Hindu Swastika to be Rehung at Children’s Museum

A tapestry featuring a Hindu swastika that was removed from Pretend City Children’s Museum in Irvine, after receiving complaints from visitors, will be placed up again this week.

Pamela Shambra, President of Pretend City, made the announcement on the museum’s Facebook page last Wednesday.

The swastika is a religious symbol that has existed for thousands of years in Hinduism, but many associate it with the German Nazi Party, who misappropriated the symbol during Adolf Hitler’s reign.

The tapestry, which was originally put on display June 27, is part of Pretend City’s “Home” exhibit, which takes objects of cultural significance from local Hindu family homes and displays them to the public. The tapestry is currently part of an exhibit that displays items from a local Indian home.

When it was first displayed, some visitors claimed that the tapestry was offensive and called for it to be taken down. Complaints were posted (all of which have now been deleted by the original posters) on the museum’s Facebook page, resulting in the removal of the tapestry by the museum’s staff Aug. 31.

“We received a handful of phone calls about the issue,” said Dr. Kevin O’Grady, director of the Anti-Defamation League Orange County regional office. “There was a mixture of anger and confusion.”

The Anti-Defamation League was set up to stop the defamation of the Jewish people and to secure justice and fair treatment to all.

The removal of the tapestry drew criticisms from other visitors, who also voiced their disapproval of the removal on the museum’s Facebook page and beckoned for the tapestry to be put back.

“I’m surprised and disappointed that the museum gave in to the narrow-mindedness of a few people and took down the tapestry,” Michelle Hosea Walker wrote. “You took from the rest of us an opportunity to learn ourselves and teach our children about another culture.”

In India, it is a very ancient symbol that predates the Nazi Party by thousands of years and was used by many cultures for centuries, including Ancient Greece, China and Native Americans.

Swami Adrishanada, the religious administrator of the Pasadena Hindu Temple, said the swastika means “good existence” in the Indian language of Sanskrit.

The swastika is a sacred cultural symbol to Hindus, and it is placed on personal belongings because Hindus believe it will bring them success and good fortune.

“Hitler co-opted the swastika because he thought it would help him win the war,” Adrishanada said.

O’Grady said confusion over the meaning of the Hindu swastika is not uncommon and could have been avoided if the museum had done more to explain, “Why it was there and educating people about what it meant.”

“We are now in the process of developing hands-on programming to help children learn the multiple meanings of symbols and the specific and long history of the Hindu swastika,” Shambra wrote.
She said that the “static explanation of this symbol in the Home was not sufficient to effectively educate our guests about this subject.”

Unlike the initial hanging of the tapestry, the announcement to hang it again was greeted with unanimous support on the museum’s Facebook page.

Paul Levesque, department chair of comparative religion at Cal State Fullerton, said that initial objections to the tapestry were understandable considering the negative connotations with which the symbol has become associated. He added that the museum appropriately reflected on the situation before deciding to rehang the tapestry.

“It’s a positive sign that through communication people can come to a mutual understanding,” Levesque said.

About Gary Young

freelancer spring 2010