New Parliament building opening | How a letter to PMO set off a search for the Sengol

Danseuse Padma Subrahmanyam’s letter quoted an article in a Tamil magazine on the 1947 ceremony when the Sengol was handed over to Jawaharlal Nehru

May 24, 2023 11:11 pm | Updated May 25, 2023 12:05 pm IST - NEW DELHI

The ‘Sengol’, a historic sceptre from Tamil Nadu, will be installed in the new Parliament building. Photo: Union Home Ministry via PTI

The ‘Sengol’, a historic sceptre from Tamil Nadu, will be installed in the new Parliament building. Photo: Union Home Ministry via PTI

A letter to the Prime Minister’s Office by noted danseuse Padma Subrahmanyam set off meticulous research into the Sengol, which would lead to the installation of the golden sceptre in the new Parliament building when it is inaugurated on May 28.

Sources in the Culture Ministry said that Dr. Subrahmanyam had quoted an article in the Tamil magazine Thuglak which had carried details of the ceremony in 1947 when the Sengol was handed over to India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. The article had appeared in May 2021 and the noted dancer and researcher had requested the government to make this information public on the occasion of the Independence Day that year.

This set the tone for a relook at the historical event and a Culture Ministry team, assisted by experts from the Indira Gandhi National Centre for Arts (IGNCA), began the research into the reports.

The Sengol ceremony seemingly took place minutes before Nehru hoisted the national flag and made his famous ‘Tryst with Destiny’ speech at midnight on August 15, 1947. It had been kept at his Prayagraj residence-turned-museum till now.

It was found to have been widely reported in Indian and foreign media at that time including in the Time magazine along with photographs.

“With the nation ravaged by partition and violence, the ceremony had to be arranged post-haste and it not being a legal or formal matter, remained unrecorded. As a result, the sacred Sengol and its vesting ceremony seem to have disappeared from the institutional memory of the Indian state,” Prof. Sachidanand Joshi, Member-Secretary of the IGNCA told The Hindu.

It was in 2017 that reports again began appearing in the Tamil media about how minutes before Mr. Nehru addressed the nation as the Prime Minister, the Government of India had followed the sacred Sengol-vesting model of Chola kings of Tamil Nadu for transfer of power from the British to Indians. The then Prime Minister had been handed over the Sengol with the Nandi (bull deity) finial amid the singing of sacred Tamil text Thevaram - symbolic of divine blessings and command to rule justly and fairly. 

The researchers delved into record holdings of the National Archives of India, contemporary newspapers, books as well as information on the subject available online.

They found that the golden scepter was studded with jewels, was worth ₹15,000 at that time and was made by Vummidi Bangaru Chetti and Sons, jewellers and diamond merchants of Chennai.

The Vummidi Bangaru Chetty family has confirmed that they made the Sengol. Though the eldest member of the family who made it is over 95 years old and is unable to recollect the details, the photograph of the event is kept at their house, the sources said.

On May 28, Prime Minister Narendra Modi will install this historic emblem of authority near the Lok Sabha Speaker’s chair in the new Parliament building.

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