Mongolian Khas pattern and Nazi’s swastika

The swastika is synonymous of Nazi Germany and is considered a symbol of pure evil in the Western world. The black straight-armed hakenkreuz (swastika) on the distinctive white circle and red background is the Nazi flag, which became the most hated symbol of modernity, inextricably linked to the atrocities committed under Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich of Germany.

Therefore, it is clear that why some tourists and visitors coming to Mongolia, especially from Europe, are puzzled and shocked by the abundance of swastikas wherever possible: it can be found on the facades; interiors of ancient Buddhist temples; the Governmental Palace; modern buildings, and on clothes and handicrafts etc. Even this country has the swastika in its national emblem.

This might be understood, if we travel along history. Since ancient times, the Mongols associated the swastika with their statehood, and this sign was a sacred symbol of the state power. The Mongols still call the swastika as “Khas” in their language. The state seal was also called Khasbu, which was passed by all the great Khans of the Mongol Empire by inheritance starting from Chinggis (Genghis) Khan.


Government  seal monument​​

Mongolian State Seal Monument in Ulaanbaatar. 

Unfortunately, any drawings or descriptions are not inherited to nowadays and no one clearly depicts how the seal of the Great Khans of the Mongol Empire looked like. But only imprints of this seal on official documents and letters were preserved. One of them is kept in the Vatican Museum. This is a letter from Guyug Khan to Pope Innocent IV dated in 1246. The imprint of the seal is clearly visible on this letter and it is written by vertical Mongolian script that “By the power of the eternal heaven, this is an order of the Great Khan. A citizen of the Empire or a stranger. Respect and obey.”

The last direct descendant of Chinggis Khan who ruled Mongolia was Ligden Khan. At that time, Mongolia lost its unity and divided into fragmented principalities. And the troops of the rapidly strengthened Manchu kingdom, which already conquered China, were advancing from the east.


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Imprints of this seal of the Great Khans of the Mongol Empire.

So, during the onslaught of superior Manchu troops, he retreated west to reach the lands around Khukh Nuur or Blue Lake (nowadays, Qinghai province of China) but fell ill and died in 1634. According to legends, he hid in the rocks the Khasbu seal of Chinggis Khan before his death, the sacred symbol of the state power of the Mongols, so that the enemies could not find it…

It’s said that since then no one has been able to find the Khasbu seal. And no one can exactly say about the heavenly sign of Khas depicted on the seal.

After the fall of the Manchu Qing dynasty in 1911, the use of the swastika as insignia and rank of officials and military began to spread in independent Mongolia. During 1921-1925, Mongolian dollars with the pattern of Khas had been in circulation throughout Mongolia as becoming symbol of a state power.


Banknote: 10 Dollar (Mongolia) (1924 Issue)

The famous Polish writer, researcher, university professor and anti-communist politician Ferdinand Osendowski (1876 – 1945) published his first book in English: “Beasts, People, and Gods” after he arrived in New York in late 1921. The description of his epic adventurous journey during the civil war in Russia through Siberia and Mongolia, filled with dangers and narrow escapes, was an amazing success and a bestseller.

And here is what he wrote in his book: “…the mysterious land of the sign of the swastika; the land which has not forgotten the thoughts of the long deceased great potentates of Asia and a half of the Europe: that is Mongolia.”

But during the socialist period when Mongolia was controlled politically by the Soviet Union, it was almost impossible to talk and even to pronounce the name of Chinggis Khan, so that the Khas patterns were erased from memories of the Mongolians.

Only after democratic revolution of Mongolia in the 1990, it become possible and open to respect the founder of the Mongol Empire Chinggis Khan and the use Khas – a sacred symbol of its state power on the national emblem of this country.

Would you imagine what was the reason for such extraordinary worship and the respect to the Khas ornament among Mongolians and its association to eternal sky or heaven?

From time of immemorial, the Mongols has been living like nomads and they had to be on the move and travel long distances for all four seasons of the year. And for this to happen, you need to navigate the stars accurately with an implicit knowledge about the rotation of the sky around the celestial axis. The constellation Ursa Major constantly changes its position relatively to the Polestar and moves around it. If we draw its location to the Polestar in winter, spring, summer and autumn, we can get an image of a swastika, that is, a Khas. Maybe that’s why the ancient Mongols bowed to the sky which showed them the right path, and portrayed it as Khas in its Tengerist religion.


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Mongolian Tumen Nast Pattern.

The Mongols also call Khas pattern as the Tumen Nast, which means ten thousand lives or eternity. Therefore, it is also a symbol of eternity and constancy.

The most ancient image of Khas discovered by archaeologists is located in the north-west of Mongolia on the rock of Zuraa Khoshuu, in the territory of Zuunkhangai soum of Uvs aimag. It was established that the Khas was painted by ancient people using red ocher about seven thousand years ago, that is, during the Neolithic period (the final division of the Stone Age).

And not far from the city of Darkhan, so-called a deer stone with an engraved Khas turned counterclockwise was discovered in the shape of four horse heads. The age of this deer stone with the Khas symbol is about 5-6 thousand years back. In Archeology, deer stones  are the ancient megaliths carved with symbols found largely in Mongolia and Siberia. This name comes from their carved depictions of flying deers.

It should be noted that people have depicted the swastika from ancient times, and revered it not only in Mongolia, but also in many different places on earth.


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Swastika on Budhist temple.

For example: in pre-Columbian America, the swastika was considered as the emblem of the God of sun. Therefore the image of a bird with the swastika on its chest, like a bird with a cross, was interpreted as a symbol of the solar deity or as a “thunder bird” during the Bronze Age. Buddhists depict the swastika on the Buddha’s chest as a symbol of heart and a sign of the ruler of the world – cakravartin, as well as the Buddha’s supreme law, to which all things are to subject.

Even the ancient Greeks and Sicilians minted it on coins and painted jugs and dishes with the swastika patterns. Residents of Troy carved this sign on the stomachs of lead statuettes of goddesses. More than 160 swastikas were discovered by archaeologists under the gray cover of ashes in Pompeii. Under the sail with the image of a swastika, fearless Vikings surfed in the sea. The swastika can also be found on the walls of the catacombs, where the first Christians gathered for praying on the medieval bronze tombstones and on the vestments of Christian clergy.


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Symbol of heart.

The word swastika in Sanskrit, the language of the ancient Indo-Aryans, means “that which bestows prosperity.” The swastika symbolizes the sun, the perpetual motion and development, so is considered as a lucky sign that is still revered throughout India.

Ancient Roman Mosaic​​

Ancient Roman Mosaic.

The Nazi use of the swastika stems from the work of 19th Century German scholars translating old Indian texts, who noticed similarities between their own language and Sanskrit. They concluded that Indians and Germans must have had a shared ancestry of which the Aryans,  god-like and white-raced warriors.

This idea was seized upon by anti-Semitic nationalist groups, who appropriated the swastika as an Aryan symbol to boost a sense of linkage for the Germanic people. So the Nazis turned one of the oldest symbols of mankind characterizing the sun, sky, life, welfare and happiness into a terrible emblem of evil.

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