The Ashoka Chakra, famously embraced as an integrated part of the Indian National Flag, has a deep rooted history, going way back to the days of Gautam Buddha (c. 563 BCE/480 BCE – c. 483 BCE/400 BCE). Today I will try to give some interesting facts about the different aspects of the Ashoka Chakra, also sometimes called the Dharmachakra.
One of the first famous appearance of the Ashoka Chakra was in the Lion Capital of Sarnath PIllar, where it appears on the cylindrical abacus, atop which stood four lions. The abacus illustrates the sculptures of a galloping horse, an elephant, a lion and a bull separated by intervening 24-spoked Dharma wheels, the Ashoka Chakra, over an inverted bell-shaped lotus flower. The four animals in the Lion Capital symbolizes different times and phases in Buddha’s life.
- The Elephant: A representation of his mother, Queen Maya’s conception of Buddha when she saw a white elephant entering her womb in a dream.
- The Bull: The desire during the life of the Buddha as a prince.
- The Horse: Buddha’s departure from palatial life.
- The Lion: The attainment of Nirvana by Lord Buddha.
The Sarnath pillar still stands in its original place, however the Ashoka Lion Capital or the Ashoka Chakra has been moved to the Sarnath Museum for preservation.
The National Flag of India:
The inclusion of the Ashoka Chakra to the National Flag of India, was not planned from the beginning. In the original flag proposed by Mahatma Gandhi, and designed by Pingali Venkayya, the Swaraj Flag, the center of the flag was adorned by traditional spinning wheel, symbolizing Gandhi’s goal of making Indians self-reliant by fabricating their own clothing.
However, A few days before India became independent on 15 August 1947, the specially constituted Constituent Assembly decided that the flag of India must be acceptable to all parties and communities. A modified version of the Swaraj flag was chosen; and the Charkha was replaced by the Ashoka Chakra representing the eternal wheel of law. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, who later became India’s first Vice President and second President, clarified the adopted flag and described its significance as follows:
The “Ashoka Chakra” in the centre of the white is the wheel of the law of dharma. Truth or satya, dharma or virtue ought to be the controlling principle of those who work under this flag. Again, the wheel denotes motion. There is death in stagnation. There is life in movement. India should no more resist change, it must move and go forward. The wheel represents the dynamism of a peaceful change.
The Significance of The 24 Spokes:
Explanation 1: Puranas mentioned that only 24 Rishis (Saints) wielded the whole power of the Gayatri Mantra. These 24 Rishis in Himalayas are represented through the 24 letters of Gayatri Mantra. The 24 spokes of Dharmachakra are representation of all these 24 rishi of Himalayas in which Vishvamitra is first and Yajnavalkya is the last who governs the religion (Dharma).
Om Bhur Bhuva Swaha,
Tat Savitur Varenyam,
Bhargo Devasya Dhimahi
Dhiyo Yonah Prachodayat ||
24 Spokes of Ashok Chakra according Hindu religion:
- Self Sacrifice
- Spiritual Knowledge
- Moral Values
- Spiritual Wisdom
- The Fear of God
- Faith or Belief or Hope
When Buddha achieved Nirvana (Enlightenment) at Gaya, he came to Sarnath on the outskirts of Varanasi. There he found his five disciples (panch vargiya Bhikshu) who had earlier abandoned him.
He preached his first sermon to them, thereby promulgating the Dharmachakra. This is the motif taken up by Ashoka and portrayed on top of his pillars, thereby giving rise to the present day symbol at the center of the Indian National Flag.
However, the 12 out of 24 spokes represent the twelve causal links taught by The Buddha. The twelve causal links, paired with their corresponding symbols, are:
- Avidyā (lack of knowledge) – a blind person, often walking, or a person peering out
- Saṃskāra (Constructive volitional activity) – a potter shaping a vessel or vessels
- Vijñāna (Consciousness) – a man or a monkey grasping a fruit
- Nāmarūpa (Name and form) – two men afloat in a boat
- Ṣaḍāyatana (Six Senses) – a dwelling with six windows
- Sparśa (Contact) – lovers consorting, kissing, or entwined
- Vedanā (Pain) – an arrow to the eye
- Tṛiṣṇa (Thirst) – a drinker receiving drink
- Upādāna (Grasping)– a man or a monkey picking fruit
- Bhava (Coming to be) – a couple engaged in intercourse, a standing, leaping or reflective person
- Jāti (Being born) – woman giving birth
- Jarāmaraṇa (Old age and death) – corpse being carried.
These 12 in reverse represent a total 24 spokes representing the Life-The Dhamma(Pali).
Ashok Chakra is symbol of Dharmchakra and also known as Samay Chakra in which all the 24 spokes represents 24 hours of the day and symbol of the movement of the time.