Before the independence movement began, India as a country did not have a common flag. Independent states had their own flags. But it was after the Revolt of 1857; the British suggested the idea of a common one for Indians. The first flag known as the Star of India was based on British symbols. It was a group of flags, which the Britishers used for different purposes during their rule in India.
In 1905, the first partition of Bengal gave a new flag to India with the purpose of uniting the Indians, cutting across class, caste, creed and religion. It was called the Vande Mataram flag. Launched in Kolkata, the flag had many religious symbols. It had eight white lotuses on the top white band, representing the eight provinces, the Vande Mataram slogan in the middle yellow band and a sun and a crescent on the bottom green band. It was used at the annual session of the Indian National Congress, but it didn’t stir nationalist feelings among the people.
Sister Nivedita, a Scottish Hindu reformist, also suggested another design. It had a thunderbolt running across the middle and hundred and eight oil lamps along the border. The Vande Mataram caption was split across the border. Even this one failed to generate any interest. Many more designs were also proposed, but none found any place nationally.
In the 1920s, on Mahatma Gandhi’s urge to see all Indian communities on the flag representing a united India, the new flag had three colours – white on top representing minority communities, green in the middle representing the Muslim community and red at the bottom for the Hindu and Sikh community. A charkha ran across all the colours denoting the unity amongst all communities. Though the Congress didn’t accept the flag, it did come to be recognised as a symbol of India’s struggle for freedom.
The communal representation on the flag was not liked by many, so in 1931, another colour scheme was proposed. The red colour at the top was replaced by ochre, which represented both the Hindu and Muslim religion. But this did not go down well with the Sikh community. They demanded a separate colour for themselves or rejection of colours for other communities as well. A new flag was designed by Pingali Venkayya, which had saffron at the top, white at the center and green at the bottom. The charkha was placed in between. In 1931, the Congress chose it as its official flag.
In 1947, when India gained independence, the Congress flag was adopted as the national flag by a committee headed by Dr Rajendra Prasad on July 21. Some modifications were made. The Charkha was replaced with the Ashok Chakra.
The colours in the new flag denoted new meanings – saffron for sacrifice, white for truth, peace and purity and green for righteousness.
Text by Tasneem Dhinojwala