Ashoka Chakra

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This article is about the symbol. For the military decoration, see Ashoka Chakra (military decoration).
Illustration of the Ashoka Chakra, as depicted on the flag of India.
Depiction of a chakravartin, possibly Ashoka, with a 16-spoked wheel (1st century BCE/CE)

The Ashoka Chakra is a depiction of the dharmachakra; represented with 24 spokes. It is so called because it appears on a number of edicts of Ashoka, most prominent among which is the Lion Capital of Ashoka. The most visible use of the Ashoka Chakra today is at the centre of the Flag of India (adopted on 22 July 1947), where it is rendered in a navy-blue colour on a white background, replacing the symbol of charkha (spinning wheel) of the pre-independence versions of the flag.

Symbolic history[edit]

According to the Puranas of Hinduism, only 24 Rishis or Sages managed the whole power of the Gayatri Mantra. The 24 letters of the Gayatri Mantra depict those 24 Rishis. Those Rishis represent all the Rishis of the Himalayas, of which the first was Maharshi Vishvamitra and the last was Rishi Yajnavalkya, the author of Yājñavalkya Smṛti which is a Hindu text of the Dharmaśāstra tradition. The 24 spokes of the Ashoka Chakra represent 24 qualities of a Santani:-

  1. Anurāga (Love)
  2. Parākrama (Courage)
  3. Dhairya (Patience)
  4. Śānti (Peace)
  5. Mahānubhāvatva (Magnanimity)
  6. Praśastatva (Goodness)
  7. Śraddāna (Faith)
  8. Apīḍana (Gentleness)
  9. Niḥsaṃga (Selflessness)
  10. Ātmniyantranā (Self-Control)
  11. Ātmāhavana (Self Sacrifice)
  12. Satyavāditā (Truthfulness)
  13. Dhārmikatva (Righteousness)
  14. Nyāyā (Justice)
  15. Ānṛśaṃsya (Mercy)
  16. Chāya (Gracefulness)
  17. Amānitā (Humility)
  18. Prabhubhakti (Loyalty)
  19. Karuṇāveditā (Sympathy)
  20. Ādhyātmikajñāna (Spiritual Knowledge)
  21. Mahopekṣā (Forgiveness)
  22. Akalkatā (Honesty)
  23. Anāditva (Eternity)
  24. Apekṣā (Hope)

Also an integral part of the emblem is the motto inscribed below the abacus in Devanagari script: Satyameva Jayate (English: Truth Alone Triumphs).[1] This is a quote from the Mundaka Upanishad,[2] the concluding part of the sacred Hindu Vedas. In the Bhagavad Gita too, verses 14, 15 and 16, of Chapter 3 speak about the revolving wheel thus: "From food, the beings are born; from rain, food is produced; rain proceeds from sacrifice (yagnya); yagnya arises out of action; know that from Brahma, action proceeds; Brahma is born of Brahman, the eternal Paramatman. The one who does not follow the wheel thus revolving, leads a sinful, vain life, rejoicing in the senses." [3]

Alos when Gautama Buddha achieved nirvana at Bodh Gaya, he came to Sarnath on the outskirts of Varanasi. There he found his five disciples Assaji, Mahānāma, Kondañña, Bhaddiya and Vappa, who had earlier abandoned him. He introduced his first teachings to them, thereby establishing the dharmachakra. This is the motif taken up by Ashoka and portrayed on top of his pillars.

However, the 12 out of 24 spokes represent the twelve causal links taught by the Buddha and pratītyasamutpāda (conditional arising). The first 12 spokes represent 12 stages of suffering. Next 12 spokes represent no cause no effect. So, due to awareness of mind formation of mental conditioning stops. This process stops the process of birth and death i.e. nibbana. The twelve causal links, paired with their corresponding symbols, are:

  1. Avidyā lack of awareness -
  2. Sanskāra conditioning of mind unknowingly
  3. Vijñāna consciousness
  4. Nāmarūpa name and form (constituent elements of mental and physical existence)
  5. Ṣaḍāyatana six senses (eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, and mind) -
  6. Sparśa contact -
  7. Vedanā sensation -
  8. Tṛṣṇā thirst -
  9. Upādāna grasping[4] -
  10. Bhava coming to be -
  11. Jāti being born -
  12. Jarāmaraṇa old age[5] and death[6] - corpse being carried.

These 12 in reverse represent a total 24 spokes representing the dharma.

See also[edit]

The Ashoka Chakra is a depiction of the dharmachakra; represented with 24 spokes. It is so called because it appears on a number of edicts of Ashoka, most prominent among which is the Lion Capital of Ashoka. The most visible use of the Ashoka Chakra today is at the centre of the Flag of India (adopted on 22 July 1947), where it is rendered in a navy-blue colour on a white background, replacing the symbol of charkha (spinning wheel) of the pre-independence versions of the flag.

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Kamal Dey v. Union of India and State of West Bengal (Calcutta High Court 2011-07-14). Text
  2. ^ "Rajya Sabha Parliamentary Standing Committee On Home Affairs: 116th Report on The State Emblem Of India (Prohibition Of Improper Use) Bill, 2004" (PDF).  Archived 8 March 2013 at the Wayback Machine.
  3. ^ http://www.vivekananda.net/PDFBooks/bhagavadgitawith00londiala.pdf
  4. ^ See, for example, Rhys Davids & Stede (1921-25), p. 149; and, Gombrich (2005).
  5. ^ See Rhys Davids & Stede (1921-25), p. 279, entry for "Jarā," retrieved 19 Nov 2008 from "U. Chicago" at http://dsal.uchicago.edu/cgi-bin/philologic/getobject.pl?c.1:1:1721.pali . More than simply "old age," the PED provides the additional meanings of "decay, decrepitude"; and, these additional translations are reflected in the Buddha's reputed words in the Jarā Sutta (below). However, for the sake of semantic conciseness, the compound term jarā-maraṇa is here represented as "old age and death."
  6. ^ See Rhys Davids & Stede (1921-25), p. 524, entry for "Maraṇa," retrieved 19 Nov 2008 from "U. Chicago" at http://dsal.uchicago.edu/cgi-bin/philologic/getobject.pl?c.2:1:3896.pali . The PED further contextualizes maraṇa with "death, as ending this (visible) existence, physical death...." That is, in Buddhism, maraṇa does not refer to death of the conscious process or the end of the associated suffering.