While introducing the Culture class this semester, Kelly O’Keefe briefly talked about the power of cultural symbols—how they immediately trigger meaning. In his long list featured the swastika and how it quickly evokes Nazism and all its inhumanity. Since 1932 the Swastika has taken up the meaning of all that’s disgusting of humanity. I shouldn’t even attempt at what it means to those it disturbs.
Till I read about the World Wars in 9th grade, the Swastik (never heard it as Swastika till I read about Hitler) was a traditional Indian symbol I saw ornamented on most Indian doors, temples, and wedding invitations. I knew the Swastik as Om’s sidekick. A rebellious kid I questioned every tradition and wondered why anyone would ruin their newly painted house with Swastiks marked in wet vermilion.
Etymonline.com will tell you Swastika, a Sanskrit word, is the combination of su meaning “well” or “good” and asti meaning “being” or “existence”. Swastika means well being or being fortunate.
[Edit] According to about.com The right turning Indian swastika symbolizes the sun and positive energy, and is most commonly associated with the deity Ganesh, a God of prosperity and wealth. Some Indians regard an anti-clockwise swastika as an opposing, dark force- a symbol of the goddess Kali. Together, the two can be regarded as symbolically similar to the Yin Yang symbol of Taoism, or the two Pillars of Kabbalah.[/Edit]
The contrasting meaning it has been given by the Nazi hijack of the symbol is unfortunate when one considers the history of the swastik. The oldest known representation is found in seals from the Indus Valley Civilization dated between 3000 to 1500 BC—that’s the Neolithic Age. Some even believe the oldest known Swastika is from a cave painting in Kiev from 12,000 – 10,000 BC. The Swastik is so old we don’t even know its precise origin.
According to one theory, the Swastik could actually be a blueprint for a fortress and be a combination of su as in well, and vastu as in habitation in Sanskrit. It was perhaps as a cosmic effect that a US Navy building would take the swastik form 😛
It is almost like a rock song now with innumerable interpretations and theories about what it means.
While most revered in India, the symbol has been important to cultures almost everywhere in the world: from Native Americans (for whom the Swastik denotes the sun), some native South Americans, Greeks, Nordic, Central Europe, and the far east.
For 5000 years, if not over 14000, it has continued to make people feel secured, inspired and blessed. In it’s home the Nike Swoosh probably has the Swastika among other symbols on its inspiration wall.
Hindu organizations protest the European Union’s, especially Germany’s intent to ban the Swastika. There are others, like ManWoman, who aspires to reclaim Swastika’s message of peace with his 50 Swastika tattoos and art. There’s even a movement “Reclaim The Swastika”. There’s even a group on flickr called Positive Swastikas. I’m hoping crazy right wing Hindu fundamentalists stay as far away from any reclamation as they will only continue to distort the Swastika’s original meaning by their association.
As I must always find a marketing+branding lesson in every thing I do (I need therapy), the Swastik’s Nazi hijack reminds me of the WWF (World Wildlife Fund) vs. WWF (World Wrestling Federation) battle where the peaceful and gentle eventually won. Also what comes to mind is a recent AdAge article about specific brands being featured in alternative porn even without the brands knowing. Seems like the brands involved are undecided on how the free placements will affect their brands, so they are staying still to not invite attention.
I’ll end this post on Swastika, meaning, and distortion of meaning—with this quote from a porn film producer. Advertising… “Branding” … Marketing Communication… Advertising is one of few fields where you can start a conversation with 5000 year old religious symbols and end it with porn (some would argue you could take every conversation there). Here it is:
“There is something about Converse or Vans paired with porno or stripper apparel that looks so hot,” Ms. Angel said. “Maybe it’s something like ‘Yeah, this girl is a porn star but she also is someone you can hang out with.’ Everyone’s friends wear Converse. But whose friends wear big plastic stilettos? No one wears those in real life.”