When Chola king was personification of a perfect judge

How Manu Needhi Cholan inspired generations of judges was revealed in a Supreme Court order

January 29, 2017 11:22 pm | Updated January 30, 2017 08:57 am IST - NEW DELHI

The statue of Manu Needhi Cholan at Madras High Court campus in Chennai.

The statue of Manu Needhi Cholan at Madras High Court campus in Chennai.

An ancient Chola king is the personification of a perfect judge for the Supreme Court.

This king who ruled South India around 250 B.C. has been the torch-bearer of the judges’ work philosophy that “nobody is above the law and all are equal.”

The legend of Manu Needhi Cholan or ‘Elara’ — the Chola king — and how he had inspired generations of judges was revealed in a recent Supreme Court order dismissing a challenge to the elevation of Justice J.S. Khehar as the country’s 44th Chief Justice of India in keeping with the convention of seniority.

‘Usurped power’

The order came on a petition filed by a group of lawyers under the banner – National Lawyers Campaign for Judicial Transparency and Reforms – which had questioned Justice Khehar’s fairness and eligibility to be the top judge. They alleged the judge to have “usurped” the power to appoint judges to the country’s constitutional courts through his NJAC judgment.

Dismissing the allegation, a Bench of Justices R.K. Agrawal and D.Y. Chandrachud drew a parallel between the time-tested tradition of justice administration practised by judges in modern India and the ancient Chola king’s sense of justice without fear or favour.

“The judges of all the courts, since its very inception, have always maintained this great tradition of the Chola king and are rendering even justice to all concerned, whosoever he or she may be, irrespective of the fact whether they are rich or poor, and whether they occupy a high or a low status in society,” Justice Agrawal wrote.

“When one enters the magnificent precincts of the High Court of Madras which is a Chartered High Court, he notices the statue of a man standing with two wheels on either side with a calf and a small child beneath each wheel, and a cow. He becomes anxious to know the significance as to why and for what purpose this statue is located near the entrance of the High Court. The statue is that of the ancient Chola King, Manu Needhi Cholan, also known as Elara, who ruled South India around 250 B.C,” Justice Agrawal observed in the order.

Even justice

The apex court narrated the legend of how Manu Needhi Cholan, who believed in “even justice towards friends and foes”, had hung a giant bell in front of his palace and announced that anyone seeking justice could ring it and he will be heard.

“One day, it so happened that a young calf had got crushed under the wheels of his chariot, in which his only son, young Prince Veedhividangan, was going around the city. The mother of the calf, which helplessly watched its little one die, walked to the palace gates and rang the huge bell, demanding justice from the king,” the Supreme Court order said.

The king, who came out, saw the cow and learnt from his courtiers about the death of the calf under the wheels of his son’s chariot.

“Unrelenting in his promise of justice, he ordered his own son to be killed for his recklessness. The prince was killed the same way the calf died, crushed under the wheels of his chariot. The king went through the same pain the cow had as he witnessed his son die and thereby, being just at all costs,” the Supreme Court narrated.

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