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Asian faiths try to save swastika symbol corrupted by Hitler

TJI Pick
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Published: 29 November 2022

Last updated: 5 March 2024

Hindus, Buddhists and Native Americans are among those fighting to restore the sacred symbol, co-opted by Nazis. 

Sheetal Deo was shocked when she got a letter from her New York apartment building’s co-op board calling her Diwali decoration “offensive” and demanding she take it down.

“My decoration said, ‘Happy Diwali’ and had a swastika on it,” said Deo, a physician, who was celebrating the Hindu festival of lights.

The equilateral cross with its legs bent at right angles is a millennia-old sacred symbol in Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism that represents peace and good fortune, and was also used widely by Indigenous people worldwide in a similar vein.

But in the West, this symbol is often equated to Adolf Hitler’s hakenkreuz or the hooked cross and used by white supremacists and neo-Nazis.

Over the past decade, as the Asian diaspora has grown, the call to reclaim the swastika as a sacred symbol has become louder. These minority faith communities in the US are being joined by Native American elders whose ancestors have long used the symbol as part of healing rituals.

Deo believes she and people of other faiths should not have to sacrifice or apologise for a sacred symbol simply because it is often conflated with its tainted version.

Yet to others, the idea that the swastika could be redeemed is unthinkable.

Holocaust survivors, in particular, could be re-traumatised when they see the symbol, said Shelley Rood Wernick, managing director of the Jewish Federations of North America’s Center on Holocaust Survivor Care.

The word “swastika” has Sanskrit roots and means “the mark of wellbeing.” It is ubiquitous in India where it is used to mark the location of Buddhist temples and is holy to Jains. It is also found in China, among Zoroastrians, on Roman catacombs, among southwestern Native Americans and more rarely in Greece, Ethiopia and Spain.

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Asian faiths try to save swastika symbol corrupted by Hitler (AP)

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