The Golden ‘Sengol’ of Indian Freedom
It was 14th August, 1947. One of the most momentous days in the history of India. After centuries of slavery under colonial rule, a new independent India was going to emerge. There was flurry of activity around the Government offices in New Delhi and in the residences of Indian leaders. Among all the hustle and bustle of visitors and meetings, ancient Tamil hymns reverberated in the residence of Jawaharlal Nehru, the new prime minister.
The hymns were composed by the 7th century Tamil saint Tirugnana Sambandar, and was known as ‘Kolaru Pathigam’, a religious composition to curb the ill effects of planetary positions. They were sung by an oduvar (singer) while the Nadaswaram (instrument) was played by Rajarathnam Pillai, who had been specially flown in from Tamil Nadu. It concluded with the verse -
"Adiyaarkal vaanil Arasaalvar aanai namadhe"
“We command that His Humbleness shall rule the heavens”
As the hymns concluded, Nehru received a Gold ‘sengol’ from the deputy pontiff of the Thiruvavaduthurai ‘adheenam’, a Shaivite Mutt in Tamil Nadu. This ceremony organised by C Rajagopalachari, the acting Governor General of India, marked a symbolic reenactment of a thousand year old tradition in which the Cholas, as well as other Indian rulers, received the sacred scepter known as ‘Raj Danda’ in Hindu tradition.
The ‘Sengol’ Backstory
Much has been written about the ‘Chola connection’ with the Sengol used in connection with the function marking the inaguaration of the new parliament but the fact is that the Sengola , while inspired by the past, was made by a prominent Madras jeweller just a few days before the ceremony. Interestingly, the Sengol is not just a Chola era marker of Kingship.
The ‘Raj Danda’ served as an intrinsic part of Hindu Kingship and was used by every Hindu ruler during his coronation for centuries. The 7th chapter of the ancient Hindu text ‘Dharma Shastra’ refers to the ‘Raj Danda’ as the ‘Symbol of the State’ and the ‘Rule of Law’. It also states that it is a symbol of righteousness and if a wicked king holds the Sceptre, it might kill him.
The ‘Raj Danda’ served as a symbol of kingship for all Hindu kings from Kashmir to Travancore till 1947. The handing over of this scepter to Nehru was a symbol of the changing times and marked the emergence of India’s ‘new’ rulers.
C Rajagopalachari and the making of the Gold Sengol
A black and white photograph is the only marker of this ‘unofficial’ ceremony marking the handing over of Sengol to Jawaharal Nehru. In the absence of official records, it is very difficult piece together the story of how the Sengol was created. It is only through oral accounts, available in the public domain, that the story of Sengol is known.
As per the Government of India’s recent press release and the IGNCA website, Jawaharlal Nehru asked his cabinet colleagues, if an Indian ceremony could be recreated to mark the transfer of power to Indians. C Rajagopalachari, the Governor General of India, came up with the idea of the gold Sengol, which had marked the coronation ceremonies of the Cholas, Chera and the Pandyas.
Creation of the Gold Sengol
C Rajagopalachari asked the Pontiff of the Thiruvavaduthurai ‘adheenam’, a Shaivite Muth near Thanjavur, to get a gold staff made. The pontiff commissioned the famous Madras Jewellers Vummudi Bangaru with the task. The reason why Vummudi Bangaru were given this commission is that they were experts in making temple jewellery and objects for pooja as per exact religious specifications.
As the Independence day approached, Vummudi Bangaru had to complete the commission in a very short period of time. The Sengol was completed in around 30 days and 7-8 craftsmen worked on it. It comprised of a wooden staff that was covered with a thick sheet of Gold. At the top was a Gold Rishabha (the sacred bull) and with motifs of Goddess Laxmi below it. Vummudi Bangaru charged Rs 15,000 for the order, a huge sum in those days.
Three people were specially flown in from Tamil Nadu on Aug 14, 1947 - the Deputy high priest of the Adheenam, the Nadaswaram player Rajarathinam Pillai and the Oduvar (singer) - carrying the Sengol. After purifying the Sengol with Gangajal, special hymns were chanted to nullify the ill effects of the planetary position. This was because 15th August was considered as inauspicious day. After the ceremonies were completed, it was handed over to Nehru.
After 1947, the Sengol was completely forgotten. It was sent to the Allahabad Museum where it was labelled as ‘Gold Walking Stick gifted to Nehru’. It was only around 2008, that the Sengol story caught the attention of the Government of India.
With the new Parliament building being inaugurated in New Delhi, the ‘Sengol’ will occupy a prime position next to the Speaker’s chair in the Lok Sabha. The sacred symbol of Indian kingship will preside over the rulers of New India.
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