Modi wins hearts and souls | Sunday Observer

Modi wins hearts and souls

16 July, 2023
Prime Minister Narendra Modi establishing Sengol  in the new Parliament building
Prime Minister Narendra Modi establishing Sengol in the new Parliament building

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated the new parliament building in New Delhi on May 28, 2023. He called the new parliament complex the ‘cradle of empowerment’ while priests and heads of the Mutts flown from Chennai were chanting religious hymns.

The parliament complex is part of the central vista master plan which includes facilities for India’s lawmakers, re-development of Raj Path (Karnataka Path) and the Central Secretariat to house all the ministries. It will also have residence facilities for the Vice President and the Prime Minister.

The cost of the project was 22,000 crore ($ 2.2 billion). A proposal for a new building complex was put forward in 2010 on security concerns and instability of the old building. A committee was appointed to suggest alternatives to the old building which was put up by Speaker Meira Kumar in 2012. The 93-year-old building was put up by the British in 1927. However, instead of demolishing it, the old parliament building will be preserved as a national heritage.

The ground-breaking ceremony for the new parliament complex was held in October 2020. The foundation was laid on December 10, 2020. At the inauguration of the new parliament complex, Modi installed the Sengol (a historic sceptre) near the speaker’s chair of the Lok Sabha (Lower House).


The word Sengol in Tamil means (Scepre of Just Rule). The meaning of the sceptre differs in other civilisations. The Sengol is given to the ruler by the Rajaguru with the expectation that he would adhere to Dharma (Righteousness). The tradition was followed by Chola, Pandiya and Sera kings.

In the classical Tamil literature Chilapathikaram (The story of the anklet), Kannaki asks justice for her husband’s death from the Pandiya king. When the king realised that he had erred in delivering justice that led to the death of Kannaki’s husband Kovalan, he gave up his life.

In the 9th century AD, before going to battle with the Chola king, Pandiya king came to Sri Lanka to keep his Sengol and crown in safe custody with King Mahinda V. The event signifies the importance of the Sengol. Cholas and Pandiyas followed the tradition until the end of their kingdoms. The tradition was again followed when India gained independence. The Time magazine of August 25, 1947 described the story vividly with a catchy headline ‘Oh, Lovely Dawn’ as follows: “Blessing with ashes, even such an agnostic as Jawaharlal Nehru, on the eve of becoming India’s first Prime Minister, fell into a religious spirit. From Tanjore in South India came two emissaries of Sri Ambalavana Desigar, head of a Sannyasi order of Hindu ascetics. Sri Ambalavana thought that Nehru, as the first Indian head of a really Indian government ought, like ancient Hindu kings, to receive the symbol of power, authority and justice from holy men.”

With the emissaries came South India’s most famous players of the nagasaram, a special kind of Indian flute. Like other Sannyasis who abstain from hair-cutting and hair-combing, the two emissaries wore their long hair properly matted and wound round their heads. Their naked chests and foreheads were streaked with sacred ash blessed by Sri Ambalavana.

In an ancient Ford, on August 14, they began their slow progress to Nehru’s house. When they reached his house, flutists played while the Sannyasis awaited an invitation from Nehru. On receiving the invitation, they entered Nehru’s house in dignity, fanned by two boys with special fans of deer hair.

One Sannayasi carried the sceptre of gold, five feet long, two inches thick, a nandhi (bullock) on top and Luxmi and other religious symbols engraved around the sceptre. He sprinkled Nehru with holy water from Tanjore and drew a streak in sacred ash across Nehru’s forehead.

Being a Kashmiri Brahmin he knew about the rituals followed by the ancient Chola kings. His colleague Rajaji had earlier briefed him about the rituals. Then the emissary wrapped Nehru in the pithambaram (cloth of god), a costly silk fabric with patterns of golden thread and handed him the golden sceptre.

He also gave Nehru some cooked rice which had been offered that very morning to the dancing god Nataraja in Chithambaram, Tamil Nadu. Thereafter, he was flown to New Delhi.

Miniature temple

Later that evening, Nehru and other men who would be India’s new rulers on the morrow went to the home of Rajendra Prasad, President of the Constituent Assembly. He later became the President of India. On his back lawn, four plantain trees served as pillar for a temporary miniature temple.

A roof of fresh green leaves sheltered the holy fire attended by a Brahmin priest. While several thousand women chanted hymns, the ministers-to-be and law-makers passed in front of the priest who sprinkled holy water on them. The oldest woman placed kumkum (vermillion powder) for good luck on each man and woman’s forehead.

Similar rituals were followed when Modi inaugurated the new parliament complex. A series of Hindu rituals including a Havan (lighting fire) preceded the inauguration. After the Havan, Modi received the Sengol amid chanting of verses from Thevaram (Tamil devotional hymns) and Sanskrit mantras.

Accompanied by various representatives of Adheenams in Tamil Nadu and the Speaker of the Lok Sabha, the Prime Minister installed the Sengol in the new Parliament building. With this one act he has integrated South India and the Indian mainstream.

Symbols matter in politics. With this remarkable symbolism of Sengol, Modi has strengthened India’s integrity. He has won the hearts and souls of millions of Indians who value their traditions more than anything else.

The writer is a freelance journalist and indologist based in Hyderabad, India.