The Ashoka Chakra is a depiction of the Dharmachakra. It is called so 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. It is also shown in the Ashoka Chakra medal which is the highest award for gallantry in peacetime.
When Gautama Buddha achieved enlightenment at Bodh Gaya, he came to Sarnath. There, he found his five disciples Assaji, Mahānāman, 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.
The 24 spokes represent the twelve causal links taught by the Buddha and paṭiccasamuppāda (Dependent Origination, Conditional Arising) in forward and then reverse order. 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. nibbāna. It also depicts the “wheel of time” . The twelve causal links, paired with their corresponding symbols, are:
- Avidyā ignorance
- Asanskāra conditioning of mind unknowingly
- Avijñāna not being conscious
- Nāmarūpa name and form (constituent elements of mental and physical existence)
- Ṣalāyatana six senses (eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, and mind)
- Sparśa contact
- Vedanā sensation
- Taṇhā thirst
- Upādāna grasping
- Bhava coming to be
- Jāti birth
- Jarāmaraṇa old age and death – corpse being carried.
These 12 in forward and reverse represent a total 24 spokes representing the dhamma. The Ashoka Chakra is depicting the 24 principles that should be present in a human.
Inclusion in the national flag of India
Ashoka Chakra was included in the middle of the national flag of India.In fact, in 1942, in Varanasi, when Mohan Malviya invited Mahatma Gandhi to the Golden Jubilee celebrations of the university, Mahatma Gandhi also visited Sarnath. There he saw the Ashoka chakra . After this Gandhi used the Ashoka Chakra in the wheel of the flag. The flag with a spinning wheel with 24 spokes led the Quit India Movement of 1942. The chakra intends to show that there is life in movement and death in stagnation. Dr B. R. Ambedkar was instrumental in reviving the legacy of Ashoka, and using the Ashokan Wheel on the flag was one of the ways where he tried to memorializing the Buddhist king.
- "The 'Lion Capital': a Buddhist symbol that became India's National Emblem". The Heritage Lab. 4 August 2019. Archived from the original on 10 August 2020. Retrieved 9 August 2020.
- Maha Nayaka Thera, http://www.sundaytimes.lk/110710/Plus/plus_10.html Archived 27 June 2019 at the Wayback Machine, The correct use of the 'Dharmachakra'
- See, for example, Rhys Davids & Stede (1921–25), p. 149; and, Gombrich (2005).
- See Rhys Davids & Stede (1921–25), p. 279, entry for "Jarā," retrieved 19 November 2008 from "U. Chicago" at  . 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."
- See Rhys Davids & Stede (1921–25), p. 524, entry for "Maraṇa," retrieved 19 November 2008 from "U. Chicago" at  . 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.
- "What is the meaning of 24 spokes of Ashok Chakra?". Jagranjosh.com. 13 August 2019. Archived from the original on 2 November 2020. Retrieved 9 August 2020.
- "Independence Day Special: Evolution of the Indian flag". Archived from the original on 1 October 2020. Retrieved 21 September 2020.
- History Dept, archived from the original on 11 March 2022, retrieved 11 March 2022