Abhijit Suresh and Richa Thakur
The recent uproar surrounding the Chengol, a magnificent creation by Vummidi Bangaru under the guidance of Tiruvavaduthurai Aadeenam in 1947, and its installation behind the Speaker’s seat in the new Parliament has sparked intense controversy. People have attributed various meanings to it, from a symbol of monarchy to representing the “Divine Right to Rule,” challenging Hegel’s ideas from a classical Marxist perspective. In addition, there are also allegations questioning the authenticity of the entire episode. Amidst all the chaos, it becomes crucial to delve into the significance of the Sengol and its relevance in Bharat.
The handing over of the Sengol represents the transfer of power in an Indic context. While it is true that India is now a democracy and no longer a monarchy, the power and responsibility of governance has not dissipated since 1947. Rather, there has been a transformative shift in the way leaders are chosen to govern the land and manage its resources, transitioning into a democratic order. Therefore, the installation of the Sengol in the Parliament is not just a symbolic gesture; it holds a deeper meaning that reflects the evolving nature of power in the subcontinent. By handing over the Sengol to the Indian elected representative, the meaning of the move becomes very clear: the people who have elected the representatives in the parliament now have the Dharmic right to rule over themselves.
The Chengol/Sengol, derived from the Tamizh word “Semmai,” meaning righteousness, has long been a representation of the transfer of the responsibility to govern in accordance with Dharma and Justice. This practice symbolizing the essence of Justice using a Sengol has been prevalent all around the Indian subcontinent in various forms including among the Chozha, Chera and Pandya Kings. This decision to restore a neglected scepter, previously tucked away in a museum in Prayagraj, disguised as a “walking stick” gifted to the first Prime Minister of Independent India, can be contextualized in the background of dharmic resurgence. The current discourse around law and governance by the leading voices in academia have primarily been concerned with discerning the rights and duties of Indian civilians with regards to voting “autocratic governments” to power. The argument quite often takes the turn of citing the “secular” credentials of the state to restrict people representing Indic philosophies and mathas from participating in elections and acting as elected representatives. The “secular” argument is often used, and the constitution is treated more like a holy book comparable to abrahamic authorities which give people divine rights they have in a democracy. The underlying hypocrisy in the arguments is evident to anyone but those making them.
However, owing to the Indic nature of the subcontinent, the installation of the Chola-era inspired staff of justice in the Parliament is undeniably a move towards decolonisation. The significance of the Chengol is multifold: the fact that a Chengol crafted on the eve of Independence to be employed as the symbol of transfer of power is being refurbished and established at the center of power of the Indian state in its latest avatar of power signifies the unbroken nature of the Indic consciousness. It is to say that it is the wheel of Dharma (Dharma and Time are represented by the wheel to emphasize their motion in the universe; just like time changes and brings with it new situations, dharma is the operative power of the universe that is in a similar motion) that has brought the Indian subcontinent to this time and age, and it is the wheel of dharma that has given people the divine right to govern themselves through elected representatives. The establishment of the Chengol hence, clearly demarcates the functions of the Constitution and the entity to which power was transferred in 1947. It is the Chengol, therefore, that represents the executive powers of the state that flow from the voice of its people and not the Constitution, which is a governing document, beautifully crafted to limit said powers of the state.
Further, the installation of the Chengol behind the Speaker’s chair in the new Parliament serves as a powerful statement by the Indian state, effectively debunking the secessionist claims put forth by proponents of Draavida Nadu. It challenges any argument that asserts a fundamental divergence between the essence of Dravida Naad and the rest of Bharat. The placement of this symbol of governance, rooted in the principles of Dharma and Justice, at the very heart of power in India resonates with the legacy of illustrious dynasties like the Chozhas.
By incorporating the legacy of the Chozhas into the central seat of governance, the Indian state sends a resounding message about the unity and indivisibility of Bharat. It highlights that despite regional and cultural diversity, there is an underlying thread of shared values and principles that binds the nation together. Dharma chakra, apart from being established in the middle section of the Indian flag, now has direct recognition through Sengol. The presence of the Chengol as a representation of righteous governance directly challenges the narrative that seeks to propagate the notion of a separate identity for Dravida Naad.
The restoration and placement of the Chengol presented to the first PM of independent India in the Parliament signifies the continuous and unbroken connection between the southern parts of India and the rest of the country. It thus refutes the arguments of secessionists not only in the current context but also from a civilizational point of view. It reinforces the idea of a unified India, where the contributions and heritage of all regions are acknowledged, celebrated, and assimilated.