From Calcutta Flag to the Tricolour, the evolution of India’s national flag

From Calcutta Flag to the Tricolour, the evolution of India’s national flag

From 1906 to 1947, the flag underwent changes that reflected the sentiments and struggles of our freedom fighters

From Calcutta Flag to the Tricolour, the evolution of India’s national flag saptarishi charkha gandhi flag 30stades

The national flag represents freedom, pride, patriotism and much more. To mark the 75th year of India’s independence, the ‘Har Ghar Tiranga’ campaign is encouraging people to hoist the national flag at their homes. 

The Tricolour of today, however, has an interesting history and it can be said that the Tiranga was in the making for almost four decades – from 1906 to 1947. 

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During these 41 years, the flag underwent changes that reflected the sentiments and struggles of our freedom fighters.

Designed by Sachindra Prasad Bose and Hemchandra Kanungo, India’s first unofficial flag, also called the Calcutta Flag, was hoisted to mark the first anniversary of Bengal’s Partition, which was announced in 1905. 

Calcutta Flag, hoisted on August 7, 1906. Pic: Wikimedia Commons 30stades
Calcutta Flag, hoisted on August 7, 1906. Pic: Wikimedia Commons

When it was first hoisted on August 7, 1906, at the Parsi Bagan Square in Calcutta (now Kolkata), the flag had ‘Vande Mataram’ written on it. It had eight flowers which represented eight provinces while the Sun and a crescent moon with a star represented Hindus and Muslims.

Also Read: Freedom fighter who participated in Quit India Movement rues growing inequality in independent India

The very next year, on August 22, 1907, Madam Bhikaji Cama, who contributed immensely to the early days of India’s freedom struggle, unfurled the first version of independent India’s flag at the International Socialist Conference at Stuttgart in Germany. According to some accounts, she first unfurled the flag in Paris in 1907. The flag was jointly designed by Madam Cama, Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, and Shyamji Krishna Varma.

Madam Bhikaji Cama with the Saptarishi Flag, which she first hoisted in 1907. Pic: Wikimedia Commons 30stades
Madam Bhikaji Cama with the Saptarishi Flag, which she first hoisted in 1907 in Germany. Pic: Wikimedia Commons

It was called the Saptarishi Flag after the seven stars representing seven sages or rishis of ancient India in the Ursa Major constellation.

The Saptarishi Flag had eight lotuses, the sun and the moon.

Exactly a decade later, Dr Annie Besant and Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak hoisted a flag at the Congress session in Calcutta during the Home Rule Movement in 1917. This was very different from the two earlier versions. 

The flag had five red and four green horizontal stripes arranged alternately. The seven stars of the Saptarishi constellation were superimposed on them in roughly the same shape as they appear in Ursa Major. The left-hand top corner had the Union Jack and a white crescent moon and star were on the right-hand side. The flag was co-designed by Besant and Tilak.

The flag designed by Dr Annie Besant and Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak, 1917. Pic: Wikipedia 30stades
The flag designed by Dr Annie Besant and Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak in 1917. Pic: Wikipedia

In 1921, Pingali Venkayya, a young man from Machilipatnam in what is now present-day Andhra Pradesh, came up with a national flag in red and green colours. 

Mahatma Gandhi suggested he add white colour and incorporate the charkha (spinning wheel) since it stood for self-reliance. The charkha, by then, had become a hallowed symbol of India’s economic regeneration.

Pingali incorporated the changes and this flag, also called the Gandhi Flag and Charkha Flag was first unfurled at the Congress party meeting in Ahmedabad. Though it was widely used during the freedom struggle, this flag was not adopted as the official flag of Congress.

Pingali  Venkayya's 1921 flag after incorporating Gandhi ji's suggestion of adding the Charkha. Pic: Wikipedia 30stades
Pingali Venkayya’s 1921 flag after incorporating Gandhi ji’s suggestion of adding the Charkha. Pic: Wikipedia

When Congress met in Karachi in 1931, the final resolution on a flag was passed. Pingali had designed this tricolour flag with three horizontal stripes of saffron, white and green and the Charkha in the centre. The saffron symbolized courage, white stood for truth and peace and green for prosperity. 

This flag of 1931 was used by the Provisional Government of Free India during the Second World War. 

Finally, ahead of India’s independence in August 1947, the Constituent Assembly was formed to discuss the country’s flag. The flag committee set up on June 23, 1947, was headed by Rajendra Prasad and included Abul Kalam Azad, Sarojini Naidu, C Rajagopalachari, KM Panikar, Dr B R Ambedkar and KM Munshi. 

The 1931 version of Pingali's flag with the three colours that became a part of the Tricolour in 1947. Pic: Wikipedia
The 1931 version of Pingali’s flag with the three colours that became a part of the Tricolour in 1947. Pic: Wikipedia

The committee resolved that the flag should not have any communal undertones. The Charkha was also replaced by the Ashoka Chakra, which depicts the Dharma Chakra of Sarnath. The flag was unfurled for the first time on August 15, 1947, and continues to be the pride of every Indian.

The Tricolour was first hoisted on August 15, 1947. Pic: Flickr 30stades
The Tricolour was first hoisted on August 15, 1947. Pic: Flickr

Also Read: 102-year-old freedom fighter rues: ‘This is not the India we gave our blood for’

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