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Sceptre from TN to Nehru to be displayed in New Parliament

May 25, 2023 12:58 AM IST

Rajaji is said to have approached the Thiruvaduthurai Adheenam – a Saivaite Mutt which is over 500 years old. A 5-feet Sengol with a nandi (bull) atop was commissioned by the Adheenam

Chennai: Tamil Nadu’s DMK government and the party’s allies will boycott the inauguration of the new Parliament building and yet there will be a prominent presence from the state in the form of a sceptre.

Union home minister Amit Shah tweeted this picture of a golden sceptre ‘Sengol’ to be installed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the new Parliament building on May 28, in New Delhi on Wednesday. (ANI)
Union home minister Amit Shah tweeted this picture of a golden sceptre ‘Sengol’ to be installed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the new Parliament building on May 28, in New Delhi on Wednesday. (ANI)

A gold-plated silver ‘Sengol’ (meaning sceptre), presented by the Thiruvaduthurai Adheenam (in present day Myladudurai district) to India’s first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru as a symbol of the transfer of power from the British, would be installed at a prominent position in the new Parliament building, announced Union home minister Amit Shah on Monday. Prime Minister Narendra Modi will inaugurate it on May 28.

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Shah recounted the incident of how Viceroy Lord Mountbatten asked Nehru about the ceremony to be followed for the transfer who in turn consulted C Rajagopalachari (Rajaji, the last Governor-General of India and who hailed from the Madras Presidency and present day Krishnagiri district). Rajaji suggested the concept of a sengol being handed over to a king.

“Every king is handed a Sengol which gives them the authority to protect dharma and be in the path of righteousness,” said S Jayakumar, researcher of South East Asian history.

He dismissed that this tradition solely belongs to the Chola kingdom as said by Shah. “Linking Cholas and Adheenams is not correct as most adheenams did not exist until the 14th century. A Sengol is a very ancient symbol of righteousness and Dharma in the Tamil land and it is said that a king should rule following what a sengol symbolises.”

The Thirukkural (couplets written by Tamil philosopher Thiruvalluvar) has a separate chapter, Sengonmai (from probably 2nd century CE) where couplet 545 states, “Where king, who righteous laws regards, the sceptre wields, there fall the showers, rich abundance crowns the fields”, says Jayakumar. “So, having a Sengol at the court of the king has been a long tradition. The iconography of this Sengol is mentioned in Shilpa Sastras as well. The current Sengol which will be present during the inauguration of the new Parliament does not belong to the time of the Cholas as widely believed.”

Rajaji is said to have approached the Thiruvaduthurai Adheenam – a Saivaite Mutt which is over 500 years old. A 5-feet Sengol with a nandi (bull) atop was commissioned by the Adheenam – the 20th Gurumaha Sannithanam Sri La Sri Ambalavana Desika Swamigal.

Chennai-based jewellers Vummidi Bangaru Chetty – which is still popular – crafted the Sengol. 96-year-old Vummidi Ethirajulu and 88-year-old Vummidi Sudhakar remember making the Sengol, Shah said.

A delegation of three – a deputy high priest of the Adheenamm, a nadaswaram player and an Odhuvar (singer) -- flew from Tamil Nadu to Delhi to conduct the proceedings. They handed the Sengol to Lord Mountbatten, took it back, purified it with holy water. On the night of August 14, 1947 the Sengol was taken in procession to Nehru’s house, the high priest sang a song and handed it over to Nehru. The song was composed by 7th century Tamil saint Tirugnana Sambandar who also hails from present day Mayiladudurai.

Eight people belonging to the Adheenam, including the current seer the 24th Gurumaha Sannithanam Sri La Sri Ambalavana Desika Paramachariya Swamigal, will leave to Delhi tonight to participate in the inaugural event. “Only one person, Masamani Pillai, who was present when Rajaji approached our Adheenam in 1947 is still alive. He is 97-year-old,” said a person from the Adheenam who did not wish to be named. “We don’t like publicity. The Cholas, Cheras and Pandiyas were followers of our Adheenam. Kamaraj who has never visited any adheenam visited us twice. Several VIPs continue coming to take blessings but we do not allow photos.”

He said the current seer may be asked to hand over the Sengol to Modi with rituals similar to how it was done with Nehru but the programme is yet to be finalised.

Vummidi Shailesh Raj, the great grandson of Chetty and partner at Vummidi Sri Jewellery, said that it wasn’t a family lore that was passed on to generations and that they were aware of the sceptre only recently when a vernacular Tamil magazine published an article. “It caught the eye of one of our family members and we were wondering how we didn’t know of it,” says Raj. “Over the decades, we have been commissioned to craft such things across the country but we have not documented it. We didn’t know that Nehru’s golden walking stick in the Prayagraj museum is actually a sengol made by us. Unfortunately, we have no written record of it. Ethirajulu uncle must have been in his 20s when he crafted the Sengol in 1947. Thankfully, when they came to us now, it jogged his memory and he was able to recall how it was assigned to us. We are honoured that our work has gained national importance cutting across all sorts of lines.”

Barely anyone knew about the tale of the sengol, says C R Kesavan, the great-grandson of Rajaji. “The stories which only my family knew are now being brought to the entire country. I’m thankful to the Prime Minister for bringing a slice of history from oblivion to its rightful place,” Kesavan told HT. “Placing the sengol behind the Speaker is poignant as it symbolises dharma. It’s an epitome of the blending of modernism with tradition in the new Parliament.”

Kesavan had in February quit the Congress and joined the BJP in Tamil Nadu. “Like how the Kashi-Tamil Sangamam highlighted the connection between the north and south even 1,400 years ago, the display of the sengol also represents a connection in our civilization,” he says. “When Lord Mountbatten asked Nehru whether they should shake hands or exchange a piece of paper and he in turn asked Rajaji who is a spiritual person, he suggested that handing over a sceptre has been our tradition,” Kesavan said. “It shows interconnectedness and pluralism.”

The Adheenam too said that Rajaji was one of their devotees.

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR
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    Divya Chandrababu is an award-winning political and human rights journalist based in Chennai, India. Divya is presently Assistant Editor of the Hindustan Times where she covers Tamil Nadu & Puducherry. She started her career as a broadcast journalist at NDTV-Hindu where she anchored and wrote prime time news bulletins. Later, she covered politics, development, mental health, child and disability rights for The Times of India. Divya has been a journalism fellow for several programs including the Asia Journalism Fellowship at Singapore and the KAS Media Asia- The Caravan for narrative journalism. Divya has a master's in politics and international studies from the University of Warwick, UK. As an independent journalist Divya has written for Indian and foreign publications on domestic and international affairs.

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