Swastika, in common culture
When famous Bollywood actor Amir Khan said ‘All is Well’, I was wondering, how come such a beautiful and powerful line was not discovered earlier. Then one day, when I was explaining the symbols on mosques and temples to some college students, I pondered over the name “Swastika”. A little more research and I found that this name is actually three words combined to one. “Su” here means ‘good’ (as in Su-Prabhat, Su-vidha, Su-Kumar etc). “Asti” means ‘to-be’. Along with a diminutive suffix ‘Ka’, it becomes Su-Asti-Ka, which means “It is good” or “All is well”. With time, it became the synonym of good health and wealth. 5000 years ago, during the Indus valley civilization, this symbol was established and widely used. It was a synonym for sun, power, strength and good luck. Many believe, that this symbol is actually the characters of Brahmi Script, written in calligraphic form. While some debate that the symbol used for Swastika is as old as 10,000 BC as it appears on a late Palaeolithic figurine of mammoth ivory in Mezine, Ukraine. However, most of the historians and archaeologists confirmed that it is actually a stylized figure of stork in flight and not a true Swastika symbol. Hence, the honour of oldest use of Swastika is still with the Indus Valley Civilization.
With time, people started migrating from the Indus Valley. They went to lands far-far away and established new colonies. With them, they also took this auspicious symbol of prosperity and luck. It was spread across the globe and became popular with many names. It went to China to be called ‘Wan’, while in England, it became popular with the name of ‘fylfot’. From Ethopia to Ghana, it was called ‘nkotimsefuopua’ and appears at various occasions. Germans started calling it ‘Hakenkreuz’, which also became the official symbol of bath party and was made (un)popular by the third reich, Adolf Hitler. In Greece, it was known as tetraskelion and gammadion. Before Hitler adopted this symbol, it was used by many other armed units. Swastika was the official emblem of Finnish Air Force till 1945. Latvia called it Ugunskrusts and used as the official air force symbol till 1940. The 45th Infantry division of the United States Army used swastika as a unit symbol until 1930s. They even fought Germans wearing the swastika badge in World War I. Swastikas and the similar Greek key symbol appear in decorative features of a number of U.S. federal, state and local government buildings including schools and county courthouses.
Very few people know that the famous brewery group Carlsberg’s first logo was a Swastika, which was discontinued in 1930. Many other companies like KRIT Motor Car Company, Crane Valve Company, Buffum Tool Company, Washington Charcrete Company, Duplex Adding Machine Company and Swastika Flour used it in their logos in past. Famous author Rudyard Kipling was a big fan of Swastika and used it as his personal emblem on the covers and flyleaves of many editions of his books, signifying his affinity with India. Even the theosophical society included it in their logo, along with the famous start of David, the Ankh and Ouroboros. Swastika also appeared on currency notes of Russia in 1917 and on stamps of Britain. The ancient Greek coins were stamped with Swastika symbol. Collectors have identified more than 1,400 different swastika design coins, souvenir or merchant/trade tokens and watch fobs, distributed by mostly local retail and service businesses in the United States.
In 1925, Coca Cola made a lucky watch fob in shape of Swastika. The Waterloo Gasoline Engine Company also made a ‘Good Luck’ token featuring Swastika. Harvard University Library has a 1908 leather watch fob with a brass swastika that was created for the presidential campaign of William Jennings Bryan. America, in 1917, made good luck medals during World War I, bearing a Swastika. The Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C. displays the original propeller spinner from Charles Lindbergh’s aeroplane Spirit of St. Louis, manufactured in early 1927. A swastika, left-pointing, was painted on the inside of the spinner cone along with the names of all the Ryan Aircraft Co. employees that built the aeroplane, presumably as a message of good luck prior to Lindbergh’s solo Atlantic crossing. In Mathematics, the equation (x4 – y4 = xy) creates a curve, which is known as ‘the Swastika Curve’. Swastika even found its space in Chinese and Japanese scripts, where it is an important alphabet.
The “Legion Freies Indien” (Free India Legion) aka “Indian Volunteer Legion Regiment 950” was an Indian military unit raised during World War II in Germany. It was co-founded by Subhash Chandra Bose and became popular by name “Azad Hind Fauj”. It was originally established with intention to confront the British and free India. However, due to outbreak of World War II, it got involved in other battles and the soldiers were killed or captured. The legion did not survive post 1945. Captured soldiers were deported back to India, where they were tried for treason in Delhi. Along with their flag bearing a Tiger and words “Azad” & “Hind”, they proudly carried the Swastika flag during their days in Germany.
While swastika remains a sacred symbol in Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism, it is also popular worldwide. Due to America’s reaction against Germany, its wide use in the Americas was stopped, however, it still is used as a running pattern in architecture and craft. In Asian countries, one can encounter swastika at every step in one or other form.