Bark and Bite

Lions atop parliament: Projecting aggression can often diminish strength

15 July 2022
On 11 July, Prime Minister Narendra Modi unveiled the national emblem cast atop the roof of the new parliament building in Delhi. It drew fire from critics for portraying the lions as angrier and fiercer in comparison to the original which it is meant to replicate.
Sonu Mehta/Hindustan Times/Getty Images
On 11 July, Prime Minister Narendra Modi unveiled the national emblem cast atop the roof of the new parliament building in Delhi. It drew fire from critics for portraying the lions as angrier and fiercer in comparison to the original which it is meant to replicate.
Sonu Mehta/Hindustan Times/Getty Images

In the month of July, 75 years ago, a soon to be independent India chose the tricolour as its national flag. A spirited debate followed in the Constituent Assembly before it was adopted. However, the national emblem, inspired by the Sarnath lions, was adopted on 26 January 1950 without debate.

According to the historian Madhavan Palat, the four lions found in the excavations at the Buddhist site of Sarnath, in Uttar Pradesh, “standing together, facing the world in all four directions, represented a spirit of courage, calm and control.” Palat, the editor of Jawaharlal Nehru’s multi-volume Selected Works, understood Nehru and the imagery he wanted to invoke. Nehru, he said, believed firmly in projecting a view of India that was suitable to the deep turmoil and violence the region was emerging from. That meant projecting strength, as the lions did. But they did so explicitly with grace and elegance. It was important to showcase calm lions, to underscore that those who possessed power rarely needed to bare their fangs.

Seema Chishti is a writer and journalist based in Delhi. She has worked in print, radio and television, in English and in Hindi, since 1990. She was the Delhi editor for BBC India and a deputy editor at the Indian Express. She is the co-author of Note by Note: The India Story (1947-2017), a history of independent India told alongside the sound of Hindi film music for each of the years. Her endeavour remains to tease out, untie and then help interpret the many strands of change in a large and diverse country.

Keywords: Parliament building Parliament Caravan Columns
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