This blog presentation will discuss the symbolism and ideology of the swastika symbol, with reference to the many different applications and religious interpretations of the symbol itself, before the contemporary anti-Semitic meaning. Focus will be placed on the theories surrounding the swastikas Aryan origins, rather than Indo-European origins. However, alternate theories of origin, migration and symbolism will be explored in order to provide a comprehensive application of its migration across the Silk Road. In order to do this, the ideology behind the symbol must be explored, including theories about its origin and original Aryan meaning. Appearances of the symbol will be outlined through archeological discoveries from Central Asia to Europe, where the symbol was taken by the Nazi Party and turned into an international sign of hatred.

The above picture integrates the swastika and the yin-yang symbol. Influences between the two cultures becomes quite clear.

The Symbol

The swastika is an ancient symbol which is highly sacred in Aryan civilization and culture and has been around for thousands of years. Swastika is Sanskrit for ‘it is well’ or ‘so be it’(1). Manji is the term associated with the Buddhist swastika, and is depicted as a ‘whirlwind’, where the four feet symbolize the movement of wind. The Manji consists of a vertical axis and horizontal axis. The vertical is associated with the connection between heaven and earth and the horizontal is associated with the harmonization of yin and yang. The swastika symbol serves as religious ideology, as an occult talisman, meteorology tool and guild emblem(2) and varies greatly in appearance from culture to culture. In Hinduism, the symbol signifies the requirement to pray for success with the guidance of the Almighty. It is also a sign for perfection(3) in the cosmic cyclicality of eternal Cosmic Law (rta). For Hindus the symbol is and remains a symbol for auspiciousness. The hooks on the symbol mark the cyclicality of life and samsara(4). The symbol is most commonly associated with Brahma (the creator), Vishnu (the preserver) and Siva (the destroyer), who together become an icon for celestial life of both humans and animals(5).

The above picture is of the outside of a Buddhist Temple in China, which proudly and prominently displays the swastika.

(1)Goldman, E. Ancient Pagan Symbols. London; G.P. Putnam’s Press, 1929, pg. 95
(2)Heller, S and Roth, J. The Swastika:Symbol Beyond Redemption? New York; Allworth Press, 2000, PG. 4
(3)Elst, K. The Saffron Swastika: The Notion of “Hindu Fascism”. Dehli; Voice of India, 2001, PG 929
(4)Elst.K, PG. 930
(5)Heller and Roth, PG. 6

The most common Buddhist interpretation of the swastika is that it is the footprint of Buddha, referred to as the ‘won’, by the Chinese. They believed that when Buddha walked he left behind swastika footprints which are meant to represent dharma. The hooks on the symbol represent the pegs on the wheel of law(6). The swastika is even present in manji, a Japanese symbol book that dates from the early 20th century(7).Another Buddhist interpretation of the symbol refers to a posture that Buddha takes during meditation, where his arms are crossed over his chest and his legs are both crossed over each other, this posture is known as the ‘swastika posture’. In Japan, the swastika symbolizes Buddha’s heart, which is often present on the chest of Buddha in representations of the iconic figure(8).

(6)Heller and Roth, PG 28
(7)Heller and Roth, pg 22.
(8)Goldsmith, pg. 96

The swastika symbol is also commonly associated with the sun as a meteorological tool and as the monogram of Vishnu and Siva(9). For this reason, scholars often connected this meaning of the swastika to the notion that the Aryans primitively worshipped the sun, despite claiming to be monotheistic(10). Agni is the god of the fire-stick, which is also associated with the swastika, which is believed to represent sacred fire sticks(11). The above image is a depiction of Agni, the Hindu God.
The swastika has a number of related meanings and many variations of the swastika existed by the Late Bronze period. It is believed in several areas to be a symbol for reincarnation and longevity. In Scandinavia, swastikas are the symbol that embodies the god Thor and for Latins it embodied Jupiter, Tonans and Pluvius. The symbol itself is believed to be a representation of the lightning bolt associated with Thor’s Hammer. The symbol has also been linked with the fylfot cross and the Chinese Y(12). The Hebrew letter ‘tau’ also has very similar features as the swastika, which means the sign of life and can also be interpreted to represent fertility(13).

Interpretations such as these seem to have similar ideologies about the symbol. However, in order to discuss the symbols importance further, its origins must be explored so that the swastika and its relation to the Silk Road, and resulting migration can be put into context.

(9)Goldsmith, pg. 96
(10)Mees, , B. The Science of the Swastika. New York; Central European University Press, 2008, pg. 59
(11)Goldsmith, pg. 97
(12)Goldsmith, PG. 41
(13)Heller and Roth, PG. 7

Presence of the Swastika

There are significant gaps in the migration of the swastika symbol after the origin of the symbol in the Indus Valley region. The symbol has appeared in many different places simultaneously, however, it is evident from archeological discoveries that the swastika originated in the Indus River region and migrated via the Silk Road, westward, until it reaches Europe. In general, the symbol of the swastika has been found on pottery and fabrics in India, Persia, China, Italy, Greece and Cyprus. England, France and Etruria had the decorative swastika on bronze ornaments that proclaimed wealth and value. The swastika will become present in Germany and Scandinavia on weaponry and in Ireland and Scotland in the form of celtic crosses. Later in time, the swastika will also become present on burial grounds in Mexico, Peru, Yucatan, Paraguay and America(14).

The following link is a website that lays out the archeological evidence of the presence of the swastika, from pre-history, proto-history, Greece, China, Roma, through the Middle Ages to current depictions;

(14)Goldsmith, pg. 95

The Valley of the Indus River: The believed origin of the swastika symbol because it has been the source of the earliest presence of the symbol. From the Indus River, the symbols migration extends west towards Persia and Asia Minor to Hissarlik and Balchistan(15).

The above picture is of seals found in the Indus River valley. Attention to top right seals.

(15) Heller and Roth, pg. 29

Hissarlik (modern day Turkey): This site touches both Europe and Asia and is the earliest known presence of the swastika symbol. Hissarlik is also the site of Dr. Schliemann’s discoveries of the symbol during his excavations of Homer’s Troy(16). Schliemann had discovered identical symbols in Homer’s Troy to the Hindu swastikas, which become the symbol of occidental Aryan identity(17).

Schliemann will later trace the symbol to archeological sites in Mycenal, Babylonia, Tibet, Greece, Gaza and Asia Minor(18). For this reason, Schliemann made the assumption that the symbol was a religious symbol that linked Germanic civilizations to Teutons, Greeks and Vedic Indians(19). Brown, a fellow archeologist of Schliemann, claimed that the Indo-Europeans first came into contact with the symbol at Hissarlik(20).

Hundreds of objects, from pottery to terra cotta wools, were discovered with the swastika on them, used for decorative purposes. Objects such as these date to 2,000 B.C(21). From the Hissarlik site, it is believed that the swastika migrated westward into Europe, via the Silk Road and migrated into Greece after the Aegean civilization fell.

(16)Heller and Roth, pg. 7
(17)Mees, pg. 59
(18)Heller and Roth, pg. 7
(19)Heller and Roth, pg. 31
(20)Heller and Roth, pg. 31
(21) Heller and Roth, pg. 30

Mohenjo-Dara and Harappa, India; Mohnjo-Dara and Harappa are ancient Indian cities where swastikas were found on decorative seals in 1931. Brown notes that the swastika is the “first civilized remains”, which are believed to date back to 3,000 B.C. Forms of the swastika from these two sites are more primitive and are more “perfectly developed”(22).

Baluchistan, Asia; seals possessing the swastika were found in this site in Central Asia, that date to before the Indo-European arrival into that area, after 2, 000 B.C (23). The above image is of seals found in Asia, displaying the swastika.

(22)Heller and Roth, pg. 30
(23)Heller and Roth, pg. 29

Greece; After the collapse of the Aegean civilization, the swastika appeared on pottery and served a decorative function in Cyprus, Rhodes and Athens. Discoveries of these swastikas occurred in the 17th century(24).

(24)Heller and Roth, pg. 33

Italy; The swastika was found on archaic vases, rugs, fabrics and pottery. In Sicily, the swastika is associated with the “Trinity of Legs”, which became the Sicilian code of arms. The ‘Solomon’s Knots’ in Italy refer to swastikas with lines that do not have a beginning or an end, and are typify divine inscrutability(25). In northern Italy, the symbol was mainly present on funerary urns(26).

(25)Goldman, pg. 99
(26)Heller and Roth, pg. 33

Great Britian and Aquitania; The swastika reference during the Gallico-Roman period is to the sky-god Thor, and is representative of the thunderbolt. Swastikas were discovered on church altars(27).

(27)Heller and Roth, pg. 35

Japan; From the Japanese symbol book, manji (swastika) forms are depicted from the early 20th century. The related picture is of manji, note the variations of the symbol. When the feet of the swastika are pointed left, the symbol represents love and mercy, but when pointed right, it represents strength and intelligence(28).

Gaza, Peria; During the 2nd and 3rd century, the swastika was the cross and symbol for Manichaeism, which was discovered on pottery, church altars and in religious texts.

(28) Heller and Roth, pg. 35

When the Swastika Becomes Complicated

The debate as to whether or not the swastika symbol was an Aryan sign for the bond between Indian and Teutonic (German) civilizations sparked the adoption of the symbol by Hitler and the Nazi Party of Germany. The Nazi Party believed that the symbol was sacred to Aryan culture(29). Although this was not his intent, Dr. Schliemann’s discovery of the swastikas in Homer’s Troy at Hissarlik sparked his interpretation of its uniquely Aryan religious origins. For this reason, Hitler’s Germany used the swastika symbol to represent their anti-Semitic goals(30). Dr. Schliemann’s intentions were not to support the Nazi Party’s goals, as he was not an anti-Semite, but his collaborator Eugene Burnof was a known anti-Semite. Burnof’s writings about the swastika claim that because Jews never adopted the symbol it is, thus, rationalized in anti-Semitic origins.

Despite the negative associations that the swastika symbol has, it is enlightening to highlight the origin of the symbol and to see the pre-historic symbolism that it once possessed. The following link is a fellow thought provoking blog that discusses the swastika ideology in a similar way with an insider perspective. It raises issues as to whether the damage caused to the swastika can be repaired, despite its cruel past;

(29)Heller and Roth PG. 41
(30)Heller and Roth, PG. 43

Work Cited

Elst, K. The Saffron Swastika: The Notion of “Hindu Fascism”. Dehli; Voice of India, 2001.
Goldman, E. Ancient Pagan Symbols. London; G.P. Putnam’s Press, 1929.
Heller, S and Roth, J. The Swastika:Symbol Beyond Redemption? New York; Allworth Press,
Mees, , B. The Science of the Swastika. New York; Central European University Press, 2008.