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Friday, April 30, 2010

Quest for a Flag for India, Part VI

The Swaraj (National) Flag -1921

While our Home Rule volunteers were engaged in promoting the Home Rule flag across the country during 1917-18, another whisper-snapper patriot, a true nationalist, from Musilpatam (Madras) (now of Andhra Pradesh) Pingali Venkayya was relentlessly working for a flag for India. In 1916, P. Venkayya founded an Indian Flag Mission along with his associates Omar Sobhani and S.R.Bommanji, in order to propagate at the grass root level, urging people of India to realize the political wisdom of adopting a National flag for India.
Jhanda Venkayya (1876 - 1963)

P. Venkayya wrote a booklet in 1916; titled ‘A National Flag for India’ with a foreword by B.N. Sharma (the booklet was financed by C. P. Ramaswamy Iyar). In this booklet Venkayya published at least 30 illustrations of his proposed flag models. Amongst the flag designs there was also a ‘Vajra Flag’, as was originally suggested by Sister Nivedita. Venkayya attended the Calcutta session of Congress in December 1906, presided over by Sir Dadabhoy Naoroji in which the ‘Vande Matarm flag’ was hoisted. He was also a volunteer of the Home Rule Movement of Annie Besant. 

In 1921, Pinglay Venkayya prepared a flag design “Red over Green
colours representing the Hindus & the Muslims.  A Charkha was placed on the flag as suggested by Lala Hansraj of Bajware (near Jullundur). Later, to the wishes of Mahatma Gandhi, a white band was added on top of the colour ‘red’ to represent all other lesser communities.


Note the two different spellings of  ‘Venkayya’ and ‘Venkaiah’ used by the Dept. of Posts.
Purna Swaraj Flag of 1931’ was not designed by Venkayya, it is wrongly stated in the information brochure published by the Department of Posts that both the flags depicted on the stamp are his designs, therefore, the projection of the Purna Swaraj flag on the stamp on Venkayya (issued on 12. 08. 2009) is unwarranted. As a matter of fact, P. Venkayya played no role in the subsequent flag designs after the creation of Swaraj flag. He was not even nominated as a member of the Flag Committee set up in 1931 to devise a new flag, when there was nation-wise objections raised to the interpretation of the colours (on the basis of communal compartmentalism) and their disposition ‘white over green over red’ of the Swaraj flag. Venkayya was not even an invitee to the AICC session in Bombay in 1931, in which the ‘Purna Swaraj Flag’ was devised and officially accepted. Venkayya by then retired from active politics.

Mahatma Gandhi wrote in the Young India in April 1921 “A flag is a necessity….It will be for us Indians… recognize a common flag to live and to die for.  …... Mr. P. Venkayya has for some years placed before the public a suggestive booklet describing the flags of the other nations and offering designs for an Indian National Flag. But, whilst I have always admired the persistent zeal with which Mr. Venkayya has prosecuted the cause of a National Flag…. He was never able to enthuse me; and in his designs I saw nothing to stir the nation to its depths….. .At Bezwada (now, Vijayawada)I asked Mr. Venkayya to give me a design containing a spinning wheel on a red(Hindu colour) and Green (Muslim colour) background….. I suggest that the background should be white and green and red. The white portion is intended to represent all other faiths. The weakest numerically occupy the first place. The Islamic colour comes next; the Hindu colour red comes last, the idea being that the strongest should act as a shield to the weakest ... to represent the equality of the least of us with the best, an equal part is suggested to all three colours in the design. ... the flag must be made of Khaddar, for it  is rough coarse cloth alone that can make India independent of foreign markets for her cloth. ….The regulation size of the flag should contain the drawing of a full sized spinning-wheel.  The extracts of the article reveals that it was Gandhi who himself had influenced the making of the Swaraj flag. Therefore, the sole credit to P. Venkayya as the designer the Swaraj flag is factually incorrect. A myth has been grown that it was Venkayya who designed the Swaraj flag. Historians by and large, took the myth at its face value and agreed that it was Venkayya who gave us the Swaraj flag.The Swaraj flag was never officially adopted as the ‘National Flag’ by a formal resolution.However, Mahatma Gandhi’s approval, made it popular everywhere in India. It was also known that Mahatma Gandhi was not too happy when in 1947, at the eve of Independence, the Charkha of the flag was replaced by the Asoka’s Dharma Chakra (Wheel of law). We shall discuss more on this subject in due course.

With the coming into being of the Swaraj flag in 1921, Venkayya retired from active politics in 1922. But his passion for the Indian flag never died. Prior to his death in 1963, he composed a beautiful poem


The tricolour ensign of our rich domain
Shall fly aloft and there for ever and ever remain
To remind the world of our famed Maurian Asoka the great
Of vast empire, peaceful and brotherhood state.
Sacrificial saffron will for noble courage stand,
Peaceful white is the truthful central band,
Parrot green will rich chivalry and faith denote.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Quest for a Flag for India,part-V and The European flags of Exploration, Colonial Ambitions and Settlements in India; Portuguese Flag

At the time of Home Rule Movement in1917, Dr. Annie Besant and B. P. Wadia in consultation with B. G. Tilak and Mohammad Ali Jinnah devised the Home Rule Flag, which had five Red (for Hindus) and four Green (for Muslims) stripes arranged alternately superimposed with seven Stars in the configuration of Sapta Rishi (or the Great Bear) typical of the Seven Wise Sages of India who were the Founders of her civilization along with the symbol of Crescent moon & star of the Mohammedans. On the canton there was the British Union Jack. The inclusion of the Union Jack symbolizing the goal of dominion status; the people, however, did not take kindly to it. 

The Home rule Flag was hoisted at the 1917 Congress Session in Calcutta under the Presidentship of Annie Besant

The all Hindi postmark from Ratnagiri ( Tilak’s birth place) issued on his centenary of birth on  23. 07. 1956.

(In this column we shall discuss about the various European flags that were brought by the Western explorers with colonial ambitions in India in early 16th and 17th century)

 India had extensive links with the Hellenic and Roman civilizations between the 4th. Century B.C. and the 4th Century A.D. Alexander’s invasion of India gave rise to the Hellenic links and very considerable maritime trade established link with the Roman Empire.

In Search of Water- a Hindu Plate. The Stamp commemorates the 2300 years of the civilising effect of theAlexander the Great.

Portuguese navigators opened the age of discovery by leading the West to meet the East. Renewed contact with the West began with the arrival of the Portuguese navigator Vasco-da-Gama at Calicut in 1498.

The English description at the back of the stamp (on the gum-side) reads; “A composition with Hindu elements” on the portrait of Vasco-da-Gama which hangs in the Sociedade de Geografia, Lisbon”.

The Portuguese voyages of exploration were inspired by Henry the Navigator, who was master of the Order of Christ. The Flag of the Order was used extensively by Portuguese ships. It was in memory of Henry the Navigator that the Armilla or Armillary Sphere was used in later Portuguese flags.

Cartografia Portuguesa; Carta do atlas de lopo Homem-Reines,1519

 The map of Indian sub-continent shows Portuguese flags of the 16th.Century.

World’s first ‘Omnibus Issue’- a set of 8 (eight) stamps in eight different designs were issued on 1st April,1898 from Portugal and her overseas Colonies including Portuguese India ( Estado da India) on the occasion of four hundred anniversary of Vasco-da- Gama’s Discovery of Sea Route to India.
** Portugal since then has issued innumerable stamps on Vasco-da-Gama, San Gabriel- his Flagship, as well as, on the maritime route to India. It offers a very good possibility of developing a fascinating World class One Frame Exhibit with its extensive philatelic variations, such as, overprinted and surcharged issues,  and a tremendous range of varieties, errors and reprints.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Quest for a Flag for India, Part - III

The first serious attempt at flag making came from Sister Nivedita (Margaret Nobel, 1867-1911) an Irish disciple of Swamy Vivekananda.  She conceived the idea of the flag, while on a  visit to Bodh Gaya in 1904, in the company of J.C.Bose and Rabindranath Tagore. She was inspired by the Vajra sign, symbol of Budha - the selfless man. It was the weapon of Lord Indra and is a symbol of strength (and also associated with the Goddess Durga).Legend goes that Vajra (Thunder bolt) was made from the bones of Rishi Dadhichi. It is a symbol of supreme sacrifice.

Sister Nivedita’s flag, prepared by the students of her Girls' School at Calcutta  was displayed for public view at the Congress exhibition in December 1906. The flag was square in shape, it had the symbols of Vajra (Thunder bolt) in the centre. On both sides of the Vajra was written‘Vande’ and ‘Mataram’ and 108 Jyotis (flames) in the outer periphery..

Sister Nivedita (using R.S. as nom de plume) in an article titled ‘The Vajra as a National Flag’ published in the Modern Review, November 1909, strongly suggested Vajra as a National flag for whole of India. The opening sentences of the article goes, I quote  "The question of the invention of a flag for India is beginning to be discussed in the press.Those who contemplate the desirability of such a symbol, seem to be unaware that already a great many people have taken up, and are using, the ancient Indian Vajra or Thunderbolt, in this way....",unquote.  Above are some of the draft sketches prepared by Sister Nivedita herself for illustrations of the said article. 
Nivedita’s Vajra, has been adopted as the logo of the Bose Institute, Kolkata

                                            Crest of North Bengal University has also the Vajra symbol in the centre.

Quest for a Flag for India - Part II

It was perhaps, Raja Rammoha Roy(1772-1833) regarded as the 'Father of the Bengal Renaissance' or 'The Father of the Indian Nation', first thought of for a National Flag for India way back in 1831 during his voyage to England, seeing a French ship proudly wearing the French Tricolore he exclaimed "Glory, glory, glory!" and saluted the flag. May be, he inwardly yearned "When would India have her own Flag?"

 The cover was issued from Radhanagar Post Office, birth place of Raja Rammohan Roy, on his 150th death anniversary.

 It was Raj Narayan Bose (1826-1899) first suggested 'Lotus' to be our National symbol in his book "Bridhya Hindoo-r Asha" (An old Hindoo's Hope) written in 1888, inspired by an article published in The Liberal, an English news paper of those days. Raj Narayan Bose was Sri Aurobindo's maternal grand father. Bipin Chandra Pal (one of the trio of the famous Indian freedom fighters Lal, Bal & Pal fame) calls him the 'Grand Father of Indian Nationalism'.
(To be continued)

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Quest for a Flag for India as told through stamps

This is a new blog being created to share my research on the evolution, adoption, uses, and abuses, of our National Flag. I shall also place here from time to time different interesting anecdotes on hitherto unknown or may be known to only serious flag historians (factually, there are very few of them).
Collecting these little known facts about flags is my passion. The quest for flag histories had its beginning for the write-ups of my stamp collections related to various types of flags only. Albeit,the primary thrust shall be on Indian flags, but interesting, anecdotes on flags of other countries, as well as various other flags like,Flags at Sea, Military Flags, International Flags, as well as, the Banners of various religious groups shall also be placed here.I am sure this blog will soon be a veritable storehouse for anybody interested in Flags and relevant flag-stamps.I shall be glad if my friends join me in sharing their knowledge on this subject for the benefit of all.
Let me know begin with what to say about the origin of present Indian Tricolour, popularly known in India as 'Tiranga' or less popularly Chakra Dhvaja (Wheel flag).According to Late Dr. Suniti Chatterjee (National Professor)There was no ancient flag or banner whether of Hindu or Muhammadan times, which India could think of for adoption as the flag of India.Imperial or local princely houses had their standards,e.g. the Garuda Standard of the Imperial Gutas. But even when nearly the whole of India was united under the Mauryas in the 3rd century B.C. and the Mughols in the 17thcentury A.C. no national flag or crest seems to have been thought of. India was never physically a nation militante, and so there was no need of a national symbol to rally round, in opposition to other countries. Besides, the political unity of India that the Indians were then conscious of was an entirely new thing. Therefore, in the late nineteen century when the national leaders in India were fired with the spirit of reasserting country's independence they felt the need of a truly Indian flag.There were many many tentative essays at flag making.