India is gearing up to witness the grand inauguration of the newly-built Parliament Complex in Delhi this Sunday (28 May) on the birth anniversary of Veer Savarkar.
Union Home Minister Amit Shah announced that a Chola era Sengol (sceptre) will be received by Prime Minister Narendra Modi during the inauguration of the new complex, post which it will adorn the walls of the Parliament building permanently.
Notably, the Sengol has a grand historical significance considering that it was used during the ritualistic transfer of power from the British to the first prime minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru.
Here is a brief overview of the historical significance of the Sengol, its use during the transfer of power during Independence and the significance attached to placing one of the oldest south Indian dynasty’s symbols on the national stage.
The Sengol was used during the Chola empire for transfer of seat of power from one king to another by the rajguru (state priest).
Significantly, the word Sengol, derives from the Tamil word ‘semmai’, indicating righteousness and symbolising power and justice.
During the Chola empire, the Sengol served as a ceremonial spear or flagstaff that featured elaborate carvings and intricate decorative elements.
The Sengol was considered a sacred emblem of authority, representing the transfer of power from one ruler to the next.
Over time, with wide-ranging contributions of the Cholas in the fields of arts, architecture and literature, the Sengol had emerged as an iconic symbol of the Chola power.
Before the transfer of power was slated to happen on 15 August 1947, Lord Mountbatten had reportedly enquired with Nehru about the ritualistic manner of transfer of power or the appropriate ceremony to carry out the transfer.
Nehru had then consulted respected statesman C Rajagopalachari (Rajaji), who had recommended taking cue from the Chola dynasty’s model of power transfer, where the transition from one king to another was sanctified and blessed by high priests involving the handing over of the ceremonial flagstaff, the Sengol.
In fact, Rajaji had approached the Thiruvavaduthurai Adheenam, a Dharmic Mutt located in the Thanjavur district of Tamil Nadu for their assistance in the preparation of the Sengol, keeping in mind the expertise and deep-rooted connection of the 500-year-old mutt with principles of justice and righteousness.
This ensured that the preparation would be done with the spiritual significance and adhering to the traditions.
Further, the task of crafting the commissioned Sengol, five feet in length, incorporating intricate details and symbolism with the Nandi (bull) positioned on top of the Sengol representing the concept of 'Nyaya', was handed over to the renowned jewellers Vummidi Bangaru Chetty in Chennai.
Thus, on the day of Independence, the deputy high priest of the Thiruvavaduthurai Adheenam, Nadaswaram player Rajarathinam Pillai, and the oduvar (singer) were among the priests flown in from Tamil Nadu to participate in the ceremony of transfer, and they carried the Sengol with them.
Notably, in a riveting account of the months surrounding and including the day of Independence, Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre in their book Freedom at Midnight, provide a detailed account of the evening.
Below is a relevant extract, signifying the Dharmic nature of the transfer of power and significant spiritual traditions that were adhered to as India’s reign was handed back to it by the British...
“The two holy men in the car behind him stared straight ahead with celestial indifference. They were sannyasin, men dwelling in the highest state of exaltation a Brahmin could attain, a state so sublime that, according to Hindu belief, it conferred on those who had reached it more spiritual blessings in one lifetime than an ordinary man might hope to attain in ten million reincarnations.
"With their bare chests and foreheads streaked with ashes, their matted, uncut hair tumbling in black strands to their shoulders, they were pilgrims from an ancient, timeless India. Beside each were the three possessions they were allowed in their life of renunciation: a seven-jointed bamboo stave, a water gourd and an antelope skin…... One of the two bore a massive silver platter upon which was folded a swathe of white silk streaked in gold, the Pitambaram, the Cloth of God.
"The other carried a five-foot sceptre, a flask of holy water from the Tanjore River, a pouch of sacred ash and a pouch of boiled rice which had been offered at dawn at the feet of Nataraja, the dancing God, in his temple in Madras.
"Their procession moved through the streets of the capital until it came to a stop in front of a simple bungalow at 17 York Road…...As once Hindu holy men had conferred upon ancient India’s kings their symbols of power, so the sannyasin had come to York Road to bestow their antique emblems of authority on the man about to assume the leadership of a modern Indian nation.
"They sprinkled Jawaharlal Nehru with holy water, smeared his forehead with sacred ash, laid their sceptre on his arms and draped him in the Cloth of God…… In military cantonments, at official residences, naval stations, government offices; at Fort William in Calcutta where Clive had started it all, Fort Saint George in Madras, Viceregal Lodge in Simla; in Kashmir, the Nagaland, Sikkim and the jungles of Assam, thousands of Union Jacks slid down their flagstaffs for the last time……the Union Jack came down those thousands of flagstaffs at sunset, 14 August, to go quiet and unprotesting into Indian history. At sunrise 15 August, its place would be taken by the banner of an independent India.”
Thus, amidst Dharmic traditions dating back to ancient times of the civilisation, the mantle of modern India was handed back to it.
Unfortunately, the Sengol was not given any significant place but kept in a museum in Anand Bhavan in Prayagraj (previously Allahabad).
The present government’s decision to re-enact the ritual as Prime Minister Modi inaugurates the new Parliament is a great testament and a historical tribute to the tradition with which modern India embarked on its independent journey, especially as we celebrate 75 years of independence with Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav.
Further, placing the Sengol permanently in the new Parliament complex is a welcome decision, and appropriate to the significance and importance that the symbolic sceptre must receive on the national stage.
Even in present times, Cholas and their culture hold deep significance, being one of the oldest and longest ruling dynasties of the civilisation and a significant flag-bearer of the rich Tamil culture.
With historical studies and political discussions renewing their focus on the history of the southern India hitherto neglected by Marxist historians, the Cholas and their symbols being used on the national stage are a fitting tribute to their contribution to the Dharmic civilisation for the longest time.
Further, even politically, the use of the Chola dynasty Sengol and importance accorded to it is an important indicator of the significance being accorded by the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government at the Centre to the culture and contribution of Tamil Nadu.
It is also a direct contrast to the constant isolationist politics propagated by the ruling Dravida Munnetra Kazagham against an apparent ‘Delhi-led’ Centre.
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