OPEN APP
Home / Opinion / Déjà View | Lux Coeli Dux Noster

The President is pleased to institute an award," began a notification in The Gazette of India on 2 January 1954, “to be designated ‘Bharat Ratna’ and to make the following Regulations…"

And thus culminated a long-drawn process of deciding what awards a newly independent India would give away—a process initiated in February 1948, through the formation of the “Prime Minister’s Committee on Honours and Awards" chaired by B.N. Rau, the Constitutional Adviser to the government of India.

Chief amongst the regulations for this new high honour included in the 1954 notification was the shape and design of the decoration:

“The medal shall be circular in shape, one and three-eighth inches in diameter, with rims on both sides. The medal shall be made of Gold. On the obverse side of the medal shall be embossed the Sun in the centre with rays and the words ‘Bharat Ratna’ (in Hindi) above the Sun along the upper edge of the medal and a floral wreath along the lower edge. On its reverse shall be embossed the design of the State Emblem in the centre and the words “Satyameva Jayate" (in Hindi) along the lower edge and a suitable floral wreath at the top along the upper edge."

Which is an entirely conventional, even boring, design for a national award. But if anyone has seen pictures of the actual Bharat Ratna, you will notice that the medal given away to recipients these days looks absolutely nothing like the description above.

A year after the original notification, a fresh notification, dated 15 January 1955, revised the original design. The new one was utterly uncommon: “The decoration shall be in the form of a Peepul leaf, two and five-sixteenth inches in length, one and seven-eighth inches at its greatest breadth and one-eighth of an inch in thickness. It shall be of toned bronze."

Ever since, every Bharat Ratna decoration has been manufactured to this specification at the government of India Mint in Alipore.

So why was the original design changed suddenly and so drastically?

I’ve spent many hours trying to figure this out without success. No references to the genesis of this change were forthcoming in my research. If any readers come across any references anywhere, please write to me. I would be most grateful.

But in the absence of any evidence I am going to make a couple of guesses.

First of all, perhaps the original notification in 1954 was something of a place holder. M.O. Mathai, personal assistant for many years to Jawaharlal Nehru, writes in his memoirs that the idea of civilian honours was a cause of some consternation to Nehru and the other leaders. It was after much “hesitation and procrastination", Mathai writes in My Days With Nehru, that they finally decided on the original four-tier structure notified in 1954 with the Bharat Ratna followed by three Padma Vibhushans: Pehla Varg, Dusra Varg and Tisra Varg.

The original “jugaad" notification, then, was perhaps just a relieved cabinet dispensing of a long vexing problem, leaving the details for later. Indeed, Mathai writes, some people immediately complained that the Padma Vibhushans tiers sounded less like honours and more like railway passenger classes.

A year later the new notification cleaned up all the loose ends. The unimaginative round gold medal was replaced with a toned bronze pipal leaf design, and each tier of the Padma awards now had a different, non-locomotive, name.

Secondly, the original Bharat Ratna, with the golden sun with many radiating fingers of gold, may have reminded some leaders of the highest honour in colonial India—the Most Exalted Order of the Star of India.

Established in 1861, the Order of the Star of India was something of an obsession for Prince Albert, Queen Victoria’s husband. Eager to start relations with India afresh after the war of 1857, Albert appears to have designed all the elements—medal, collar, ribbon—himself. Queen Victoria suggested the motto—Lux Coeli Dux Noster or “Heaven’s light our guide". The Order then became the fifth highest in the British order of chivalry and, mind you, still exists. It was, however, last awarded in 1947, and then suspended for obvious reasons. (Remnants of the Star of India design can still be seen in the logo of the Board of Control for Cricket in India.

Who knows? Maybe the opulent golden sun of the original Bharat Ratna design reminded some leaders of those radiant stars that the British gave away to their Indian “friends". God forbid!

Thus, we now have a somewhat austere design for the Bharat Ratna. But we didn’t abandon glitz completely. There is a still a sun there, but in platinum. The rim and national emblem are also crafted out of platinum.

This, according to one biographer, proved to be useful for the great scientist C.V. Raman. Raman was so enraged by the government’s science policies, that sometime in the 1960s, apparently, he took a hammer and smashed his Bharat Ratna to pieces. Raman was surprised to find slivers of platinum fall out. The scientist promptly used them in his experiments. Thus proving that national honours aren’t entirely without utility.

Every week, Déjà View scours historical research and archives to make sense of current news and affairs.

Comments are welcome at views@livemint.com. To read Sidin Vadukut’s previous columns, go to www.livemint.com/dejaview

Follow Mint Opinion on Twitter at https://twitter.com/Mint_Opinion

Subscribe to Mint Newsletters
* Enter a valid email
* Thank you for subscribing to our newsletter.
Close
Recommended For You
×
Edit Profile
Get alerts on WhatsApp
Set Preferences My ReadsFeedbackRedeem a Gift CardLogout