Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Eye Of The Beholder





I wonder what your first reaction was to seeing this symbol on my blog. When I first arrived in India I was shocked when I saw my first swastika. I could tell it was different than the one I had seen in movies and history books, the one that meant evil and hatred and danger, the one that marked everything it touched as repugnant. The angle was different (although I didn't realize that until Number One Son pointed it out), the black field was gone and the block-ish shape had been replaced with an artistic flair. I knew that if it graced homes and cars and store front signs that it had to mean something else here, in this land that was so new to me. Despite the fact that my logical brain picked up on all of these things, my stomach still turned every time I saw it. My eye would slide around it, as if not looking directly at it would make me feel better about it.

When we got the van that we would be driving for the next few years, some kind soul decorated it for us. In India, buying a new car is something to celebrate. You bring sweets to your friends and co-workers and you decorate your car. On the hood there was a beautiful red ribbon (sorry, no bow) and right there, front and center, was a bright red swastika. For weeks as we drove around the city I felt like ducking so that no one would see me in the swastika car.

This isn't something you can ignore for long in India. It is everywhere. Clothing, wrapping paper, even sidewalks. They come in all shapes and sizes and are made with all different mediums. They also often have four dots included with them, like the one below.


Even our neighbors house is decorated with them.




I decided to try to find out just what this particular geometric pattern represented in Indian culture and as usual found that there were several different opinions. The ones that came up the most were, a blessing of wealth, good luck and general well being. I think it is so interesting that one symbol could have such diametrically opposed meanings, depending on where you were raised.

I admit that after almost two years I have lost a lot of the old emotional reactions that I had, but I still don't choose keepsakes with swastikas on it and I don't see that changing anytime soon.

10 comments:

Aunt Carol said...

That was interesting. Funny how when we are brought up to see it as negative it is a hard thing to change even when done in flowers.

Mr. Smith's Brother said...

From Wikipedia. Seems to confirm what your neighbors and friends in India were trying to describe.

"The word swastika is derived from the Sanskrit word svastik (in Devanagari, स्वस्तिक), meaning any lucky or auspicious object, and in particular a mark made on persons and things to denote good luck. It is composed of su- (cognate with Greek ευ-, eu-), meaning "good, well" and asti, a verbal abstract to the root as "to be" (cognate with the Romance copula, coming ultimately from the Proto-Indo-European root *h1es-); svasti thus means "well-being." The suffix -ka forms a diminutive or intensifies the verbal meaning,[dubious – discuss] and svastika might thus be translated literally as "that which is associated with well-being," corresponding to "lucky charm" or "thing that is auspicious."[1] The word in this sense is first used in the Harivamsa.[2]"

Toni said...

While in grade school I created a piece of pottery with this design on it. It seems the Native Americans also have this symbol, but I'm not sure what it symbolizes for them. However, I feel the same as you, ashamed and so politically incorrect. This piece of pottery is still hanging around my home, and I have explained many, many times to my children that I have never been a nazi sympathizer.

SuburbanCorrespondent said...

Don't believe Toni - she's a Fascist, through and through.

I wonder how come the Nazis adopted this symbol?

Erin said...

Your blog is absolutely fascinating!

I live in Seoul, Korea, and there are swastikas on literally every street. It's a sacred symbol of Buddhism and so they adorn temples, houses and random shops. It still does unnerve me to see swastikas all around but I'm slowly becoming accustomed to it.

Heidi said...

I am a white American, and I am married to an Indian American. It jarred me when I first saw it, but frankly, I don't think that the Nazis get to have, this ancient symbol. It reminds me of how recently I wore a necklace with a moose charm, and someone compared me to Sarah Palin. She does not get the moose. The moose is for everyone to enjoy! Isn't it excessively indulgent for us to let such a horrible movement sully a sacred symbol? I completely understand where you are coming from, yet I'm not willing to let the Nazi legacy take that important symbol away from so many people. It feels like giving in to the bullies.

Toni said...

I looked up the meaning of the symbol for Native Americans. It's called a whirling log because it is supposed to represent a tree being blown in a whirlwind. It depicts the cyclic motion of life, seasons and the four winds. It is considered a powerful medicine

AZ Blue Moon said...

I read a book just recently that talked about the symbol being universal positive in almost every culture just as Mr. Smith's Brother indicated so well. It goes to show how just about anything can be deified or corrupted based on ones learned perceptions. It is interesting how one person or a group of people can use a simple symbol to motivate the masses for either good or evil. Deep Thought...what end purpose behind the leaders actions. Never be afraid to question???

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