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The Mauryan Lion Capital

Listed under Works of Art in Varanasi, India.

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During the years of the Mauryan dynasty, Emperor Ashoka conquered much of what we regard as India today. After many years of conflict, Ashoka renounced violence and converted to Buddhism, the principles of which he spread throughout India and the rest of Asia. A time of peace followed, during which many glorious works of art were commissioned by Ashoka himself, in honour of Buddha and his message.

One of these, the most imposing and best known, consisted of four lions carved from a single block of polished sandstone, sitting back to back, facing outwards, with fearsome, noble roars frozen on their faces. It was designed as the capital of a huge column built in Sarnath to honour Ashoka’s visit, and in its capacity as a symbol of the royal emperor and the royal Buddha, it came to represent power, strength, courage, justice, and was eventually taken up as the national symbol of India.

The country’s four symbolic animals, a lion, and elephant, a horse and a bull for the North, South, East and West of India follow each other around the base, which is carved in the form of an abacus, and also carries lotus and wheel symbols.

Today, it lies protected in the archaeological museum at Sarnath, though its column still stands where it was first built, on the site of the Buddha’s first sermon.

Written by  larapiegeler.

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