Sengol is the Tamil word for sceptre which in medieval and pre-medieval times used to be presented to the kings during their coronation by the high priests. 

In 1947, during the time of transfer of power from the British to India, it was used as a symbolic gesture to show a ceremonial transfer of power from the British to Indians. 

The Thiruvavuduthurai Adheenam, one of the oldest Shaivite institutions, officiated the ceremony. Chennai-based jewellers Vummidi Bangaru Chetty and Sons had made the Sengol in 1947. It was later kept in a museum in Allahabad.

Meet VBJ, the makers of the Sengol
Video Credit: With inputs from TE Raja Simhan, G Balachandar Producers: Siddharth MC, Nivedita V
Why is the Centre keen to install the Sengol next to the Speaker’s chair in the new Parliament building? 

On May 28, Prime Minster Narendra Modi will receive the Sengol from the 24 Adheenam heads and it is expected to be placed near the Speaker’s Chair in the new Parliament building. It is a symbolic act reminiscent of the transfer of power in 1947. 

What is the history of the Sengol, according to the Centre? 

According to reports, Lord Mountbatten, the last British Viceroy of India, asked Jawaharlal Nehru on the ceremonial aspects of the formal transfer of power from the British to the Indians. Rajaji (C Rajagopalachari) is reported to have to have advised Nehru on this ceremonial transfer power tradition that existed in the medieval Tamil kingdoms. There is documented evidence of this practice of during the Sangam era and even during the Chola period in the medieval era.

According to reports, on August 14, 1947, the Deputy High Priest of the Thiruvavaduthurai Adheenam Nagaswaram player Rajaratnam Pillai and a traditional temple singer (Oduvar) took the Sengol and presented it to Lord Mountbatten. It was taken back from him and purified with holy water from the river Ganga and taken to Nehru’s residence in a procession and handed to him marking the symbolic transfer of power from the British to the Indians. A special song was also rendered on the occasion. 

What is the controversy around it? 

There has been enormous political controversy surrounding the “Sengol issue” between the Congress and the BJP. This of course has to be seen in the larger context of the Opposition parties’ boycott of the inauguration of the new Parliament building on Sunday (May 28). According to the Opposition parties, it is the President of India who should be inaugurating the new Parliament building and not the Prime Minister. 

The latest salvo on the “Sengol issue” was fired by Congress leader Jairam Ramesh who claimed on Friday that there is no documented evidence of the Sengol being handed by the British to Nehru on the eve of Independence. Ramesh said, “There is no documented evidence whatsoever of Mountbatten, Rajaji and Nehru describing this sceptre as a symbol of transfer of British power to India. All claims to this effect are plain and simple bogus.” 

The BJP immediately hit back with Home Minister Amit Shah calling the Opposition remarks as “shameful insult” and having insulted the country’s culture. Shah said the sceptre presented by the Adheenam was reduced to a walking stick. 

The Adheenam has also refuted the Congress claims saying that it was a well documented fact that they had been invited by Rajaji to conduct ceremonial transfer of power in 1947. The mutt has said that it is pained by the remarks of “people of certain political parties”. 

What is the political significance of the government’s move? 

The politics surrounding the Sengol can also be seen in the context of the BJP’s political outreach in Tamil Nadu, a State where it is working very hard to make inroads in the run-up of next year’s general elections.    

It can be seen as a continuation of the Kashi-Tamil Sangamam event held last year where the cultural, religious and civilisational links between the North and South were showcased