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The term sauwastika (or sauvastika[1][2]) (as a character: 卍) is sometimes used to distinguish the left-facing from the right-facing swastika symbol, a meaning which developed in 19th-century scholarship.[3]

The left-facing variant is favoured in Bön and Gurung shamanism; it is called yungdrung in Bon and gurung yantra in Gurung shamanism. Both the left-facing and right-facing variants are employed in Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism.

In Buddhism the left-facing sauwastika is often imprinted on the chest, feet, palms of images of various Buddhas. It is also the first of the 65 auspicious symbols on the footprint of the Buddha.[4][5] In Hinduism it is often associated with esoteric tantric practices and often stands for Goddess Kali.[6][7]


Comparison between left-facing "sauwastika" and right-facing "swastika"

Sanskrit sauvastika is the adjective derived from svastika through the standard process of vṛddhi of the vowel u in the initial syllable. The word Svastika is the transformation of "su asti" + "ka" through sandhi. Vṛddhi applies to the original form before applying sandhi. It is attested as an adjective meaning "benedictive, salutatory".[8]

The connection to a "reversed" svastika was probably first made by Eugène Burnouf in 1852, and taken up by Schliemann in Ilios (1880), based on a letter from Max Müller that quotes Burnouf. The term sauwastika is used in the sense of "backwards swastika" by Eugène Goblet d'Alviella (1894): "In India it [the gammadion] bears the name of swastika, when its arms are bent towards the right, and sauwastika when they are turned in the other direction."[9]

The term has been misspelled as suavastika, a term attributed to Max Müller by Wilson (1896). Wilson finds that "The 'suavastika' which Max Müller names and believes was applied to the swastika sign, with the ends bent to the left ... seems not to be reported with that meaning by any other author except Burnouf."[10]

Claims of a distinction in Indian religions[edit]

"Left-facing" swastika on a Buddhist temple in Korea.
Left-facing swastika from a 1911 edition of Kipling's Puck of Pook's Hill

Eugene Burnouf, the first Western expert on Buddhism, stated in his book Lotus de la bonne loi (1852) that the sauvastika was a Buddhist variant of the svastika.

When Heinrich Schliemann discovered swastika motifs in Troy, he wrote to the Indologist Max Müller, who, quoting Burnouf, confirmed this distinction, adding that "the svastika was originally a symbol of the sun, perhaps of the vernal sun as opposed to the autumnal sun, the sauvastika, and, therefore, a natural symbol of light, life, health, peace and wealth." The letter was published in Schliemann's book Ilios (1880):

"In the footprints of Buddha the Buddhists recognize no less than sixty-five auspicious signs, the first of them being the Svastika ..." (Eugene Burnouf, Lotus de la bonne loi, p. 625); “the fourth is the sauvastika [sic], or that with the arms turned to the left.”

The term sauvastika thus cannot be confirmed as authentic and is probably due to Burnouf (1852). Notions that sauwastikas are considered "evil" or inauspicious versions of the auspicious swastika in Indian religions have even less substance, since even Burnouf counts the svastika and the sauvastika equally among the "sixty-five auspicious signs".

D'Alviella (1894) voices doubts about the distinction:

Would it not be simpler to admit that the direction of the branches is of secondary importance in the symbolism of the gammadion? When it is desired to symbolize the progress of the sun, namely, its faculty of translation through space, rather than the direction in which it turns, little attention will have been paid to the direction given to the rays. (p. 68)

Although the more common form is the right-facing swastika, the symbol is used in both orientations for the sake of balance in Hinduism. Both variations are found in Buddhism as well.[citation needed]


The sauwastika was a favorite symbol of the last Russian Empress Alexandra Feodorovna. She placed this sign everywhere for good luck. In particular, she drew it with a pencil on the wall, at the window opening, and on the wallpaper above the bed of her son Tsarevich Alexei Nikolaevich in Ipatiev House, where the murdered Emperor's family spent the last days of their lives.[11]

See also[edit]


  • "The Migration of Symbols I". Popular Science Monthly. Vol. 37. September 1890. ISSN 0161-7370 – via Wikisource.
  • Eugene Burnouf, Lotus de la bonne loi (1852)
  • Heinrich Schliemann, Ilios (1880)
  • Thomas Wilson, The Swastika: The Earliest Known Symbol, and Its Migrations; with Observations on the Migration of Certain Industries in Prehistoric Times. Smithsonian Institution. (1896)


  1. ^ "Swastika - Hindu Symbols". ReligionFacts. Retrieved 2013-11-22.
  2. ^ "swastika (symbol) - Encyclopædia Britannica". 1935-09-15. Retrieved 2013-11-22.
  3. ^ In use from the 1850s, certainly so used by D'Alviella (1894) "sauvastika" is used to classify the geometrical form of symbols in Liungman, Carl G., Symbols: Encyclopedia of Western Signs and Ideograms, HME Publishing (2004) ISBN 91-972705-0-4
  4. ^ "Swastika Symbol in Buddhism - Buddhist Swastika". ReligionFacts. Retrieved 2013-11-22.
  5. ^ "Buddhist - The Swastikaphobia Project". Retrieved 2013-11-22.
  6. ^ "Swastika". 1935-09-05. Archived from the original on 2013-07-14. Retrieved 2013-11-22.
  7. ^ "The Swastika or WAN Symbol in Asian Art - The Heart of Buddha". Retrieved 2013-11-22.
  8. ^ according to Wilson (1819), cited by Monier-Williams.
  9. ^ The Migration of Symbols, by Eugène Goblet d'Alviella, (1894), p.40 at
  10. ^ On Oriental Carpets. Article III.—The Svastika, The Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs (1903) also uses the term with reference to Müller.
  11. ^ Pierre Gilliard. Thirteen Years at the Russian Court

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