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London, Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Hindus reclaim their symbol of life

By Ruth Gledhill, Religion Correspondent

HINDUS in Britain have started a campaign to "redeem" the swastika from its Nazi past and reclaim it as the symbol of life and fortune it once was.

The swastika is a 5,000-year-old symbol that has been used for centuries by Hindus, Buddhists and many other traditions to denote good luck, but because of the Nazis it has come to symbolise hate, anti-Semitism, violence, death and murder. The campaign, announced today, comes after members of the European Parliament called for a Europe-wide ban on the symbol after Prince Harry wore a swastika armband to a fancy dress party.

Franco Frattini, the European Commissioner for Justice, Freedom and Security, has said that he is willing to consider the possibility of a ban. Nazi symbols including the swastika are banned in Germany.

Hindus use the right-facing version of the swastika, meaning "sun", as jewellery or on doorways and buildings to bring good fortune. This was the version adopted by the Nazi Party in 1920 at Salzburg.

It is thought that Allied wartime propaganda is responsible for the false belief that at Hitler's insistence the swastika was later reversed to the left-facing version, meaning "death" in Hindu mythology.

Ramesh Kallidai, of the Hindu Forum, is planning pro-swastika awareness workshops for every region of Britain with a large seminar in London. Every MP is to be lobbied by e-mail and an information booklet will be distributed to faith communities and others.

Mr Kallidai said: "A symbol we have used for more than 5,000 years is now on the verge of being banned because of association with the Nazis over which we had no control.

"Hindus wish to continue to use this symbol as part of their religion, but they risk being labelled a Nazi or, in the case of a ban, risk breaking the law. We need to educate people about the historical context of the symbol, its wrong use by the Nazis and its importance to Hindus".

Hindus often have swastikas displayed around their homes and business premises or in artwork. Mr Kallidai said that it was ironic that a symbol depicting the wheel of life and good fortune had become a symbol of racism, torture and war.

  • Nitin Mehtma, founder of Young Indian Vegetarians, said: "Hindus were known as Aryans and the swastika was a symbol which identified them as peace-loving, cultured, tolerant people. It would be nice if this aspect of the swastika can be highlighted."
  • Ashok Chudasama, of the Blackburn Hindu Centre, runs courses to explain the use of the sign by Hindus. He said: "When people in the north raised concerns about us using the swastika, we educated them and they have taken on board the true meaning."
  • Bhupendra Patel, a magistrate and the secretary of the Shree Sattavis Gam Patidar Samaj, a Hindu organisation, said: "Like many Christians wear crosses, many Hindus wear swastikas. Does this mean they will be ostracised as Nazis?"

A spokesman for the Board of Deputies of British Jews, which has a well-established dialogue in place with Britain's Hindus, said: "We respect the Hindu Forum's desire to take back the swastika but it should be remembered that neo-Nazis and racists when daubing the swastika get it wrong more than they get it right. It is a sensitive issue and would require further dialogue."



One of the oldest known swastikas was painted on a paleolithic cave 10,000 years ago and swastikas have been found on pottery and coins from ancient India, China and Greece
Swastika is derived from the Sanskrit word svastikah, "being fortunate". Swastika is made up of to Sanskrit words, "su" meaning good and "asti" meaning to exist. The last part changes the infinitive to the imperative so that the literal meaning of the term swastika is "let good prevail"
According to legend, the Buddha left footprints in the shape of swastikas
Native American blankets were woven with swastikas until the 1930s, when they were abandoned because of the symbol's use by the Nazis
The symbol is formed from the shape of a cross, with the arms bent to the right symbolising health and life, or to the left, which came to symbolise ill fortune
The original designer of the Nazi emblem was Dr Freidrich Krohn, a dentist and a member of several German nationalist groups
The swastika was popularised in Germany after the archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann found many objects with swastikas on them when directing the excavation of Troy and Mycenae. He linked the symbol to the Aryan people.


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