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The Lion Capital of Ashoka
Ashoka
is a sculpture of four Asiatic lions standing back to back, on an elaborate base that includes other animals. A graphic representation of it was adopted as the official Emblem of India
Emblem of India
in 1950.[1] It was originally placed atop the Aśoka pillar at the important Buddhist
Buddhist
site of Sarnath
Sarnath
by the Emperor Ashoka, in about 250 BCE.[2] The pillar, sometimes called the Aśoka Column, is still in its original location, but the Lion Capital is now in the Sarnath
Sarnath
Museum, in the state of Uttar Pradesh, India. Standing 2.15 metres (7 feet) high including the base, it is more elaborate than the other very similar surviving capitals of the pillars of Ashoka
Ashoka
bearing the Edicts of Ashoka
Ashoka
that were placed throughout India several of which feature single animals at the top; one other damaged group of four lions survives, at Sanchi.[3] The capital is carved out of a single block of polished sandstone, and was always a separate piece from the column itself. It features four Asiatic Lions standing back to back. They are mounted on an abacus with a frieze carrying sculptures in high relief of an elephant, a galloping horse, a bull, and a lion, separated by intervening spoked chariot-wheels. The whole sits upon a bell-shaped lotus. The capital was originally probably crowned by a 'Wheel of Dharma' (Dharmachakra popularly known in India
India
as the " Ashoka
Ashoka
Chakra"), with 24 spokes, of which a few fragments were found on the site.[4] A 13th-century replica of the Sarnath
Sarnath
pillar and capital in Wat Umong
Wat Umong
near Chiang Mai, Thailand
Thailand
built by King Mangrai, preserves its crowning Ashoka Chakra or Dharmachakra.[5] The wheel on the capital, below the lions, is the model for the one in the flag of India.

Contents

1 Art history 2 Rediscovery 3 Symbolism 4 Government act 5 Notes 6 References 7 External links

Art history[edit]

The horse motif on the capital.

Currently seven animal sculptures from Ashoka
Ashoka
pillars survive.[6][7] These form "the first important group of Indian stone sculpture", though it is thought they derive from an existing tradition of wooden columns topped by animal sculptures in copper, none of which have survived. There has been much discussion of the extent of influence from Achaemenid Persia, where the column capitals supporting the roofs at Persepolis
Persepolis
have similarities, and the "rather cold, hieratic style" of the Sarnath
Sarnath
sculptures especially shows "obvious Achaemenid and Sargonid influence".[8] Very similar four-lion sculptures are on the capitals of the two columns supporting the south torana of the Ashokan or Satavahana enclosure wall round the Great Stupa
Stupa
at Sanchi. Like other Ashoka pillars, the one at Sarnath
Sarnath
was probably erected to commemorate a visit by the emperor. Rediscovery[edit]

The Lion Capital on the ground at Sarnath, before 1911, probably 1904-05

There were no surviving traces above ground of the Sarnath
Sarnath
pillar, mentioned in the accounts of medieval Chinese pilgrims, when the Indian Civil Service engineer F.O. Oertel, with no real experience in archaeology, was allowed to excavate there in the winter of 1904-05. He first uncovered the remains of a Gupta shrine west of the main stupa, overlying an Ashokan structure. To the west of that he found the lowest section of the pillar, upright but broken off near ground level. Most of the rest of the pillar was found in three sections nearby, and then, since the Sanchi
Sanchi
capital had been excavated in 1851, the search for an equivalent was continued, and it was found close by. It was both finer in execution and in much better condition than that at Sanchi. The pillar appeared to have been deliberately destroyed at some point. The finds were recognised as so important that the first onsite museum in India
India
(and one of the few then in the world) was set up to house them.[9] Symbolism[edit]

The second stamp of independent India
India
and the first for domestic use.[10][11]

What is being preached may be symbolised by the group of four lions of the capital. A group of four lions joined back to back symbolizes a group of four things of equal importance. The lion is frequently used as a symbol of the Buddha, as at Sanchi, and the animals on the abacus below also have symbolic meaning in Buddhism.[9] The capital is clearly Buddhist
Buddhist
and Mauryan in origin and thus probably symbolizes the spread of Dharma, and perhaps the extent of the Maurya Empire
Maurya Empire
in all directions, or four parts of the empire. Alternatively, the group of four lions and bell jointly symbolize preaching of 'the Four Noble Truths' of Buddhism to all; those that emphasize the Middle Path. The symbol U with a vertical line placed symmetrically inside it symbolizes 'The Middle Path'. The Middle Path is the fundamental philosophy of Buddhism, the Buddhist
Buddhist
Dharma.

National Emblem of India

A further clue could be the cylindrical portion of the Lion Capital. On the wall of the cylinder the bull, the horse, the Lion and the Elephant
Elephant
all in the moving position are being placed in between the Chakras. These could symbolize Bull, Lion, Horse
Horse
and Elephant
Elephant
rolling the Chakras. A study of the ancient coins and other archaeological finds of India and Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka
reveals the fact that Buddha
Buddha
had been symbolized with a Horse, Lion, Bull, Elephant
Elephant
and a pair of feet. The Tamil epic Manimekalai
Manimekalai
mentions worship of a pair of feet. Pairs of feet made of stone had been discovered in Jaffna Peninsula, Anuradhapura
Anuradhapura
and in a number of places of Tamil Nadu.In a number of Buddhist
Buddhist
inscriptions of Tamil Nadu
Tamil Nadu
and Sri Lanka, a pair of feet had been symbolized with a pair of fish or a pair of conch shells. In this way the symbols sculpted in the cylindrical portion of the Lion Capital represents Buddha
Buddha
rolling the Dhamma Chakra; that is, Preaching the Dhamma. As Theravada
Theravada
Buddhism rejects symbolization of Buddha
Buddha
and Buddhism, the Lion Capital may be claimed as one of the finest sculptures of the main tradition that developed into Mahayana
Mahayana
Buddhism several centuries later. Government act[edit] Whenever the emblem is used by state governments or any other government body, the words Satyameva Jayate
Satyameva Jayate
in Devanagari
Devanagari
script (सत्यमेव जयते) has to be used right under the emblem as per the statute, State Emblem of India
Emblem of India
(Prohibition of Improper Use) Act, 2005.[12] Notes[edit]

^ State Emblem, Know India
India
india.gov.in ^ " Sarnath
Sarnath
site". Retrieved 2 October 2014.  ^ Harle, 24 ^ Allen, caption at start of Chapter 15 ^ " Wat Umong
Wat Umong
Chiang Mai". Thailand's World. Retrieved 26 November 2013.  ^ Himanshu Prabha Ray. The Return of the Buddha: Ancient Symbols for a New Nation. Routledge. p. 123.  ^ Rebecca M. Brown, Deborah S. Hutton. A Companion to Asian Art and Architecture. John Wiley & Sons. p. 423-429.  ^ Harle, 22, 24, quoted in turn; Companion, 429-430 ^ a b Allen, Chapter 15 ^ India
India
Postage Stamps 1947-1988.(1989) Philately branch, Department of Posts, India. ^ Souvenir sheet of the Independence series of stamps, Indian Posts, 1948 ^ "Has Telangana government got the emblem wrong?". The Economic Times. Retrieved 2 October 2014. 

References[edit]

Allen, Charles, Ashoka: The Search for India's Lost Emperor, 2012, Hachette UK, ISBN 1408703882, 9781408703885, google books "Companion": Brown, Rebecca M., Hutton, Deborah S., eds., A Companion to Asian Art and Architecture, Volume 3 of Blackwell companions to art history, 2011, John Wiley & Sons, 2011, ISBN 1444396323, 9781444396324, google books Harle, J.C., The Art and Architecture of the Indian Subcontinent, 2nd edn. 1994, Yale University Press Pelican History of Art, ISBN 0300062176

External links[edit]

For Pictures of the famous original "Lion Capital of Ashoka" preserved at the Sarnath
Sarnath
Museum which has been adopted as the "National Emblem of India" and the Ashoka Chakra
Ashoka Chakra
(Wheel) from which has been placed in the center of the "National Flag of India" - See "lioncapital" from Columbia University Website, New York, USA National emblem of India National symbols of India "National Insignia", Embassy of India, Wa

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