What is the significance of the four lions depicted in the National Emblem of India? What teachings of Gautam Buddha do these represent? Why did Emperor Ashoka get the statue of these four lions built on the top of the Ashoka pillar? Today, even after almost 2600 years, the embodiment of Buddha’s teachings is a unique example of the richness of the Indian culture.

Recently a controversy has arisen over the “Lion Capital”, the national emblem of India.

The reason for this controversy was the replica of the LionCapital to be installed on top of the newly constructed building of the Parliament of India.

Highlights of the Lion Capital statue to be installed on the roof of the new Parliament building

@ The Lion Capital statue to be installed on the roof of the newly built Parliament House is a replica of the original statue located in the museum of Sarnath, Varanasi.

@ The replica to be installed on the roof of the Parliament House is made of bronze and weighs 16,000 kg. The total height of this replica is 6.5 meters.

@ The replica was made by 100 artisans over a period 9 months. This statue is completely hand made, no machine has been used in its construction.

The controversy behind this statue-:

Major opposition parties mainly Congress and Communist Party are attacking the ruling party over this statue. These political parties say that in the construction of this statue, the four lions have been shown as aggressive, whereas in the Lion Capital statue at Sarnath, the four lions have been shown calm and majestic.

Some people say that these lions seem to be violent and man-eaters.

This dispute increased so much that some people went to the court, well the court rejected this petition, but many people are still angry about this incident.

At first glance, it seems that because of being associated with Buddhism, these four lions must have been depicted with a calm nature in the Original statue.

Are the four lions actually depicted as calm & majestic in the original statue located in the Sarnath Museum?

Close up of Lion Capital in Sarnath Museum. (Wikimedia commons )

In fact, even in the original Lion Capital, the four lions are depicted in an aggressive posture.

All four lion’s mouths are open, sharp teeth, their tongue flapping, protruding veins, heavy mane, their claws sticking out (It is worth noting that lion’s claws are retractable and they come out of their paws only when hunting.) It becomes clear at the very first sight itself that all the four lions are depicted in an aggressive posture.

Now an important question arises here.

There is a lot of emphasis on non-violence in Buddhism, then why are the lions depicted in an aggressive posture in the Lion Capital ?

Along with this it becomes necessary to find answers to some more questions.

@ What does the Lion Capital built by Emperor Ashoka on the top of the pillar symbolize?

@ What teachings of Buddha did Emperor Ashoka consider as the basis for the construction of the Ashoka Pillar?

To answer these questions, we must turn to Buddhist literature and Lion Capital. Fortunately, all of these sources are available in abundance.



A teaching of the Buddha was named the Sutra of the Lion’s Roar by his disciple Ananda. Buddha had emphasized the need of Buddhist organization(known as SANGHA, a BUDDHIST COMMUNITY) under this and highlighted the importance of organization.

SANGHA : Monastic community of bhikkhu (monks )and bhikkuni (nuns) Buddha described Sangha as the community that supports one along the path.

Buddha explained this importance of Sangha by giving the example of rice that joint effort is better than single effort, just as a rice grain has the natural tendency to turn into a rice plant, but for this to happen some other Factors are also required such as: sunlight, soil, water, air etc.

Similarly, a person can also try to attain enlightenment all by himself, but with the help of other people, his/her path becomes easier, so association is necessary for attaining knowledge. According to Buddha, by concerted effort under the Sangha, the wall of ignorance crumbles in the same way as darkness with the advent of light.

After explaining the importance of the Sangha, Buddha described the Sangha as powerful as a lion roaming in the jungle.
According to Buddha, The lion is the king of the jungle, when he comes out of his cave, the message of his arrival spreads in all four directions.
When the lion roars before the hunt, fear prevails in all the animals and all the creatures start hiding.
Birds start flying high on hearing the lion’s roar, crocodiles start searching the depth of water, foxes hide in burrows, even the majestic elephants which are decorated with precious jewels, equipped with golden canopies start running away from the roar.

Sangha is the proclamation of the path of enlightenment like the roar of a lion in the jungle. Buddha says that Sangha is like the roar of a lion. All false ideas and misconceptions lurking in some corner are replaced with the ideas and concerted effort of the Sangh.

The teachings of the Buddha, known as the Sutra of the Lion Roaring, make it clear that the lion that the Buddha portrayed the Sangha as, was a majestic and aggressive one.

Now another question arises as to why did Emperor Ashoka get Buddha’s sermons depicting Sangha like a lion installed on the top of the pillars in the form of idols at Sarnath and some other places?

Not only did Buddha give the first sermon in Varanasi Sarnath, but he also gave the concept of the Buddhist Sangha here and established the Sangha. Later, a huge Buddhist monastery was also established here.

The great Chinese traveler Hieun Tsang, during his visit to India, mentioned the residence of 1500 monks and nuns in this huge Buddhist monastery.

In 1905, during the excavation of Sarnath, the ruins of the Ashoka Pillar were found. A picture from that period shows the Lion Capital, and the section of the pillar bearing Emperor Ashoka’s edict. Presently the top of the pillar is located in the Sarnath Museum and the fragments of the pillar are located in a glass show case among the Sarnath Ruins.

Ashoka Pillar Fragments and the warning of Emperor Ashoka can be seen in Sarnath.

English translation of Emperor Ashoka’s warning It is mentioned by Mr. F.O Oertal. The credit for the archaeological excavations of Sarnath in 1905 and the discovery of the Ashoka pillar goes to Mr. F.O Oertal.

Thus saith the beloved of the Gods announced in the Order of Monks and in the Order of Nuns. The Church (Baudh- Math)is not to be divided But whosoever, monk or nun, shall break up the Church, shall be made to dwell white garments and dwell in a place which is not a residence for the clergy. Thus must this edict be announced in the Order of Monks and in the Order of Nuns…………………

Key points of Emperor Ashoka’s warning

Emperor Ashoka was very upset and worried about the rising trend of rebellion in the Sangha. In order to convey his point clearly to the Buddhist monks and nuns, the emperor got his warning inscribed on a pillar.

The top of the pillar reflects Gautam Buddha’s description of the Sangha as a lion and reflects the majestic qualities of the lion, certainly for this reason, Emperor Ashoka built the Lion Capital on the top of the pillar.

Observing the teachings of Buddha himself in the Buddhist literature and the warning of Emperor Ashoka, which is still inscribed on the Ashoka Pillar and the top of the pillar kept in the museum of Sarnath, there is no doubt that the Lion Capital’s lions are majestic. Depicted in an aggressive and virtuous posture.

If you want to find out the significance of the Ashoka pillar, the carved figure of other animals on the lion capital, the wheel with 32 spokes, the wheel with 24 spokes and the base like a lotus flower? You can check out this blog post that I wrote earlier—–




20 interesting Facts About Ashokan Pillar Sarnath, (Lion Capital)

Ashoka Pillar of Sarnath gives a wonderful opportunity to understand ancient Indian history, every person who wants to understand Indian history must see this divine artwork at least once in their lifetime.


The Ashoka Pillar is divided into three major parts.
1.The Pillar.
2.The Lion Capital.
3.The 32 spoked wheel.

This diagram gives us a rough idea of ​​what the pillar might have looked like when XUANZANG visited India during the reign of Harshavardhana.


The place where Buddha gave his first sermon to his disciples in 600 BC.

Emperor Ashoka built this pillar at that place around 250 BC.

Chinese traveler XUANZANG came to Sarnath in the seventh century AD. XUANZANG‘s memoirs show that even after 900 years of the pillar’s establishment, he was astonished by its magnificence and construction.

The fragments of the Ashoka Pillar preserved in a glass show case at Sarnath.


1. When was the Ashoka Pillar built?

The Ashoka Pillar at Sarnath was built around 250 BC.

2. What was the purpose of establishing the Ashoka Pillar at Sarnath?

Emperor Ashoka was concerned about the divisive elements in Buddhism and about the monks and nuns at the monasteries who wanted to divide Buddhism.

He got the pillar established here to warn such people. Emperor Ashoka’s warning can still be seen clearly on the divided part of the pillar.

3. In which language is the warning of Emperor Ashoka written in?

The warning of Emperor Ashoka on the Ashoka Pillar of Sarnath is written in Prakrit language and the script is Brahmi.

4. When and how was the Ashoka Pillar, Lion Capital and the 32 spoked wheel discovered?

During the excavation of Sarnath in 1904-1905, fragments of Ashoka Pillar, Lion Capital and 32 spoke wheel were found near Mulgandha Kuti Vihar temple in the west direction from Dhamek Stupa.

Lion Capital found in the archaeological excavation of Sarnath in 1905. The broken part of the pillar can be clearly seen where Emperor Ashoka’s warning is inscribed.

5. Who discovered the Ashoka Pillar at Sarnath?

Archaeological excavations of Sarnath in 1904–1905 were led by Mr. Ortel, so the discovery of the pillar, the Lion Capital and the 32-pointed wheel is attributed to Mr. F. O. Ortel.

6. What is the Ashoka Pillar made of?

The Ashoka Pillar is made of sandstone from Chunar (located at a distance of about 40 km from Varanasi).

7. Is the description of Ashoka Pillar found in history?

The famous Chinese traveler XUANZANG came to India during the reign of Harshavardhana.

During his visit to India, between 627 AD to 643 AD, XUANZANG came to Sarnath (also known as MRIGDAV, ISHIPATTAN) and was astonished by the grandeur of the Ashoka Pillar. XUANZANG was most impressed by the brilliance of Lion Capital, it is surprising that Lion Capital is still as bright and gorgeous today as it was back then.


Lion Capital at Sarnath Museum.


The most beautiful part of the Ashoka Pillar is the Lion Capital.
The Lion Capital (the top part of the Ashoka Pillar) is about 7 feet high.

8. Where is the Lion Capital currently kept?

Presently the Lion Capital (the top part of the Ashoka Pillar) is preserved in the archaeological museum at Sarnath, Varanasi.

9. What does the 4 Asiatic lions of the Lion Capital roaring in all four directions symbolize?

The four Asiatic lions proclaim Buddha’s teachings in all four directions with their backs to their backs symbolize the spread of Buddha’s teachings.

10. Why are the four lions shown in an aggressive posture in Lion Capital?

Warnings are always given in harsh words, so that everybody obeys them, the pillar on which this Lion Capital is situated has a clear warning of Emperor Ashoka engraved on it, so the four lions are also shown in an aggressive posture just to make the warnings a little more effective and also to express the power of Emperor Ashoka, if the instructions are not obeyed.

11.When was the Lion Capital accepted as the National Emblem of India?

The Lion Capital was adopted as the national emblem of India on 26 January 1950.

12. Why did the committee chose Lion Capital as the national symbol of India?

After the independence of India, we have adopted the spirit of peace, non-violence, coexistence, prominently in the internal policies of the country, the Lion Capital reflected these policies and commitment of the country.

India’s foreign policy is also based on the efforts of world peace, and the spirit of cooperation with all nations, so it will not be an exaggeration to say that Lion Capital India is a tableau of thousands of years of moral development of the country, so after independence, Lion Capital was accepted as the national emblem of India as it deserved to be, with its mightiness and magnificence.

13. How is the Lion Capital a symbol of India’s glorious history and culture.

Lion Capital is a unique specimen of sculpture and it has been a witness to the most important events in the history of India, it is a priceless work showing the natural development of Indian history.

14. Which animals are depicted on the abacus at the base of the Lion Capital?

A lion with twitching tail, a bull, a galloping horse and an elephant are depicted on the abacus at the base of the Lion Capital.

15. How many wheels are there on the abacus?

There are four wheels with 24 spokes on the abacus. Each wheel is located between the figures of two animals.

16. What do the animals on the Lion Capital represent?

The lion represents sakyasimha , lion of the shakya clan , The elephant signifies shakyamuni entering the womb, the womb of his mother mayadevi in her dream, the horse, is a symbol of temportal royality, The Bull is a symbol of Buddha’s birth sign Taurus.

17. What do the four wheels with 24 spokes engraved between the animals on the abacus symbolize?

The wheel with 24 spokes represents the twenty-four teachings of Buddhism. This is the same wheel which can be seen at the center of our national flag.


18. Where is the thirty-two spoked wheel kept at present?

Unfortunately only the ruins of 32 spoke wheel were found in the archaeological excavation of Sarnath in 1905, these remains are presently preserved in the museum of Sarnath.

19. What does the wheel with 32 spokes represent?

The wheel with 32 spokes represents the 32 characteristics of great men,(MAHAPURUSH LAKSHAN ) whose description is found in the Buddha literature.

20.How does the Ashoka Pillar reflect the tendencies of the artists of that period?

The Ashoka Pillar is also an example of the transition from wood to stone art by the sculptors of that period.

For detailed information on Ashoka Pillar please visit:

Rediscovery of Lion Capital and how it strengthened India’s freedom struggle.


THE LION CAPITAL IS THE CROWN (TOP) OF THE ASHOKAN PILLAR found at Sarnath in Varanasi. During the archaeological excavations at Sarnath, in 1905 the Ashokan Pillar, the fragments of the 32-spoked wheel and the Lion Capital were unearthed. Today the remains of these findings are kept safe in the Sarnath Museum.

The credit for the discovery of Lion Capital goes to Mr. Oertel.

Ashokan Pillar is a statue of about seven feet. Its shape is like a blooming lotus. It is also considered to be bell shape.

In this idol, four lions are depicted in an aggressive posture sitting back to back. In the center of the statue is the shape of a round abacus, on which four animals, lion, elephant, horse, and bull are engraved. A wheel with 24 spokes (Ashoka Chakra) is made in between each of these animals. The total number of wheels is four which is obvious as there are 4 animals.

To understand Lion Capital, it is necessary to have brief information about Ashokan Pillar, Sarnath, and Emperor Ashoka. Therefore, the necessary information related to this topic is given below.

Sarnath:- Sarnath is the place where Buddha gave his first sermon later known as Dhamma Chakra Parivartan. (turning the wheel of dharma). It is located a few kilometers away from the main Banaras(Varanasi).



Ashoka has been addressed with the same name on the inscriptions and pillars received as mentioned above. Ashoka Raja Address is found in Brahman Purana, the meaning of Ashoka Raja — a king who does not have any grief.


@ Ashoka was the most prolific king of the Mauryan dynasty. He ruled from 269 BC to 232 BC.

@ He extended the boundaries of India to Hindukush in the north, Mysore in the south, Bangladesh in the east, and Persia in the west.

@ Emperor Ashoka is ranked among the greatest kings of the world, not just for conquering regions and boundaries, but also for establishing a welfare state.

@ Ashoka was probably the first emperor of the world to talk about human rights.

@ The credit for spreading the teachings of Buddha all over the world also goes to Emperor Ashoka.


The shaft is the cylindrical platform on which the Lion Capital is placed. Four large fragments of the pillar were found in the excavation.

The pillar was excavated by Mr. Oertel in 1904 -05.

The cylindrical shaft was built from Chunar sandstone and the shaft is estimated to have been about 50 feet tall. This sandstone is still used extensively in construction work in Banaras and Mirzapur (Chunar).

Please read my post for detailed information about Ashokan Pillar at Sarnath, Lion Capital. This post mainly targets how the Lion capital strengthened India’s freedom struggle.

What was the purpose of building Ashokan Pillar

ASHOKA’S WARNING IS ENGRAVED ON THIS PILLAR . Ashoka was troubled by the disruptive elements in Buddhism. The Ashokan Pillar at Sarnath was erected around 250 BC to give a clear warning to monks and nuns trying to divide Buddhism. This warning is directly from Ashoka,(King of patliputra, at present Patna) so it seems appropriate to call it an ordinance.

A huge Buddhist monastery was located in Sarnath, in which about 1500 Buddhist monks and nuns lived, undoubtedly this warning was given to these people.

Lion Capital as the National Emblem of India

The Government of India adopted the Lion Capital as the National Emblem on 26th January 1950.

Ashoka Chakra on the National Flag of India

The National Flag of India was adopted in its present form on22nd July 1947. The Ashoka Chakra in the center of the national flag of India, is also taken from the Lion Capital found at Sarnath.

Ashokan Pillar, Lion Capital before India’s independence

The Lion Capital was adopted as the national emblem of India and the Ashoka Chakra on the abacus also got a place in the National Flag after the independence of India, but the indelible impression of this Lion Capital was inscribed in the hearts of millions of Indians since 1905. Due to the Lion Capital being declared the National Symbol of India, it soon moved out of the history books and found a place in the Civics books.

Lion Capital’s Rediscovery and Historical Significance

DURING THE EXCAVATIONS AT SARNATH 1905, the ruins of Ashokan Pillar were found a few footsteps away from Moolgandha Kuti Vihar. Undoubtedly, the top of the pillar(Lion Capital) is a unique example of ancient Indian art. Soon the ancient history of India was lit up with the influence of the Lion Capital. The Ashokan Pillar, described by XUANZANG, and built by Ashoka, regained its prestige once again after being buried in the ground for nearly 700 years.

This rediscovery had far-reaching consequences.

@ The Ashokan Pillar told that the Golden Age of India was not just a mere fantasy. The pre-Islamic era of India was an era of glory.

@Western historians believed that the civilization of Greece was the highest ranking civilization in human history, but the teachings of Buddha, the history of the welfare state of Ashoka were now in a position to challenge this fact.


XUANZANG came to India from the Silk Route (silk route) during the reign of Harshavardhana between 627-643 AD.

Banaras as described by Xuanzang :-

“The people of Banaras were very rich and their homes were full of valuables. The citizens of Banaras were very civilized and had a special love for education. The yields were very good and the trees were laden with fruits.”

Can such a description of any city and citizens be considered as a backward civilization during 627-643 AD?

@ The discovery of ancient Indian history among the nationalists of India led to tremendous development of the spirit of nationalism. Ashoka Pillar and Buddha’s teachings are abundantly mentioned in the writings and texts of almost all the prominent leaders who participated in India’s independence movement.

@ Christian missionaries who were involved in the business of conversion in India, were now facing a lot of difficulties to convert Hindus by calling them backward because the glorious history of Hinduism was affecting crores of Hindus. The famous American scholar and littérateur Mark Twain came to India and then to Benares in 1897. During his visit to Banaras, he has also mentioned that their were many Christian missionaries involved in conversion in Banaras.

@ The curiosity to know about India increased not only in Indians but also in western countries, it was against the prevailing belief in which Hindu civilization was portrayed as a defeated and helpless civilization.

@ The sense of non-violence, equality, and tolerance, which is seen in Gandhi’s philosophy was not new, but all these elements were included in the Hindu culture of India for thousands of years.
Peace, coexistence, and fraternity have been incorporated as an essential factor in India’s foreign policy after independence and remain an essential part of foreign policy even today. FOR MORE INFORMATION ABOUT THIS SUBJECT PLEASE VISIT :-

Even today, whenever I see the Lion Capital in the Museum of Sarnath, one subject immediately catches my attention the use of geometry in the construction of the Lion Capital.

VARIOUS TYPES OF GEOMETRICAL SHAPES like drum, disc, circle, have been used in this 7 ft idol. The spokes of the wheels are of uniform division, the roundness of the lion’s face is commendable, seeing all this, one thing becomes very clear that the people of India not only had a concrete understanding in geometry in250 BCbut that they also applied this knowledge of theirs while crafting sculptures and also in their day to day life.

The development of mathematics is a continuous process, the society sticking to the old ideology, conservatism can never contribute to the field of mathematics.

THE ATTITUDE OF INDIANS towards mathematics at that time clearly shows that the society used to accept new ideas quite easily. This is a clear indication that how new ideas of Gautam Buddha and Mahavira ( Mahavir Swami, the twenty-fourth Tirthankara of Jainism, were a contemporary of Buddha. Jainism has more emphasis on non-violence than Buddhism.) were easily accepted in the society without much opposition.

PRESENTLY THE LION CAPITAL adorning the museum of Sarnath, is a symbol of the ever-moving and dynamic Hindu culture and civilization. Millions of people every year who come to see this Lion Capital in this museum will undoubtedly have a wonderful infusion of the spirit of nationalism in their hearts. You will feel proud of your history. It can be expected that future generations will also be inspired by this experience for centuries.