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The Sengol, a sacred sceptre with significant historical and cultural roots, has come to represent righteous governance in Indian tradition. This article explores the history, symbolism, and significance of Sengol in relation to the transition of power from British to Indian hands during India's independence. A forgotten symbol of strength and morality called the Sengol appears in the tapestry of Indian history. This sceptre, which derives from the Tamil term "Semmai" which means "Righteousness," bears the weight of a legacy rooted in ages-old customs. Let's discover the fascinating past of Sengol and its role in our cultural heritage


Since the period of the Vedic civilization, the sceptre has been a symbol of authority and power. The officiating priest Prashastri held this staff, known as the Mitra Varuna danda, which represented strength, justice, and righteousness throughout Vedic rites. A king's ultimate sovereign power is symbolised by the sceptre, or danda, which has long been a part of India's rich cultural past. Priests, ascetics, judges, and other people in positions of authority also acquired it. The Sengol, a symbol of a mighty staff, served as the Danda in Tamil culture. In different artistic renderings, Lord Shiva, the renowned ascetic and God of dancing, is shown clutching the Sengol in his left hand. The Sengol is typically a long wooden shaft with a metal tip or insignia of a Nandi, the bull, which is an important image connected to Shiva. The relationship between Lord Shiva and his vahana (vehicle) is indicated by the appearance of Nandi on top of it.

It is puzzling that Lord Shiva, who is recognised for his associations with other recognisable objects like the Damaru and snake, is holding the Sengol in his hand. Shiva's ferocious dance pose, known as Urdhva janu karana, may hold the key to an explanation. Shiva, in his incarnation as Lord Nataraja, introduced this dynamic dancing style to Tandu, his chief attendant, giving rise to the term Tandava. Nandi/Nandikeswara, Shiva's bull vahana and the foremost Gana, is connected to Tandu. In artistic representations where Shiva's Sengol with the bull top is afterwards wielded by Nandi, it is possible to see the passing of the dance form, which stands for the power of wisdom, from Shiva to Nandi.

Transfer of Power

Viceroy Lord Mountbatten posed Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru a query at the time of the transfer of power from the British to the Indians: "What ceremony should symbolise this momentous event?" Nehru sought advice from veteran C. Rajagopalachari, commonly known as Rajaji, who found inspiration in the ceremonies of the Chola kingdom for the transfer of power.

Rajaji headed to the Thiruvavaduthurai Adheenam, a non-Brahmin monastery with a 500-year history and a strong devotion to Lord Shiva. The sacred Sengol was handed over to the Adheenam, whose chief ordered the preparation of the five-foot-long golden sceptre. The Sengol was created by renowned jewellers Vummidi Bangaru Chetty with the help of Vummidi Ethirajulu and Vummidi Sudhakar. This masterpiece took on its own identity of justice and righteousness.

Three ambassadors from Tamil Nadu arrived in Delhi on August 14, 1947, carrying the revered Sengol. The event was conducted with significant assistance from the Oduvar (singer), Rajarathinam Pillai, the Nadaswaram player, and the deputy high priest of Thiruvavaduthurai Adheenam. The deputy high priest gave Viceroy Lord Mountbatten the Sengol at the momentous ceremony, symbolising the handover of authority from the British to the Indians. Holy water was then used to cleanse the Sengol, signifying its holiness and divinity. The Sengol was ceremoniously delivered to Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru at his residence after being carried there in a large procession. The historic occurrence happened on the evening of August 14, 1947, just as India was about to gain independence. Nehru took the Sengol as a sign of responsibility and a pledge to lead with justice in the presence of Dr. Rajendra Prasad and other esteemed individuals.

Sengol in Tamil Tradition and Literature

The significance of Sengol goes beyond the formal ritual of power transition. Tamil literature and tradition resonate with it. The words of Chera King Cheran Senguttuvan in the first Tamil epic Silapathikaram emphasise the significance of this: "Pandiyan offered his life and restored the uprightness of Sengol bent by the fate of injustice." Sengol is a symbol of just and fair rule that appears in early Tamil literature.

Mitra Varuna Danda

The Mitra Varuna danda, a staff that resembles a Sengol but is topped with a rooster symbol, is significant during the Dasara celebration in the Sharada temple of Shringeri in the Karnataka region. The creator's mother goddess Aditi is related to the rooster, representing daybreak, illumination, and watchfulness. The Mitra Varuna danda, also known as the Dharma danda, represents the gods Mitra and Varuna, the guardians and keepers of just rule and order. The thunderbolt-shaped staff symbolises the repulsion of evil forces and the maintenance of Dharma, upholding law and order.

Relevance Today

The decision to install Sengol in the new Indian Parliament building is evidence of its ongoing significance as a representation of moral leadership. The Sengol is a constant reminder of the principles governing our country by encapsulating the essence of Indic civilizational practises and the legacy of Cholas.

The sacred Sengol embodies more than simply a ceremonial sceptre; it personifies the principles of justice and morality in governance. It stands as an illustration of the transfer of power and the duty to rule with integrity because it is rooted in ancient customs and carries a rich historical past. As we honour the heritage of the Sengol, let us work to create a just and equitable society that upholds morality and guarantees justice for all.

Meril Mathew, Intern @DH

BA EPH, Christ University, Bangalore


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