Down Memory Lane Society

Descent of the Tiranga

FLYING HIGH The Tricolour fluttering in all its glory at the Red Fort

FLYING HIGH The Tricolour fluttering in all its glory at the Red Fort   | Photo Credit: AFP

The Tricolour represents the honour and pride of India. Read on to know how flags played an important part in mythologies and history

For those who have watched the film Tiranga, starring the swashbuckling Raaj Kumar in the title role, and the arch-villain Gainda Swami, love for the national flag radiates always on the screen and elsewhere, especially during Independence Day and Republic Day. Visit Sadar Bazar and see for yourself the enthusiasm of those buying this national emblem or go to the Khadi bhandars, where the khadi-spun variety is sold in large numbers. No wonder when the Tiranga flutters in the morning breeze after the Prime Minister has unfurled it from the ramparts of the Red Fort (where once the Mughal flag and the Union Jack occupied pride of place), the heart of every Indian swells up with pride.

One remembers an I-Day in the late 1960s when, after Indira Gandhi had performed the ceremony and the last of the three cheers of “Bharat Mata-ki-Jai” had been raised, an earthquake hit Delhi as though Nature too was joining in the celebrations, which had started when Jawaharlal Nehru had unfurled the Tricolour on 15th August, 1947 before a huge multitude, while 50,000 refugees were sheltered in the Purana Qila. Hence on this I-Day too one’s feelings are permeated with the same joy and inclined to trace the glorious history of the Tiranga.

What is it that makes a man sacrifice his life for a flag? A piece of cloth is hardly worth the most precious gift a person possesses. And yet he goes ahead without fear or remorse and loses it just to defend a flag. The answer may lie in the fact that a flag is much more than a cloth. A word of Teutonic origin, it represents patriotism, honour, loyalty, pride, belief, chivalry and what not. That’s why when the standard bearer was killed in a battle another rushed in to take his place, even to the last man, whether commoner or king. So long as the flag was aloft, victory was denied to the opposing force.

Flags as totems

Flags have been around since time immemorial. The inhabitants of Mohenjo Daro used flags which bore, besides other images, those of a unicorn and an incense-burner.

Even prior to the Indus Valley Civilisation, flags were regarded as totems of clan or tribal loyalty and strength, observes Lt.-Cdr K.V. Singh (Retd.) in his book Tiranga, our National Flag. The Rig Veda refers to totemism commemorating god, man, bird, beast, tree or plant, the sun, the moon, the stars, the sky, the clouds or any other natural or supernatural phenomena.

The practice of carrying flags to the battlefield during war and before kings and other members of the royalty during peacetime, says Cdr Singh, was followed by the Indians, Chinese, Egyptians, Assyrians, Greeks, Romans and other ancient civilisations. It was as much a sacred symbol as a political and social insignia which was carried by even ships on the high seas.

In the Ramayana and Mahabharata too flags have been given due importance. During his 14-years exile with Rama, one day Lakshman sighted a huge army with the flag that had been adopted by Bharat, which bore the emblem of Kovidara (a super-natural tree), and sought permission from his brother to destroy it. Fortunately he was pacified for, as it turned out, the army was not a hostile one. Rama’s flag bore the figure of the sun, which was his dynastic deity.

Ravana’s flag had a human skull (kapala) inscribed on it as he was a devotee of Shiva. Some, however, say that it depicted the veena to denote wisdom. His son, Meghnad’s flag bore the emblem of the lion, Prahasta’s the snake and Kambanan’s the Sheshanaga.

In the Mahabharata, the standard of Yudhishtar bore a pair of thunder drums, Bhim’s the simbha (lion), and Arjun’s the divine monkey (Kapi), Nakul’s the Sarbha, the mythical two-headed animal with wings, Sahadev’s flag had the swan, the symbol of the Ashwini or Gemini twins, engraved on it,

Abhimanyu’s the bird saranga and Krishna’s the omnipotent Garuda. Bhishma’s flag had the tala tree with a cluster of five stars. Duryodhana’s a serpent to denote strength. Dronacharya’s an altar covered with deerskin, while his brother-in-law Kripacharya’s standard had a humped bull, Karna’s an elephant chain. Ashwathama’s a lion-tail, Jayadratha’s a boar, the Pandavas’ uncle Salya’s flag had the image of the plough while that of Balram bore the Tala-dhvaja, like Bhimshma Pitamaha’s standard. Before killing Karna, Arjuna destroyed the latter’s flag just as Rama had destroyed Ravana’s pennant before slaying him.

The Moghul standard

The earliest standard of the Muslims was the Roman eagle, but the latter Caliphs adopted a black flag with the name of the Prophet superimposed on it. Mahmud of Ghazni’s troops carried that sort of flag with a crescent on it. Mohammad Ghori’s standard also had a crescent, but his successor Qutubuddin added a lion to it, while the Tughlaq’s insignia bore a fish, an old symbol signifying the triumph of faith — as in the Deluge. The Moghul standard, the moss green Alam displayed the rising sun partially hidden by a magnificent lion. The Alam was the flag of Hazrat Imam Hussain at the Battle of Karbala which was adopted by Taimur the Lame and hence was passed on to the Moghuls who descended from him.

The Rajputs, who claimed descent from Bappa Rawal, had the sun as their emblem. Known as the Changi, it was the banner under which Maharana Pratap fought Akbar’s forces at the battle of Haldigathi. However the Jodhpur flag, the Panchranga, as the name suggests had five colours, with a black kite, a bird which represents the goddess Durga. During the First War of Independence in 1857, the sepoys fought under a green and gold banner which was hoisted by them on the Red Fort after Bahadur Shah Zafar was proclaimed as their supreme leader. The long story of the flags has been brought up-to-date by Cdr Singh right up to the adoption of the Tiranga as the national emblem after experiments with different designs by Madame Cama, Annie Besant, Sister Nivedita and others. This included the Calcutta flag of August 1906. One wonders whether our love for the national flag would have been any less had this or any other flag been adopted instead of the Tiranga!

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Printable version | Feb 26, 2020 4:25:53 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/society/descent-of-the-tiranga/article19490217.ece

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