India has many symbols that signify the beauty, diversity and vastness of our great country. These symbols have been added across the decades as a means of protecting our heritage – cultural, historical and natural.
This Independence Day, let us recollect the national symbols that represent India and their significance.
Multiple versions and renditions of Jana Gana Mana, our national anthem, are sung across the country – each one is equally inspiring. The original song, which is five stanzas long, was composed in Bengali as Bharoto Bhagyo Bhidata by Rabindranath Tagore.
The song was later translated into Hindi-Urdu by Indian National Army officer Abid Hasan Safrani, with music by freedom fighter Ram Singh Thakur. The first stanza was adopted as the national anthem of India by the Constituent Assembly of India on 24 January 1950.
While there is no compulsion to sing it, a strict code of conduct governs where and which version of the national anthem should be sung and the decorum to follow while singing it. Officially, the anthem lasts 52 seconds, while a shorter version of the anthem, which contains the first and last lines, takes around 20 seconds.
Did you know that the national animal prior to 1973 was the lion before the tiger took over? At the start of the 20th century, India was home to around 40,000 tigers. By 1972, this number had reduced to a mere 1,827.
In April 1973 the Indian government, during Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s tenure, launched Project Tiger to boost the tiger count by conserving its ecosystems, protecting it from extinction and preserving areas of biological importance. The Project is a success; today, India has nearly 3,000 tigers and is one of the biggest habitats in the world, home to 70 per cent of the global tiger population.
The national emblem of the Republic of India is an adaption of the Lion Capital of Ashoka, a sculpture dating back to 250 BCE, which has four Asiatic lions standing back to back, originally placed on top of the Asoka stupa in Sarnath by Emperor Ashoka. The other animals on the pillar are a horse, a bull, an elephant and a lion.
The national emblem forms a part of the Government of India’s official stationery, is on the Indian currency and Indian passports, as well. Designed by painter Dinanath Bhargava, it was adopted on 26 January 1950. The motto of the emblem is Satyamev Jayate or Truth Alone Wins.
Vande Mataram, written by Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyaya in 1875 and published in a Bengali novel titled, Anandmath, is India’s national song. First sung publicly at the Indian National Congress session by Rabindranath Tagore in 1896, Vande Mataram graduated to become one of the most popular songs during the Indian freedom struggle and was banned by the British.
The first version of the Indian flag, created by freedom fighter Bhikaiji Rustom Cama and Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, also had the words Vande Mataram written in the middle band.
While the song is written as a beautiful ode to the motherland, its adoption has been highly controversial due to its reference in the novel, which is set in the backdrop of the Fakir-sannyasi rebellion against the English East India Company which began in 1760. In 1937, respecting the sentiments of non-Hindus, the Indian National Congress decided to drop the last three stanzas and only the first two, non-controversial stanzas were retained.
The peacock is the national bird of India. Among the criteria that the bird had to meet in order to be considered was that it should be found across the country, should be easily recognisable and should have significance to the country. Mythologically, the peacock is also considered to be the vehicle of Lord Karthikeya and Goddess Saraswati.
The peacock, which was officially declared as the national bird in 1963, can be found across the continent stretching from Jammu and Kashmir to Mizoram, and the whole of the Indian peninsula. It enjoys protection under the Indian Wildlife Protection Act (1972).
Also known as the Ficus benghalensis, the large, evergreen Banyan tree is native to India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. The tree is venerated by Hindus and Buddhists and is associated with longevity in Hinduism. The leaf of the Banyan tree is also considered to be the resting place of Lord Krishna. The Banyan tree has many medicinal properties due to which it is widely used in Ayurveda. The clearing around the tree is also often used as a meeting place of village elders, where controversies and issues are solved by the community.
India’s tricolour, adopted by the Constituent Assembly of India on 22 July 1947, was designed by freedom fighter Pingali Venkayya. The display and use of the flag and its specifications are strictly enforced under the Indian Flag Code. The flag consists of three colours – deep saffron on the top which symbolises courage, white in the middle symbolising truth, peace and purity and green at the bottom, symbolising prosperity.
At the centre of the white band is a navy-blue wheel with 24 spokes, which is known as the Ashoka Chakra. Each spoke symbolises a principal of life such as love, courage and righteousness, and also denotes the 24 hours of a day. The ratio of the length of the flag to its width is 3:2 and official specifications also require that the flag be made only from khadi.
National aquatic animal
The Gangetic River Dolphin is the national aquatic animal of India. The dolphin is endemic to the Ganges river and is found only in freshwater. It weighs up to 150 kg and is generally blind. Officially discovered in 1801, the Gangetic dolphin was declared a national animal in 2009 during the National Ganga River Basin Authority’s (NGRBA) first meeting, in order to save it from extinction. Though it was once present in huge numbers, its population reduced drastically in the last century due to poaching, indiscriminate fishing and building of dams.
The currency symbol of the Indian Rupee was designed in 2010 by Udaya Kumar Dharmalingam, associate professor IIT Guwahati, as part of a competition. This symbol differentiates the Indian Rupee from its Pakistani, Sri Lankan and Indonesian counterparts. It blends the Devanagari script Ra and the Roman letter R and has two horizontal lines with white spacing between them, creating the effect of the Indian national flag.
The River Ganges, considered holy by Hindus, was declared as the National River of Indian in November 2008 by then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, to achieve the objectives of the Ganga Action Plan to clean and rejuvenate the River. The longest river of India (2,525 km), the Ganga originates from the Gangotri glacier of the Western Himalayas in Uttarakhand, flowing south and east through the Gangetic plains, emptying into the Bay of Bengal. Today, the Ganges is protected under the Namami Gange Programme which focuses on the abatement of pollution, conservation and rejuvenation of the River.