23 January, 2005

Of swastika and symbolism

Earlier this month, a 20 year old prince wore a swastika arm band to his friend's fancy dress party. He probably simply thought it was "cool" or "fun" and did not in his darkest hours imagine the upheaval it would cause in the world around him.

This incident however, has led the EU to call for a ban on the symbol itself. To the western world, the swastika is associated with and brings to mind the horrors of the Nazi regime and holocaust.

Interestingly, the swastika was probably adopted by the Nazis as an Aryan symbol. In Mein Kampf, Hitler associates the symbol with "the fight for the victory of Aryan man".

In many eastern cultures, on the other hand, the swastika has been around for aeons as a revered auspicious symbol. It has religious significance in hinduism, buddhism and jainism. Even today, as my grandmother draws the swastika before her temple alter, it is purely devotion to her God and prayer for the well being of her family that drives her and not anti-semitism, nazi pride or impression of 'being cool'.

Amidst all this furore, what is most fascinating, is of course the way associations with symbols evolve over time and cultures. The swastika moves from being purely positive (religion), through the purely negative (holocaust) to a young boy's idea of a mere fancy dress costume...interesting!!

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