Welcome to India: Here there by swastikas

An eternity ago, when I was in high school, I bullied one of my best friends, Alon Weizer, into letting me read a creative writing assignment for his English class. The assignment was to write a story involving a catharsis, so Alon wrote a story about attending a peace rally, where he noticed someone used a swastika in its original meaning of peace. In the story, the symbol causes a catharsis, reconnecting the character to his Jewish roots. All in all, a decent story, especially for someone in high school.

Except that honestly, I never got it. I mean, who, even at a hippified peace rally, would use the swastika as anything other than a symbol of how horrifying mankind can be. Well, the answer is India.

The image has been around since neolithic times, and is an important Hindu symbol of the God Brahma. Its geometrical form has come to represent eternity in Buddhism. In Jainism, it is the symbol of one of their most important saints. And in my head, it is pure, concentrated evil. And every time I see it, I get a little nauseous.

The swastika is everywhere here. On cars, on ads, chiseled into ornate stone carvings, featured on murals. It is everywhere. And it makes me uncomfortable as hell. And my reaction to it is the most emotional reminder that I am a Westerner, and this is not where I come from.

This mix of emotions came to a head in a small shop in Mussoorie that specializes in selling illegally copied DVDs. (There are several such shops here).

The original swastika looks like this:

The Nazis rotated the symbol to this:

In the DVD shop, the owner displayed a Nazi flag, but twisted the flag to the original swastika angle, like this:

I thought it a really interesting attempt to reclaim the symbol from the horror of its Western meaning, but nevertheless, I got the hell out of that shop.

Now, this visceral reaction I have is my fault. I am in no way claiming that India should stop using the symbol or anything silly like that. Quite the opposite, in fact. It is I that needs to come to grips with being in an entirely new place, where I must play by their rules and not allow my preconceived notions affect the situation. As my notions are wrong.

On the other hand, I am not going to start using the symbol either. I love learning about and exploring new cultures, but it is a process of enrichment and education, not erasure. As much as I learn about the original meaning of the swastika, it will not erase the damage done by those who usurped the symbol in the West. I will probably grow acclimated to seeing the symbol everywhere, but it will never be a symbol I feel comfortable using.

Share and Enjoy:
  • Print
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • StumbleUpon
  • del.icio.us
  • Yahoo! Buzz
  • Google Bookmarks
  • email
  • RSS
  • Digg
  • Google Buzz

About the Author

I moved to India. I mean, why the hell not, right?