Swastikas and What That Symbol Means

There was a very effective conversation on Next Door that started with a picture of what looked like graffiti on a car. There was a yellow swastika on a Tesla in the parking lot at Crane’s beach. The poster  thought that someone had damaged the car with antisemitic graffiti. He asked the people on the site what the right response to this would be.

Some people reacted to the swastika the way most Americans and European people do – “OMG, Nazis!” Those people responded with statements of outrage, advice to call the police, and sympathy for the people whose new car was violated by Nazis.

Then, a commenter wrote this (below). It is informative and without judgment for the poster who started the thread and reacted to the symbol as a Nazi swastika.

“There is room for a bit of confusion and misunderstanding. Was the car new and owner a Hindu Indian? 

In Hinduism, the right-facing symbol (clockwise) (卐) is symbolizing surya (‘sun’) for prosperity and good luck, while the left-facing symbol (counter-clockwise) (卍) is symbolizing night. 

It is a common practice when an Indian Hindu buys something new (like a car, house etc) or starts something new (like starting a business, new venture) to invoke the blessings of Sun god Surya) for auspicious beginnings. Given that it is turmeric (which has holy significance in Indian culture) I am guessing this could be the case of an excited new owner of a Tesla invoking blessings for further prosperity and safe motoring.”

swastika on car hood
Hindu swastika. Note that the lines are horizontal and vertical and there are dots in four places.

Because of the way comments get shuffled around on social media, two conversations continued on.


One continued to discuss how well the conversation went, and talk about other interactions with the Hindu symbol for prosperity. Among the comments in this conversation:

“I really love this whole post.  The initial disturbing message, the willingness to be open, to listen and explore, and my all time favorite value of staying curious.  Thank you everyone for being part of this.  I wish the whole country did better this way.”

“These  symbols were tiled into the  foyer floor of the home we purchased and turned out to be Hindu symbols that we ignorantly also thought were swastikas at first.”


The second conversation kept repeating outrage at the swastika spotted on the car. A day after the explanation about the differences between the symbols, comments continued regarding the symbol (incorrectly identified as a Nazi swastika on a car at Crane Beach). These comments continued to respond with statements of outrage, advice to call the police, and sympathy for the people whose new car was violated by Nazis.

What was so wonderful about this exchange was that various people (not all with South Asian-type names) repeated the answer about the Hindu swastika as a positive thing. The commenters continued to be informative, repeating the information about Hindu good luck practices. This made the result of this post informative. It was good to see.

Answers to the “OMG Nazis!” responses explained that the commenter missed that the symbol was a Hindu swastika. Some repeated the way to tell the difference. One even found the Wikipedia link on the topic.

I did a little Googling around and found out a little more

Hindu swastikas generally are not rotated to the right, like the Nazi ones. They tend to have vertical and horizontal lines, not diagonal lines. But not all of the Nazi ones are rotated to the right.

Hindu swastikas frequently have dots in the spaces between the lines.

swastikas in many cultures

The symbol with four lines intersecting in the middle and flowing to the corners is common in cultures throughout the world. There is a Christian version. Until the Nazis, the symbol showed up as a sign of good fortune in business in Europe. Locally, there were two of them on St. John’s Church in North Cambridge until about ten years ago.

Best site that I found regarding swastikas.

The confusion. The outrage.

The swastika became a military symbol associated with the Nazis in 1930’s Europe. This symbol brings a visceral reaction to people who fought against the German army, or were victimized by the German army, in World War II. Thirteen million civilians were killed in forced labor and genocide camps, in addition to military and civilian deaths as a result of war. The symbol remains much-revered by modern-day neo-Nazis and other far-right hate groups.

Swastika in Jainism

Educating ourselves that Hindus (and Buddhists, and Jains) revere this symbol for luck and prosperity is a game changer. But is it? Do people who associate the symbol with genocide have the ability to turn off their visceral reaction?

What non-Hindus/Buddhists/Jains can do: 

  1. Look carefully when you see a swastika. Are there dots? Is it drawn with vertical and horizontal lines? If yes, then smile.
  2. Because of the rise of neo-Nazi activity, governments may move to outlaw Nazi swastikas (like Australia did). It is important to recognize that Hindus use a similar symbol. As non-Hindus, you can be an ally and support Hindu’s right to keep their symbol.

What Hindus/Buddhists/Jains can do: 

  1. Keep your symbol distinctive. If you draw swastikas on your celebratory posters, or use it as decoration during holidays, or wear jewelry with swastikas for luck, please use clear symbols. Clearly show the vertical-horizontal layout. Hindus and Jains, show the dots clearly. For Buddhists, show the counterclockwise orientation clearly and avoid circles around it or using black and red. This will help distinguish your sacred symbol from the Nazi rotated-angle hate and destruction symbol. This will help people who are inclined to see a Nazi symbol to – instead — see the Hindu/Buddhist/Jain symbol. Then they can smile and wish you good luck, too.
  2. Keep showing people who don’t know better that the swastika has meaning to you.

Hopefully, word can get out and be repeated. Then this cultural difference can be smoothed out from now on.




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