With Canada’s 500,000 Hindus celebrating Diwali throughout this week, the awkward topic of the religion’s swastika symbol has again arisen.
One young North American Hindu has confessed in a revealing, tender-hearted piece how he often tries to convince his mother not to put Hinduism’s swastika symbol on the doorstep during Diwali.
Since most of the Western world associates the swastika with Naziism, Parth Shah told NPR he becomes mortified that North Americans might think his family somehow supports such atrocities. His mother refuses to listen.
Metro Vancouver writer-journalist Promod Puri, who has written a new book on Hinduism, explained to me that Hindu priests and Brahmin leaders don’t seriously consider banning the swastika because of its Nazi associations.
“The swastika is just a ritualistic symbol in Hinduism, which is mostly used in ceremonial events at the discretion of the priest class. Since antiquity it is being used, much before the German adaptation,” said Puri, who has retired from editing and publishing the South-Asian oriented B.C. newspaper, The Link.
“The swastika’s ceremonial use as such has never conflicted with Hindu theism, which prides itself as democratic and secular… Using the swastika in whatever formation is not at all mandatory.”
Even though many Hindus post the swastika on their windows or doorways as a symbol of good fortune and peace, Puri said he rarely comes across the practice among the roughly 50,000 Hindus in B.C., most of whom are in Metro Vancouver.
“However, I have seen Hindu priests drawing swastika while undertaking prayer ceremonies to mark some special events. And the moment these ceremonies are over the swastika is erased.”
Promod added that the swastika is not a key sign of Hinduism. That role belongs to the symbol of Om.
“Why are there so many gods and goddesses in Hinduism? Why worship an idol? Is going to temple mandatory in the faith? What impact does the caste system have on Hindu society? Why do some rituals make perfect sense while others are so vague? What are the secular and diverse characters in Hinduism? What physics principles constitute the sound of Om? What is karma and its role in our day to day lives?
These are some of the many questions which intrigue the non-Hindu mind, as well as many among over half-a-million Hindu population in Canada, especially those belonging to the younger generation.
Wrapped in mystique and antiquity the identity of Hinduism lies in its wide-open structure which allows and lets develop diverse and distinct ideologies and practices without any governing body or binding scriptures.
Hinduism is not merely a religion, or as it is often referred, “a way of life.” It is a multi-disciplinary academy as well. It is a democracy of conflicting, contradicting and controversial thoughts and ideologies.
Beyond its practicing rituals, customs and traditions Hinduism thru its various schools offers comprehensive studies in philosophies, metaphysics and sciences.
As such it recognizes diversity of thought. The rational and liberal thought in Hinduism is the very basis of Sankhya School, which is one of the several ancient Hindu faculties infusing diversity in the theological philosophies of the religion.
An example of its rational and liberal acceptance of thoughts is revealed in Hindu theism in the following statement from the Rig Veda Chapter X, Para 129 which says:
Who knows, and who can swear, How creation came, when or where! Even gods came after creation’s day, Who knows, who can truly say When and how did creation start? Did He, do it? Or did He not? Only He, up there, knows, maybe; Or perhaps, not even He.