Shadow Warrior | Crown, Sceptre and ‘The Saga of Dharmapuri’
It is time to decisively throw off the shibboleths of the immediate post-Independence period. The Chola-style ‘sengol’ should be restored to its rightful place as a symbol of the resurgent Indian State, as it was intended to be in the first place, not, absurdly, some guy’s walking stick
In Malayalam, the terms are “kireedom and chenkol”, that is, crown and sceptre, signifying the powerful symbols of the State. He or she who holds these is deemed to be the ruler, ruling with the full authority of the office, and the full approval of the subjects. The words ‘chenkol’ in Malayalam and ‘sengol’ in Tamil are cognate, eg. Chenkotta (red fort) in Malayalam is Sengottai in Tamil.
The sceptre is an important marker of kingship, so much so that during imperial times, Britain was referred to as the ‘sceptr’d isle’, that is, the unquestioned ruler of its far-flung empire.
There is of course the third symbol, the throne, or ‘simhasanam’. During the recent investiture of the British king, I am sure all three of these were on full display. For some reason, the throne seems less important in Indian lore than the other two, but in a wicked pun, the great fabulist OV Vijayan in his savage satire?The Saga of Dharmapuri?equated the throne with a European toilet, in a slang American expression for the erstwhile ‘thunder box’.
The Chola ‘sengol’ from Tamil Nadu was a sacred symbol included in a “vesting ceremony accompanied by a recital of 11 verses from the Thevaram text invoking the blessings of Shiva for the ruler” in 1947, according to S Gurumurthy in “How the Sengol embodied India’s freedom and why it was forgotten and lost” on?republicworld.com. Not only was the ‘sengol’ forgotten, the Cholas, and their great maritime empire that extended all the way to Indonesia, were erased.
In fact, all of South Indian history, including the fabled Vijayanagar Empire, the samurai-like?kalaripayat?warriors of Malabar, Telugu patriots like Alluri Sitarama Raju, Travancore’s Marthanda Varma who?defeated the Dutch at Colachel in 1749, and Travancore’s Chempakaraman Pillai of the INA who coined the term ‘Jai Hind’, were erased from the pages of textbooks. In their place, a weird pabulum of make-believe was installed.
The sacred ‘sengol’ denoting “virtuous and ethical rule” as per Gurumurthy was deemed to be a personal gift, a gold walking stick given to Jawaharlal Nehru, which once again shows how a personality cult was relentlessly built up that would make Mao and Kim Il Sung green with envy. “L’etat, c’est moi” (The State, it is I), said Louis XIV, the Sun King of France. Well, we know what happened to his descendants: the guillotine. Indians, being more gentle, have not quite done the same thing. Or at least done so only metaphorically.
Which reminds me, why is/was Nehru called ‘Pandit Nehru’? Who certified him? His sister was ‘Vijayalakshmi Pandit’. Same question for her too. I don’t see other Kashmiri Hindus calling themselves Pandit: they use their family names, so what’s unique about these people?
Oh well, I guess I answered my own question. According to the personality cult, Nehrus were the hereditary rulers of India, and so it was only natural that the kingship would pass from the British to Nehru. There is only one slight problem. Again according to OV Vijayan in?The Path of the Prophet, the Nehrus were ferrymen on the river Neher, “they who came from somewhere”, and had taken the name of the river as their surname. Jawaharlal’s grandfather was a?kothwal?in a Delhi police station. A Ghosh had some more startling information about this man, who was photographed in a full Pathan outfit, but I shall let that pass.
I made an attempt at deconstructing the Nehru myth in my 1999?Rediff.com?essay?Let us now praise famous men?wherein I quote at length the relevant passage from Vijayan. In my considered opinion, Nehru was an almost unmitigated disaster for India: he thought India was his personal fiefdom, and he was entitled to dispense imperial largesse. He gave away all sorts of things (that didn’t belong to him in the first place):
- Treaty rights in Tibet inherited from the British were given away in exchange for nothing
- The right of independent Tibet to exist, as he colluded with Chinese road-building on the Indo-Tibetan border, and the Chinese troops were eating Indian rice!
- Pakistan occupied Kashmir given away by taking the issue to the hostile UN instead of allowing the Indian Army to cleanse the area of invading Pakistani tribals
- UN Security Council seat, offered by both the US and Russia (yes, I can quote chapter and verse on this from Nehru’s collected writings), to China
- Coco Islands was given away to Burma, which is now allowing China to build a naval base there
After all these years of living dangerously, India is now inching ahead.
It is time to decisively throw off the shibboleths of the immediate post-Independence period. The Chola-style ‘sengol’ should be restored to its rightful place as a symbol of the resurgent Indian State, as it was intended to be in the first place, not, absurdly, some guy’s walking stick.
The writer has been a conservative columnist for over 25 years. His academic interest is innovation. Views expressed are personal.
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