In an election year of negativity and Fake News there are many false perceptions. While I can’t change them, for my last column as Town Crier, I hope to clarify misconceptions about the Swastika. The symbol has been in the news because of alleged association of Steve Bannon (Donald Trump’s adviser) with White Supremacists. Whenever I hear or read negative comments about Swastika, I wonder how did this almost five-thousand-year old auspicious, good luck symbol become a messenger of Holocaust and White Supremacists.
Growing up in India, I saw the Swastika emblem on the walls of homes and temples, letter-heads, wedding invitations, and sari borders. Hindus draw this symbol in the entryways of their homes, apartments, and huts with rice flour, vermilion, turmeric or other colors. Buddhists and Jains also revere the Swastika.
My uncle and aunt had even named their new home “Swastika.” a Sanskrit word meaning auspicious existence. Before the priest performed the Vastu puja (house-blessing ceremony) for the family, he made a Swastika with rice grains on a brass stool. My father explained to us that Swastika in Sanskrit meant auspicious existence, and the cross with four arms signified contentment and bliss in east, west, north and south.
In school when we read about Hitler’s usurpation of the Swastika, we were sure the Nazi emblem was different from ours. It was tilted, as if perverted. We couldn’t understand why Hitler chose this Hindu symbol to profess white supremacy.
Almost seventeen years ago, before our daughter’s wedding, I had asked relatives in India to send wrapping papers with Indian designs for gifts for our friends, bridesmaids and the groom’s family. Most of papers had Swastika designs, and I was unable to use them. After living in the United States for forty-eight years, I have learned not to display our good luck emblem.
In the early seventies, when we bought our house in Skagit Valley, my mother visited us. She brought several palm-size Swastika stickers. Unbeknownst to me, she and our (then) little daughter decorated the floor of our foyer with those stickers for Diwali—the Hindu New Year. Before I could stop her, my neighbor came to our house. She gasped at the site of the red and green stickers. I explained, “These are good luck signs for the Hindu New Year. They are different from the slanted Nazi ones.”
“Please get rid of these before someone sees them,” my neighbor pleaded.
So after coffee, we started deconstructing the decorations. I wished my mother had made them the old-fashioned way, with rice flour and vermilion powder, which could be swept clean. We had to put wet towels on the stickers to loosen the glue and peel the symbols from the floor.
I explained in Gujarati to my distraught mother that the Swastika offended people because of its association with the Nazis and the Holocaust.
“But Hitler is long gone and these are Hindu Swastikas with auspicious red dots.” My mother pointed to the quadrants with the dots.
But, Mummy, now the Neo-Nazis and White Supremacists display Swastikas. They are against Jews and non-whites,” I said.
“How can we brown people be White Supremacists?” my mother asked.
My friend and I had no answer.
Many atrocities have been committed for religious and political beliefs and Swastika has represented hatred and torture. But because a few misinterpret an ideology or scripture, we don’t discard those beliefs or literature. For me, the Swastika remains a symbol of peace, goodwill, contentment, and unity in all directions. I hope it represents goodwill to everyone in 2017.
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