reveals that the Swastika symbol is generally referred to as the gamma-like cross by western scholars because it can be resolved into four gammas joined at right angles. It is perhaps one of the most ancient symbols associated with the sun. The most ancient Swastikas have been discovered in Susa in Persia, Mohenjodaro and Harappa in Pakistan and Sammarra in Mesopotamia. It has been seen on terracotta articles as well as ancient vases of Greece, Cyprus, Crete and Rhodes. On an Athenian vase it appears thrice. On a vase now at Vienna it is depicted as an ornament on the breast of Apollo. It was a favourite symbol on the coins of ancient Greece and India. Swastika is also found engraved on funeral urns which have been dug up in northern Italy.

It is found as a religious and ornamental symbol in ancient Egypt. The excavations undertaken recently by the Turkish Government at Aladja-Hoyuk uncovered the so-called standards made out of Swastika symbols. These metallic articles were buried along with corpses during the 22nd century B.C. Probably these were kept there to ensure the safety and wellbeing of the deceased. In Lycaonia, on a Hittite monument, it appears as an ornament on the border of the robe of a person engaged in offering sacrifice. In the designs on jars excavated in Cappadocia, spirals, Swastikas and Crosses are found. All these vases belong to the Hittite age, about 2200-1200 B.C. Swastika, called as Œflyfot, was a popular artistic and sacred symbol throughout the Teutonic age in Europe. It appeared on jewels and weapons, not only of Gallic, but also of German and Scandanavian people. When placed beside a human head, it represented God. In company with the thunderbolt and the wheel it is seen inscribed on the altars of the Gallic-Roman period. It is regarded as the sacred symbol in Roman England. It adorned the floor of the thresholds of the famous Roman villa excavated at Lullingstone in Britain.
Swastika is marked on a number of early Christian tombs. It was an archaic custom to mark the tombs with this symbol or to place vases with Swastika symbols in tombs. It was performed to ensure the safety of the departed soul or to fend off demonic spirits. Subsequently, the Swastika was replaced by the Cross. Swastika has been discovered at several locations in the New World. It was considered as an auspicious sign by some of the original inhabitants of America. Swastika is found in monumental remains of the primitive Mexicans and Peruvians and on objects exhumed from prehistoric burial mounds within the limits of the USA.
It was revived by Hitler when he made it the national emblem of Nazi Germany. He believed that this ancient Aryan sign brought prosperity and victory. It has been the sacred symbol of the Buddhists and the Jains. It bears the name of Swastika when the limbs are bent towards the right, and Suavastika when they are turned to the left. It is believed that the first represents Lord Ganesha, while the second represents goddess Kali. According to the other school of thought, the first stands for the sun, for light and life; the second stands for night and destruction. Indians inscribe it on the opening page of their account books. In ceremonies associated with marriages, mundan, the worship of luxmi etc the Swastika is worshipped as the symbol of Ganesha. It is marked along with the sign of Navagrahas.
Swastika is one of the eight types of yogic seats mentioned in the Vayaviya-samhita of the Shiv Purana. The discovery of Swastika in almost all parts of the globe has given rise to so many interpretations.
Certain authorities believe that Ganesha on his Vahana, the rat, symbolised a sun-god, overcoming the animals. Which, in archaic mythology was a sign of night. The cult of sun worship is probably the most primitive one. The sun brings joy, light and life for mankind. People belonging to the Indus Valley civilisation believed in sun worshipping, which is evident from the discovery of a number of signs and symbols associated with the sun. These signs are found on several so-called punch marked coins that have been excavated from many places in India. These are called Vishnu Chakras. Vishnus incarnations are said to have killed their enemies by using these chakras. Krishnas Sudarshan Chakra can be referred to in this connection. Like Indra, Vishnu is said to have subdued serpents. Krishna defeated Kalinaga while Vishnu is depicted as reclining on Sesnaga, who has one thousand hoods.
According to Vayu Purana, "the lord of serpents, who lives on the Devakuta mountain, has one hundred hoods and is marked with the Chakras (Swastika) of Vishnu." According to the same source, Brahma was practicing severe penance, as a result of which sweat came from his body which gave rise to the serpent world, which had marks of Swastika on them. It is interesting to note that on prehistoric bowls found at Sammarra, serpents are shown as moving around the sun. Being a symbol of the sun, the chakra represents life and movement, which transform the dwarf into the giant or the microcosm into macrocosm or again the centre into its diameter.
Aladja-Hoyuk, which is identified with the Hittite city Ariana, was the seat of the cult of sun god. The Buddhists inherited reverence of Swastika from the belief that Lord Buddha is the incarnation of Vishnu, and carried it to Tibet, China, Japan and Korea. Swastika is found on the images of the lord. It is seen on the footprint of Lord Buddha. In China, swastika found a place among written characters, where it contains the notion of abundance, prosperity and long life. In Japan, it represents the number 10,000. The Chinese empress Wu (684-704 A.D.) decreed that it should be used as sign for the sun.. The seal of the Harappan period shows a man carrying a manger with propitiatory offering for a tiger standing in front of him. On the reverse the same inscription is repeated, besides a row of five Swastikas as auspicious symbols signifying security and good luck.
According to K.N. Shastri, the sealing was obviously an amulet against possible dangers arising from the depredations of tigers. Ideas and beliefs migrate with traders, soldiers and migrants. The ancient western Asia had trade relations with the people of the Indus. Valley. It is evident from the discovery of Indus Valley seals in Mesopotamia at the level dating between 2300 and 2000 B.C. Some particular seals found in Crete proved to be of exactly of the same material as those found in the Indus Valley. The figures of animals and birds with fish in their beaks appearing on vases found from the tombs in Sammarra (dating 4000 B.C.) are significantly similar to that painted on potteries found from tombs in Harappa.
The pipal tree (Ficus religiosa) was regarded as sacred both in Harappa and Elam (It may be due to the fact that this is the only plant in the plant kingdom which releases more amount of oxygen day and night, than any other plant). These instances prove that Palestine, Elam and Harappa had close trade and cultural relations. The appearance of the Swastika on vases belonging to this period proves that the symbol of Swastika was travelling from one place to other along with the normal merchandise.
The Swastika was a very popular symbol in ancient Turkey, where it was frequently applied by the smiths of Anatolia. It is interesting to note that two kinds of Swastikas, one revolving to the right and other to the left have been excavated from a tomb in Aladja-Hoyuk. These could be interpreted as the rising and setting the sun. The Swastika is found on the megalithic pottery from Kunnatur, Coorg and Coimbatore. It has also been traced on a red ware belonging to the Chalcolithic phase on the site of Rangpur. These instances prove that the sacredness of the Swastika was the most primitive belief in India. It seems that the people of the Indus Valley, who inherited this symbol, believed in sun worship and spread this cult to Elam. Mesopotamia and Asia Minor or the people of these countries got it from Indians migrants even before the prosperous settlements of the Indus Valley came into being. A scene of Swastika worship is found in the rock paintings of Paria Bari. It is mentioned in the Puranas that the masses worshipped the solar deity in its symbolic forms of disc, wheel, lotus and Swastika.
The discovery of the Swastika in the New World should not be explained away by the so-called theory of independent origin. It may have been carried to the New World by Asian Traders in the most archaic times. Some historians claim that long before the voyage undertaken by Columbus, America was discovered by the Phoenicians, and the Chinese. The discovery of images, said to be of the Lord Buddha, in America is really a significant event. ( http://www.tribuneindia.com/99may23/Sunday/head1.htm )