What is the significance of the Swastika and Om in Hinduism?

The Swastika is a symbol of prosperity and good fortune, while Om is a sacred sound and spiritual icon representing the essence of the ultimate reality or consciousness.

Both the Swastika and Om (or Aum) are highly significant symbols in Hinduism, each with its own profound meaning and history.



Different forms of the Swastika symbol

The word ‘Swastika’ is derived from the Sanskrit root ‘svast’ which means ‘to be well’. Thus, Swastika can be translated as “auspicious” or “lucky object”.

Scholars have noted that the Swastika is one of the oldest symbols known to humanity. It has been found in ancient civilizations around the world, including in India, China, Europe, and the Americas.

In Hinduism, the Swastika is a sacred symbol of good fortune, prosperity, and well-being. It represents the cosmic dance of creation and destruction as well as the balance of opposites. The four arms of the Swastika can also be interpreted in various ways, such as representing the four Vedas, the four stages of life, or the four cardinal directions.

Swastika symbol origin

The swastika is an ancient symbol with a history that spans many cultures and millennia. In the context of India and Hinduism, it’s considered an auspicious symbol. Image: The Swastika features boldly on a Hindu temple in Rajasthan, India

Also, the symbol is often drawn during Hindu rituals (pujas) and is commonly seen at entrances of Hindu homes, temples, and other auspicious places. It’s believed to ward off evil and usher in positive energy.

It’s crucial to understand that the Swastika’s meaning in Hinduism (and other cultures) is positive and life-affirming. The symbol was misappropriated by the Nazis in the 20th century, which led to negative associations in the West. The Nazi “swastika” is tilted and differs from the traditional representation.

Om (Aum)

“Om” is a sacred sound and spiritual icon in Indian religions. It signifies the essence of the ultimate reality or consciousness. Image: Om ligature in Devanagari script

Om is considered the primordial sound from which the entire universe emanated. It is the essence of the Upanishads and represents the union of mind, body, and spirit.

The three phonetic components that make up the word (A-U-M) cover the entire process of cosmic creation. “A” represents the beginning, “U” signifies the continuation, and “M” symbolizes the end or dissolution. The silence that follows the chant of Om represents the state of “Turiya” or Infinite Consciousness.

The om sound is often chanted at the beginning and end of Hindu mantras, prayers, and meditations. It is believed to create a vibration that attunes the mind and the soul to the divine.

Generally speaking, visual symbol of Om consists of three curves, a dot, and a semicircle. The large bottom curve symbolizes the waking state; the middle curve denotes the dream state; the upper curve signifies the state of deep sleep. The dot represents the fourth state of consciousness, and the semi-circle at the top symbolizes Maya (illusion) that separates the individual from the ultimate reality.

Shiva and Om

American scholar Joseph Campbell stated that the posture of Shiva’s dance in the Nataraja form is said to resemble the Devanagari ligature for “Om” (ॐ). While this is one interpretation, it’s important to note that the swastika has various meanings and origins across different cultures, and its origins are multifaceted and complex. Image: Shiva as the Nataraja

The statue of Shiva as the Nataraja (Lord of Dance) is one of the most iconic and profound symbols in Hinduism, representing a deep cosmological and philosophical truth. Shiva, one of the principal deities of Hinduism, is often depicted in the form of the Nataraja, where he performs the cosmic dance. This dance symbolizes the creation, preservation, and destruction of the universe.

There have been some scholars, notably American author Joseph Campbell (1904 – 1987), who have interpreted the posture of Shiva’s dance in the Nataraja form to resemble the Devanagari ligature for “Om” (ॐ).

Joseph Campbell, who was also a renowned mythologist, interpreted the Statue of Shiva as a representation of “Om” symbolizing the entirety of consciousness and the universe. The dance and the posture, in Campbell’s view, emphasize the interconnectedness of the internal (within a person) and the external (the universe), suggesting that divinity exists both inside and outside of the individual.

In essence, the Nataraja is not just a deity performing a dance, but a visual representation of cosmic truths, showing the cyclic nature of creation and destruction and the omnipresence of the divine.

The above evokes the non-dualistic philosophy found in many Hindu scriptures. It emphasizes that the divine is both immanent (within creation) and transcendent (beyond creation). The Nataraja symbol, through its dance, encapsulates this idea, as it represents the cosmic cycles and the eternal presence of divinity in every aspect of existence.

In summary, Campbell’s interpretation underscores these deeper meanings, highlighting the Nataraja’s significance beyond mere artistic representation.

READ MORE: How does Shiva destroy and recreate the universe?

Other interesting facts

  • “Om” is believed to encapsulate the purest, most fundamental nature of the universe or the divine. The “Supreme Absolute” refers to the ultimate, undivided reality in Hindu philosophy.
  • Om is mentioned in ancient Hindu texts, including the Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita, and the Vedas. It’s described as representing the Brahman, the absolute, unchanging, infinite reality amidst and beyond the world.
  • Just as images or idols might represent deities in a visual form, the sound of “Om” represents the divine in an auditory form. It’s a way to invoke the divine simply through sound.

Painting illustrating the Jain Om symbol, from Jaipur, c. 1840

  • While “Om” has its roots in Hinduism, its significance permeates other major Indic religions as well, including Sikhism, Buddhism, and Jainism. Its universality speaks to its profound resonance across different belief systems.

There has been some suggestion that the monogrammatic representation of “Om” as a swastika. Image: A rangoli featuring Om surrounded by stylised peacocks

  • In many Indic scripts, the nasalized sound ‘m’ (as in “Om”) can be represented by a dot, called the Anusvara. Therefore, some scholars have suggested that the monogrammatic representation of “Om” as a swastika, the dot represents this ‘m’ sound, completing the “Om” representation. In other words, this theory posits that the swastika’s design is not arbitrary but instead is derived from an overlapping representation of the sacred syllable “Om” from the Brahmi script, with the dot signifying the ‘m’ sound in “Om”.

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