(Last Updated on : 04-12-2019)
The Lion Capital of Ashoka is a sculpture of four Asiatic lions standing back to back, on an elaborate base that includes other animals as well. A graphic representation of it was adopted as the official Emblem of India
in 1950. It was originally placed on the top of the Ashokan pillar
at the Buddhist
site of Sarnath
built by the Emperor Ashoka, in about 250 BCE. The pillar is still standing in the same location, but the Lion Capital has been kept in the Sarnath Museum
of Uttar Pradesh
Formation of Lion Capital at Sarnath
Lion Capital at Sarnath was made of highly-polished sandstone and is more than two meters in height. The lion capital has been carved out from a single block of sandstone. The capital comprises four lions placed back to back on a round slab or what is called an abacus resting atop an inverted bell-like form carved like a lotus.
Wheel of Life in Lion Capital at Sarnath
Wheel of Life is one of the purest Buddhist symbols. Buddhist symbols can be seen in the entrance of almost all monasteries. This emblem is also widely depicted on Thankas or religious scrolls.
History of Lion Capital at Sarnath
Historians dated this capital to sometime around 250 B.C. On the side of the abacus are carved four animals. They are lion, elephant, bull and horse moving in a clockwise fashion. The animals are interspersed with four wheels or chakras which represent the Buddhist concept of the Wheel of Life
. History records that Ashoka
was a mighty king who reigned during the 3rd century B.C. He was the grandson of Emperor Chandragupta Maurya
, founder of the Maurya Dynasty. Ashoka's turning point came in the eighth year of his reign after the dreadful battle of Kalinga
where thousands lost their lives and were taken in bondage. Witnessing the senseless bloodshed, Ashoka had experienced a change of heart. He then adopted as his life's mission, the Buddhist path of righteous living and took it upon himself to spread Buddha's teachings of peace and non-violence far and wide in his kingdom and outside it. It has been said that Ashoka had inscribed edicts about Buddha's lessons on the right path on rock faces and pillars and the lion capital at Sarnath is one such example.
Depiction of Lion Capital at Sarnath
In Sarnath, there is a stylization in the depiction of the lions. Lion Capital at Sarnath has certain characteristics of the fierce animal that are captured artistically. Wonderful stylization has been depicted in the gaping, roaring mouths, in the wavy hair of the mane and in the curling whiskers.
Animal Depiction of Lion Capital at Sarnath
Regarding the animal motifs in Sarnath, it can be said that compared to the majesty of the lion, the animals on the abacus are done with great naturalistic energy. The inverted bull represents a stylized carving. The stylized lion may have been Persian in influence, but the bulls, elephants
, geese were naturalistic and very Indian in their treatment.