The swastika is a cross with its arms 90° to either right or left. It is usually oriented horizontally or at a 45° angle. Its Indian form typically features a dot in each quadrant (as shown in the figure to the right).
The word swastika is derived from the Sanskrit स्वस्ितक, svastika, meaning any lucky or auspicious object, and in particular a mark made on persons and things to denote good luck. It is composed of su- (cognate with Greek ευ-), meaning "good, well" and asti a verbal abstract to the root as "to be"; svasti thus means "well-being". The suffix -ka forms a diminutive, and svastika might thus be translated literally as "little thing associated with well-being", corresponding roughly to "lucky charm".
The swastika appears in art and design throughout human history, symbolising many different things — luck, Surya (the sun), Brahma, or the Hindu concept of samsara. In antiquity, the swastika was used freely by Sumerians, Hittites, Celts and Greeks, among others. The swastika today is used primarily as a religious symbol by Hindus – it was first mentioned in the Vedas, the holy texts of Hinduism – but transferred to other Indic religions like Buddhism and Jainism. It also occurs in other Asian, European, and Native American cultures – sometimes as a simple geometrical motif, sometimes as a religious symbol. The pre-Christian Anglo-Saxon ship burial at Sutton Hoo, England, contains gold cups and shields bearing swastikas. The almost universally positive meanings of the swastika were subverted in the early twentieth century when it was adopted as the emblem of the National Socialist German Workers Party.
Since World War II, most Westerners see it as solely a fascist symbol, leading to incorrect assumptions about its pre-Nazi use and its current use in other cultures.