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Toothless Racist BBC and Gungadin Army Threatened by India’s Lions With Fangs

Toothless Racist BBC and Gungadin Army Threatened by India’s Lions With Fangs

Today Modi performed puja atop Delhi’s soon to be Parliament House after unveiling a freshly cast bronze replica of Asoka’s lion capital of Sarnath. Despite a video of the unveiling ceremony earning approval of 111.5K within half a day, a few ill-informed tweets rapidly made the headlines. The BBC headlines drew from a few Congress and Communist Party supporters to suggest that the Ferocious lion’ statue on new parliament raises eyebrows  Livemint called it From Gandhi to Godse’

The controversy spread onto the Indian news channels as the evening continued. Critics claim the lions, unlike the ‘original’ were snarling and no longer ‘benevolent’. Over 100k people seem to think differently, with the majority of comments arguing the lions were a sign of a new India, roaring not docile.

One of 900 QT comments raised the issue of camera angle and perspective. The lions unveiled are 6.5m high and the images are taken from below which is a technique used in filmmaking to make objects seem dominating and larger than they really are. Whilst critics compare old photos with new, imagining the past without the fangs, it is important to understand that the original is not the same as the National Emblem either.

The ‘original’ National Emblem, has two forms: a three dimensional statue with four lions and a two dimensional illustration with only three visible. Both are based on, yet not identical to the ‘original’ from the time of Ashoka.

 

 

The story of India’s National Emblem begins in 1947 when a young artist from Santiniketan, Dinanath Bhargava (1927-2016) joined a team of five other artists under the direction of Nandalal Bose to illustrate and scribe in fine calligraphy the newly crafted Constitution of India. Bhargava was to illustrate the cover with the final rendition of the Indian National emblem. (India Times) In 1950 the National Emblem became official after completion of the 300 page document.

 

Source — Full Constitution Illustrated pdf avail : https://www.loc.gov/resource/llscd.57026883/?sp=5&st=single&r=-0.764,-0.083,2.52,1.507,0

 

Around the same period, the first installation of Ashoka’s Lion capital was placed on the roof of India’s then Parliament House. These lions apparently had their mouths closed unlike the ‘originals’ whose mouths are open and with fangs.

‘Angry Lions With Bared Fangs’: Oppn Slams National Emblem Atop New Parliament

 

Asoka Lion Capital was placed on the dome of Government House, New Delhi, on January 26 1950.

Sources: The Economist Quint

Back when the first smiling lions were put on the roof, The King of England published a statement about India obtaining the status of a Republic.

“The crown on Government houses and other State buildings, on State furniture, on the flags and crests and badges of the Armed Forces, has given place to a replica of the ancient Asokan lion capital at Sarnath. New currency notes to-morrow will also bear the Republican emblem but no crown. English will continue to be the official language for not more than 15 years, after which it will be replaced by Hindi.”

Source: The King of England 26 January 1950, The Scotsman

Illustrated London News, 7 January 1950

What is the backstory on ‘the original’?

The design of the National Emblem replicates the Lion capital from atop one of Asoka’s edict scripted pillars at Sarnath. Sarnarth, on the outskirts of Varanasi is where the Buddha delivered his sermon on the Four Noble Truths. They are dated at around 3 BC.

The pillar where the edicts are inscribed was levelled to the ground and the entire area buried under mounds for around 1000 years until  archaeologists in the 19th Century took interest. In 1914, the ASI wrote a report on Sarnath telling the story of the site, it’s desecration and how the four-lion capital was re-discovered.

Images source:

https://kevinstandagephotography.wordpress.com/2020/04/20/sarnath-archaeological-museum-ashoka-lion-capital/

Many images on the internet of the lions at Sarnath show them from eye-level height in the museum without the two desecrated faces fully visible. Below are images from the Sarnath Archaeological museum on YouTube showing how the original actually looks.

https://youtu.be/r6v3YtLOP6M

 

Old photographs of the ASI project with their comments at the British Library online.

“Photograph of the Lion Capital at Sarnath, Uttar Pradesh, from the Kitchener of Khartoum Collection: ‘Views of Benares. Presented by the Maharaja of Benares’ by Madho Prasad, c.1905 . Sarnath is the sacred place where the Buddha preached his first sermon known as the Wheel of Law, the Dharmachakra, in the sixth century BC. The Lion capital comes from a column at Sarnath in Uttar Pradesh, built by Ashoka, the Mauryan king who flourished in the third century BC. According to tradition, the pillars were raised at various points on the route of a pilgrimage that he undertook in the twentieth year of his reign. The capital, which became the national emblem of India in 1950, is in a museum in Sarnath. The Lion capital is a polished sandstone carving of four lions atop an abacus (the slab forming the top of a column). The lions are facing in four directions and on the abacus are eight images. Immediately below each lion is a dharmachakra, or wheel, with twenty-four spokes. This wheel has been incorporated into the national flag of India. Between the wheels are four animals – a lion, a horse, an elephant and a bull. Falling from the abacus is an upturned, bell-shaped lotus flower.

https://www.bl.uk/onlinegallery/onlineex/apac/photocoll/other/largeimage60641.html

 

Photo and comments on the edict from the pillar from the British Library:

 

“Photograph of the edict pillar and Lion capital at Sarnath, Uttar Pradesh, by Madho Prasad, in 1905 from the Kitchener of Khartoum Collection: ‘Views of Benares. Presented by the Maharaja of Benares’. Sarnath is the sacred place where the Buddha preached his first sermon known as the Wheel of Law, the Dharmachakra in the sixth century BC. This is a view showing the base of the inscribed edict pillar and the famous lion capital in the background. This was discovered by F.Oretel during his excavations in 1905. The pillar topped by the capital was built by Ashoka, the Mauryan king who flourished in the third century BC. According to tradition, several pillars were raised at various points on the route of a pilgrimage that he undertook in the twentieth year of his reign. The remains of the pillar in the ground have three epigraphs. The Ashokan edict warns the monks and nuns against creating schisms in the sangha at Sarnath. The Lion Capital, which became the national emblem of India in 1950, is in the museum in Sarnath.”

https://www.bl.uk/onlinegallery/onlineex/apac/photocoll/other/019pho0000017s3u00040000.html

Similar lion capital of Asoka is found nearby at Sanchi with another edict.

Photograph of a group of sculpture fragments lying on the ground at Sanchi, from the Archaeologic… Creator: Beglar, Joseph David; Medium: Photographic print; Date: 1870s

https://www.bl.uk/onlinegallery/onlineex/apac/photocoll/p/019pho000001003u01359000.html

Lion capitals, torana beams and other sculpture fragments lying on the ground near the Great Stupa, Sanchi, Bhopal State. 1875

https://www.bl.uk/onlinegallery/onlineex/apac/photocoll/l/largeimage59379.html

Fig.2 shows the Sinha-stambha or lion pillar supporting the wheel of Dharma or Law which Buddha set in motion with his First Sermon, carved on the right post of the gateway or torana of Stupa 3.

https://www.bl.uk/onlinegallery/onlineex/apac/other/largeimage66365.html

 

 

Source: Irwin, John. (1983). The True Chronology of Aśokan Pillars. Artibus Asiae. Vol. 44, No. 4, pp. 247-265. https://doi.org/10.2307/3249612

https://www.jstor.org/stable/3249612

 

Above: the lion capital at Rampurva and the Sanchi capital before restoration from Irwin (ibid)

Synopsis

The lions are not the same as the ‘original’ if that refers to the original 3D National Emblem on Parliament from 1950, however that was in fact less like the original pillar than the new design. The Ashokan lions had fangs, their mouths were open and the only slight difference is the proportions. The new lions are more like wild lions, certainly less abstract than the originals and when taken on the same angle as the restored Ashokan lion capital, the jowls are less stylised and pronounced, the face is less flat and the hair is closer to the skin making the mood less comical and emaciated and more like actual lions.

What the lions most resemble is a combination of natural lions, the original 2D drawing which was based on lions in the zoo as well as the Ashokan lion capital. When viewed at a similar height to the POV of the original images, there is perhaps the feint hint of a roar, but it is certainly not a ferocious or an angry roar but a roar of confidence and strength.

 

Critics can learn something from the positive support for the emblem and Ashok’s edict on the pillar of his ‘original’ which says: ‘The sangha is not by anyone to be divided’.

Comparison to the original drawing and the original sculpture at Sarnath

 

Constitution 1950

Today

Ashoka’s original lion capital of Sarnath

 

The lions today

The lions with closed mouths of yesterday

Perhaps the BBC and critics would prefer the return of the ferociously racist lions of the Raj crushing a Bengali Tiger.

English Lions in Punch 1857

Or they might prefer the New York Times approach:

 

For more on Sarnath, to find out how the edicts were destroyed and what is said on them from the ASI:

Daya Ram Sahni. (1914). Catalogue of the Museum of Archaeology at Sarnath.

Calcutta. https://archive.org/details/dli.csl.6632/mode/1up?view=theater

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