Saturday, June 3, 2023

Sengol’s a tradition that goes back to Mahabharata and Harappan... (My article in Firstpost)

Sengol’s a tradition that goes back to Mahabharata and before: How Modi connects new India with ancient past

Prime Minister Narendra Modi carries the 'Sengol' in a procession before installing it in the Lok Sabha chamber at the inauguration of the new Parliament building, in New Delhi, on 28 May, 2023. PTI

From terming the events leading to the handing over of the Sengol to Jawaharlal Nehru as ‘baseless fiction’ to the denial of its importance in the transfer of power, the Sengol continues to dominate the narrative to whitewash the adverse publicity it got as the ‘walking stick’ of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru. Additionally, there is the worry about it being capable of invoking Tamil pride with the elections just a year away. The anxiety of the Congress is evident from the assertion of the TNCC president, KS Alagiri: “Nehru did not prostrate before the Sengol like Modi did. Sengol was crafted by jewellers and given by Adheenakarthars, and so it is not an appropriate symbol for showing reverence to Tamil Nadu or Tamil culture, as the BJP claims to be doing.”

Since a fact-check of the events on 14 August, 1947 is being done by all and sundry, let us focus on the lesser-known facts on certain issues doing rounds. First of all, Sengol was not the prerogative of the Cholas alone. It was also held by the other two Tamil dynasties, namely Chera and Pandya. To be more precise, it was held by all kings across India. This is not to mean that it signified monarchy, rather it was a representation of the Rule of Law or Righteousness. It was known as ‘Dharma Danda’ and expressed so at several places in the Mahabharata.

The earliest talk about it comes from the Ikshvaku king Mandhatri who wanted to know the origin of chastisement. The rules of chastisement known as ‘Danda-Niti’ were associated with the display of a weapon – an upright weapon to ensure justice for all. Those rules were described by Bhishma from an episode on Pururavas, stating that Kshatriyas were created for ruling the earth and for wielding ‘Danda’ – the Rod of chastisement.

The same was repeated by Vyasa to Yudhishthira when he was about to take up the rule of the country. Vyasa listed out twelve things for kshatriyas, of which wielding ‘the rod of punishment’ (Danda-dharanam) was the foremost. “Strength must always reside in a Kshatriya, and upon strength depends chastisement,” said Vyasa. In the same context, Arjuna said, “The man armed with the rod of chastisement governs all subjects and protects them. The rod of chastisement is awake when all else is sleep. For this, the wise have characterised the rod of chastisement to be Righteousness (Dharma) itself.”

Arjuna further elaborated on the contexts where the rod of chastisement was to be used – such as for the protection of wealth, to desist people from sinful behaviour and to discourage actions that bring censure from society.

Thus, basically, the Danda is a staff or a rod or a mace or some stick that is held upright to signify the delivery of what is just and right to everyone without any discrimination. The Kshatriya was chosen due to the strength he possesses to rule and enforce the rule of law. One may ask why not others, but only a Kshatriya. This was asked by Yudhishthira to Bhishma who gave the answer in the affirmative. It was perfectly agreeable if someone from the other orders take up the role and restore the rule of law for the protection of the oppressed, said Bhishma (Mbh: 12-79). It is here we find the importance of wielding the Danda for upholding the law of the land. This makes the very idea of Sengol relevant for our times also and not as a relic of a monarchy.

It is a symbol of authority in a democracy as it was in a monarchy. It is part of the national identity much like the national flag. How many of you know that there is a look-alike of the Sengol (Danda) in the Harappan seals? One can see it in the front of the unicorn in the numerous Harappan seals. Iravatham Mahadevan has done a detailed study of this image in his paper, ‘The cult object on Unicorn seals: A sacred Filter,’ presented in a seminar in Tokyo in 1983. In this paper, he published some rare images of the Indus seals, of which one particular image resembled a paraphrenia of a king or a leader with what appeared to be a Sengol.

In the figure, Plate 1 shows the most commonly seen unicorn seal with an object in front of the animal which is the focus of his discussion. Plates 2,4 and 5 show the same object from different seals. Mahadevan tends to believe that this object is the ‘Soma cup’ or a filter to collect the soma juice. However, he reports the view of another researcher by the name of UP Thaplyal that it represented a standard or Dhvaja or flag post because there was a stem with something on top of it.

Plate 3 is unique in the display of what appears to be a procession of three men carrying a Paaliketana (row of flags), a totem of an animal and a sceptre. This rare image does indicate the presence of a power centre in the Harappan much like any monarchy.

The sceptre seen in this Plate is no different from what is seen in Plate 4 where a man is seen holding it. The shape is similar to the so-called.... continue reading here

1 comment:

Hariharan Parasuraman said...

Madam..I have taken my first baby step towards writing. I would be extremely delighted and honoured to know your feedback on my articles on the myths around Karna in Tamil..