National Emblem Row: Controversy in the Indian Parliament around Ashoka Pillar

19 Jul 2022  Read 4876 Views

"Since when did Ashoka’s lions bare their fangs? And they never snarled before," a Twitter user asked.

“If the lion has teeth, it will, of course, show them. This is, after all, the lion of independent India. If needed, the lion will bite, too.”- Anupam Kher wrote.

Many social media platforms, including Twitter, are flooded with posts & tweets like these, both criticizing & favouring the alleged modification of “Fangs of the Furious Lions” on the National Emblem. The controversy arose upon the installation and unveiling of the 9.5-tonne national emblem cast atop the new Parliament building in Delhi. Now, the question is "Is BJP changing the face of India by modifying the Ashoka’s lions, and turning it around a complete 180° in order to make it look more fierce?"

In this article, we have mainly discussed the interesting facts on the Ashoka Pillar, the adaptation of the National Emblem based on the Lion Capital atop the Ashoka Pillar and the issue of the Parliament’s power to modify our National Emblem. So, stay with us till the end!

All you need to know about Ashoka Pillar

Ashoka's Lion Capital bears the history of justice, peace & non-violence. An emblem can be defined as “a heraldic device or symbolic object as a distinctive badge of a nation, organization, or family”. The national emblem of a country acts as an official seal for all national & state governments. It has to be a part of the letterhead used by the government in India, and it also features on all the currency notes and on identification documents such as passports etc.

The national emblem of India is an adaptation of the Lion Capital atop the Ashoka Pillar of Sarnath, Uttar Pradesh, along with a National Motto “Satyameva Jayate” written right below it in Devnagari script. The Lion Capital was adopted as the National Emblem of India on 26th January 1950, marking a declaration of India's newly acquired ‘Republic’ status. So, our country's National Emblem is used for official purposes only and calls for sincere & due respect from the citizens.

Design of the Lion Capital

  • The Lion Capital crowning the Ashok Pillar is carved out of a single block of yellow sandstone and portrays four Asiatic Lions sitting back to back.

  • However, the 2- dimensional representation of the National Emblem displays only 3 of them as the 4th one is hidden. 

  • The four lions stand on a short cylindrical base that has four Ashok Chakras corresponding to each lion bust and reliefs of four more animals in between them (the lion, the bull, the elephant & the galloping horse). 

  • These four lions symbolize equality and justice in all spheres of life. 

The Ashok Chakra is actually a form of the Buddhist Dharma Chakra. The actual Lion Capital sits on an inverted lotus abacus which has not been included in the National Emblem representation. The quote “Satyamev Jayate” written below it is a quote from Mundaka Upanishad, the last & most rational of the four Vedas. (Part of Atharva Veda)

History of the National Emblem

Its history dates back to the 3rd Century BC, when the third Mauryan Emperor, ‘Ashoka’ was a great conqueror and established the first true empire in India. After witnessing huge bloodshed, he chose the path of Buddhism and, therefore, preferred non-violence, compassion, spiritualism, and peace as the cornerstones of administration rather than war or conquests. The Lion Capital was erected by Mauryan Emperor Ashoka in 250 BC to mark the spot where Buddha imparted his knowledge of Dharma to his five disciples, and these disciples then spread the knowledge to the entire world. 

The Ashoka Pillar and the Lion Capital on top of it had actually sunk into the ground and wasn’t visible. German-born civil engineer Friedrich Oscar Oertel started excavating the area following the accounts of Chinese travellers during the medieval age. The excavations started in 1904 and continued till 1905 when he unearthed the Ashoka Pillar of Sarnath, and the whole pillar was found in three sections. The topmost Lion Capital was found intact and is presently displayed in the Sarnath Museum. So, the original Sarnath Lion Capital of Ashoka is preserved in the Sarnath Museum.

Can the National Emblem be modified?

The ongoing controversy raised a concern whether the central government has the powers to make such modifications or change the state emblem?

The laws on National Emblem that can be referred to while answering this question are the State Emblem of India (Prohibition of Improper Use) Act, 2005, and the State Emblem of India (Regulation of Use) Rules, 2007.

The 2005 Act

  • The statement of objects and reasons of the 2005 Act provides that earlier, the use of the State Emblem of India was governed by a set of executive instructions that didn’t have any legal sanction, and the Act had to be enacted to prevent its misuse by any unauthorized persons. 

  • In accordance with this Act, the State Emblem of India is as described and specified in the schedule to be used as an official seal of the government.

  • The schedule of this Act states that this State Emblem of India is an adaptation from the Sarnath Lion Capital of Asoka, which is preserved and must abide by the designs as set out in Appendix I or Appendix II.

Hence, now the question that can be put forward is that, when there’s already a statute which specifically gives that the State Emblem must conform to the designs set out in the Act, does the Center have any powers to make changes to the emblem?

Section 6(2)(f) of the 2005 Act provides the Centre with the power to do all such things, including the specification of the design of the emblem.

The provision specifically states, “Subject to the provisions of this Act; the central government shall have powers to do all such things (including the specification of design of the emblem and its use in the manner whatsoever) as the Central Government considers necessary or expedient for the exercise of the foregoing powers.”

Therefore, according to this provision, the government has the power to make changes in the design of the emblem. However, it only refers to changes in the design and not changes in the state emblem itself.


The Ashoka Pillars in India are structures erected by the Mauryan King Ashoka between  268 to 232 BC- Ashoka Pillar Sarnath, Ashoka Pillar Allahabad, Ashoka Pillar Sanchi, and Ashoka Pillar Vaishali. Out of these, Ashoka Pillar Sarnath is the most famous in India. The National Emblem of India depicts Emperor Ashoka's visit to Sarnath.

About the Author: Kakoli Nath | 137 Post(s)

Kakoli Nath is a legal Content Curator at Finology Legal who pursued BBA.LL.B (5 years integrated course) & she is a patent analyst. She has pursued advanced certification in Forensics Psychology and Criminal Profiling from IFS, Pune.

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