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.
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.
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.
The first national flag of India
While an Indian flag was reportedly designed by Sister Nivedita, an Irish disciple of Swami Vivekananda, between 1904-1906, arguably the first national flag of India is said to have been hoisted on August 7, 1906, in Kolkata at the Parsee Bagan Square (Green Park).
It comprised three horizontal strips 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 strip on the flag had symbols of the sun and a crescent moon, and the green strip had eight half-open lotuses.
Next year, 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.
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.
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The origins of the present-day flag
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.
Several changes continued to be made till a decade later, when in 1931 the Congress Committee met in Karachi and adopted the tricolour as our national flag. Red was replaced with saffron and the order of the colours was changed. The flag was to have no religious interpretation.
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A Flag for Independent India
The Tricolour was altered to become the flag of Independent India. 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”.
Controversies regarding its creator
In 2013, a controversy arose when historian Panduranga Reddy stated that the national flag was designed by Hyderabad-born Surayya Tyabji. With the resolution in the Constituent Assembly mentioning no names, the attributions are open to argument. While there is no consensus on who recommended the change from charkha to the Ashok Chakra in 1947, in 2018, in an article titled “How the Tricolour and Lion Emblem Really Came to Be”, Laila Tyabji, founding member of crafts NGO Dastkar, wrote that her parents, Badruddin and Surayya Tyabji, had suggested the change.
The website of the Flag Foundation of India, a non-profit organisation formed by industrialist and Congress politician Naveen Jindal, states, “The design of the National-flag for Independent India submitted by Mrs. Suriaya Badr-ud-Din Tyabi was finally approved and accepted by the Flag Committee on 17th July 1947. She was an artist of repute and her husband B.H.F.Tyabji (ICS) was then a Deputy Secretary in the Secretariat of the Constituent Assembly.”
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.
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