Friday, May 26, 2023

The mystic symbolism of Sengol

Dr Mohan Raghavan
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The Sengol has been all over the news ever since the announcement of its restoration to the seat of parliament; for the first time since 1947. Historically it was the symbol of authority wielded by the kings of bhārata; most famously by the Tamil kings who called it the Sengol, associated with righteousness, abundance and prosperity. The Sengol or dharma daṇḍa(in Sanskrit) is highly celebrated in Tamil1 and Sanskrit literature2 alike as the personification of dharma, upholding which was considered the greatest duty of the king; in fact, it was their raison d' etre. The word daṇḍadhara3 itself is a synonym for Yama, the lord of dharma in particular and in general to a king. The science of statecraft is often called daṇḍaniti4. However, all of this begs the question, "Why was the daṇḍa chosen to represent royal authority?". The staff is not the greatest of weapons when compared to the sword, mace, spear or bow. Royalty is indicated by the presence of several items like the catra (Umbrella) and cāmara (Whisk). However, the daṇḍa alone is a personification of royal authority. 

śrīranga mahāguru's beautiful exposition on this matter is worth recalling at this juncture. He identifies the king's dharma-daṇḍa or royal sceptre as the replica of merudaṇḍa or backbone which houses the spinal cord. The true king is said to rule over two kinds of kingdoms - the heavenly and the earthly ones5. The heavenly kingdom is the one that yogis see within themselves. The yogis dive deep within and enjoy the greatest bliss that anyone could achieve. Yoga śāstras say that this ultimate bliss is reached only when the yogi enters the sahasrāra or the crown. This state of bliss6 is followed by an experience of nectar or amṛta that pours downwards7, giving joy to every one of the senses and nourishes the physical body. It is thus that the process of Yoga gives unbounded joy within and also freshness and agility of the senses to enjoy the material world outside, albeit with a sense of calmness and balance. Thus such a prince who has learnt the secrets of yoga from his gurus and achieved the same by penance is a master of the inner heavenly kingdom and is also capable of enjoying the material world with a sense of equanimity and balance. 

Such a prince is in due course anointed as a king. His goal is to secure for his subjects, that which he has secured for himself - the two-fold happiness within and in the material. This is the dharma that he must uphold. He is anointed by the rājaguru in a ceremony which reminds him of the source of this dharma and the means to preserve it. His conquest of heavenly joys were made possible by the 'control over the senses' or damā. The dharma daṇḍa or royal sceptre presented to him is none other than a replica of the merudaṇḍa or backbone which houses the spinal cord. It is only with damā, that one ascends the suśumna within the spinal cord and enjoys the bliss of joy within the sahasrāra. The chatra over his head is the kunḍalinī that has risen up straight like a rod or daṇḍa and holds its hoods erect over the crown. The chatra also resembles an inverted lotus that showers the bliss of amṛta downwards. This downwards-shower of amṛta is represented by the abhiṣekha of the king where ceremonially purified waters from the sacred rivers are poured downwards from the crown of the head. Thus the rajyābhiṣekha in Indic tradition8 is not a transfer of power but a grand reminder of a king's role on earth. In fact it is said that a king is verily the viṣṇu on earth9, for he secures for his subjects all the joys.

Now how does the king practically achieve this? It is by creating institutional systems for the same if they do not exist. When they do exist he preserves, nourishes and upholds them. First and foremost is the protection of the system of yajña and its underlying methods of tapasya that bestows all boons. In a different age and time,  yajña could be replaced by pūja and another spiritual discipline. Thus he must ensure that the ṛshis who are the custodians of this knowledge of yogavidya (spiritual discipline) are well protected and provided for. The guru-śiṣya parampara must be well protected so that there is an unbroken transmission of the knowledge. This ensures dharma. 

Secondly, the people in their daily lives must exercise due caution so that the vices like anger, lust, greed, infatuation and others do not take over and destroy dharma. Such codes of conduct must be implemented so that all must be able to enjoy the material and the higher joys. Legendary kings like rāma and yudhiṣṭira are celebrated for their ability to uphold the dharma - in individuals, homes, societies and the country at large. They did it rigorously,  meticulously and by setting an example themselves. Bathed in the shower of amṛta within, their mind, words and deeds became gentle, soft,  pleasant,  attractive and devoid of vices.  While they were kind and empathetic,  they were also unsparing in matters of dharma, even if it were their own kith and kin. It is thus no surprise that the dharma rājya is also called 'rāma rājya' and Rama is considered an embodiment of Dharma itself.

It is quite apt that the Dharma daṇḍa or Sengol will soon be installed in its rightful place in the assemblage of those whose duty it is to deliver dharma in our Bharata.


1 tirukkuṟal̤: 543: antaṇar nūṟkum aṟattiṟkum ātiyāy niṉṟatu maṉṉavaṉ kol.

2 devībhāgavata purāṇa: 1.17.3: vinā daṇḍam kathaṃ rājyaṃ karoti janakaḥ kila | dharme na vartate loko daṇḍaścenna bhavedyadi

3 śabdakalpadruma: daṇḍadharaḥ:

4 śabdakalpadruma: daṇḍanītiḥ: tat cāṇakyādi prāṇītam nīti śāstram

5 ṛgveda: 4.42.1: mama dvitā rāṣṭraṃ kṣatriyasya viśvāyorviśve amṛtā yathā naḥ

6 ṣaṭcakranirūpaṇam: 40: daśa śata dalam pūrṇacandrāti śubhram…pravilasitavapuḥ kevalānandarūpaṃ

7 ṣaṭcakranirūpaṇam: 43: sudhā dhārā sāraṃ niravadhi vimuñcannatitarām

8 A classic example of the coronation with all these features are found in vālmīki rāmāyaṇam : 6.131.60 onwards: vasiṣṭhovāmadevaścajābālirathakāśyapaḥ | kātyāyanosuyajñaścagautamovijayastathā || abhyaṣiñcannaravyāghraṃprasannenasugandhinā | salilenasahasrākṣaṃvasavovāsavaṃyathā ||

9 devībhāgavatapurāṇam: 6.10.24: nādevāṃśo dadātyannaṃ nāviṣṇuḥ pṛthivīpatiḥ