The four animals in the Sarnath capital are believed to symbolize different steps of Lord Buddha's life. The Elephant represents the Buddha's idea in reference to the dream of Queen Maya of a white elephant entering her womb. The Bull represents desire during the life of the Buddha as a prince. The Horse represents Buddha's departure from palatial life. The Lion represents the accomplishment of Buddha hood.
Besides the religious interpretations, there are some non-religious interpretations also about the symbolism of the Ashoka capital pillar at Sarnath. According to them, the four lions symbolize Ashoka's rule over the four directions, the wheels as symbols of his enlightened rule (Chakravartin) and the four animals as symbols of four adjoining territories of India.