In 1916, the  Indian Independence movement was taking new turns - Annie Besant’s home rule movement started demanding dominion status, the Indian National Congress and the Muslim League signed the Lucknow Pact allowing the representation of religious minorities in the provincial legislatures.


That year, a young man from Machilipatnam, Andhra Pradesh was about to complete a meticulous project that he had been working on for several years. An agriculturist and educationist, Pingali Venkayya spent years studying various symbols from different countries. 


He then took help of Shri. E Venkatsastry from Andhra Jateeya Kalasala to give shape and colour to his ideas. With financial support from members of the Madras High Court, he released a booklet containing 30 elaborate designs with detailed explanations and reasoning. 




The booklet was titled ‘A National Flag for India’ written by Pingali Venkayya who is often credited as the man who designed the Indian tricolour. 


But Venkayya’s design was one in a long list of designs that began in 1904 with an Irishwoman. 


In 1904, Sister Nivedita, the Irish Disciple of Swami Vivekananda, was on a visit to Bodh Gaya with Jagadish Chandra Bose, Rabindranath Tagore, Jadunath Sarkar and others, where she noticed some motifs of Vajra, a symbol of Buddha that implies ‘The Selfless Man’. It was also the weapon of Lord Indra. She decided to create a national emblem from this symbol. 


In one of Nivedita’s letters she wrote, “We have chosen a design for a National Flag – the Vajra or the Thunderbolt  and have already made one. Unfortunately, I took the Chinese war-flag as my ideal and made it black on red. This does not appeal to India, so the next is to be yellow on scarlet”. Her  final design of the flag adorned the symbol of the Vajra placed in between the words ‘Vande’ and ‘Mataram’ in Bengali with 108 ‘jyotis’ or flames embroidered along the outer periphery. This flag is currently kept at the Acharya Bhavan museum, the erstwhile house of scientist JC Bose. 


Two years later, at the height of the Swadeshi Movement launched in protest against Lord Curzon’s decision to partition Bengal, a band of young revolutionaries created the flag which was hoisted at Parsibagan Square in Calcutta during the 1906 session of Indian National Congress. The inspiration for the flag had come from the French tri-colour and the mottos of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity, upheld during the French Revolution. Known as the Calcutta Flag, this was designed by Sachindra Prasad Basu, Secretary of the Anti-Circular Society and Sukumar Mitter, a close associate of Aurobindo Ghosh. This tri-colour flag had three bands – red at the top followed by yellow and then green. The red band had eight lotuses – signifying the eight provinces of the country. The middle band had ‘Vande Mataram’ inscribed in Devanagari script in blue. Finally, on the green band at the bottom, there was a shining sun on the left and a crescent moon and star on the right.




The first time an Indian flag was hoisted on foreign soil was in 1907. This time, the person responsible was a Parsi woman named Madam Bhikaji Rustom Cama. This flag, known as the Berlin Committee Flag was hoisted in Stuttgart at the International Socialist Conference on August 22, 1907. The similarities in colour schemes and symbols used, make it evident that the revolutionaries in Paris were well acquainted with the Calcutta Flag. Khashi Rao, a revolutionary and brother of Madhav Rao – a general in the army of Baroda had gone to Switzerland for military training. He carried a replica of the Calcutta Flag and showed it to Hem Chandra Kanungo in Geneva. Kanungo, a revolutionary from Bengal who was later jailed in Andaman stated in his book, ‘Banglay Biplab Prochesta’ that he made the flag in Paris and gave it to Madame Cama before her departure for Stuttgart. Madam Cama with the help of Veer Savarkar and Shyamji Krishna Varma changed the design a bit - she retained only one lotus and replaced the others by Saptarshi or seven stars. Madam Cama’s flag was later smuggled into India and is currently on display at Tilak Museum in Pune.




During the Home Rule movement, Bal Gangadhar Tilak adopted a new flag in 1917 to voice the demand for the status of a Dominion within the British Empire. The flag is a red-green striped one with the union jack at the left top and seven stars in the middle,placed in the shape of the  'Saptarishi' constellation.  It also had a crescent moon and a star at the right top side.


Now, let’s talk about Venkayya’s flag booklet. With this booklet he sought suggestions from all his countrymen and also made a humble plea to administrative heads of various provinces to hold a ‘national flag day for India’. Venkayya was quite clear in his approach that the flag must command reverence from all the countrymen and should not therefore contain a single object of worship of any particular community. Therefore he rejected the Vajra as a suitable emblem for a national flag on the ground that this suited only a Hindu nation and not for India. Instead his designs featured 7 colours of the rainbow allotted to 7 religious sects and the pure white space allotted to the Jains. He also had multiple other iconography in his flag designs.




Pingali Venkayya relentlessly pursued the cause of a common flag at different sessions of the Indian National Congress for the next 4 years, But Gandhiji was not at all impressed, citing that he saw nothing in the designs that would stir the nation to its depths. Finally Lala Hansraj from Jalandhar suggested the use of Charkha or spinning wheel on the flag. During the session of the All India Congress Committee which met at Vijayawada in 1921 Venkayya prepared the flag and took it to Gandhiji. It was made up of two colours-red and green-representing the two major communities i.e. Hindus and Muslims, with the charkha in dark blue set all over close to the hoist. Later Gandhiji suggested the addition of a white strip to represent the remaining communities of India. Thus was the tricolour born, but it had not yet been officially accepted by the All India Congress Committee. Gandhiji's approval, however, made it sufficiently popular to be hoisted on all Congress occasions. At this time, Gandhi favoured having the white band on the top, followed by the green, with red coming last, signifying that the minorities came before the majority, who had the ethical responsibility for their safety and well-being.




However, the flag because of its close similarity with the Bulgarian National flag and interpretations of its colour combination in the context of religions were felt unacceptable. It failed to get hold of Pan-Indian acceptance. Demands were put forward from time to time for re-designing the national flag based on the general consensus and mood of the people. In 1931, when the A.I.C.C. met at Karachi, a resolution was passed stressing the need for a flag which would be officially acceptable to the Congress. A committee of seven was appointed to elicit opinion on the choice of a flag. It suggested a plain saffron flag with a charkha in reddish brown in the extreme left-hand corner. The A.I.C.C. did not accept the suggestion. Instead, a resolution was passed in the Bombay session adopting a tricolour flag as our national flag. Red was replaced by saffron, which would be placed first. The white band would come next, in between saffron and green. It was understood that the colors have no communal significance, but that saffron shall represent courage and sacrifice, white peace and truth, and green shall represent faith and chivalry, and the spinning wheel, the hope of the masses. The spinning wheel was retained, but placed in the white strip alone. The flag was used as the National flag till independence. Dr N. S. Hardikar transferred the design onto Khadi bunting. Initially, the flag had the ‘spindle’ of the charkha towards the pole, but later the position was altered towards the fly-end.


The next modification took place on the eve of Indian independence. A committee of the Constituent Assembly decided that while they would retain the colours and spirit of the tricolour, they needed to make some changes, if only to ensure that the flag of independent India was not identified with the Congress party alone. 


The daughter of Surayya Badr-ud-Din-Tyabji -- Laila Tyabji claims that her parents were tasked with re-doing the flag, and her mother found inspiration in the Ashoka chakra and put it on the tricolour. Once it was done, it all seemed so natural and obvious. 


Anyway finally, it was resolved that the spinning wheel would be replaced by the Asoka Chakra. On 14th August 1947 Hansa Mehta presented the National Flag to the Constituent Assembly on behalf of the women of India. 




Then came that glorious day of India's independence the 15th of August 1947. It was the day of the culmination of the hopes and dreams and the long journey of the Tiranga India's tri coloured flag as it presided proudly over the celebrations at Delhi's Red Fort in the presence of the first Prime Minister of free India Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru. From the lofty heights of Kashmir to the golden sands of Kanyakumari from the coastline of Kutch to the hills of Arunachal it fluttered joyfully in the azure sky. One nation One flag at last. And that was the story of the Indian National Flag.


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