Group of pictures showing symbols of India    

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In this lesson
-Explore national symbols and their meanings
-Understand the significance of Emperor's Ashoka's reign
-Learn about Buddhism and non-violence
-Prompt discussion about religion and government

Video Resources
Edicts Of Ashoka from the PBS series 'Story of India'
Buddhist Monuments at Sanchi from UNESCO
More Extension Activities
-What was happening in other parts of the world such as Greece and China when the Mauryan Empire was at its peak under Emperor Ashoka is the 3rd century BCE?
-Create your own edicts.  Where would you place them and what would they say?

What do the National Emblem and Ashoka Chakra signify?

Explore national symbols and their meanings.

Keywords:  Emperor Ashoka, national symbols, Buddhism, edicts, Maurya, Mauryan Empire, Brahmi Script, dhamma, dharma, Jataka tales, world history, giant empires, religion, non-violence, religion and government, social justice, human rights

Emperor Ashoka (304-232 BCE) was the third king of the Maurya Dynasty.  He ruled a truly massive kingdom that stretched from the Hindu Kush to the Bay of Bengal.  It was India's first great empire.  It is not just that Ashoka ably ruled this huge empire but the quality of social justice that he brought to his already strong administration.
Remorseful after his bloody campaign and conquest of Kalinga, Ashoka embraced Buddhism.  Thereafter reverence for life, tolerance, compassion and peaceful co-existence were the cornerstones of his administration. Under him the earliest know bans on slavery and capital punishment as well as environmental regulations came into place. 

"Mama, what is this animal on the rupee note that Dada gave me?"

See this picture:  It is a carving of four lions and the pictures we see on the currency notes are based on it.

Lion Capital of Sarnath, erected by the Emperoe Ashoka in the 3rd century BCE. 

The lions, like the ones above, that we see on the notes and coins have a long history. The picture on the left is the actual stone carving on which the National Emblem is based.  It is called the ‘Lion Capital’ and originally it rested on top of a tall pillar.  It was built in the third century BCE by Emperor Ashoka at Sarnath, near modern day Varanasi, to mark the spot where the Buddha gave his first sermon. 

National Emblem of India

This is the National Emblem of India and the motto ‘Satyameva Jayate’ below the emblem in Devanagri script means ‘truth alone triumphs’.







The wheel from the circular base, the ‘Ashoka Chakra’, today is part of the national flag of the Republic of India.

National Flag of the Republic of India 

What does the National Emblem stand for? 

The National Emblem of India is a replica of the Lion of Sarnath, near Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh. The Lion Capital was erected in the third century BC by Emperor Ashoka to mark the spot where Buddha first proclaimed his gospel of peace and emancipation to the four quarters of the universe. The National emblem is thus symbolic of contemporary India's reaffirmation of its ancient commitment to world peace and goodwill. 

The four lions (one hidden from view) - symbolizing power, courage and confidence - rest on a circular abacus. The abacus is girded by four smaller animals - guardians of the four directions: the lion of the north, the elephant of the east, the horse of the south and the bull of the west. The abacus rests on a lotus in full bloom, exemplifying the fountainhead of life and creative inspiration. The motto 'Satyameva Jayate' inscribed below the emblem in Devanagari script means 'truth alone triumphs'. 


What does the Ashoka Chakra signify?


The Ashoka Chakra is a depiction of the Buddhist Dharmachakra, represented with 24 spokes. It is so called because it appears on a number of edicts of Ashoka, most prominent among which is the Lion Capital of Sarnath which has been adopted as the National Emblem of the Republic of India.

The most visible use of the Ashoka Chakra today is at the centre of the National flag of the Republic of India (adopted on 22 July 1947), where it is rendered in a Navy-blue color on a White background, by replacing the symbol of Charkha (Spinning wheel) of the pre-independence versions of the flag.   


Lion capital displayed at the Archeological museum at Sarnath, 10 km from Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh.


Going to see the monuments?

Visit the Archaeological Museum, Sarnath (District Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh)

Updated March 2011