Sunday, March 16, 2014

The Buddhist symbol, Hanji & Korean culture ....

When selecting designs for my Hanji pieces I tend to make stylistic choices as to what will look best on each piece but the Korean designs all have very deep symbolic meanings.  None more than the Buddhist swastika (manja) design. ‘Manja’ (만, Man is “卍” and 만자, Manja literally means “letter Man”) is also called Srivatsalksana in Sanskrit.  It is one of the thirty-two (32) marks of excellence of the Buddha and is said to exist on his hands, feet, hair and waist. 


For those of us in the West this is often confused with the German Nazi swastika symbol but in fact it's been  around for about three thousand years. 

The swastika is an equilateral cross with arms bent at right angles and all in the same direction, usually to the right, or clockwise. It's a symbol of prosperity and good fortune and it originally represented the revolving sun, fire, or life. The word swastika is derived from the Sanskrit swastika which means, "conducive to well- being". It was widely utilized in ancient Mesopotamian coinage as well as appearing in early Christian and Byzantium art, where it was known as the gammadion cross.

Used as a border inside this divided box

Today, whenever the ancient symbol is used, it is automatically assumed by some people that it is a Nazi symbol. When the Nazis took the ancient symbol, they forever changed the  meaning of the swastika, the symbol of purity and of life.

A border on an Umbrella Stand

This symbol for Korean Buddhists, as well as for many other cultures, is an important one, as it represents their history and beliefs. It's a sign of Buddha's mercy and the happiness of mankind portraying the virtues of Buddhism and, because of it's ancient significance, it was widely used in pieces of Hanji craft. 

Although most of my Hanji work these days is done in muted colours with predominately black designs on them many Korean Hanji pieces are brightly coloured and each colour of the swastika also has a meaning.

                                 Blue - Eternal benevolence
                                 Red - Limitless benevolence
                              Yellow - Eternal prosperity
                              Green - Limitless cultivation

A green swastika on this traditional Hanji box

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