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More Glorious To Merit A ‘Sceptre’ Than To Possess One

Each culture often imbues several objects with unique symbolism and significance, reflecting their respective beliefs and systems of governance

Photo Credit : Google



‘Sengol’ in Tamil, sceptre or simply a staff, in English, has been in the news in recent times and will continue to be there, for a long time to come, for it is supposed to represent authority, sovereignty and justice. In many parliamentary systems around the world, a ceremonial mace is used as a symbol of authority during parliamentary proceedings. The mace represents the authority of the legislature and is often placed in front of the Speaker or the presiding officer. Why must there be such a hue and cry over the installation of ‘Sengol’? Doesn’t it represent the power of democracy? Is it the fear of monarchy which was dismantled a long time ago or is it because history has been corrected or created whichever way one may want to see it?  

It suddenly caught the attention of the common man when the ruling party priced it out, praised it, revered it and adopted it as a symbol of the transfer of power. Throughout history and mythology, many cultures have revered sceptres as symbols of power, leadership, and divine authority. They tell fascinating stories of symbolism attached to them in the cultural or historical context of their times. A run through history reveals why our ‘Sengol’ too must find its place under the sun. 

The British monarchy has a ceremonial sceptre the "Sceptre with the Cross", traditionally carried during the coronation ceremony. It is one of the Crown Jewels of the United Kingdom and symbolizes the monarch's temporal authority.

Be it the legendary golden sceptre known as the "Séadna," in Irish mythology, brought to Ireland by the mythical Fir Bolg people, by which the Irish kings sought authority and legitimacy from its supposedly magical powers, or the Sceptre of Anubis, the god of the dead, derived from the afterlife and the judgment of souls, or Osiris, the god of the afterlife which is shown with a sceptre, as a symbol of divine authority and protection, in Egyptian mythology, they all were often depicted holding a sceptre, a long staff topped with the head of an animal, usually associated with power and divine authority. 

Asclepius, the deity of healing and medicine, in Greek mythology has a serpent entwined around a staff that he carried.  In ancient Rome, the Fasces was a bundle of rods bound together around an axe. They symbolized the authority of magistrates and were carried by lictors as a symbol of their power and the ability to enforce the law. In Chinese mythology, the Jade Emperor, a powerful deity who rules over heaven and earth, often is shown holding a golden staff, symbolizing his divine authority and power. 

In Greek mythology, Zeus, the king of the gods, is depicted holding a sceptre topped with an eagle symbolizing his supreme authority and dominion over the gods and mortals. In ancient Egypt, the pharaohs held a ceremonial sceptre called the "Heqa", that represented their power and authority over the kingdom. The Pope of the Roman Catholic Church holds a ceremonial staff known as the Papal Ferula or Papal Cross. It symbolizes his spiritual authority and role as the head of the Church. In Japan, the Emperor holds a sceptre called the "Shaku" or "Sceptre of the Chrysanthemum," and is one of the Three Sacred Treasures of Japan representing imperial authority and legitimacy.

Even the Mongolian leaders, including Genghis Khan and subsequent Khans, held a staff called the "Noyan" or "Sceptre of Authority." It symbolized their leadership and command over the Mongol Empire. In ancient Mesopotamia, the high priest of the city-state of Uruk wielded a ceremonial sceptre called the "Mace of Anu," that represented their religious authority and connection to the gods. In the Inca civilization, the Sapa Inca or the emperor held a golden sceptre known as the "Tumi." Which symbolized his authority as a divine ruler associated as he was with the sun god Inti.

In Indian history, various dynasties and kingdoms, such as the Rashtrakuta, Pala, Chola, Mughal, Ahom, Maratha dynasties, or Vijayanagar and Bahmani Kingdoms, all had their own sceptres that symbolized royal authority and sovereignty. Hindu scriptures and Mythology too have numerous such examples. Lord Yama, the god of death and justice is often depicted carrying a staff or rod called the ‘Danda’ that represents his role as the lord of justice and the dispenser of divine retribution. Have we not seen a Sceptre in the procession of every university carried by either the Registrar or the Controller of Examinations during convocation processions? 

‘Sengol’ could just be symbolism. But symbols have the ability to inspire, heal, and transform, provide guidance and clarity in times of uncertainty. Symbols are not merely superficial representations but gateways to deeper truths, capable of unlocking profound meaning and guide individuals on their path towards enlightenment.

One may question the reliance on symbols in a technology driven world. An oak tree that stands tall in the garden, represents strength, stability, and resilience. Its roots delve deep into the earth, grounding it firmly. The branches reach towards the sky, reminding us to aspire to higher goals while remaining firmly rooted in our values. That is symbolism. 

A rosebush, even if found in shabby surroundings blooms with flowers, that radiate beauty and vitality, in stark contrast to the deteriorating surroundings. It represents resilience and hope. It reminds us that even in the most challenging circumstances, beauty and growth can still emerge. It teaches us to find strength within ourselves and embrace the possibility of transformation. There is hidden symbolism in every object and experience which we must seek out. ‘Sengol’ too is symbolism. However, the wisdom it brings us is self-discovery in our journey of life.

Each culture often imbues several objects with unique symbolism and significance, reflecting their respective beliefs and systems of governance. What however, is interesting is that they all represent authority and legitimacy besides self-discovery and often have fascinating stories of symbolism attached to them. That being the case, will governments now install customised ‘Sengol’s every time, there is a change of government aka a change of power? That also will be a story in itself worth telling. Doesn’t posterity demand it?

Former Chairman AICTE and Adj Prof NIAS, Bangalore

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

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Dr S S Mantha

Former Chairman AICTE and Adj Prof NIAS, Bangalore.

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