Tryst with our civilisational ideal and destiny

The new Parliament will act as a bridge between our ancient civilisation and modern India, and seek to end the disconnect that existed between the two all these years.
Image used for illustrative purposes only. (Express illustration | Soumyadip Sinha)
Image used for illustrative purposes only. (Express illustration | Soumyadip Sinha)

Long years ago, we made a tryst with destiny, and now the time comes when we shall redeem our pledge…”. Those were the opening lines of India’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, at the stroke of the midnight hour of August 15, 1947, in the Central Hall of Parliament, when the British transferred power to Indians. May 28, 2023, marked India’s tryst with her civilisational destiny and experience when Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated the new Parliament House. It also marked the moment when we redeemed our pledge to keep our civilisational torch burning.

While the old Parliament House, designed by Edwin Lutyens and Herbert Baker, had all the trappings of British architecture and symbolism, the new Parliament House designed by Bimal Patel is very, very Indian, not only in terms of architecture and design but also in terms of its aesthetics and symbolism. Thus, it will act as a bridge between our ancient civilisation and modern India, and seek to end the disconnect that existed between the two all these years.

An important part of the inaugural ceremony was the arrival of the Sengol (sceptre), the Dharma Danda, which symbolised authority during the Chola period. It was received by PM Modi and taken ceremonially to the new Lok Sabha and installed beside the Speaker’s chair. The talk of the Sengol has surprised most Indians because its significance during the transfer of power on August 15, 1947, had been long forgotten. The facts—as recounted by the Paramacharya of the Kanchi Mutt to his disciples, as recorded in the Thiruvavaduthurai Adheenam in Tanjore, and as reproduced by S Gurumurthy, Editor, Thuglak—have since been well publicised. It is said that when Nehru received the Sengol on the night of August 14, 1947, the transfer of power became complete. He then proceeded to the Parliament House, hoisted the national flag and delivered his historic ‘Tryst with Destiny’ speech. Photographs of the event showing Nehru receiving the Sengol from the priests are displayed in the Mutt in Tanjore.

Many authorities have written about this including F D Karaka, and Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre in Freedom at Midnight. Padma Subrahmanyam translated Gurumurthy’s article to English and sent it to the Prime Minister. She said that such “a profound, sacred, historic ceremony of Sengol vesting has been kept out of public knowledge and history” and requested PM Modi to make this public.

The PM was fascinated by the story of the Sengol, had it investigated and decided to retrieve it from the Allahabad Museum, where it was kept all these years, to install it in its rightful place beside the Speaker’s Chair in the new Parliament House.

Collins and Lapierre tell us about the priests, the Sengol procession and the handing over to Nehru.

“They sprinkled Jawaharlal Nehru with holy water, smeared his forehead with sacred ash, laid their Sengol on his arms and draped him in the Cloth of God. To the man who had never ceased to proclaim the horror the word ‘religion’ inspired in him, their rite was a tiresome manifestation of all he deplored in his nation. Yet he submitted to it with almost cheerful humility. It was as if that proud rationalist had instinctively understood that in the awesome tasks awaiting him no possible source of aid, not even the occult he so scornfully dismissed, was to be totally ignored.”

The description of this ceremony by Collins and Lapierre gives us a clue as to why Nehru, who had a disdain for Hindu traditions, had the Sengol packed off to Ananda Bhavan in Allahabad and then to the Allahabad Museum, and ensured that it was absurdly classified as a “walking stick”!

Thus, the new Parliament, in terms of architecture, aesthetics, design and symbolism, connects modern India with the civilisation of Bharat, something which got disconnected during the colonial period and later during the post-Independence phase. Following Lord Macaulay’s infamous Minute (presented almost 200 years ago), in which he advised the British government to open schools and teach the “natives” the English language, mores and manners, the process of delinking India with her past began and was carried on systematically for decades. Unfortunately, this continued post-Independence because of Nehru’s attitude towards India’s religious traditions and culture.

For example, this stanza from the Rig Veda which says “Ekam Sat, Vipra Bahudah Vadanti” (The truth is one, the wise explain it in many ways) constitutes the very foundation of our civilisational thought because it signifies the civilisation’s harmony with diversity and with different shades of opinion. Is this not what democracy and secularism is all about? There are dozens of such examples.

Further, it is now well established through historical research and archaeological findings that there were sabhas and samitis in republics in India which elected the Head of State, and sanghas which had refined parliamentary practices like question time, proxy voting and voting through ballots (made of wood) 2,500 years ago.

Prime Minister Modi is, therefore, right in saying that India is the “Mother of Democracy”. No other Prime Minister felt the need to emphasise this truth, and consequently, generations of Indians have grown up without any knowledge of the democratic practices in ancient India, believing that the British taught us democracy and parliamentary practices.

The interiors of the new Parliament building will seek to correct this and aim to bridge the prevailing gap in our understanding of ancient Indian traditions. It has displays of democratic traditions from the Vedic ages, lofty philosophical assertions like “Vasudaiva Kutumbakam” (The World is One Family), and parliamentary practices in Hindu kingdoms and Buddhist sanghas in the corridors. The Lok Sabha chamber will have the peacock (the national bird) motif and the Rajya Sabha chamber will have the lotus (national flower) motif.

All this has been possible because of PM Modi’s vision, the extraordinary commitment of the Ministry of Culture and the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA), and the art historians, eminent archaeologists and architects who were members of a high-power committee which oversaw the art installations. Thus, the new Parliament House will help India reconnect with ancient Bharat, which was the cradle of civilisation and democracy.

A Surya Prakash

Vice-Chairman, Executive Council, Nehru Memorial Museum & Library, New Delhi

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