Saturday, February 12, 2005

Did you knoW
Ashoka Pillar was rediscovered 100 years ago
Dhananjoy Bhat

India defines her sovereign status by two symbols from Ashoka’s reign — the wheel in the centre of our flag and the Pillar crowned by four lions stamped on our coins.

It was 100 years ago in 1905, the pillar was salvaged by the Archaeological Department from the ruins that dotted the area around the famous Dhameka Stupa in Saranath (marking the location of the first sermon of Lord Buddha).

This year is also the 2250th year of the construction of the Pillar by Emperor Ashoka to commemorate his visit to Sarnath, during his pilgrim/homage tour to the memory of Lord Buddha.

Between two and three hundred years after Shakyamuni Buddha first turned the Wheel of Dharma at Sarnath, Emperor Ashoka had erected the pillar. The four lions at its crown, representing the "lion’s roar of the dharma" (shakyasimha) in the cardinal directions, were adopted by modern India as the national coat of arms.

Emperor Ashoka (273-232 BC) got Buddha’s edicts inscribed on monolithic stone pillars. Sarnath — the place where Lord Buddha first addressed the world after his enlightenment — attracted Ashoka the most and in A.D. 245 he built the Dharmarajika stupa and commemorated his own visit with the Lion Capital.

The Lion Capital is a polished sandstone carving of four lions atop an abacus (the slab forming the top of a column).

The correct reference to the pillar should be: the Lion Capital of the Sarnath Pillar raised by Ashoka. The Capital consists of an inverted lotus, circular abacus and the crowning quadripartite semi-lions on top. The abacus is adorned with the figures of a lion, an elephant, a bull and horse each separated by a smaller wheel or dharmachakra consisting of twenty-four spokes. The four crowning lions are seated back and four animals in relief. Today on its own virtue, this lion capital has become National Emblem of India. — MF

This feature was published on January 22, 2005