The swastika (as a character 卐 or 卍) is a geometrical figure and an ancient religious icon in the cultures of Eurasia, used as a symbol of divinity and spirituality in Indian religions. In the Western world, it was a symbol of auspiciousness and good luck until the 1930s, when it became a feature of Nazi symbolism as an emblem of Aryan identity and, as a result, it was stigmatized by its association with ideas of racism and antisemitism.
The name swastika comes from Sanskrit (Devanagari: स्वस्तिक) meaning 'conducive to well being' or 'auspicious'. In Hinduism, the symbol with arms pointing clockwise is called swastika, symbolizing surya (sun), prosperity and good luck, while the counterclockwise symbol is called sauvastika, symbolizing night or tantric aspects of Kali. In Jainism, a swastika is the symbol for Suparshvanatha—the seventh of 24 Tirthankaras (spiritual teachers and saviours), while in Buddhism it symbolizes the auspicious footprints of the Buddha. In several major Indo-European religions the swastika symbolizes lightning bolts representing the thunder god and the king of the gods such as Indra in the religion of the Indus Valley Civilisation, Zeus in the ancient Greek religion, Jupiter in the ancient Roman religion, and Thor in the ancient Germanic religion.
The swastika is an icon which is widely found in both human history and the modern world. In various forms it is alternatively known in various European languages as the fylfot, gammadion, tetraskelion, or cross cramponnée (a term in Anglo-Norman heraldry); German: Hakenkreuz; French: croix gammée. In China it is named wàn 卐 / 卍 / 萬, meaning 'all things', pronounced manji in Japanese. A swastika generally takes the form of a cross the arms of which are of equal length and perpendicular to the adjacent arms, each bent midway at a right angle. It is found in the archeological remains of the Indus Valley Civilization and Mesopotamia as well as in early Byzantine and Christian artwork.
The swastika was adopted by several organizations in pre–World War I Europe and later by the Nazi Party and Nazi Germany prior to World War II. It was used by the Nazi Party to symbolize German nationalistic pride. To Jews and the enemies of Nazi Germany, it became a symbol of antisemitism and terror. In many Western countries, the swastika is viewed as a symbol of racial supremacism and intimidation because of its association with Nazism. The reverence for the swastika symbol in Asian cultures, in contrast to the stigma in the West, has led to misinterpretations and misunderstandings.