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How a German-Born Engineer Unearthed India’s Nationwide Emblem  

The design of India’s nationwide emblem, essentially the most seen image of our nation’s nationwide identification, was adopted from the Lion Capital of an Ashokan pillar excavated in Sarnath. On 26 January 1950, the day India grew to become a republic, this image was adopted as her nationwide emblem. 

Right here’s how the Authorities of India describes our nationwide emblem: “The profile of the Lion Capital displaying three lions mounted on the abacus with a Dharma Chakra within the centre, a bull on the best and a galloping horse on the left, and descriptions of Dharma Chakras on the acute proper and left was adopted because the State Emblem of India on January 26, 1950. The bell-shaped lotus was omitted. The motto Satyameva Jayate, which implies ‘Reality Alone Triumphs’, written in Devanagari script beneath the profile of the Lion Capital is a part of the State Emblem of India.” 

Why did India undertake a logo from the traditional rule of a Mauryan King, Ashoka? 

Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first prime minister, had some solutions for the Constituent Meeting on 22 July 1947, barely a month earlier than India’s Independence. 

“Personally, I’m exceedingly glad that on this sense not directly we have now related to this Flag of ours not solely this emblem however in a way the identify of Asoka, one of the magnificent names not solely in India’s historical past however in world historical past….Now as a result of I’ve talked about the identify of Asoka, I ought to such as you to suppose that the Asokan interval in Indian historical past was basically a world interval of Indian historical past. It was not a narrowly nationwide interval. It was a interval when India’s ambassadors went overseas to far nations and went overseas not in the best way of an empire and imperialism, however as ambassadors of peace and tradition and goodwill.”

What do these 4 majestic Asiatic lions on the nationwide emblem signify? 

Based on Heritage Lab, “They signify energy, braveness, pleasure, and confidence. The Mauryan symbolism of the lions signifies ‘the facility of a common emperor (chakravarti) who devoted all his sources to the victory of dharma’. In adopting this symbolism, the fashionable nation of India pledged equality and social justice in all spheres of life.” 

Going additional, it provides, “The lions sit atop a cylindrical abacus, which is adorned with representations of a horse, a bull, a lion and an elephant, made in excessive reduction…The animals are separated by intervening chakras (having 24 spokes). The Chakra additionally finds illustration on the Nationwide Flag. This chakra, or the ‘Wheel of Regulation’ is a outstanding Buddhist image signifying Buddha’s concepts on the passage of time. Dharma (advantage), in keeping with perception, is everlasting, repeatedly altering and is characterised by uninterrupted continuity.”

India’s nationwide emblem is a logo steeped in historic historical past. Nevertheless, we could not have identified about this image if it wasn’t for the work of a German-born engineer, architect and archaeologist. Within the winter of 1904-05, whereas excavating an archaeological website in Sarnath, Uttar Pradesh, Friedrich Oscar Oertel unearthed the Lion Capital of Ashoka of an Ashokan pillar.   

A naturalised British citizen, Oertel’s contributions to Indian artwork historical past, archaeology and nationwide identification have been missed. In spite of everything, he spent most of his time working as a civil engineer and architect within the Public Works Division beneath the British colonial administration.   

Right here’s a quick story concerning the man who would assist unearth India’s nationwide emblem.

Friedrich Oscar Oertel discovered the Lion Capital of Ashoka which was later adopted for India's national emblem
Friedrich Oscar Oertel throughout his go to to Burma

A person well-travelled

Born on 9 December 1862 in Hannover, Germany, Oertel left for British-ruled India at an early age. Graduating from the Thomason School of Civil Engineering (identified at this time as IIT-Roorkee), he was first employed as an engineer for railway and constructing building by the Indian Public Board from 1883 to 1887. 

Following his stint right here, Oertel returned to Europe to check structure earlier than making his manner again to undivided India. Based on Claudine Bautze-Picron, an Indian artwork historian, “Oertel then began upon an excellent profession within the Public Works Division, being first despatched on various missions after which appointed in varied areas. Despatched by the Authorities of the North-Western Provinces and Oudh, within the winter of 1891–92 he surveyed the monuments and archaeological websites in North and Central India earlier than reaching Rangoon in March 1892.” 

Travelling via Burma (present-day Myanmar), which was additionally beneath British rule, he wrote a prolonged and detailed report on the monuments of Burma with unique pictures. 

Bautze-Picron would go on so as to add, “In 1900 he was despatched to Sri Lanka by the Royal Asiatic Society with the intention to go to the Abhayagiri dagoba [a very sacred Buddhist pilgrimage site] and make options on the easiest way to protect or restore it.”

“As Government Engineer within the ‘Buildings and Roads’ department of the Public Works Division, North-West Provinces and Oudh, as from 1902, and as Superintending Engineer from 1908, he was posted in varied locations of Uttar Pradesh: from 1903 to 1907, he was in Benares, in 1908 he was situated in Lucknow, and from 1909 to 1915, in Cawnpore [Kanpur]; he was then despatched to Shillong, Assam, the place he remained as much as 1920.” 

His expertise in supervising and developing buildings throughout this time, significantly in Uttar Pradesh, helped him “to formulate his opinion regarding the building of the brand new capital at New Delhi”. Throughout a lecture delivered on the East India Affiliation at Caxton Corridor, Westminster, on 21 July 1913, he urged architects commissioned by the administration to take inspiration from a “actually nationwide Indian model” whereas designing the brand new Capital metropolis.

India's national emblem
India’s Nationwide Emblem

‘Unearthing’ the nationwide emblem in Sarnath

Nevertheless, Oertel is finest identified for the excavation he carried out on Sarnath from December 1904 to April 1905. Writing for Dwell Historical past India, Janhavi Patgaonkar notes how “within the early nineteenth century, Sarnath started to draw the eye of students for its archaeological significance”. 

First explored in 1815 by Colin Mackenzie, the primary Surveyor Common of India, Sarnath would witness additional excavations within the 1830s by Alexander Cunningham, who would go on to develop into the Director Common of the Archaeological Survey of India. 

There was a substantial amount of curiosity in Sarnath, and Oertel naturally caught onto it. Serving in Benaras on the time, Oertel secured permission to excavate a website in Sarnath. Within the following yr, he started his work with help from the Archeological Division. 

Based on Patgaonkar, Oertel unearthed “among the most important discoveries ever made” in Sarnath. These embrace “476 sculptural and architectural stays, together with 41 inspirctions”. She provides, “A determine of a Bodhisattva dated to Kushana King Kanishka (r. 78-144 CE), the inspiration of a Sangharam (monastery), a number of pictures of Buddhist and Hindu deities, and Ashoka pillar bearing the edicts (inscriptions) of Mauryan Emperor Ashoka (third BCE)”. 

After all, essentially the most vital discovery was the Lion Capital which topped an Ashokan pillar (therefore the time period ‘capital’). This specific pillar was one among the many many commissioned by Ashoka throughout the Indian subcontinent used to unfold the message of Buddha after he had transformed to Buddhism. The Lion Capital found in Sarnath is “amongst solely seven capitals of Ashokan pillars which have survived”, notes Patgaonkar. 

Right here’s how the ‘Archaeological Survey of India: Annual Report 1904–1905′ describes this discovering, “The capital measures 7’ [feet] in peak. It was initially one piece of stone, however is now damaged throughout simply above the bell…it’s surmounted by 4 magnificent lions standing again to again and of their center was a big stone wheel, the sacred dharmacakra image.”  

The report goes on so as to add, “It apparently had 32 spokes, whereas the 4 smaller wheels beneath the lions have solely 24 spokes. The lions stand on a drum with 4 animal figures carved on it, viz., a lion, an elephant, a bull, and a horse, positioned between 4 wheels. The higher a part of the capital is supported by an elegantly formed Persepolitan bell-shaped member. The lion and different animal figures are splendidly life-like and the carving of each element is ideal.”

Describing its majesty, the report famous, “Altogether this capital is undoubtedly the best piece of sculpture of its type up to now found in India…Contemplating the age of the column, which was erected greater than 2,000 years in the past, it’s marvellous how properly preserved it’s. The carving is as clear because the day it was reduce and the one injury it has suffered is from wilful destruction.”  

Lion Capital of Ashoka inspired the national emblem of India

The Lion Capital was discovered buried close to the Dhamek Stupa on the website. Whereas the pillar at this time stands within the location the place it was discovered, the Lion Capital was shifted to the Sarnath Museum. 

Regardless of such a big discovery, Oertel might solely excavate Sarnath for less than a season, and by 1905 was transferred to Agra. Following the famine within the United Provinces in 1907-08, he was refused permission to return again and organise additional excavations at Sarnath. 

Luckily, students like BC Bhattacharya haven’t forgotten Oertal’s contributions at Sarnath. “The excavation of Oertel ushered in a brand new period within the annals of analysis work at Sarnath. The world is indebted to him for the great discoveries made by him at this place.”    

From Sarnath, Oertel left for Agra, the place amongst different works, he undertook the restoration of the “Diwan-i-Amm and Jahangiri Mahal within the Agra Fort and the reconstruction of the 4 minarets of the south gateway of the Akbar tomb in Sikandra in 1905–1906 whereas additionally engaged on the compound of the Taj Mahal,” notes Bautze-Picron. He would additionally conduct a extra detailed research of Mughal structure, and by the top of the last decade “documented the sculptures of Yoginis at Rikhian (Rikhiyan) in Banda, now Chitrakoot district of Uttar Pradesh”.      

When Oertel left India for the UK in 1921, he in all probability had no concept that his work would lay the idea of India’s nationwide identification following freedom from British rule. There’s little details about his demise, however the legacy he leaves behind is there for all Indians to see. 

(Edited by Yoshita Rao); (All pictures courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

‘F.O. Oertel’ by Claudine Bautze-Picron; Biography of Friedrich [Frederick] Oscar Emanuel Oertel who excavated the positioning of Sarnath, restored monuments in Agra and Fatehpur Sikri, written for in Summer time 2013
‘Friedrich Oertel: The Man Who ‘Discovered’ India’s State Emblem’ by Janhavi Patgaonkar; Revealed on 20 August 2021 courtesy Dwell Historical past India
Archaeological Survey of India: Annual Report 1904–1905
‘State Emblem’ by Know India (
‘The ‘Lion Capital’: a Buddhist image that grew to become India’s Nationwide Emblem’ by Heritage Lab
Constituent Meeting Debates 



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