Monday, September 25, 2023

What is Sengol? All You Need to Know 

A silver wand with a gold plating not only made headlines but also sparked a debate lately. This is Sengol for you. Join us, as we discuss what is Sengol, its significance, history, and more.

What is Sengol?

Sengol is a historic silver scepter with gold plating and several precious stones. Till recently, Sengol was resting in the Allahabad Museum but now it graces the new Parliament House of India. On 28 May 2023, Prime Minister, Mr. Narendra Modi placed it ceremoniously “amid tunes of “nadaswaram” and chanting of Vedic mantras on the right side of the Speaker’s chair in the Lok Sabha chamber.”  It sits there enclosed in a glass chamber, easily visible to all.

According to the Government of India, the Sengol was presented to the first Prime Minister of India, Pt. Jawahar Lal Nehru by the last Viceroy, Louis Mountbatten, during the power transfer. It served as a symbol of the transfer of power from the British regime into the hands of the Indians. (Source: Wikipedia)

Sengol Etymology:

The term, Sengol comes from the Tamil word (செங்கோல்), “Semmai,” which means righteousness. In the colloquial sense, it means scepter in English and Rajdand (राजदंड) in Hindi. Westerners often pronounce it “Ceṅkōl.”

Sengol Design:

It is deftly handcrafted by the Vummidi Bangaru Chetty, a jeweler family from Tamil Nadu. The family attended the installation ceremony on 28th May 2023 at PMO’s invitation.

Suggested Viewing: Vummidi Bangaru Jewellers: The makers of the Sengol

  • Physical Characteristics:

Sengol stands tall at 5 feet (1.5 m) with varying thickness. It is 3 inches (76 mm) and 1 inch (25 mm) thick at the top and bottom respectively. An intricately crafted idol of Lord Nandi sits pretty at the top, which symbolizes Dharma (read justice), strength, virality, and devotion.

Designed by: Vummidi Bangaru Chetty Height: 5 feet (1.5 m)
Thickness at the top: 3 inches (76 mm) Thickness at the bottom: 1 inch (25 mm)

Significance & Symbolism of Sengol

Even though Sengol is a remnant of monarchy or authoritarian rule, it has significance and symbolism in the modern democratic context. Let’s run you through them, one at a time.

  • Rich History:

Not many artifacts can boast as rich a history as Sengol. It was one of the three royal insignias of one of the most powerful and prosperous kingdoms in Indian history, the Chola Kingdom, from 300 B.C. to A.D. 1279. In the modern context, it was presented to India’s first Prime Minister on the eve of Indian Independence. That adds to its historical importance.

  • Precious Cultural Heritage:

Sengol was passed through generations of Chola kings as a symbol of power and justice. So, it, in a way, represents how India’s vibrant cultural heritage and rich traditions can go well with modern democratic norms.

  • Legitimacy of Authority:

In a democracy, Sengol symbolizes the legitimacy of political authority. It may represent the idea that the ruling class derives its power from the consent of those whom they govern. And, in a democracy, the source of power is free and fair elections, rather than inherited or imposed.

  • Democratic Values:

Democracies flourish where values like justice, the rule of law, individual rights, and equality are respected. Sengol stands for these espoused democratic rights and values.

  • Constitutional Symbolism:

In a constitutional democracy, the artifact stands for the authority of the constitution as the supreme law of the land. It underscores that leaders must govern within the framework of the Constitution.

  • Symbol of Accountability:

The presence of Sengol near the Speaker’s chair in the Lok Sabha chamber reminds leaders of their accountability to the people. It symbolizes that leadership in a democracy is not absolute but subject to checks and balances.

Sengol History:

On the eve of Indian independence, a few Hindu monks from Thiruvaduthurai Adheenam in Tamil Nadu visited Jawahar Lal Nehru in a religious ceremony in New Delhi on 14 August 1947. They brought along the Sengol and gifted it to Nehru who was about to lead an independent, sovereign India. Nehru decided to send it to Allahabad Museum where it was parked until recently. There, it was labeled as a “Golden Stick gifted to Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru.

There is, however, a back story to this “event.” Nehru was keen on a befitting transfer of power ceremony imbued with cultural significance and appropriate rituals. He entrusted a fellow freedom fighter, C Rajagopalachari (Rajaji) with the planning responsibilities. Rajaji came across the concept of a Sengol that marked the transition of power in the Chola period.

Impressed, he reached out to the Thiruvaduthurai Atheenam, a monastic order in Tamil Nadu to arrange for a Sengol. The head monk, Sri La Sri Ambalavana Desika Swami obliged him and commissioned the construction of the specter to Vummidi, a famous jeweler in Madras.

Upon acquiring the Sengol from the maker, the head monk deputed a team of representatives to hand it over to Nehru. Led by his son, Sri La Sri Kumaraswamy Thambiran, the team featured Math Odhuvar (singer) Shri Manickam, and the Nadaswaram Vidwan, Shri T N Rajarathinam Pillai who flew to New Delhi on a special flight.

The team first presented the specter to an unwilling Mountbatten who returned it back. They then reached out to Nehru, who was about to take the reins of independent India. He gleefully accepted it amid traditional rituals and Vedic hymns.

Click for Source PDF: Here.

  • The Chola Connection:

Certain traditions link the origin of Sengol to the Cholas. Back then, it was a sacred symbol of imperial authority, kingly justice, and equitable governance. Each time the transfer of power happened in the Chola Kingdom, the outgoing monarch handed the scepter over to the incoming one.

Each Chola monarch received the Sengol, alongside two other royal insignias, a crown, and a sword on his coronation. The three insignias had different connotations. The crown stood for the king’s right to rule while the sword represented a “deterrent force” to ward off opponents. And, the Sengol stood for the rule of law.

  • Controversy:

The Union Home Minister, Mr. Amit Shah’s announcement regarding the government’s plans to install Sengol in the new parliament sparked controversy. The opposition saw it as an attempt by the ruling party to gain a foothold in Tamil Nadu by championing Tamil culture. The opposition even contested the claims that associate “Lord Mountbatten, C Rajagopalachari, and Jawaharlal Nehru to Sengol’s symbolic transfer of power from the British to India”.

Likewise, many were against the use of a monarchical relic in a modern democracy while some even went on to call it a glorified “walking stick.” Some even viewed it as an attack on Indian secularism. According to The New York Times, this was an attempt “to shed not just the remnants of India’s colonial past, but also increasingly to replace the secular governance that followed it.

Suggested Viewing:

While the event of handing over the Sengol is largely undocumented, I stumbled upon an article in Time Magazine that reported the event. It goes as follows:

“As the great day approached (15th August 1947), Indians thanked their varied gods and rejoiced with special prayers, poems, and songs.

From Tanjore in south India came two emissaries of Sri Amblavana Desigar, head of a sannyasi order of Hindu ascetics. Sri Amblavana thought that Nehru, as the first Indian head of a really Indian Government ought, like ancient Hindu kings, to receive the symbol of power and authority from Hindu holy men.

In an ancient Ford, on the evening of Aug. 14, they began their slow, solemn progress to Nehru’s house. Ahead walked the flutist, stopping every 100 yards or so to sit on the road and play his flute for about 15 minutes. Another escort bore a large silver platter. On it was the Pithambaram (cloth of God), a costly silk fabric with patterns of golden thread.

When at last they reached Nehru’s house, the flutist played while the sannyasis awaited an invitation from Nehru. Then they entered the house in dignity, fanned by two boys with special fans of deer hair. One sannyasi carried a scepter of gold, five feet long, and two inches thick.

He sprinkled Nehru with holy water from Tanjore and drew a streak of sacred ash across Nehru’s forehead. Then he wrapped Nehru in the Pithambaram and handed him the golden scepter. He also gave Nehru some cooked rice which had been offered that very morning to the dancing god Nataraja in south India, then flown by plane to Delhi.”

The event also finds mention in two prominent books:

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is Sengol?

It is a specter made of silver with a gold coating. It is embellished with several precious stones and carries an intricately crafted Nandi idol on the top.

  • What are the dimensions of Sengol?

The Sengol stands 5 feet (1.5 m) tall with varying thicknesses. It is 3 inches (76 mm) and 1 inch (25 mm) thick at the top and bottom respectively.

  • Where is Sengol installed?

The Sengol was earlier gracing the Allahabad Museum until the government decided to place it on the right side of the Speaker’s chair in the Lok Sabha chamber of the new parliament house.

  • How is Sengol connected to the Chola Dynasty?

During the coronation of any new Chola monarch, the outgoing monarch presented the Sengol to him, alongside two other royal insignias, a crown, and a sword.

  • What does the Sengol symbolize?

According to the Government of India, Sengol is a symbol of the transfer of power from the British to the Indians. In Hindu traditions, it is a Rajdand that stands for imperial authority, kingly justice, and equitable governance.

  • Who presented Sengol to Jawaharlal Nehru?

A few seers of Thiruvaduthurai Adheenam in Tamil Nadu gifted the Sengol to Jawahar Lal Nehru in a religious ceremony in New Delhi on 14 August 1947.

  • Who designed Sengol?

The Vummidi Bangaru Chetty, a famous jeweler family based in Madras, (present-day Chennai) handcrafted the Sengol. It was commissioned by the seers of Thiruvaduthurai Adheenam in Tamil Nadu.

  • What does the Nandi in the Sengol signify?

The idol of Lord Nandi sitting pretty at the top of the Sengol symbolizes Dharma (read justice), strength, virality, and devotion.

Rohit Kumar
Rohit Kumar
Passionate about content quality and attention to detail, Rohit has penned over 15,000 copies for some of the leading online and offline publications in his eight-year career. Currently heading the content team at Dunia Ka Gyan, he believes in team spirit, ingenuity, and reader satisfaction.

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