When Eileen W. of Golden Gate Heights arrived at Ocean Beach Wednesday morning to walk her dog, she came across an unusual sight: several coconuts with red swastikas were washed up on the beach, just above the waterline.
Before Germany's National Socialist Party adopted the Hakenkreuz ("hooked cross") as its symbol in the 1930s, the swastika was an ancient religious symbol revered by Buddhists, Jainists and Hindi for thousands of years.
After early anthropologists determined that Germans and Indians shared a common ancestor, nationalists appropriated the symbol. In Sanskrit, swastikas can mean several things, such as luck or prosperity, said Badarikashrama, a Vedic teacher based in San Leandro.
The coconuts on Ocean Beach were most likely used to observe Ganesh Chaturthi, a Hindu festival that celebrates Ganesha, the elephant-headed deity who removes obstacles from one's path. In India, celebrants place clay or plaster Ganesha idols in rivers and lakes, where they gradually dissolve.
"You can do it from a boat in the middle of the ocean, or from the beach," said Badarikashrama. The prayer ritual, known as a pūjā, may also be done using an offering of coconuts, he added. "They may have been beseeching Ganesha for an education, good health, or happiness," he said.
Because Ganesh has 21 names, celebrants may make an offering each time his name is recited during a pūjā. Traditionally, people use flowers or rice, "but they could use 21 coconuts," Badarikashrama said.
Ganesh Chaturthi "usually happens in late August to middle of September" and lasts 10 days, said Badarikashrama. This year, the festival began on September 5th; next year, it falls on August 25th.
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