Ashoka

Something I did not know: both the state emblem and the state flag of the Republic of India refer to Ashoka the Great, who ruled the Maurya Empire from 268 to 232 BC. This empire was founded by Chandragupta Maurya in 321 in the wake of Alexander the Great’s visit to the subcontinent; Chandragupta’s grandson Ashoka is widely regarded as one of India’s greatest emperors. Legend has it that he converted to Buddhism after witnessing the great destruction of the Kalinga War, and his Edicts – which prescribed benevolence, kindness to prisoners, and respect for animal life, among other things – may still be read on pillars set up throughout India. One of these, at Sarnath, is topped with a sculpture of four Asiatic lions standing back to back; this was adopted as an emblem by the Dominion of India in 1947, and retained by the Republic in 1950.

The State Emblem of India and its model, the Lion Capital of Ashoka (Wikipedia).

For some reason I thought that the emblem at the center of the Indian flag was supposed to be Gandhi’s spinning wheel, but in fact it’s a dharmachakra (dharma wheel). This one has 24 spokes and it appears on a number of edicts of Ashoka, including the one at Sarnath (see the base that the lions are standing on).

Wikipedia.

(The eight-spoked wheel of Buddhism is another dharmachakra.)

I suppose that Ashoka’s Buddhism makes him someone that both Muslims and Hindus can admire.

2 thoughts on “Ashoka

  1. I think the original plan was indeed an attempt at an “Irish solution” – that is, just as in Ireland green represents Catholicism and orange Protestantism, so also in India green represents Islam and saffron Hinduism. (Saffron, “a bright shade between yellow and orange, holds a unique sacred meaning. In Hinduism, swamijis… [who are] distinguished in society, are recognized by bright saffron colored robes that symbolize fire, purity and the Supreme Being.”) Officially, however, “to avoid sectarian associations with the colour scheme, saffron, white and green were chosen for the three bands, representing courage and sacrifice, peace and truth, and faith and chivalry respectively”

    (Quotes from “Colors of Hinduism Religion” [on classroom.synonym.com] and “Flag of India” on Wikipedia.)

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