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India: Historical Flags from Anand Bhawan


Last modified: 2009-05-30 by ian macdonald
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History of the flag

In Anand Bhawan, the home of the Nehru's, in Allahabad (= city of God), U.P., there is an annex to the main building. On the wall of this annex there is a fairly small information board, telling visitors about the evolution of the Indian national flag in Hindi and in English. Neither the author nor the translator of the English version is given and, I believe so, even no author of the original Hindi text. I'll start with the English text on that information board:
THE FLAG: A flag is necessity of all nations. Millions have died for it. It is no doubt a kind of idolatry. A flag represents an ideal. The unfurling of a national flag evokes in human breast sentiments, whose strength it is difficult to measure. "It will be necessary for us Indians, Hindus, Moslems, Christians, Jews, Parsis and all others to whom India is their home, to recognize a common flag to live and die for." Mohandras Karamchand Gandhi The evolution of the Indian National Flag reflects the political developments in the country during the 20th century. The various political trends, communal tensions, waves of enthusiasm, can all be seen in the people's attitude to the flag. The 1st national flag in India is said to have been hoisted on August 7th 1906 in the Parsee Bagan Square (Green Park) in Calcutta. The flag was composed of horizontal stripes of red, yellow and green. The red stripe at the top had 8 white lotuses embossed on it in a row. On the yellow stripe the word "Vande Mataram" were inscribed in deep blue in Devanagari characters. The green stripe had a white sun on the left an a white crescent and star on the right. The 2nd flag was hoisted in Paris by Madame Cama and her group of exiled revolutionaries 1907 (according to some in 1905). This was very similar to the 1st flag, except that the top strip had only one lotus and 7 stars depicting the Saptarishi. The flag was also exhibited at a socialist convention in Berlin. By the time our 3rd flag went up in 1917, our political struggle had made a definitive turn. Dr. Annie Besant and Lokmanya Tilak hoisted it during the Home Rule movement. The flag had 5 red and 4 green horizontal stripes arranged alternately, with 7 white stars in the Saptarishi configuration superimposed on them. In the left hand top corner (the pole end) was the Union Jack. There was also a white crescent and a star in one corner. This indicated the aspirations of the time. The inclusion of the Union Jack symbolized the goal of Dominion Status. The presence of the Union Jack however made the flag generally unacceptable. The political compromise, that it implied, was not popular. The call for a new leadership brought Mohandras Karamchand Gandhi to the fore in 1921 and through him, the first tricolour. During the session of the All India Congress Committee, which met in Bezwada (now: Vijayawada) on March 31st 1921, an Andhra youth prepared a flag and took it to Gandhi. It was made of two colours red and green, representing the two major communities. Gandhi suggested the addition of a white strip to represent the remaining communities of India and a Charkha (= spinning wheel) to symbolize progress. Thus was the tricolour born, but it had not yet been officially accepted by the AICC. Gandhi's approval however made it sufficiently popular to be hoisted on all Congress sessions. In March 1931, when the AICC met at Karachi, a resolution was passed stressing the need for a flag which could be officially acceptable to the Congress. There was already considerable controversy over the significance of the colours in the flag. Communal troubles had set in. The two major communities were at the parting of ways and stress was on communal interpretations. Meanwhile a committee of seven was  appointed to clean opinion on the choice of the flag. It suggested plain saffron flag with a Charkha in reddish brown in the express left hand corner. The AICC did not accept the suggestion.
The year 1931 was a landmark in history of the flag. A resolution was passed in August 1st adopting a tricolour flag as our national flag. This flag, the forebear of the present one, was saffron, white and green. It was however clearly stated that it bore no communal significance and was to be interpreted this: Saffron: for courage and sacrifice//White: for truth and peace//Green: for faith and chivalry It also carried a Charkha in blue on the white hand signifying "welfare of masses". The sizes was 3 breadles to 2 breadles. On July 22nd 1947 the Constitutional Assembly adopted it as Free India's National Flag with one change. The Dharma Chakra (= wheel of destiny) of emperor Ashoka was adopted in place of Charkha in the emblem of the flag."
I think, the colours of the displayed flags have become a little bit pale, but they are all fairly well described by the unknown translator. There are some clear differences between the patterns shown in Anand Bhawan to those displayed on the FOTW page. The flags below are those according to Anand Bhawan.

[1906 Flag of India] image by Klaus-Michael Schneider, 18 January 2009

The flag of 1906 is similar to the 1904-pattern(FOTW). Differences: The orange colour on the 1904-pattern(FOTW) is probably red, which has become pale. The flag is a horizontal tricolour red over yellow over green (FIAV-code: R- -(?)_Y_G+) The lotuses in the upper part at Anand Bhawan really look like blossoms. The inscription consists of two words, it says "Vande Mataram", supposed translation "Praise the motherland", the characters are deep blue (B++), the characters are the same as in the 1904-pattern(FOTW). The sun has shorter rays. The crescent is accompanied by a 5-point star. The axis from the centre of the crescent to that of the attached star has the direction 45° (= 50 gon) clockwise from northern direction.
Klaus-Michael Schneider, 1 May 2005

I got reaffirmation of the blue Devanagari-inscription of the 1906 and 1907 pattern. The English translation of “Vande Mataram” is indeed “Praise the motherland”. The information was confirmed by Vasantha Yjer.
Klaus-Michael Schneider, 23 October 2005

“Vande maataram”(वन्देमातरम्) is the first line of an Indian national song (not the current anthem). It was a sign of resistance against British rule in early 20th century and therefore banned by colonial government. Bengal poet Bankim Candra Catterji wrote the poem in 1875 after having visited his home village. Fascinated by the beauty of his homeland he became inspired to praise India as a mother goddess (bhaarat mata). The 1st and 2nd stanza are written in Sanskrit, the rest in Bengal refined by Sanskrit terms. “vande maataram” literally means: “I praise the mother” (vande is the middle form of present tense of root वन्द (= to praise) and maataram is of मातृ (= mother)). Within that hymn Mother India is considered as a synthesis of Hindu Goddesses such as Saraswati, Lakshmi and others. For the Muslim community this was of course an offense, because for them Allah is the only God. Therefore these two flags had no chance to become India's national flag.
Klaus-Michael Schneider, 18 January 2009

[1906 Flag of India] image by Klaus-Michael Schneider, 18 January 2009

The flag of 1907 is nearly the same as the 1906-pattern. There remains only one bigger blossom in the upper hoist. And there is a Saptarishi configuration in the upper fly end. Saptarishi means literally "7 sages", it is the configuration of the Great Bear (Lat. = Ursa Major).

[1917 Flag of India] image by Klaus-Michael Schneider, 9 March 2009

The flag of 1917 is similar to the 1916-pattern. The colours are probably the same in both flags. In both flags there is also a Union Jack in the canton. In the 1917-pattern however you can clearly the white St-Andrews cross, both crosses have white edges. The number and order of stripes is the same in both flags. In the lower hoist of the 1917-pattern there is a crescent attached by a 5-point star of white colour superimposed. The direction of the axis is the same as in the 1906-pattern. From the top stripe down to the 5th stripe there is a white Saptarishi configuration superimposed. The flag is of rectangular shape.

[1921 Flag of India] image by Klaus-Michael Schneider, 1 May 2005

The shape of the spinning-wheel in all others flags from Anand Bhawan is similar to that one, displayed on the 1931b-pattern. In the tricolour of 1921 the colours and orders are probably the same as those of the 1921-pattern. The spinning-wheel however is a yellow one.

[1931 Flag of India]   [1931 Flag of India] images by Klaus-Michael Schneider, 9 March 2009

In the flag of 1931 there is a big reddish brown spinning-wheel with many details right in the middle of a plain saffron flag. The description in Anand Bhawan does however perfectly match the 1931a-pattern.

[1931 Flag of India] image by Klaus-Michael Schneider, 9 March 2009

Though the forebear of the current flag at Anand Bhawan shows a reddish spinning-wheel, the description of that flag claims a blue one instead as shown in the 1931b-pattern. I think, the replacement of the spinning-wheel by emperor Ashokas wheel marks a significant turnover in Indian National Congress politics. It clearly shows the rise of that wing in the Congress, that favoured an imperial India, and welfare of masses became less important. By the way Mohandras Karamchand GANDHI is of course Mahatma GANDHI.

Klaus-Michael Schneider, 1 May 2005