A motto is ‘a sentence, phrase, or word inscribed on something as appropriate to or indicative of its character or use’. It is a ‘short expression of a guiding principle’. A motto is official, like a logo or a statement, and an entity can have only one motto at a time (though they can and do change this over time).
Any entity can have a motto: a person, a country, a corporate, an educational institution, a non-profit.
India’s motto is Satayameva Jayata: Truth alone shall triumph. Some organs of the government have their own mottos too: The motto of our Supreme Court is: Yato Dharmastato Jayah. (Where there is righteousness (dharma), there is victory). The Indian Army: The safety, honour and welfare of your country; Indian Air Force: Nabha sparsham Deeptam (Touch the sky with glory ); Indian Navy: Shaṁ No Varunah(May the Lord of Water be auspicious unto us).
Some interesting mottos of other countries are:
Truth prevails: Somewhat similar to India’s, this is the motto of the Czech Republic.
Janani Janmabhumishcha Swargadapi Gariyasi: Like India, Nepal’s motto is in Sanskrit, and means ‘Mother and motherland are greater than heaven’.
Rain: This is the motto of Botswana, and only one-word motto for a country. It pithily communicates the importance of rain for an agricultural county.
Liberté, égalité, fraternité: The motto of the French Revolution became the motto of two countries—France and Haiti.
In God we trust: This was taken as the motto of USA in 1956. Till then, the motto was ‘E pluribus unum’, meaning ‘Out of many, one’.
Some countries like the UK, China, Denmark, Bangladesh etc. have no official motto.
Business houses of course have mottoes too. Some are philosophical and conceptual, other very practical.
Tatas: Leadership with Trust.
Wipro: Applying thought
TCS: Experience certainty.
Reliance Industries: Growth is Life.
Non-profits convey their mission through the mottos:
Pratham: Every child in school and learning well.
Indian Red Cross Society: I Serve
Blind People’s Association: Touching People, Changing Lives
Adyar Cancer Institute: With Humanity and In Wisdom
Our educational institutions have profound mottoes too:
UGC: Gyan Vigyan Vimuktaye, meaning ‘knowledge liberates.’
IIM-A: Vidya Vinaygodhvikasah, meaning ‘development through the distribution or application of knowledge’.
IIT-B: Gyanam Marmam dhyatam, meaning ‘knowledge is the supreme goal.’
Delhi University: Nishta Drithiha Satyam: Dedication, steadfastness and truth.
Anna University: Progress through knowledge.
BITS Pilani: Gyanam Paramam Balam: Knowledge is the supreme power.
TISS: Re-imaging Futures.
There is not a motto of a country, an organization or institution which is not uplifting, elevating, noble. But sadly, I doubt if members of the entity even know or recall what their motto is. Maybe each organization needs to consciously set aside time on a regular basis to reflect, discuss and internalize how their motto should and can guide their day-to-day operations. A motto can be an inspiration, a guide to action, something that conveys a mission, something that unites. It is a powerful way of bringing people together and inspiring them. But if they are left on paper, they are simply unreal statements of aspirational intent, rather than guiding principles.