The swastika or sauwastika (as a character, 卐 or 卍, respectively) is a geometrical figure and an ancient religious icon in the cultures of Eurasia. It is used as a symbol of divinity and spirituality in Indian religions.
The swastika has to be distinguished from the emblem of Adolf Hitler's Nazi party which is a Hakenkreuz (hooked cross) rotated 45 degrees on a white circle set against a red background.
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. As a result of World War II and the Holocaust, most people associate it with Nazism 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 (卐) is called swastika, symbolizing surya ('sun'), prosperity and good luck, while the counterclockwise symbol (卍) 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 Vedic Hinduism, 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 otherwise 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. The symbol 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 before 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. Reverence for the swastika symbol in Asian cultures, in contrast to the West's stigmatization of the symbol, has led to misinterpretations and misunderstandings.