The Jaina Flavour in the National Emblem of India

By Dr. C. Devkumar, E-Mail :  


The national emblem of modern India has a grand history behind. The great visionaries like Mahatma Gandhi, Pt. Nehru and others have contributed to the fusion and synthesis of the modern India which could proudly inherit the rich civilization, culture and tradition to march ahead as the largest democracy in the world. There is a lot of discussion about the virtues of pluralism and diversity in Indian culture, religion, language etc. The concept and practice of coalition government at the Centre, and the UNO at the global level testify the superiority of Bahunaya vada (Svayambhu Stotra, 145) over one-sided view. Diversity is a natural phenomenon and hence the need for the Convention of Biodiversity in global context. (A detailed analysis of the principles and practice of Syadvada in every walk of life, be it science or technology or commerce or governance is beyond the purview of the topic under discussion).

An adaptation of the Sarnath Lion taken from the pillar preserved in the Saranath Museum was adopted by the Government as the National emblem of India on 26th January 1950. It is a replica of the Lion of Sarnath, near Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh. The Lion Capital was erected in the third century BC by Emperor Ashoka. The emblem has four lions standing back to back (only three are visible), mounted on an abacus with a frieze carrying sculpture in high relief of an elephant, a galloping horse, a bull and a lion separated by intervening wheels (chakras). The abacus is, as mentioned above, girded by four smaller animals that guard the four directions.

The lion of the north
The elephant of the east
The horse of the south
The bull of the west

Carved out of a single block of polished sandstone, the Capital is crowned by the Wheel of the Law (Dharma Chakra).

Suffice to say, our national emblem reminds the fusion of the three ancient Indian thoughts. A short profile of our national emblem is given in Table 1. The motto Satyameva Jayathe reflects the Hindu thought and the Lion capital in the emblem is inspired by the Buddhist King, Ashoka. Does the Saranath Stupa, the original Lion capital found at Varanasi remind something about Jaina thoughts? This is the question being addressed here. As far as I know (my knowledge is very limited, though) none has attempted a probe on this aspect.

The lion capital consists of four features
1) The pillar (Stupa)
2) four lions one each facing each direction
3) the abacus contains carvings of four animals
4) Dharma Chakra

Let me start from the last. The Dharma Chakra consists of 24 spokes. The term and the number unmistakably signify the 24 Tirthankaras. The Dharma Chakra symbolizes the spread of the Dharma through Samavasarana, which is a common knowledge to Jains.

Starting from Rishabha, Ajita, Sambhava……….. to Mahavira, we have 24 Tirthankar of this kalpa. Each Tirthankar is well recognized by His lanchana. In the above list, the corresponding lanchana were the bull, the elephant, the horse…….. and the lion. Is it a mere coincidence that the abacus contains both the carvings of these four animals and the Dharma Chakra ? Two questions arise; Why only the lanchana of first three Tirthankaras and the last one? What is the significance of their directional orientation in the abacus? The reply to the first question is rather obvious. You just count 1,2,3,….24. The sequence is logically revealed. I have no ready reply to the second question. One thing is clearly implied; the Dharma reached to all four directions due to the sequential preaching of the Tirthankaras. But why was the bull placed at the west while the elephant at the east? etc., Does the directional orientation have any significance on the Samavasarana of the concerned Tirthankara with respect to the locus of Varanasi? Or was the directional configuration deliberate?

Now, let us move on to the four lions facing all the four directions one each. For a Jain, what is missing is the Chaturmukha (Sarvatobhadra) bimbha of Bhagavan Mahavira on the top. This omission is rather deliberate and symbolic. Its omission is a mastery of the mind to leave the imagination to the viewer. You don’t install the divine bimbh and leave it unattended. More over, it would not signify the quintessence of pluralism of thoughts that Lord Mahavira preached and King Ashoka tried to adopt in its preachings. The Saranath stupa thus eloquently signifies the secular credentials of the king.

What about the stupa itself? It reminds to me the Manastambha of Jaina tradition. To me the Saranath stupa in entirety proclaims the Vira Sasana loud and clear.

The historians need not be bemused by my above hypothesis. A Buddhist King propagating the Jaina thoughts! Probably, yes indeed. I invite the readers to go through the article ‘The Edicts of King Ashoka: An English Rendering (The Wheel Publication No. 386/387)’ by Ven. S. Dhammika (published by the Buddhist Publication Society, P.O. Box 61, 54, Sangharaja Mawatha Kandy, Sri Lanka).

A perusal of the history of King Ashoka would reveal the following :
He belonged to the illustrious tradition of Chandra Gupta Maurya who was an ardent Jain and accompanied Swami Bhadra Bahu to South India. The migration of 12000 Jain saints left a vacuum behind as far as Jain religion was concerned. King Ashoka had a turbulent childhood. His ascent to the throne was not non-violent to say the least. Naturally, he pushed himself away from Jainism and Jain preachers. This was followed by his intemperate greed for power and expansion of his territory which resulted in to the infamous Kalinga war. He soon realized the futility of greed and war. It is a matter of conjecture as to why he did not fall back on Jainism. Here was a man who moved away from his forefather’s religion and was in dire need of one. He sided with Buddhism which needed him more than he needed it. A reading of his rock-edicts clearly reveals that his life styles and attitude towards life and religion were not co-terminus with the tenets of Buddhism. He believed in God (called himself Devanambiya Piyadasi, i.e. “the Beloved of Gods”). His commitment to Buddhism was lukewarm at the beginning. His rock-edicts preach a religion of his own. He preached non-violence and the rock edict at Girnar (where Lord Nemi Natha attained parinirvana) is an eloquent testimony of his thinking on hunting and animal – killing. He even abhorred meat-eating. These currents of thoughts are not the monopolistic views of Buddhism. He was a moderator of all religious thoughts, a view ably supported by the concept of Anekanta or Syad vada.

One is tempted to believe that King Ashoka was disillusioned by the state of Jainism in his kingdom, orphaned as it was by the Great Migration of Bhadra Bahu and His sangha. He might have felt to adopt a neutral path and synthesise a religion of his own borrowing ideas from different religions. His adoption of the Stupa might have been influenced by the great history of India beginning from Bhagavan Rishabha.

There is thus a great need to investigate in more details about the life and preaching of King Ashoka. The national emblem thus symbolizes the fusion and confluence of the thoughts and history of three great ancient Indian religions and hence secular in concept and rich in diversity of thoughts.



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