Friday, June 8, 2012

Swastikas - Part 1


In a post with a quote by Buddha a while back I used a picture which showed a swastika on the chest of the statue of the Buddha.  This caused a couple of people to query me on it in conversations, which in turn led me to prepare the material below, although I haven’t gotten around to posting it until now.  Those persons were surprised to hear that the swastika was actually an ancient good luck symbol.  However, just as Hitler stigmatised and effectively made extinct the name Adolf and the toothbrush moustache (see: ), so the swastika has come toi be associated solely with evil, at least in the West.

The following material is not a scholarly research item on the history of the swastika but a look at its varied use.

By the way, not all that long ago when my mother was admitted to Auburn Hospital, I was interested to see a number of patchwork quilts hanging on the foyer walls as decorations.  One in particular was noticeable for its repeated swastika motif:

It makes you wonder: Did the person who made the quilt not realise the that a hated symbol was being depicted?  Did they not realise its emotive associations?  Did the hospital authorities who hung it not see the symbols within the quilt?  Have there been any persons who have brought it to the attention of the hospital?  As Alice said, curiouser and curiouser.

The swastika is a symbol that has been in use for over 3,000 years, being found on artifacts from Troy from as early as 1,000 BC.  It has also been used by cultures around the world, including in China, Japan, India, and southern Europe.  The word “swastika” comes from the Sanskrit word “svastika”, meaning a good luck charm.  It also embodies the meanings of eternity, infinity and the universe.

American pilots used it on their planes when they fought for the French in World War One, it was the symbol for the Ladies Home Journal sponsored Girls' Club and the Boy Scouts. A town in Ontario was named Swastika in 1911 because of a lucky gold strike. During World War I, the swastika could even be found on the shoulder patches of the American 45th Division and on the Finnish air force until after World War II.

Because Germany has banned the use and depiction of swastikas, from 1999 the German police from that year seized all Falun Gong movement posters, banners and materials which showed the Buddha with a swastika, even though the Falun Gong swastika (above) faces the opposite direction from the Nazi swastika.  Notices were served on Falun Gong to remove the depiction of swastikas from its website and that it was intended to prosecute Falun Gong, notwithstanding that ancient statues of Buddhas often show a swastika on the chest or forehead and . Falun Gong texts say a Buddha with one symbol is at the Tathgata level. Buddhas of higher levels have swastikas all over their bodies. Falun Gong appealed and the court upheld their right to use the symbol, finding a clear distinction between Hitler’s swastika and the Falun Gong symbol.  This was upheld on appeal.

Prior to World War 2, the swastika was in common use even in the US:

1907 postcard by E. Phillips, a U.S. card publisher

Arizona State Highway markers all bore the swastika before WWII.
The swastika is widely revered in a large number of Native cultures,
including those of the Navajo and Hopi peoples of Arizona.

Constructed between 1903 and 19905, the Laguna Dam on the Colorado River in the US features extensive use of swastikas.  Their use stems from US officials visiting India becoming acquainted with the depiction of the Hindu God Indra, whose four arms are represented by the four arms of the swastika.  Indra represented thunder, lighting and rain. and had the power to control water.  During its early years the United States Bureau of Reclamation also used the swastika for its symbol. The swastikas on Laguna Dam are a legacy of that period. When impassioned citizens wanted to destroy the swastikas on Laguna Dam during WW2, guards were posted around the clock to protect the site.

When the courthouse in DeKalb County, Illinois, was built in 1904, the swastika was the Native American symbol for peace.  The symbol was widely used in late 19th century and early 20th century courthouses in the US.

Richardson, Nebraska courthouse

Right-facing swastika in Bonneville County Courthouse. Common decorating motif in the late 19th century when the courthouse was built.

In 1925 Coca Cola made a lucky watch fob in the shape of a swastika.

(To be continued).

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