On 26 January 1950, when India became a republic, it also adopted its national emblem, a significant symbol of our country’s identity.

Our national emblem features three lions on an abacus with a dharma chakra in the centre. To the right, there’s a bull, and to the left, a galloping horse. Then there are outlines of wheels on the extreme right and left.

The motto ‘Satyameva Jayate’ — meaning ‘Truth Alone Triumphs’ in Devanagari script — is also included below the lion capital’s profile.

“The lions represent power, courage, pride, and confidence. The Mauryan symbolism of the lions indicates ‘the power of a universal emperor (chakravarti) who dedicated all his resources to the victory of dharma’,” according to Heritage Lab.

In adopting this symbolism, the modern nation of India pledged equality and social justice in all spheres of life.

While the emblem is steeped in history and symbolism, did you know that if it wasn’t for the work of a German-born archaeologist, we may not have known about it?

During the winter of 1904-05, Friedrich Oscar Oertel discovered the Lion Capital of Ashoka, which was part of an Ashokan pillar, while excavating an archaeological site in Sarnath, Uttar Pradesh.

Born on 9 December 1862 in Hannover, Germany, Oertel left for British-ruled India at an early age.

A graduate of the Thomason College of Civil Engineering (known today as IIT-Roorkee), he was first employed as an engineer for railway and building construction by the Indian Public Board from 1883 to 1887.

Oertel returned to Europe to study architecture before making his way back to undivided India. He then started to build a career in Public Works Department, being first sent on diverse missions and then appointed in various locations.

He did various excavations across undivided India, but one of his best-known works was at Sarnath from December 1904 to April 1905.

The excavation unearthed some of the most significant discoveries ever made, which include 476 sculptural and architectural remains along with 41 inscriptions

Of course, the most significant discovery was the Lion Capital which crowned an Ashokan pillar — one of the many pillars commissioned by Ashoka across the Indian subcontinent used to spread the message of Buddha.

The Lion Capital was found buried near the Dhamek Stupa at the site and was shifted to the Sarnath Museum back then. But today, the pillar stands in the location where it was found.