On May 28, 2023, as Prime Minister Narendra Modi dedicates the new Parliament building to the nation, an important relic of India’s history will find its place within its hallowed halls. Union Home Minister Amit Shah announced that the golden ‘sengol’ or sceptre, a significant symbol of power and righteousness, will be placed in the new Parliament premises.
The five-feet long sceptre, intricately carved and plated with gold, was specially commissioned by the Thiruvavaduthurai Adheenam. This historic artefact holds immense historical and cultural significance, as it was originally handed over to the then Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, on the eve of India’s Independence Day. It was presented to Nehru by the Thiruvavaduthurai Adheenam before his iconic speech, ‘Tryst with Destiny,’ which marked the birth of an independent nation.
Expressing his delight at Amit Shah’s announcement, Sri La Sri Ambalavana Desika Paramacharya Swamigal, the 24th and current seer of Thiruvavaduthurai Adheenam, stated that the sceptre would be ceremoniously handed over to Prime Minister Modi during the inauguration of the new Parliament building. This gesture holds symbolic significance, emphasizing the transfer of power and the responsibility to govern with justice and fairness.
The term ‘sengol’ is derived from the Tamil word ‘semmai,’ which means righteousness. In Tamil culture, the ‘sengol’ has played a pivotal role, especially during the coronation of kings. It represents the transfer of power and reminds the recipient of their duty to rule justly and fairly.
Historians and researchers of Sangam Literature affirm that the tradition of handing over a sceptre to denote the transfer of power dates back nearly 2,000 years to the Sangam Age. References to this practice can be found in ancient texts such as the Purananooru, Kurunthogai, Perumpaanatrupadai, and Kalithogai. Even a puranic story mentions the deity Madurai Meenakshi Amman gifting a sceptre to the Nayaka kings.
Interestingly, it was freedom fighter Rajaji (C. Rajagopalachari) who suggested the ceremonial gesture of presenting a sceptre to Nehru. This tradition has been documented as far back as the Chola era, where it symbolized the transfer of power to a new king.
Rajaji approached the Thiruvavaduthurai Adheenam, one of the oldest Saivaite Mutts in India, located in the Thanjavur district, to arrange for the sceptre. The Adheenam, established in the 14th Century, holds historical significance in the heartland of the erstwhile Chola kingdom, situated in the delta area of the Cauvery River.
The seer of Thiruvavaduthurai Adheenam at that time, Sri La Sri Ambalavana Desika Swamigal, commissioned the crafting of a five-foot-long gold sceptre with intricate carvings and a miniature replica of the divine bull deity, Nandi, on top. Skilled craftsmen from Vummidi Bangaru, a renowned jeweler in Madras, were entrusted with the task of creating this masterpiece according to specifications and within the given timeframe.
A delegation comprising Sri La Sri Kumaraswamy Thambiran, the deputy high priest of the Mutt, Manickam Odhuvar, and the renowned nagaswaram musician T.N. Rajarathinam Pillai, flew to Delhi to present the sceptre. The deputy high priest, after conducting the necessary rituals, handed over the sceptre to Mountbatten before retrieving it. Accompanied by recitations of hymns from the Thevaram composed by Saiva saint Thirugnana Sambandar and melodious nagaswaram music by T.N. Rajarathinam Pillai, the sceptre was finally presented to Nehru by Sri La Sri Kumaraswamy Thambiran on August 14, 1947.
The inclusion of this historic sceptre within the new Parliament building serves as a poignant reminder of India’s rich cultural heritage, the struggles for independence, and the values it upholds. It symbolizes the continuous thread that connects the past, present, and future of the nation, as its leaders take on the responsibility to govern with righteousness and integrity.
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