Svastika: history and interpretation

Peter M. Scharf Scharf at BROWN.EDU
Mon May 19 14:14:37 UTC 2003

Dear Christian,
        I send you the references to svastika I ran across in
Patanjali's Mahabhasya and Sabara's (Mimamsa) Bhasya citing my book
The Denotation of Generic Terms.  I will also add the anectode that
in the front sitting room of the house of a certain Brahmana family
in Mysore is prominently displayed a monument.  Atop three foot
square base is a globe on top of which an eagle is perched with
spread wings.  On the front of the globe is a svastika.  The monument
is clearly a production of Nazi German origins.  The svastika in
early India is not associated with birds of prey perching on globes.

pp. 27-28
"He gives the following two ordinary examples in which a substance
(dravya) is permanent and its shapes (ýkÁti) are transient:
Clay connected with a certain shape is a ball.  Crushing the
ball-shape small pots are made.  Crushing the small-pot-shape cups
are made.  Similarly, gold connected with a certain shape is a ball.
Crushing the ball-shape necklaces are made.  Crushing the
necklace-shape bracelets are made.  Crushing the bracelet-shape
auspicious symbols (svastika) are made.  Again it returns to a gold
ball.  Again connected with another shape it becomes two golden
earrings the color of khadira embers.  Each shape is different but
the substance is the same.  By crushing the shape, only the substance
remains. 21

note 21
  MB-K, vol. 1, p. 7, lines 11-18.  Chýndogyopani˜ad 6.1.4-6 has a
comparable passage.  Ten Principal Upanishads, p. 505.  See Biardeau
1964: 45 note 1 for references.

p. 211  Mimamsabhasya
Saying that the class property is directly perceptible, the VÁttikýra
gives the example of three golden ornaments.  One directly perceives
that a golden necklace is a necklace, a golden svastika a svastika
and a golden cup a cup (1.1.5 ¯2).

p. 270

Nanv ýkÁtiœ sýdhyýsti vý, na vý?
(Objector:)  Is the class property something to be inferred, or not?
Na pratyak˜ý sat“ sýdhyý bhavitum arhati.  Rucakaœ svastiko
vardhamýnaka iti hi pratyak˜a¸ dÁ—yate.
(Proponent:)  Being directly perceptible it cannot be something to be
inferred.  We directly perceive a necklace, an auspicious symbol and
a cup. 5

note 5
A vardhamýnaka is a certain type of pot for drinking.  The Amarako˜a,
2.9.32a (p. 313a) says, "GhaÒaœ kuÒanipýv astr“ —arývo
vardhamýnakaœ," on which the Rýmý—ram“ says, "...dve pýtrabhedasya."
Vaidyanýtha ¯ýstr“ comments:
sauvaržapadýrthagatarucakatvýdirpývýntara-sýmýnyýbhiprýyeža bodhyam.
Trayýnugatasuvaržatvarpasýmýnyýbhiprýya¸ vedam.  He intends the
specific properties of being a necklace, etc. in golden entities.  He
also intends the general property goldenness present in all three.
MD, part 1, p. 61.  That is, the different names denote the narrower
class property as opposed to the one that the three objects have in
common.  Yudhi˜Òhira M“mý¸saka (1977-86, vol. 1, p. 39) uses the
Sanskrit words minus their terminations for the three examples in
Hindi but adds, "ýbh˜ažavi—e˜aa(specific ornaments)."
GaÔgýnýtha Jhý (1933: vol. 1, p. 21) translates the examples, "the
necklace, the road-crossing, the dish, and so forth," as if they are
totally unrelated things.  Taking them as golden ornaments, as
Vaidyanýtha and Yuddhi˜Òhira M“mý¸saka do, brings out the relevance
of the objectors argument.

>Dear Friends,
>A filmmaker I know is beginning a project centering on the svastika; in
>particular, she seeks to dramatize the various meanings it has borne in its
>long history, and the various groups which have adopted and reinterpreted
>it.  She is interested in the broadest range of interpretations and uses:
>its oldest roots in India (as well as any older roots), its history in Asia
>and elsewhere, its adoption by Nazis, and its current use among (esp.
>neo-fascist) groups in contemporary India.
>She is currently seeking literature about the above issues as she develops
>the film's treatment.  She would also be interested in speaking
>with/emailing any scholars who have expertise in any of these areas.  Any
>assistance would be appreciated.  Many thanks in advance.
>Christian Wedemeyer
>University of Copenhagen

Peter M. Scharf             (401) 863-2720 office
Department of Classics      (401) 863-2123 dept
Brown University
PO Box 1856                 (401) 863-7484 fax
Providence, RI 02912        Scharf at

More information about the INDOLOGY mailing list