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History Of Tricolour: How Did Indian National Flag Reach Its Present Form?

  • How Did The Tricolour Reach This Present Form?
  • Were There Other Flags Before It?
  • If Yes, How Did They Look And Who Designed Them?

History & Evolution Of The Indian Tricolour
Mahatma Gandhi had once stressed why India should have its own Flag and had said, "A Flag is a necessity for all Nations. Millions have died for it. It is no doubt a kind of idolatry which would be a sin to destroy. It will be necessary for us Indians Muslims, Christians Jews, Parsis, and all others to whom India is their home-to recognize a common Flag to live and to die for."

A Flag is a symbolic representation of a Nation and its principles. It is considered a symbol of pride and is unanimously associated with the Nation's spirit and ethos.
India's National Flag has undergone massive changes since its first inception. It has sailed through many vicissitudes before arriving at what it is today. If observed closely, the evolution in a way reflects the political developments in the Nation.

The National Flag of India in its current form was first adopted during the Constituent Assembly held on July 22, 1947. This was a few days before India's independence from the British was declared. But how did the Tricolour reach this present form? Were there other Flags before it? If yes, how did they look and who designed them?

The current Tricoloured Indian National flag was designed by Pingali Venkayya of Macchilipatnam in 1916. While the Flag has gone through many changes, Pingali Venkayya is credited for its rudimentary design. But before the 'Tiranga' came into existence there were other versions of our National Flag. The evolution of our Tricolour is enmeshed with the evolution of our Nation's history and the Indian National Movement.

Sister Nivedita or popularly known in India as Bhagini Nivedita is often credited for the first design of Indian Flag. This Irish disciple of Swami Vivekananda designed a Flag using yellow & red in 1904 with a 'Vajra' in the centre and the words 'Vande Mataram' written in Bengali on either side of the Flag. While the colour red signified the freedom struggle, the yellow colour denoted victory. The Vajra was a depiction of Lord Indra's weapon and stood for strength.

Public Display For First Time
On August 07, 1906, the National Flag was unfurled in Parsee Bagan in Kolkata, now known as the famous Girish Park. This was the first time that the National Flag of India was hoisted. This was a Tricolour Flag with three equal stripes of green (on top), yellow (in the middle) & red at the bottom. The green panel had 8 lotus flowers, half-opened & the yellow portion had the words Vande Mataram in Devnagiri script.

On August 07, 1906, the National Flag was unfurled in Parsee Bagan in Kolkata

  • Arguably the first National Flag of India is said to have been hoisted on August 07, 1906, in Kolkata at the Parsee Bagan Square (Green Park).
  • It comprised three horizontal stripes of red, yellow and green, with Vande Mataram written in the middle.
  • Believed to have been designed by freedom activists Sachindra Prasad Bose and Hemchandra Kanungo, the red stripe on the flag had symbols of the sun and a crescent moon, and the green strip had eight half-open lotuses.

In Germany
In the year 1907, based on the Calcutta Flag, yet another Flag was designed by Madam Bhikaji Cama, Veer Savarkar and Shyamji Krishna Varma. Popularly known as that Cama Flag, this exhibited in the socialist conference in Berlin. This Flag was similar to first one, but some changes were adapted. It was tricoloured, the top strip had only one lotus and seven stars denoting 'Saptarishi' and the colour saffron was introduced in the top panel while green occupied the bottom strip. This Flag also had the words 'Vande Mataram'. This was the first time that India's Flag was being unfurled on an international level. It was popularly known as the Berlin Committee Flag.

National Flag was designed by Madam Bhikaji Cama, Veer Savarkar and Shyamji Krishna Varma

In 1907, Madame Cama and her group of exiled revolutionaries hoisted an Indian Flag in Germany in 1907 � this was the first Indian Flag to be hoisted in a foreign land.

During The Home Rule Movement
When India's political struggle took a turn, Dr.Annie Besant & Lokmanya Tilak during variation of the Flag during the Home Rule Movement in 1917. This was a definitive point in Indian history, the Home Rule movement had set the stage for the National struggle. This Flag had five red and four green horizontal strips arranged alternately. This Flag retained the depiction of Saptarishi with seven stars super-imposed on them. At the top left corner, towards the pole was the symbol of Union Jack. There was also a white crescent and star opposite to it on the right corner.

national Flag Design During Home Rule Movement
 

  • In 1917, Dr Annie Besant and Lokmanya Tilak adopted a new Flag as part of the Home Rule Movement
  • It had five alternate red and four green horizontal stripes, and seven stars in the saptarishi configuration.
  • A white crescent and star occupied one top corner, and the other had Union Jack.

Final Version By Pingali Venkayya
It was in 1921, during the session of the All India Congress Committee which met at the Bezwada, Vijayavada, a young man named Pingali Vankayya had presented a design of a Flag to Mahatama Gandhi. The Flag was made up of two colours red and green to represent the two major religious communities in India. However, Mahatma Gandhi advised on adding the white colour to the flag in order to represent all the other communities that resided within the Nation. He also suggested the addition of the 'Spinning Wheel' or the Charkha, to symbolise the progress of the Nation, which was emerging as a powerful symbol of the Nationalist struggle.

The design of the Indian Tricolour is largely attributed to Pingali Venkayya, an Indian freedom fighter who reportedly first met Mahatma Gandhi in South Africa during the Second Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902), when he was posted there as part of the British Indian Army.

Years of research went into designing the National Flag. In 1916, he even published a book with possible designs of Indian Flags. At the All India Congress Committee in Bezwada in 1921, Venkayya again met Gandhi and proposed a basic design of the Flag, consisting of two red and green bands to symbolise the two major communities, Hindus and Muslims. Gandhi arguably suggested adding a white band to represent peace and the rest of the communities living in India, and a spinning wheel to symbolise the progress of the country.

  • The design of the present-day Indian Tricolour is largely attributed to Pingali Venkayya, an Indian freedom fighter.
  • He reportedly first met Mahatma Gandhi in South Africa during the Second Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902), when he was posted there as part of the British Indian Army.
  • Years of research went into designing the National Flag. In 1916, he even published a book with possible designs of Indian Flags.
  • At the All India Congress Committee in Bezwada in 1921, Venkayya again met Gandhi and proposed a basic design of the Flag, consisting of two red and green bands to symbolise the two major communities, Hindus and Muslims.

The Origins Of The Present-Day Flag
A decade later, 1931 emerged as a landmark in the history of our Tricolour. It was important that the Flag depicted the ethos of the Nation and did not have any religious forbearance. Venkayya redesigned the Flag. The red was replaced with saffron and placed at the top. The white and green stripes were retained as the centre and the bottom panel, respectively. The symbol of Gandhiji's Charkha was placed at the centre of the Flag. The Saffron signified strength, White stood for truth and the bottom depicted fertility. A resolution was passed in the Congress Committee to make this as the official Flag of India. This was also the battle ensign of the Indian National Army.

Venkayya redesigned the Flag

During Constituent Assembly
Finally, it was on July 22, 1947, when members of the Constituent Assembly of India met in the Constitution Hall in Delhi, the first item on the agenda was reportedly a motion by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, about adopting a National Flag for free India, the free Indian National Flag was adopted by the Constituent Assembly as independent India's National Flag.

It was proposed that "the National Flag of India shall be horizontal tricolour of deep saffron (kesari), white and dark green in equal proportion." The white band was to have a wheel in navy blue (the charkha being replaced by the chakra), which appears on the abacus of the Sarnath Lion Capital of Ashoka.

After Independence, the colour and significance of the National Flag remained unchanged. Only the symbol of the Spinning Wheel or Charkha was replaced by Ashoka's Dharma Charkha as the emblem on the white stripe of the Flag.

This is how the Tricolour Flag of the Congress Party became the Tricolour Flag of Independent India While the finer nuances were subsequently discussed in the meeting, the final design of the Indian National Flag, hoisted by Prime Minister Nehru on August 16, 1947 at Red Fort, had a history of several decades preceding independence.

Tricolour Flag of the Congress Party

  • On July 22, 1947, when members of the Constituent Assembly of India, the first item on the agenda was reportedly a motion by Pandit Nehru, about adopting a National Flag for free India.
  • It was proposed that "the National Flag of India shall be Horizontal Tricolour of deep saffron (Kesari), white and dark green in equal proportion."
  • The white band was to have a wheel in navy blue (the charkha being replaced by the chakra), which appears on the abacus of the Sarnath Lion Capital of Ashoka

A Flag For Independent India
A few days before India became Independent on August 1947, the specially constituted Constituent Assembly decided that the Flag of the Indian National Congress should be adopted as the National Flag of India with suitable modifications, to make it acceptable to all parties and communities. The most significant change was replacing the Charkha with the Ashoka Chakra. Since the colours of the previous Flag were seen as having religious connotations, Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, who later became India's First Vice President, clarified that the adopted Flag did not have any communal connotations and described its significance as follows:

"Bhagwa or the saffron colour denotes renunciation or disinterestedness. Our leaders must be indifferent to material gains and dedicate themselves to their work. The white in the centre is light, the path of truth to guide our conduct. The green shows our relation to (the) soil, our relation to the plant life here, on which all other life depends. The " Ashoka Chakra" in the centre of the white is the wheel of the law of dharma. Truth or satya, dharma or virtue ought to be the controlling principle of those who work under this flag. Again, the wheel denotes motion. There is death in stagnation. There is life in movement. India should no more resist change, it must move and go forward. The wheel represents the dynamism of a peaceful change."

Saffron on top symbolises "strength and courage", white in the middle represents "peace and truth" and green at the bottom stands for "fertility, growth and auspiciousness of the land". The Ashok Chakra with 24 spokes replaced the spinning wheel as the emblem on the flag. It is intended "to show that there is life in movement and death in stagnation". Another interpretation is that the colours reflect India's religious diversity, with saffron for Hinduism, green for Islam, white for Jainism and Christianity, and the wheel for Buddhism.
Venkayya, who passed away in 1963, was posthumously honoured with a postage stamp in 2009 for his contribution towards Indian freedom struggle. In 2014, his name was also proposed for the Bharat Ratna.

Manufacturing Process
Flag sizes
Size mm
1 6300 - 4200
2 3600 - 2400
3 2700 - 1800
4 1800 - 1200
5 1350 - 900
6 900 - 600
7 450 - 300
8 225 - 150
9 150 - 100

After India became a Republic in 1950, the Bureau of Indian Standards brought out the specifications for the Flag for the first time in 1951. These were revised in 1964 to conform to the metric system which was adopted in India. The specifications were further amended on August 17, 1968. The specifications cover all the essential requirements of the manufacture of the Indian Flag including sizes, dye colour, chromatic values, brightness, thread count and hemp cordage. These guidelines are extremely stringent and any defect in the manufacture of Flags is considered to be a serious offence liable to a fine or a jail term or both.

Khadi or hand-spun cloth is the only material allowed to be used for the Flag. Raw materials for khadi are restricted to cotton, silk and wool. There are two kinds of khadi used, the first is the khadi-bunting which makes up the body of the Flag and the second is the khadi-duck, which is a beige-coloured cloth that holds the Flag to the pole. The khadi-duck is an unconventional type of weave that meshes three threads into a weave as compared to two weaves used in conventional weaving. This type of weaving is extremely rare, and there are less than a dozen weavers in India professing this skill. The guidelines also state that there should be exactly 150 threads per square centimetre, four threads per stitch, and one square foot should weigh exactly 205 grams.

The woven khadi is obtained from two handloom units in Dharwad and Bagalkot Districts of Northern Karnataka. Currently there is only one licensed Flag production unit in India which is based in Hubli. Permission for setting up Flag manufacturing units in India is allotted by the Khadi Development & Village Industries Commission (KVIC), though the BIS has the power to cancel the licences of units that flout guidelines.

Once woven, the material is sent to the BIS laboratories for testing. After stringent quality testing; the Flag if approved, is returned to the factory. It is then bleached and dyed into the respective colours. In the centre the Ashoka Chakra is screen printed, stencilled or suitably embroidered. Care also has to be taken that the Chakra is matched and completely visible on both sides. The BIS then checks for the colours and only then can the Flag be sold.

Each year around forty million Flags are sold in India. The largest Flag in India (6.3 � 4.2 m) is flown by the Government of Maharashtra atop the Mantralaya building, the State Administrative Headquarters.

Proper Flag Protocol
Prior to 2002, the general public of India could not fly their National Flag publicly except on designated National holidays. Only Government Offices and higher functionaries of the Government could do so. An industrialist by name Naveen Jindal filed a Public interest Petition in the Delhi High Court, seeking the striking down of this restriction. Jindal apparently flew the Flag atop his Office Building, but as this was against the National Flag Code, the Fag was confiscated and he was informed that he was liable to be prosecuted. Jindal argued that hoisting the National Flag with due decorum and honour was his right as a citizen, and a way of expressing his love for India.

The case moved to the Supreme Court of India, which asked the Government of India to set up a Committee to consider the matter. The Union Cabinet amended the Indian Flag Code with effect from January 26, 2002, allowing the general public to hoist the Flag on all days of the year, provided they safeguarded the dignity, honour and respect of the Flag.

In {Civil Appeal Nos. 2920 of 1996 and 453 of 2004 [Arising out of S.L.P. (C) No. 15849 of1994] titled Union of India Vs Naveen Jindal & Anr.}, it was held that though the Flag Code is not a statute, restrictions under the Code need to be followed to preserve the dignity of the National Flag. The right to fly the National Flag is not an absolute right but a qualified right and should be read having regard to Article 51-A of the Constitution of India.

Written By: Dinesh Singh Chauhan, Advocate - High Court of Judicature, J&K & Ladakh, Jammu.
Email: [email protected], [email protected]

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