Did you know that original manuscript of the Constitution of India, 1950 contained beautiful artwork? Nandalal Bose, an artist, provided the artwork for the original manuscript which is preserved in a special helium filled case in the Library of the Parliament of India.
The artwork highlights key historical moments and figures like the Indus Valley civilization, the epics of Ramayana and Mahabharata, Akbar’s court and Gautama Buddha. Bose’s artwork traced the changing environment, people, places in India’s long and rich history. Notably, the artwork represents India’s plurality and diversity. No religious, cultural or geographical aspect of Indian history is given primacy or importance over the other.
The inclusion of such artwork must not be taken as evidence of these historical moments having any influence on the text of the Constitution of India. The Constitution was not inspired by the Indus Valley civilization or the Hindu epics or the Mughal empire. In fact, the framers of the Constitution saw the constitution-making process as a break from the past. In the Assembly, in his famous Objectives Resolution speech, Nehru said,
‘… I feel also that in this long succession of thousands of years, I see the mighty figures that have come and gone… And now we stand on the verge of this passing age, trying, labouring, to usher in the new.’
The Constitution framers wanted to transform India from a feudal, religious and the caste-based hierarchical society into a constitutional republic based on the values of equality, freedom, secularism and more. These constitutional values were not chosen because they might have had some place in ancient/medieval Indian history or mythology. They were arrived at through the experience of Indians with British colonialism and oppressive Indian social, economic and political structures.
So, what then is the significance of the Constitution’s artwork?
Not much – constitutionally speaking. The artwork is merely decorative, symbolic and an acknowledgement of India’s past. It does not tell us what kind of republic our framers wanted us to be. Nor does it reflect the inspiration behind the Constitution’s provisions - for that, we need to turn to Constitution's text, the Constituent Assembly’s proceedings and Historical Constitutions.