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Definition: swastika
(Sanskrit svastika, "all is well") Ancient symbol of good fortune and well-being, with a variety of uses and meanings in Hinduism, Buddhism and many other faiths.

The swastika (Sanskrit svastika) is a cross with four arms of equal length, with the ends of each arm bent at a right angle. Sometimes the crossing lines are horizontal and vertical and other times they are an angle, forming a central "X" shape. Often dots are added between each arm (e.g. the swastika rangoli).

Its name comes the Sanskrit word svasti (sv = well; asti = is), meaning good fortune, luck and well-being. This original meaning of the swastika is a far cry from Western associations of the symbol, which are largely negative.

The swastika is an ancient symbol that has been found worldwide, but it is especially common in India. It can be seen in the art of the Egyptians, Romans, Greeks, Celts, Native Americans, and Persians as well Hindus, Jains and Buddhists.

Swastikas are most commonly used as charms to bring good fortune (in which case the arms are bent clockwise), but they have a variety of religious meanings as well.

Hindu Swastika

The right-hand swastika is one of the 108 symbols of the Hindu god Vishnu as well as a symbol of the sun and of the Hindu sun god, Surya. The symbol imitates, in the rotation of its arms, the course taken daily by the sun, which appears in the Northern Hemisphere to pass from east, then south, to west. It is also a symbol of the sun among Native Americans.

In Hinduism, the right-hand (clockwise) swastika is a symbol of the sun and the god Vishnu, while the left-hand (counterclockwise, called sauvastika) swastika represents the goddess Kali, night, and magic.

The auspicious symbol of the swastika is very commonly used in Hindu art, architecture and decoration. It can be seen on temples, houses, doorways, clothing, cars, and even cakes. It is usually a major part of the decoration for festivals and special ceremonies like weddings.

Buddhist Swastika

In Buddhism, the swastika is almost always clockwise. It signifies auspiciousness and good fortune as well as the Buddha's footprints and the Buddha's heart. The swastika is said to contain the whole mind of the Buddha and can often be found imprinted on the chest, feet or palms of Buddha images. It is also the first of the 65 auspicious symbols on the footprint of the Buddha. The swastika has also often been used to mark the beginning of Buddhist texts. In China and Japan, the Buddhist swastika was seen as a symbol of plurality, eternity, abundance, prosperity and long life.

The swastika is used as an auspicious mark on Buddhist temples and is especially common in Korea. It can often be seen on the decorative borders around paintings, altar cloths and banners. In Tibetan Buddhism, it is also used as a clothing decoration.

Nazi Swastika

The Nazis adopted the swastika as an emblem because it was understood as an Aryan symbol indicating racial purity and superiority. (The Nazis propogated a historical theory in which the early Aryans of India were white invaders.)

There may also be a connection with the swastika's magical connections, for Hitler and other Nazi leaders were keenly interested in the occult. The swastika adopted by the Nazis is counterclockwise.


    - John Bowker, ed., Oxford Concise Dictionary of World Religions (2000). - "swastika." Encyclopædia Britannica (2007). Encyclopædia Britannica Online. - Swastika - Wikipedia (January 2007)


    - "Swastika." Damien Keown, A Dictionary of Buddhism (Oxford UP, 2003), 287.

    • "General Buddhist Symbols: Swastika." A View on Buddhism Accessed March 2005.
    • Meher McArthur, Reading Buddhist Art: An Illustrated Guide to Buddhist Signs and Symbols (Thames & Hudson, 2004), 50.