Sengol: The emblem of Independence and India’s Chola dynasty heritage
By Pratik Agrawal
The inauguration of the new Parliament building by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday has already become a controversy with at least 19 opposition parties objecting over the decision and choosing to boycott the event.
The Narendra Modi-led government today has announced the installation of the Sengol, a Chola staff or sceptre, in the new Parliament marking it as a highlight of a often forgotten episode in India’s history.
The step taken by the Union government has not just put the spotlight on the Chola dynasty but has zeroed in on the old rulers of Tamil country. After its defeat in Karnataka, the BJP lost its lone hold in South India.
The decision to install the Sengol, which traces its origin to the Chola dynasty, is being seen as the BJP’s attempt to appeal to Tamils and create fresh influence for the party among the state’s voters.
What’s the Sengol?
Sengol is a golden sceptre is some 76 years old. The British handed over the Sengol to Indian leaders to marks the transition of power from Britain to newly-independent Indians.
Months before the people of the country were to listen to Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru’s Tryst with Destiny speech, the last Viceroy of India, Lord Loius Mountbatten, asked Nehru a question that baffled him.
Mountbatten asked Nehru how would he symbolize India’s attaining independence. Puzzled, Nehru could not think of anything better than to seek the advice of C Rajagopalachari, popularly known as Rajaji, the first and last Indian Governor-General.
Rajaji, an erudite scholar of history, customs and civilisation, suggested to Nehru that during the Chola dynasty in Tamil tradition, the high priest (Rajaguru) of the state would hand over a sceptre to the new king during his coronation, symbolising his assumption of regal office.
Nehru warmed to Rajaji’s suggestion that a sceptre be handed to him to mark the change in one’s destiny from being a subject of the British king to a free, independent leader of India. He assigned the task to Rajaji to arrange such a sceptre.
Rajaji then contacted Thiruvaduthurai Aadheenam, the prominent mutt in Mayiladuthurai, the heartland of the Chola dynasty. The 20th Guru Sri La Sri Ambalavana Desika Swamigal, then seer of the mutt, took over the responsibility for making the golden sceptre despite his ill-health.
The seer assigned the task to Vummidi Bangaru Jewellers in Madras (now Chennai). The owner, Vummidi Bangaru, was entrusted with the job due to his expertise. Finally, the Sengol studded with jewels was ready with a bull (nandi) on top as a symbol of strength, truth and righteousness. The Sengol cost Rs 15,000 back then.
The seer sent a delegation from the mutt on a special plane arranged by the government to Delhi with the Sengol. He also sent a congratulatory note to Nehru with the delegation.
The Sengol was then taken to Mountbatten, who handed it back to the team, led by Sri La Sri Kumaraswamy Thambiran, whence Ganga water was sprinkled on it and was handed over to Nehru in a procession.
Finally on August 14, 1947 at 11:45 PM, exactly 15 minutes before India attained Independence and Nehru started his historic address, Tryst with Destiny, the delegation presented the Sengol to Nehru in the presence of Rajendra Prasad, India’s first President.
Sengol was presented with the chanting of the Kolaru Pathigam by Manickam Odhuvaar and Nadaswaram played by TN Rajarathinam. Kolaru Pathigam are hymns from Thevaram, originally composed by Shaivite saint Thirugnana Sambandar.
The Sengol not only marked India’s Independence, but also marked the birth of the nation as a union of the North and the South.