Is India Changing its Stance?
- 19 Jul 2022
The National emblem unveiled on the roof of the New Parliament Building by prime minister Narendra Modi remained in the headlines last week. The building is a part of the Central Vista Redevelopment Project which has already got its share of controversies in the past for harming the environment and being constructed at a time when the economy was facing a downtrend due to the pandemic. This time the altercation is around the aggressive expression of the lions on the new cast of the emblem.
What is a national emblem and why is it important?
A national emblem is a symbol of a nation’s sovereignty. It is a seal that is used by a particular nation only. India’s national emblem has been adapted from the Lion Capital of Asoka at Sarnath, Uttar Pradesh. The use of the emblem is regulated by the State Emblem of India Rules, 2007. It is majorly used by public authorities of the country. Improper use of the emblem is penalised under the State Emblem of India (Prohibition of Improper Use) Act, 2005.
Our National Emblem
The Lion Capital of Asoka preserved at Sarnath Museum, Varanasi belongs to 250 BC. It was excavated by Friedrich Oscar Oertel in 1905. The Lion Capital has four Asiatic lions that are standing on a circular abacus back-to-back facing four cardinal directions representing pride, courage, confidence and power. Four Dharma Chakras are corresponding to the lion busts separated by four animals a galloping horse, a bull, an elephant and a lion at the frieze of the abacus. The abacus is on an inverted bell-shaped lotus which is not included in the national emblem.
The state emblem of India displays three lions on the abacus with a Dharma Chakra in the centre, a galloping horse on the left, a bull on the right and outlines of Dharma Chakras on the extreme left and right with the motto ‘Satyameva Jayate’ written in Devanagari script at the bottom of this profile. The motto has been taken from Mundaka Upanishad which means ‘truth alone triumphs’. The state emblem of India was adopted on the first republic day of the nation on 26th January 1950.
Badruddin Faiz Tyabji and his wife Surayya Tyabji suggested using the Lion Capital as the National Emblem. Nandalal Bose designed the illustrations for the constitution, and his mentee Dinanath Bhargava sketched the Emblem on the Constitution.
Why it has become a national issue?
Symbols have been an important tool to communicate an idea or a belief since time immemorial. There is an entire field of study known as semiotics in which different signs, icons and symbols are interpreted by scholars. Remember Da Vinci Code starring Tom Hanks? He was a professor of the history of art in the movie and tried interpreting the symbols to unravel the mysteries. Not just in popular culture we see symbols everywhere there is a need to communicate or convey a message. Hence maintaining the originality of a symbol becomes necessary to make sure the message does not convert into something other than the intended meaning. This is what has fuelled the controversy around the national emblem installed atop the new parliament building as the national emblem represents the collective belief of the nation and its people.
Congress, the largest party in the opposition, has objected to the new design of the lions with exposed fangs. The party is not pleased with the omission of the motto from the emblem and also has shown its displeasure with not being invited to the unveiling ceremony like other parties in opposition.
Trinamool Congress has called the lions ferocious. According to RJD, the lions seem man-eaters.
AIMIM leader Asaduddin Owaisi has accused the Prime minister of constitutional impropriety by unveiling the emblem, he is of the view that it should have been done by the Speaker of Lok Sabha instead.
The government has clarified that it has not made any change to the original national emblem which is 1.6 meters high. Whereas the cast on the top of the new parliament building is almost 4 times higher than the original one. Hence the lions appear dissimilar.
What do the historians say?
Most historians have found the two structures to be quite different sending different messages. Lions in the original Sarnath emblem are regal, confident and calm giving a protective impression but the angry-looking lions on the new cast are aggressive and discomfort-inducing.
But there are a few historians who believe that the issue is unnecessarily blown out of proportions. Since the artists are from distant timelines, the materials used to make both pieces of art were different and the new cast is way bigger than the original one, dissimilarities between the two were inevitable. The new cast has not changed the fundamentals in any way, so the argument is unfounded.