The Indian tricolour is a symbol of India’s existence as an independent nation. It is truly a national treasure and most respectable of all national symbols. The current form of the flag came into being when it was adopted by the Constituent Assembly at a meeting on 22 July 1947. From the day India got independence on 15th August 1947, and till the date it became a republic on 26 January 1950, the flag was known as the National Flag of the Dominion of India. After India became a republic, it became the National Flag of the Republic of India.
Designed by Pingali Venkayya, the current Indian flag has a two is to three ratio of width to length. It has three horizontal stripes of equal width which are saffron, white and green in colour from top to bottom. In the centre of the white panel is the navy blue Ashok Chakra with twenty four spokes. The size of the chakra is specified by the Indian Standard Institution (ISI). According to this the space occupied by the chakra should be seventy five percent of the total white space. Rules have also been laid down for everything that concerns the flag including hoisting and manufacturing it. It specifies that the flag can only be made of hand spun yarn like khadi.
The journey of the Indian flag started much before independence. The very first Indian flag was created in 1904. The credit for this goes to Sister Nivedita. She was a disciple of Swami Vivekananda and was from Ireland. Popularly known as Sister Nivedita’s Flag, it had two colours – red and yellow. While red symbolised the freedom struggle green colour stood for victory. ‘Bonde Matoram’ was the text written on it in Bengali. A weapon of God Indra, the Vajra and a white lotus were also part of the flag. Vajra stood for strength while lotus represented purity.
In 1906, a new flag was designed. This was a tricolour. It had three equal horizontal stripes of blue, yellow and red from top to bottom. The top most blue panel had eight stars each of which was different in shape. It was followed by the yellow panel on which Vande Mataram was written but this time it was in Devanagri script. The panel at the bottom was red. On this was made the sun and a star and crescent.
In the same year another tricolour was designed. This was a variation of the previous flag. The three colours used in this were different from its predecessor. It had orange, yellow and green colours and was popularly referred to as the Calcutta Flag or the Lotus Flag. The later was due to the presence of eight lotuses which were yet to bloom fully. Sachindra Prasad Bose and Sukumar Mitra are believed to be the designers of this flag. Sir Surendranth Banerjee hoisted this flag at Parsi Bagan Square in Kolkata on 7 August 1906. The day was referred to as Boycott day as it was to protest against partition of Bengal. Hoisting of the flag on this day symbolised the unity of India. Another design created in 1907 was quite similar to the Calcutta flag. The difference was that the basic colours chosen were blue, yellow and red. Also the lotus closest to the hoist was larger than others.
Yet another flag which came into existence in this year was designed collectively by Madam Bhikaji Cama, Veer Savarkar and Shyamji Krishna Verma. This was also a tricolour. The panel on the top was green, next was golden saffron followed by red at the bottom. The words Vande Matram were inscribed on this flag. This flag has the honour of being the first Indian flag ever to be hoisted on a foreign land. On 22 August 1907 it was unfurled by Madam Bhikaji Cama in Stuttgart in Germany. This is also the reason why it is known as the Berlin Committee Flag.
Pingali Venkayya was a writer and a geophysicist from Machilipatnam. With the aim to unite the nation, he designed a flag in 1916. He showed the designed to Mahatma Gandhi. Charkha, a symbol of India’s economic growth was added on the flag on the suggestion of Mahatma Gandhi. This flag was made of Khadi, the hand spun cloth. The flag had two colours – red and green with a charkha drawn across them. According to Mahatma Gandhi, the flag with its red and green colours represented the Hindus and the Muslims respectively but not the other communities who lived in India. The flag did not meet his approval.
In 1917, the Bal Ganga Dhar Tilak led Home Rule League adopted another flag. This was the period when the demand for status of Dominion for India was at its peak. As a result this flag consisted of the Union Jack on the top near the hoist. There were five red and four blue horizontal strips all over. The Saptrishi constellation (sacred for the Hindus) with its seven stars and a crescent shaped moon and star (for Muslims) on the top fly end were inscribed on the flag. Unfortunately, the flag did not gain much popularity.
Yet another version of the National Flag came into being in 1921. This was because of Mahatma Gandhi’s wish to represent all the communities of India on the flag. The design of this flag was inspired by the Irish flag. Ireland, like India was struggling to free itself from the British rule. This flag had three colours. White which was on the top represented the minority communities. It was followed by green for Muslims and then red for the Hindu and Sikh communities. The charkha cut across all three bands signifying the unity between the communities. This flag was not adopted by the Congress Committee but became a popular symbol of India’s struggle for freedom.
Though the 1921 flag was used for freedom struggle, its translation as to how it represented the community did not meet peoples’ approval. This gave way to another flag in which ochre replaced the red panel. Ochre was a colour common to the Hindu yogis as well as Muslim dervishes and thus fulfilled the need to represent them. The Sikhs wanted the flag to have either an equal representation of their community or that the colours representing communities be abandoned. The new flag was designed yet again by Pingali Venkayya. The new tricolour had saffron, white and green as its colours. The saffron band on the top and the green band at the bottom were separated by the white band. This also had a charkha in the centre. The Congress Committee adopted this as its official flag after passing the design in the meeting in 1931.
After Independence in 1947, Dr Rajinder Prasad headed a committee to discuss about India’s National Flag. It was decided to modify the flag of the Indian National Congress and adopt is as the country’s national flag. The modification was done by substituting the Ashok Chakra for the charkha in the centre. This is how the 1931 flag became the current Indian flag.
From 1858 to 1947, when India was under British rule, there was a British India Flag in existence. Like all other flags of the British territories, this flag was designed based on western heraldic standards. The blue flag had the Union flag on the upper left part while in the centre of the right half was the Star of India on which the royal crown was placed.