Why was it made a national symbol?
The national emblem is an adaptation of the Lion Capital, originally found atop the Ashoka Column at Sarnath, established in 250 BC. The capital has four Asiatic lions—symbolising power, courage, pride and confidence—seated on a circular abacus. The abacus has sculptures of a bull, a horse, a lion and an elephant. In the national emblem, three lions are visible; the abacus shows a bull and horse separated by a dharma chakra; the outlines of two more dharma chakras are visible on either side of the abacus.
While Buddhist interpretations say the animals represent different phases of the Buddha’s life, non-religious interpretations say they depict the reign of emperor Ashoka in the four geographical directions, while the wheels depict his enlightened rule.
The capital was adopted as the national emblem on January 26, 1950. It was chosen as a symbol of contemporary India’s reaffirmation of its ancient commitment to world peace and goodwill.
The national emblem is a symbol of the Government of India and is used on official documents; it is the official seal of the President of India and the Central and state governments. The symbol is recognised internationally as representing the Republic of India, and is found on all passports and other international documents.
The Lion Capital has received its due attention too. After being removed from the Ashok Column, it has been housed in the Sarnath Museum since 1910. It is kept at a temperature between 200C and 240C, and humidity of 45 to 55 percent. Placed behind a railing, it is guarded by personnel from the Uttar Pradesh police force. In 2013, the museum had 3.27 lakh visitors.
Although government officials were forthcoming with information about the national emblem and the Lion Capital, attempts to get an official quote got tangled in bureaucratic machinery.
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(This story appears in the 22 August, 2014 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)