Culture is often defined by symbols. So Indus had that dancing girl from Mohenjodaro, which some later day historians claimed wasn’t  even really Mohenjodaro or a dancing girl but a girl with hip problems! (Since it is bent at hip).

France has Eiffel Tower. Italy has pasta and Leaning Tower of Pizza, err, Pisa. America – such a vast country has one statue made in France – the Statue of Liberty – by New York waters being the symbol. Italy has Leaning Tower of Pisa. China the Great Wall and now its symbol is the country of the  virus! Germany, beer! London, an old queen who finally died and now they couldn’t even find a white skin to lead them so had to rely on an Indian! Ditto Ireland. Even the VP of USA is of Indian DNA and the Defence Minister of Canada. India is everywhere and what’s most new India’s symbol. Nataraja! Ancient Thillai, 18 km from Chidambaram. The same Nataraja, the whole world saw at G20 space ship look alike of a venue, made in record time.

Ferrying it from deep inside TN was our own Dr Achal Pandya, head of conservation and archives at IGNCA which was given the charge by the Culture Ministry. The IGNCA under Dr Sachchindand Joshi has been a pillar of support to the parent culture ministry by stepping in all of last few years, be it for supervising the beautification of Parliament building with art works or G20. It was a proud moment when Prime Minister made time to meet the staff of IGNCA and culture ministry during G20 sessions. That a PM even makes time and thanks staff is  amazing, considering his over busy schedule. The PM is the symbol of India that is Bharat now.

So symbols are important. Sengol. Remember? That staff of Chola authority was salvaged from the dungeons of Allahabad storage and given a pride of place in Parliament. A battery of traditional ucharaks came in a plane load to install it with appropriate fan fare. They had never seen Delhi maybe and vice versa. Again, the importance of symbols.

Symbols helps centre. To a building it can be a statue. To a person, an identity. Turban for Sikhs. Stethoscope for a doctor. So many like that. Think next time things we don’t even notice. Judges in black. Nurses in blue. All symbols. Army of olive green.

In culture it also informs of intent. What’s ahead. Take our Republic Day parade. Done in the coldest month of Delhi, it runs like military precision. Well, it is organised by the defence services so runs like the creators. Even the cultural dances components run like a clock work. Otherwise think of the scale. Thousands are involved. Lakhs. From camels to horses, to tanks to missiles. All symbols of military might. Why do we need to showcase it? Symbols. To show preparedness, strength and unity.

So symbols are crucial. It can help establish  and point to future course. Empires and kings used monuments earlier even palaces to show their pelf or power; pomp and prestige. There were no CAG to ask them why do much was spent on a fanciful idea. Imagine the whole wealth of their kingdom at whims and fancy of one person! No one to check his authority. He or she could order any car or commodity. One has heard of stories of wasteful lavishness of Maharajas, one even went to England and when the salesman refused to attend to him properly thinking he was some fakir, the Maharaja ordered 100 Rolls Royce and when the cars came to his kingdom, he converted them into garbage collection vehicles to show the company down!  Symbols again.

Air India Maharaja, another. When invented, it was to share India’s exclusive class of Maharajas with everyone flying. Today, the badly injured airlines is being rebuilt by the very folks who owned it once! Symbols. They could have started a totally new one which they did anyways and then the govt found no bidders with all liabilities of redundant staff and systems and only now the brand is getting new symbols.

Culture is about all this and more. More, as we go along.

And what you think these Parijaat flowers symbolise? Oleaceae family actually. Called Nyctanthes Arbor-tristis. Arjun brought it from the heavens for Kunti to offer as worship to Shiva. Or legend has it that Satyabhama, wife of Krishna, wanted this special flower to be brought from heavens.  Look closely, though. It is actually food! Dosa made in colours of the Indian flag. That’s the ultimate symbol. Food for thought?!

Ashish Khokar loves and serves Indian arts and culture selflessly, by writing, documenting, filming, archiving, celebrating and awarding. 45+books, over 5000 articles, work with 10 inter/national organisations make his work the gold standard of the field. More details on



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1 Comment

  • Quite an interesting read!! The way the writeup began and flowed

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