Interpreting the Scales of Justice: Architecture, Symbolism and Semiotics of the Supreme Court of India

  • Shailesh KumarEmail author


The neutrality of the art and architecture of courtrooms and courthouses has dominated the public perception in the Indian context. The courtroom design and the visual artistic elements present within these judicial places have very often been considered to be insignificant to the notions of law and justice that they reflect. As art and architecture present certain historical narratives, reflect political allegories and have significant impact on the perceptions of their viewers, they have critical socio-political ramifications. This makes it pertinent to explore them and investigate the paradox of their deployment and interpretation in today’s increasingly mediatized world. Through an ethnographic study of the Supreme Court of India, this paper interprets its art and architecture, and, the symbolism and semiotics reflected through them. Arguing against their neutrality and insignificance, the paper demonstrates how they reflect nationalism, certain ideologies and power-space dynamics. It further argues that they act as evidence of political metaphors related to justice, power and democracy. With a conversation between law, architecture and semiotics, the paper investigates the historical and spatial dimensions of its architecture and artistic elements. Mapping the Court’s architectural elements, I examine how the visual representation of ‘justice as virtue’ finds translation in its design through transfer of certain images, including the image of the ‘scales of justice’, into it, while absenting the notion of ‘justice as struggle’—to contemplate on how legal architecture gives evidence to the vexed relationship between law and justice and also of the break from the colonial past


Legal architecture Supreme Court of India Semiotics Symbolism Building Justice 



I am grateful to Dr. Pratiksha Baxi for encouraging me to work in this area. Thanks to her, Dr. Nupur Chowdhury, Dr. Mani Shekhar Singh, Aklavya Anand and Noopur Maurya for the fruitful remarks. Comments from the reviewers and the audience were very insightful. An abridged version of this paper was presented at the 4th LASSnet International Conference, 10–12 December 2016, India Habitat Centre, New Delhi, India.


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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Centre for the Study of Law and GovernanceJawaharlal Nehru UniversityNew DelhiIndia

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