Lauriya Nandangarh Pillar
One of the monolithic pillars commissioned by the Mauryan emperor Ashoka, and among the seven which have survived with their sculpted capitals. Named after the town in the West Champaran district of Bihar where it is situated, the Lauriya Nandangarh pillar was constructed between 241– 245 BCE. It weighs over fifty tonnes, extends upto three metres underground and stands approximately twelve metres tall atop a stone platform. The pillar and its lion capital are each carved from a separate block of Chunar sandstone.
Like the other Ashoka pillars, the one at Lauriya-Nandangarh is highly polished in the characteristic Mauryan style. The capital of this pillar comprises a single seated lion, whose rump and hind legs protrude beyond the abacus that consists of a row of geese flying clockwise. This abacus is placed atop an inverted bell-shaped lotus with fluted petals, and is fixed to the pillar by metal dowel rods. The pillar is inscribed with the first six of Ashoka’s Major Pillar Edicts, written in Ashokan Prakrit using the Brahmi script.
Scholars have debated that the stylistic origins of the Ashoka pillars and their capitals, with some attributing the capitals to sculptors from the Achaemenid Empire. For instance, the flying geese, or hamsa, are believed to symbolise the link between the earthly and heavenly planes, echoing the mythology of axis mundi, and the lion capital is a dual symbol of both the imperial strength of the Mauryan empire as well as the Buddha’s Sakya clan. The open mouth of the lion may also be interpreted as spreading Ashoka’s edicts and the Buddha’s teachings far and wide.
The capital appears to have been damaged before its documentation by British officers in the late nineteenth century. The lion’s upper jaw and part of its face have been broken off, possibly as a result of vandalism; however, the inscription is largely intact, and the pillar continues to stand where it was originally erected.
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