Four lions standing back to back, with mouths wide open, their tongue sticking out, and their teeth seem to be as pointed as spears, the claws are protruding from their paws.
The well-formed veins and mane of these four lions look very beautiful. These lions roaring in all four directions are undoubtedly a symbol of strength, power, and royalty. To a large extent, it is possible that the warning of Emperor Ashoka in the context of people trying to divide Buddhism is inscribed on the top of the pillar and these four lions are an attempt to embody the warning and make the warning relatively more effective. From the structure of the eyes of the four lions, it appears that the circular structure of these eyes must have been studded with precious stones.

After the independence FOUR -FACED LION (LION CAPITAL) was adopted as THE EMBLEM OF INDIA.

THE LION CAPITAL was excavated from SARNATH, and this was a part of ASHOKAN PILLAR The emblem of India reflects India’s traditions, glorious history, and heritage. Undoubtedly, this statue of four lions is a unique example of ancient sculpture in India.

It can be seen as the emblem of the Government of India on all the major buildings, medals of honor,(Param Veer Chakra, Shaurya Chakra, Ashok Chakra), passport etc. It can also be seen on the currencies issued by the Government of India, present slightly above the bottom right corner of each note beside its value.


Why is Emperor Ashoka counted among the greatest rulers of not only India but the world?

Amidst the tens of thousands of names of monarchs that crowd the columns of history, their majesties and graciousness’s and serenities and royal highnesses and the like, the name of Ashoka shines, and shines almost alone, a star. From the Volga to Japan his name is still honored. China, Tibet, and even India, though it has left his doctrine, preserve the tradition of his greatness. More living men cherish his memory today than have ever heard the names of Constantine or Charlemagne. (Outline of History )H.G WELLS

EMPEROR ASHOKA IS PROBABLY THE FIRST EMPEROR IN HUMAN HISTORY TO ESTABLISH A PUBLIC WELFARE STATE. About 2260 years ago from today, Emperor Ashoka established the whole India as a nation and succeeded in establishing non-violence, and moral force as the most essential element of state building.

Fortunately, the words and deeds of Ashoka are still present among us. According to Charles Allen :- ” some seven edict rocks, eleven edict pillars, another nineteen more modest sites bearing what are usually referred to as the Minor Rock Edicts and perhaps a dozen more inscriptions in various forms that can be attributed to Ashoka.”

He was always ready for public business “at all times and at all places, whether I am dining or in the ladies’ apartments, in my bedroom or in my closet, in my carriage or in my palace gardens, the official reporters should keep me constantly informed of the people’s business”. If any difficulty arose, a report was to be made to him immediately “at any hour and at any place”, for, as he says,” work I must for the commonweal”.

SARNATH (VARANASI 1904-5) The treasure of ancient Indian history can clearly be seen in this picture. If you have been to the Sarnath archaeological site museum try to find out some of the objects you saw there in this picture.(Hint: Can you find the huge stone” CHATHRI” in this image.) There are many such objects in this image. Try to find out them yourself.



Sarnath is situated at a distance of about 12 km from the main city of Varanasi. Lord Buddha gave his first sermon here in Sarnath. DHAMMA CHAKRA PARIVARTAN (TURNING THE WHEEL OF DHARMA) Buddhist monasteries, temples, pillars and some stupas were built here by Emperor Ashoka during his reign. Afterwards Sarnath was completely destroyed by the Muslim invaders.

XUANZANG :- Xuanzang (HIUEN TSANG) a famous Chinese traveler who visited India during the reign of Harshavardhana. Hiuen Tsang spent about fifteen years of his life in India. In the year 637 CE, Hiuen Tsang visited Sarnath. The memoirs of his visit to India, and the description of India during Harshavardhana’s reign, were described by Hiuen Tsang in his book Si-Yu-Ki.

The description of the major monuments, temples, Buddhist monasteries, stupas, Ashokan Pillar of Sarnath by Hiuen Tsang was the source of inspiration for the archaeologists of Sarnath excavation to find something new and interesting.

The Lion Capital was found during the excavation between 1904-05 in Sarnath. The ancient wall of Mulgandha Kuti Vihar can also be seen at the excavation site. The statue of Buddha meditating adjacent to the wall of the temple of Mulgandha Kuti Vihar is also clearly visible.

The Mulgandha Kuti Vihar Temple was built at the place where Gautam Buddha used to meditate during his stay at Sarnath. Fragments of the Ashokan Pillar can also be seen a few feet away from the wall of the temple.

It seems that a woman is cleaning a pillar that has been found during excavation, who has covered herself with a cloth to avoid the scorching heat of the sun. Presently Buddha’s meditating statue, Lion Capital and a lot of other things that were found during the excavations are preserved at the Sarnath archaeological site museum.


You can imagine by looking at this drawing ,what the Askoka Pillar would have looked like in its original form. 7 ft high Lion Capital on a 50 ft high pillar (Only 27.5 feet of remains have been found in the excavation.) Xuanzang was also stunned by this panoramic view of the Ashokan Pillar.

The Ashokan pillar built during the reign of Emperor Ashoka can be mainly divided into five parts. 1. Shaft 2. Bell shaped vase covered with inverted lotus 3. Abacus 4. Capital 5. Wheel


A schematic reconstruction of the lion capital of Ashoka at Sarnath using the measurements and estimate of the excavator F. O. Oertel (Reports of the Archaeological Survey of India, 1904-1905), published in 1908, and pictures of a replica at Wat Umong

A few feet away from Mulgandha Kuti Vihar in Sarnath, the pillar was found in a fragmented form. The total height of the pillar is assumed to be 45 feet and it is made of sandstone. The lower part of the pillar was built on a stone base. Apart from Ashoka’s inscriptions Kushan period and Gupta period inscriptions are also carved on this pillar. Ashoka’s warning is in Brahmi script.

This Ashokan Pillar at Sarnath was a monument to the event of turning the wheel of Dharma, and it was established during the reign of Emperor Ashoka to maintain the integrity of the Dharma Sangha.

The Ashokan period inscription on the pillar shows that Emperor Ashoka was not very happy about the divisive forces that were arising within Buddhist Sanghas. And for this reason, in this very inscription, Emperor Ashoka has warned the monks, nuns who try to divide Buddhism and the Buddhist Sangha.

Whoever creates deity in the Sangha, whether a monk or a nuns, will be forcibly put on white clothes and thrown out of the Sangha.

THE SCRIPT OF THE TEXT IS BRAMHI AND THE LANGUAGE IS PRAKRIT. Even in this warning of Emperor Ashoka, there is no glimpse of violence from anywhere, this warning shows the extent to which Ashoka had assimilated the Buddha’s teachings of non-violence.

According to the Chinese traveler Hiuen Tsang, there was a huge Buddhist monastery at this place, about 1500 Buddhist monks and nuns resided in this monastery, perhaps this is why Ashoka has written this inscription for this monastery at Sarnath mentioned by Hiuen Tsang. Presently the remains of this ancient Buddhist monastery are spread over a wide area around the Ashokan Pillar.

Lion Capital preserved in the Museum of Sarnath

Bell shaped vase covered with inverted lotus :- Lotus flowers are found all over India. Since ancient times, lotus flower has been given special importance in Hindu, Buddhist and Jain religious texts.

The images of Gautam Buddha found at Sarnath and other places in India depict Lord Buddha sitting, standing, meditating, preaching on a lotus flower as well as it is also a sign of the womb of Buddha’s mother Mayadevi. Seeing the importance of lotus flower in Indian culture, it also has the distinction of being the national flower of India.


The abacus structure bears living replicas of four animals and four wheels with 24 spokes. These animals are lion, Bull, Horse and Elephant. A wheel with 24 spokes is shown after each animal. There are different opinions among historians regarding the figures of animals built on the abacus.

If you look closer at the center of the Ashoka chakra (the 24 spoked wheel on the abacus, shown in the above image) you will find that it looks peculiarly rough and eroded relative to the surrounding regions which are extremely smooth and polished. Daya Ram Sahni believed that this was done intentionally. He believed that there probably would have been precious stones placed in the center of the four Ashoka chakras.

The centers were made rough so that the stone sticks better and more firmly at the place.

MR BELL believed that the four animals built on the abacus are symbols of the animals living on the four corners of the ANOTATTA lake.

DAYARAM SAHNI also got a glimpse of the Anotatta lake in these animals.

ANOTATTA LAKE :- This lake is located in the Himalayas and according to Buddhist scriptures is the focal point of the world. Many historians consider that the present Mansarovar lake is the one that is referred to as the Anotatta lake in some places. The rivers Ganges, Vankshu, Indus and Sita are believed to be originating from this lake. This lake is considered one of the holiest places of Hindus, Buddhists, Jains.

BRIJ WASI LAL . :- According to B.B Lal, (Renowned archaeologist of India) the Rakshastal near Mansarovar Lake, also known as Ravantal, was known as Anotatta Sarovar in ancient times. The Sutlej river originates from the Rakshastal or Ravanatal.

DR. BLOCKH:- He believed that these four animals are symbols of INDRA, SHIVA, SURYA, and DURGA From the depiction of these animals on the Ashokan pillar, he concluded that these three Gods and Goddesses had accepted the greatness of Gautam Buddha and had come under his shelter.

DR. FOGEL :- He believed that all these animals are just ornamentation, and they have been used on the abacus of Ashokan Pillar only from the point of view of art.


B. MAJUMDAR :- The most detailed, practical explanation of the animals carved on the Ashoka Pillar has been given by Majumdar, which also seems to be the most appropriate one. According to him, lotus is not only a sacred flower described in Hindu, Jain and Buddhist religions, as well as it is a sign of the womb of Buddha’s mother Mayadevi. Similarly the four animals engraved on the abacus, and the 24 spoked wheels represent major events in the life of the Buddha.

ELEPHANT:- Elephant is a symbol of the dream of Mayadevi, (mother of Buddha).

From this dream, Mayadevi realized the arrival of Buddha in her womb. According to this story, Maya Devi, the mother of Buddha, had a dream before he was born. In the dream, Mayadevi saw a white elephant, which is entering her womb from the right side with a white lotus in her trunk.

The queen discussed the dream with the king. The king mentioned this incident to all the astrologers in his court, and wanted to know more about this dream, all the astrologers unanimously called this dream auspicious and something very special.

GALLOPING HORSE :- The horse is a symbol of the temporary royalty of the Buddha.

LION(THE ONE ON ABACUS):- A lion with twitching tail , Lion symbolizes Gautam Buddha being Shakya Simha.(Lion of a Shakya clan )


TAURUS:- It is the symbol of the birth sign of Buddha. Some historians associate it with ancient plowing and seed sowing. (Here it symbolizes the planting of new ideas by the Buddha).


Twenty-four spoked wheel of the MORAL LAW. The twenty -four spokes on the spinning wheel symbolize the twenty four Pratyay (teachings) of Buddhism. The spinning wheel in the middle of the national flag of India is also taken from here.

It is known as ASHOKA CHAKRA because it was built on the Ashokan Pillar. Note that these four, twenty four spoked wheels are the ones that are made on the abacus facing the four directions and not the 32 spoked wheel at the top.

Also note that the 32 spoked wheel cannot be seen on the actual lion capital which is kept in the Sarnath archeological site museum because it was found broken, though its fragmented pieces might be seen which are kept in such a manner to illustrate how it might have looked and this is also the reason why the 32 spoked wheel might sometimes be seen in the replicas of the capital.


The famous four addorsed lions. The figure of four lions is built on top of the abacus. These four lions are standing with their backs to their backs.

The jaws of these lions are open and the tongue is sticking out and their teeth seem to be as pointed as spears, the claws are protruding from their paws. The well-structured venison and mane of these lions are shown very beautifully. From the structure of the eyes of the four lions, it appears that the circular structure of these eyes must have been studded with precious stones.

To a large extent, it is possible that the warning of Emperor Ashoka in the context of people trying to divide Buddhism is inscribed on the top of the pillar and these four lions are an attempt to embody and make the same warning effective.


Remains of 32 spoke wheel in Sarnath Museum


This wheel (The symbol of the Buddhist law), originally adorned the ‘Lion Capital as a crowning member, supported on a short stone shaft. The stone shaft was not discovered from excavation but the thickness can be estimated from the mortice hole, 20.5 cms. In diameter, drilled into the stone between heads of the four seated lions.

Four fragments of the rim portion of the wheel and spoke remains were found. The total number of spokes was presumably 32. These 32 spokes perhaps are indicative of the 32 chief signs of a Great Man (Mahapurusha Lakshana) as described in the Buddhist text Lakkhan sutta of Dighnikaya.

I personally believe that the Ashokan Pillar found in Sarnath is not only the national symbol of India, but the it is the embodiment of the entire heritage of India. Ashokan Pillar is a symbol of Buddha’s teachings, Ashoka’s welfare state and a symbol of India’s civilization and its gradual development. Even from the point of view of ancient Indian sculpture, the Ashokan Pillar is incomparable among all the ancient art works.

My last post that I wrote about Sarnath was the longest post that I ever wrote in my whole carrier and still it was not enough to write about every single thing in detail this is not surprising considering the fact that Sarnath is such a huge place to learn and discover about history. One such important thing that I was unable to write about in detail was the the Lion Capital and the Ashokan pillar that is why I decided to write this post.

If you want to read more about Sarnath and its history please take a look at my last post about Sarnath where I have tried to describe Sarnath as a whole and have also written about some places that you might want to visit if you are coming to Sarnath. I am mentioning the link below you can read it from there.