The Ashoka Lion capital or the Sarnath lion capital
is the national symbol of India. The Sarnath pillar bears one of the
Edicts of Ashoka, an inscription against division within the Buddhist
community, which reads, "No one shall cause division in the order
of monks". The Sarnath pillar is a column surmounted by a capital,
which consists of a canopy representing an inverted bell-shaped lotus
flower, a short cylindrical abacus with four 24-spoked Dharma wheels
with four animals (an elephant, a bull, a horse, a lion).
The four animals in the Sarnath capital are believed to symbolize
different steps of Lord Buddha's life. The Elephant represents the
Buddha's idea in reference to the dream of Queen Maya of a white
elephant entering her womb. The Bull represents desire during the life
of the Buddha as a prince. The Horse represents Buddha's departure from
palatial life. The Lion represents the accomplishment of Buddha hood.
Besides the religious interpretations, there are some non-religious
interpretations also about the symbolism of the Ashoka capital pillar at
Sarnath. According to them, the four lions symbolize Ashoka's rule over
the four directions, the wheels as symbols of his enlightened rule
(Chakravartin) and the four animals as symbols of four adjoining
territories of India.