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Youth Forum - Swatika: Auspicious, Not Evil

Amrita Saigal

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The day of "Holiday Tradtions" at my school will be etched in my memory for ever. It was a learning experience that taught me so much in a moment  Holiday Traditions is a day at my high school  when people use displays to share  holiday traditions they practice at home. Our school system has a large Indian population. The Indian American students at our school are very proud of their heritage and are happy to share information about Indian culture. “Holiday Traditions” was a great opportunity for us to bring our culture to school.

My friends and I decided to do a display on Deepavali. We wore beautiful Indian outfits and brought several artifacts to create a display. For the centerpiece, I brought the most auspicious plate in my house. It was a beautiful plate that had many lamps on it. It was very colorful with a large Swastika painted in the center.  I put it right up front on the table and thought it would be the center of attraction. It was the center of attraction …..but not in the way I imagined.

Usually the color and beauty of the Indian table always attracts attention and kids at school at always in awe. I expected today to be no different. Was I in for a surprise.  Soon after the event started, instead of the usual compliments for display, people walked by the table with a slightly shocked look. There was a lot of murmuring going on around our table. I was puzzled and did not understand the matter until a one of my teachers came over to our table and asked me to remove the auspicious plate with the Swastika on it.  Suddenly it hit me as to why so many students had walked passed our table murmuring. They had thought that my friends and I  were Nazi supporters!  I was shocked.

I protested to my teacher saying that the plate I had was an important part of my tradition. It was unfair that I had no right to display my tradition. I explained that the Swastika was an auspicious symbol in Hinduism. My teacher was very sympathetic and said if I could post an explanation of the Swastika and what it means in the Hindu tradition I could keep the plate on display.

One of the main problems was that neither my friends nor I knew the meaning of the Swastika symbol. We, like the rest of the world knew about the negative use of the Swastika by the Nazis rather the original use in our own heritage.  

I did some research and posted a note at the table about the real meaning of Swastika . Once the note was posted, students came back to the table, read the note and were very appreciative of the beautiful symbol.

The word "Swastika" comes from the Sanskrit swastika - "su" meaning "good," "asti" meaning "to be," and "ka" as a suffix. For Hindus, the swastika is a symbol of auspiciousness, prosperity and good fortune. It also represents the sun and the cycle of life. In Loving Ganesha, Satguru Sivaya Subramaniyaswami, founder of Hinduism Today, explains the significance of the swastika to Hindus: "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. This 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). Hindus use the swastika to mark the opening pages of account books, thresholds, doors and offerings. No ceremony or sacrifice is considered complete without it, for it is believed to have the power to ward off misfortune and negative forces." The Swastika also has been used by other cultures including American Indian and ancient Jews as an auspicious symbol.

For me, reading this information brought a new found respect for the Swastika.  I was shocked to note how one man can bring a symbol that has been used as an auspicious symbol for hundreds of years  by many different cultures to have such a negative connotation in just a few short years!

The whole experience made me realize another important thing. Hinduism is full of symbols, which many of us seem to take for granted without bothering to find out exactly what they mean. We all know our shlokas and prayers, but do any of us children and adults know why we are saying what we are saying?

Our symbols are very beautiful and nowadays the fashion industry is taking the symbols to embellish its creations. For example people have taken the symbols of Om and Shri Rama and put them on shoes or clothes because they are pretty to look at. Unfortunately they are doing it without understanding the value and meaning of the symbols. I have seen even Indian Americans teens with “Om” tattooed on their foot.

Our symbols are very much a part of who we are and by allowing people to abuse our symbols, we may loose our own right to its good use. We have a duty to defend our symbols. It is important for all children to understand symbols from their own culture and make sure that they are used in the correct ways.  We must educate ourselves and the people around us about the significance of the various symbols. I hope we succeed in this effort and the Swastika once again emerges as an auspicious symbol rather than the symbol of evil.



(Amrita Saigal is a Senior at Burlington High School. )

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Amrita Saigal With The Prayer Plate That Caused Trouble

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