In Kathmandu, Swastikas in a New Context

KATHMANDU, Nepal — Though I’d already seen a swastika during my time in India, it was still an uncommon sight for me — and in the Thamel section of Kathmandu, I came across it once again on a hammered-copper urn for sale.

ganesh_swastika2Swastika, meaning “well being,” or “lucky or auspicious object,” appeared from time to time in some random-seeming places in my short time traveling through Southeast Asia. The metal pot was just the latest surprise.

A blog post on Practical Sanskrit stood up for the “misunderstood swastika” even showed examples of some of its different uses in modern history — even before it was corrupted by a European madman and attached to a negative connotation across Western civilization.

One example even showed the swastika with a U.S. flag on what looked like a pocket card, bearing the words:

swastika-us-flag“May our glorious flag and this lucky star guide you and keep you wherever you are.”

That one was a surprise.

But the example on the street vendor’s copper container also bore the om symbol over the swastika, om representing a universe of meaning.

“The symbol has a spiritual meaning in all Indian dharmas, but the meaning and connotations of Om vary between the diverse schools within and across the various traditions,” Wikipedia writes.

But, wait. There’s more:

In Hinduism, Om is one of the most important spiritual symbols (pratima). It refers to Atman (soul, self within) and Brahman (ultimate reality, entirety of the universe, truth, divine, supreme spirit, cosmic principles, knowledge). The syllable is often found at the beginning and the end of chapters in the Vedas, the Upanishads, and other Hindu texts. It is a sacred spiritual incantation made before and during the recitation of spiritual texts, during puja and private prayers, in ceremonies of rites of passages (sanskara) such as weddings, and sometimes during meditative and spiritual activities such as Yoga.

Got it? It gets more detailed from there, too.

A brief search didn’t yield a meaning for a swastika and an om symbol,ॐ, presented together. Maybe it wasn’t that simple, although I did find an image of Ganesh with a swastika on his open hand and an om symbol on his trunk.

(In Varanasi, I did see a spray-painted stencil of Gandhi with the om symbol on his chest.)

Later in the day, I saw the swastika again on the front of a restaurant in the busy commercial part of the city, personifying what I had read about the ancient symbol.

“Swastika is such an auspicious symbol in India that it is drawn (with hand) at every important occasion, wedding, prayer, festival,” Practical Sanskrit writes. “Every religious book or calendar has it. In any drawing of a deity, the swastika is a must. Shopkeepers have it on either sides of the shop entrance!”

A swastika adorns the front of a restaurant in Kathmandu, Nepal. At top, a swastika and an om symbol are presented together on a copper urn. (Photos by Bruno J. Navarro)

3 thoughts on “In Kathmandu, Swastikas in a New Context

  1. This was so interesting. I have always associated the symbol exclusively with the historical period of Nazi Germany. Thank you for this beautifully written and well researched essay.

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