Did you know that the first design of the Indian flag comprised a red flag with golden lettering? And an ensuing design had a spinning wheel instead of the Ashoka chakra we see today! The Indian tricolor, with its vibrant hues of saffron, white, and green, adorned by the Ashoka Chakra in navy blue, holds a special place in the hearts of over a billion Indians. As India celebrates 76 years of independence, let’s explore the stories that lie between the stripes of our Tiranga.
Read on as we delve into the history of the Indian tricolor, discover the profound significance and symbolism behind its design and how it has evolved over the years.
Early Days 1904 – 1906 The Struggle for Freedom
The journey of the Indian tricolor began during India’s struggle for independence from British rule. Early nationalists like Sister Nivedita and Bal Gangadhar Tilak played significant roles in popularizing the idea of a national flag.
An Irish disciple of Swami Vivekananda, Sister Nivedita, created the first Indian flag, that later came to be known as Sister Nivedita’s flag. The flag was in red and yellow, where red symbolized the freedom struggle, and yellow signified victory. The words “Bonde Matoram” or Vande Mataram were inscribed in Bengali. Additionally, the flag featured a figure of ‘Vajra’, the weapon of the god ‘Indra’, along with a white lotus in the centre. The ‘Vajra’ symbolized strength, while the lotus signified purity.
In 1906, another flag designer created a tricolor flag featuring three equal strips. The top strip was blue, the middle strip yellow, and the lower strip red. The blue strip adorned eight stars of slightly different shapes, while the red strip displayed two symbols: one of the sun and the other of a star with a crescent moon. The yellow strip had the words “Vande Mataram” written in the Devanagari script.
1906 – The First Unifying Flag
It was in 1906 that the first truly unifying national flag emerged. On August 7, 1906, the Parsee Bagan Square (Green Park) in Calcutta, now Kolkata, witnessed the hoisting of India’s first national flag.
The flag, known as the ‘Calcutta Flag’ or ‘Lotus Flag’, consisted of three horizontal stripes in red, yellow, and green colours. In the middle were the words “Vande Mataram.” The red strip displayed two symbols: one of the sun and the other of a crescent moon. On the green strip, there were eight half-open lotuses, believed to signify the eight provinces of British India.
Sachindra Prasad Bose and Sukumar Mitra are believed to have designed the flag. They observed the unfurling of the flag as “boycott day” against the partition of Bengal, and Surendranath Banerjee hoisted the flag to symbolize the unity of India.
1907 – The Berlin Committee Flag
At the Second International Socialist Congress in Stuttgart, Germany in 1907, Madame Cama delivered a powerful speech exposing the misrule, tyranny, and injustice under the English capitalists and British Government in India. At the end of her speech, it is believed that she unfurled the first tricolor flag of Indian independence.
As far as the designer of the flag goes, the information does not point towards a particular person. Hence, some sources suggest that Cama, Shyamji Krishna Verma, and V. Savarkar designed this flag, while others claim that Hem Chandra Das designed the flag at the request of Shyamji.
The major difference of this flag from the “Calcutta Flag” was that Madame Cama’s tricolor featured saffron on the top, yellow in the middle, and green at the bottom. Also, they replaced eight lotuses of the Calcutta flag with eight stars in the upper register.
After Madame Cama unfurled the flag in Berlin, later, the Gujarati socialist Indulal Yagnik smuggled it into British India. Today, it is exhibited at the Kesari Maratha Library in Pune.
1912 – The Only Version of the Indian Tricolor with the Union Jack
During the Home Rule Movement, when India wanted Dominion status under the British Government, two revolutionaries came up with another design for a flag advocating the Home Rule movement. In 1917, Dr Annie Besant and Lokmanya Tilak designed a third flag, which featured a striking design.
This flag displayed four green and five red horizontal stripes, along with seven stars, symbolizing the Saptarishi constellation. In the top left corner, they placed the Union Jack, while the other top corner featured a white crescent and a star. The flag’s powerful symbolism and significance played a pivotal role in inspiring and uniting the masses during India’s struggle for self-governance.
1921 – Pingali Venkayya’s Contribution to the Indian Tricolor
During the 1906, All India Congress Committee (AICC) session in Calcutta, Pingali Venkayya, an agriculturist, freedom fighter and educationist, felt inspired to design a flag for the Indian National Congress. This was due to his opposition to hoisting the British flag at Congress meetings. He worked on over 25 drafts of potential flag designs to signify independence for the newly coined Swaraj movement, reflecting different aspects of Indian culture and history.
In 1916, Venkayya published a book titled ‘A National Flag for India,’ presenting 30 potential designs for the flag. And from 1918 to 1921, while working at Andhra National College in Machilipatnam, he proposed various ideas to the Congress leadership.
In 1921, during the crucial AICC session in Bezawada (now Vijayawada), Gandhi asked Venkayya to submit a flag design. As the story goes, within three hours, Venkayya showed Gandhi a rudimentary flag design made on a Khadi bunting, featuring red and green colours to represent Hindus and Muslims in the country, respectively. On Gandhi’s suggestion, Venkayya added a white stripe to symbolize all other denominations and religions present in the country.
1931 – Gandhi’s Influence on the Indian Tricolor
In 1931, the Indian National Congress adopted a new resolution for the national flag, thanks to the guidance of Mahatma Gandhi.
The Congress made alterations to the flag proposed by Venkayya by reordering the position of the stripes and by replacing the red stripe with a deep saffron one. This design also featured the spinning wheel (charkha) in the centre white stripe. The charkha symbolized Gandhi’s message of self-reliance through khadi and his commitment to uplifting rural India.
Although the AICC did not officially adopt this flag, the Swaraj Flag gained popularity across the nation, and people informally used it at all Congress meetings and various national movements.
1947 – The Indian Tricolor of Today Comes into Being
A few days before India’s independence in August 1947, the Constituent Assembly formed a committee on 23 June 1947, headed by Rajendra Prasad, to select a flag for independent India.
The committee recommended adopting the flag of the Indian National Congress as the National Flag of India with suitable modifications to ensure acceptability to all parties and communities.
The Finishing Touch by Surayya Tyabji
As India aimed to become a democracy during its quest for independence, the flag needed a non-partisan character. Hence, they needed to replace the spinning wheel, which was symbolic of the Congress.
Here, Surayya Tyabji, the wife of Badruddin Tyabji – an ICS officer in the Prime Minister’s office in 1947, made a lasting contribution to the design of the Indian tricolor. She incorporated the Ashok Chakra at the centre of the flag, replacing the Charkha. Originally, she painted a black Chakra, but Gandhi objected, and it was changed to a navy blue Chakra. The Ashoka Chakra had its roots in the ancient Maurya Dynasty, symbolizing progress, righteousness, and the eternal wheel of life. Its addition infused the flag with even deeper meaning and historical significance.
On 22nd July 1947, the Indian National Congress, led by Jawaharlal Nehru, proposed the Indian tricolor at the Constituent Assembly and received unanimous approval. This Indian tricolor served as the national flag of the Dominion of India from 15 August 1947 to 26 January 1950 and has continued as the flag of the country since then.
The evolution of the Indian tricolor is intertwined with the country’s struggle for freedom and its emergence as an independent nation. The Indian tricolor’s journey from its early iterations to the iconic design we see today represents India’s growth, unity, and diversity as a nation.
As Indians, we take great pride in our national flag, and it continues to inspire generations, reminding us of the sacrifices made for freedom and the responsibility to uphold the values it represents. Long may it wave, a symbol of India’s rich heritage and a beacon of hope for a bright future.
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