How national is
our National Flag?
'Lion Flag' of the last King of Kandy, was hauled down when the
Kandyan Convention was signed on March 2, 1815. Though it was buried
in the sand of history, E. W. Perera discovered the banner at the
Chelsea Hospital and made reference to it in his book on 'Sinhalese
Banners and Standards'.
J. R. Jayewardene
was the first to proclaim the use of the Lion Flag as the national
flag of Ceylon. Addressing the State Council in September 1945.
He said 'It is the flag that held sway over three portions of Lanka
- Ruhuna, Rajarata and Mayarata. It is a yellow flag with a lion
in the centre'.
a motion and with his machiavellian tactics persuaded Batticaloa
MP A. Sinnalebbe to present it in the House of Representatives on
January 16, 1948. It read: "That this House is of opinion that
the Royal Standard of King Sri Wickrama Raja Sinha depicting a yellow
lion passant holding a sword in its right paw on a red background,
which was removed to England after the Convention of 1815, should
once again be adopted as the official flag of Free Lanka".
D. S. Senanayake: "It is a well known fact this flag happens
to be the flag of the last King of Kandy, and we all know that the
last King of Kandy was a Tamil. When we lost our country, when the
people chose the King of England as their Sovereign, this was the
flag of the last Kandyan King who was dethroned, that was pulled
down. Now that England is transferring sovereignty to the people
of this Island, I want England also to replace that flag along with
the sovereignty that they are giving us back. It is for this main
reason that we intend hoisting this flag on Independence Day.
really a surprise to me to find my good friend, the Muslim Member,
trying to show that we want to impose something on them. All that
we want them to realize is that when Ceylon lost its sovereignty,
it lost its flag, and that when the people are to regain sovereignty,
that flag must be hoisted. During the time of Sri Wickrama Raja
Sinha there were Tamils, Sinhalese and Muslims living in the Kandyan
Provinces and they all lived as one people. It is true that the
low-country lost its sovereignty long before that: it is true that
Jaffna lost its sovereignty long before that: the Kandyans lost
their sovereignty last. But when the people who graciously give
us back our freedom are the people, who are giving us the flag,
let us have it and not the flag of some other people who conquered
us before them".
On February 12, 1948 the Lion Flag that was hoisted by the
Prime Minister in the presence of the Duke of Gloucester was identical
with the one hauled down at the same spot on March 2, 1815.
On March 6,
1948 the Prime Minister appointed a committee headed by S. W. R.
D. Bandaranaike and including Sir John Kotelawala, J. R. Jayewardene,
T. B. Jayah, Dr. L. A. Rajapakse, G. Ponnambalam, and Senator S.
Nadesan to advise him on the question of National Flag.
called for the views of the public. Their general consensus was
that the Lion Flag should be the National Flag with suitable modifications
had deliberations for about two years. Yet it could not achieve
unanimity. It wanted to report the deadlock to the Prime Minister.
However, Ponnambalam who came down to 'responsive co-operation'
after his famous 'fifty fifty' demand by joining the Government
of Senanayake in August 1948 as Minister of Industries, Industrial
Research and Fisheries, proposed a compromise formula which said
that two strips of saffron and green should be adopted to the Lion
Flag in the proportion of 1:1:5. All the members except Nadeson
accepted the formula.
Thus on February 13, 1950 the committee approved the Lion Flag incorporating
modifications suggested by GG.
In the context of the present political turmoil in our country,
the dissenting Report by Nadesan becomes an essential reading.
never indulged in communal politics. His views are pregnant with
cogent and valid reasons for the establishment of national unity.
He said in
his dissenting report that "a national flag, apart from giving
an honoured place to all communities in the flag, must be a symbol
of national unity.
view, this design if adopted far from being a symbol of national
unity will be symbol of our disunity. Once the committee agreed
that the national flag should be devised by modifying the Lion Flag,
one would have thought that any strips adopted for the purpose of
satisfying the minorities will be integrated with the Lion Flag
and that these strips will not be an appendage to the Lion Flag.
Anyone looking at the proposed flag will see that the Lion Flag
is preserved in all its integrity and outside that Flag two strips
are allotted to represent the minorities. After all a flag is a
symbol and the symbol must at least effectively show the unity and
strength of the nation".
the elimination of the yellow border which according to the proposed
flag separated the saffron and green strips from the red strip.
Then, the flag would comprise green, saffron and red strips in the
proportion of 1:1:5 with the Lion on the red strip and 'with the
yellow border surrounding the entirety of the flag and encompassing
the two strips within the yellow border'.
be the barest minimum concession that would have been made to minority
sentiment if one desired a national flag, which would symbolize
the ideal of unity.
to other countries where national flags have been designed not by
superficially adding a strip to another flag outside the flag, but
by making the strips part and parcel of the flag. He believed that
his suggestion made no entailment to sacrifice any of the vital
part of the Lion Flag and could not offend Sinhalese sentiments.
It would only provide a method of evolving a flag, which may be
called 'national' by all the inhabitants of Sri Lanka for all times.
He posed a
question in his report: "Why then do we want to segregate the
saffron and green strips, which are provided to satisfy minority
sentiments outside the borders of the Lion Flag?
to the National Flag has, for the first time, been made in the Constitution
of 1978. Article 6 states "the National Flag of the Republic
of Sri Lanka shall be the Lion Flag depicted in the Second Schedule".
The National Flag in the Second Schedule to the Constitution
has four bo-leaves in the four corners of the red background of
the Lion Flag. The four bo-leaves were not in the Original Design
of the Flag, marked Plate XV and signed by all the members except
Nadesan. The majority of the members of the National Flag Committee
had recommended that the flag upon meticulous examination of the
public views and study by themselves of the various aspects and
issues involved therein. Notwithstanding the acceptance of the flag
by the Committee JR made the change without a word of general discussion
or deliberation at the Constituent Assembly.
The Lion Flag
has acquired historical recognition as a national emblem. It is
nothing but right that every one irrespective of ethnic feeling
should feel proud of it. Bo-leaves indicate that Sri Lanka is a
Buddhist country. No reasonable person would object to such a perception.
But JR who frequently spoke of embracing the minority, felt reticent
to correct the Flag as suggested by Senator Nadesan in his dissenting
report. As in the manner he brought the bo-leaves into the Flag
he could have integrated the saffron and green strips with the lion.
JR could have brought about a national unity by removing the yellow
strip that lays between the Lion, which indicates the Sinhalese
and the saffron and green strips, indicating the minorities in the
Flag. He did not do it.
It is unfortunate
that the leaders of the majority fail to appreciate that when the
Lion Flag was used as a distinctive flag, anyone looking at it would
think that the minorities are given a place outside the Lion Flag
and they have been given a subordinate position in the flag. The
yellow border that runs round the Lion Flag effectively separates
the two strips denoting to satisfy the sentiments of the minorities.
of it promotes an effective division in the National Flag itself.
It is the division that all right thinking people of this country
want to eradicate from our national life.
ever be enough courage and wisdom among the leaders of the majority
to rectify the National Flag on the lines of thinking of Senator
Nadesan? Will they make Sri Lanka an Asian Switzerland?