New National Emblem: Have the ‘peaceful’ lions of the Ashoka emblem become ‘angry’?

After Prime Minister Narendra Modi unveiled the national emblem cast atop the new Parliament building, a debate has ensued if they are staying true to the spirit of the Lion Capital of Emperor Ashoka in Sarnath.

Opposition parties too umbrage in particular to the way in which the four lions are shown ‘baring their fangs’ as opposed to the serene visage the original work.

Prashant Bhushan, lawyer and activist, compared the historical national emblem with the lions sitting ‘majestically’ and ‘peacefully’ with Mahatma Gandhi to the new ones he considered an ‘angrier version.’

‘From Gandhi to Godse; From our national emblem with lions sitting majestically & peacefully; to the new national emblem unveiled for the top of the new Parliament building under construction at Central Vista; Angry lions with bared fangs. This is Modi’s new India!’ Mr. Bhushan tweeted.

The History Of The Four Lions

The Capital

Lion Capital, Ashokan Pillar at Sarnath, c. 250 B.C.E., seen here around 1904–05. Wikimedia Commons

The original Lion Capital is located at Sarnath, Uttar Pradesh and sits the Ashokan Pillar.

At the base of the mount is a lotus, which represents the murky waters of the mundane, also an enduring symbol of Buddhism.

Four animals are carved into the base drum, as a reminder of the unending cycle of ‘samsara,’ the world we inhabit and its perils. The four represent the four cardinal directions, a horse (west), an ox (east), an elephant (south), and a lion (north). The moving animals follow one another endlessly, symbolizing the wheel of existence.

They also are said to represent the four rivers that leave Lake Anavatapta and enter the world as the four major rivers.

On the original pillar, the four lions perched atop the pillar have their mouths open in a roaring stances, seen to be spreading the dharma, the Four Noble Truths, across the land. Sarnath is the actual the site of Buddha’s First Sermon where he shared the Four Noble Truths.

The original Lion Capital. Minus the inverted bell-shaped lotus flower, this has been adopted as the National Emblem of India, seen from another angle, showing the horse on the left and the bull on the right of the Ashoka Chakra in the circular base on which the four Indian lions are standing back to back. On the side shown here there are the bull and elephant; a lion and a horse occupies the other place. The wheel ‘Ashoka Chakra’ from its base has been placed onto the centre of the National Flag of India. Sarnath Museum. Wikimedia Commons

While the pillar remains where it was originally sunk into the ground, the lion capital is now on display at the Sarnath Museum. The national emblem of India was derived from here and it is also adorns the older one-rupee notes and two- rupee coins.

The lion references the Buddha, formerly Shakyamuni, a member of the Shakya clan. The lion is also a symbol of royalty and may also represent the Buddhist king Ashoka himself.

The capital of the Sanchi pillar of Ashoka, as discovered (left), and simulation of original appearance (right). Sanchi Museum.[11] 250 BCE.[12]

Some of the other lion capitals that survive have a row of geese carved below the lions. The goose is an ancient Vedic symbol and the flight of geese is thought to have represented the bridge between the earthly and heavenly realms.

The chakras (wheels) between the animals offer the promise of the ‘Eightfold Path’, that guide one to the unmoving center at the hub.

There was also another chakra that once stood at the apex of the capital. to represents Enlightenment or ‘moksha,’ the release from the earthly ‘samsara’. The symbolism of moving up the column toward Enlightenment parallels the way in which the practitioner meditates on the stupa in order to attain the same goal.

Suffice it to say, all historical fact points to the Lion Capital being a symbol of peace, knowledge, virtue and enlightenment upholding the tenets of the Buddhist tradition.

So, does the new emblem signify a more aggressive stance and a ‘new India’ disposition that the ruling government is trying to drive home?

Opposition Reacts To The New State Emblem

Trinamool Congress MP Mahua Moitra, who has been under fire recently for her recent comments, also shared the two two contrasting images.

The inauguration by Prime Minister Modi, also led the Opposition to question the ‘Constitutional propriety’ of the PM unveiling the emblem atop the Parliament building, saying this was a ‘violation’ of the separation of power between the Executive and the Legislature.

The CPM also objected to the religious ceremony organized at the event, wondering ‘how a personal event’ was conducted on an official occasion.

‘Also, Parliament is neutral so why bring religious functions into it?’ a spokesperson questioned.

The BJP dismissed the criticism terming it politically motivated.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday unveiled the emblem in a special ceremony also attended by Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla and Union Housing Minister Hardeep Puri.

‘The concept sketch and process of casting of the national emblem on the roof of new Parliament building has gone through eight different stages of preparation from clay modeling/computer graphic to bronze casting and polishing,’ a PMO statement said.

The earlier design had a spire, which the Ashoka Emblem replaced in 2020.

The metal sculpture has been built in Aurangabad, Jaipur and Delhi by artists Sunil Deore and Lakshman Vyas, who are of the opinion that it is not so much about ‘anger,’ but about ‘angles’. Viewed from the right angles, such as the one accessible to the general public on-ground, the stance of the lions stays true to the original Ashokan Pillar, they argue.

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