Dr. Duggaraju Srinivasa Rao
1921 March 31 is a historic day in the freedom struggle which unfortunately was forgotten by the independent India and not celebrated in the way it deserved. Now we have reached the centenary of that great event that changed the course of the independent struggle and it is worth recollecting and pass it on to the younger generation. It was on this very day hundred years back that the original design of ‘tiranga’ was handed over to Mahatma Gandhi by the flag designer Pingali Venkaiah in the Vijayawada (Andhra Pradesh) session of Congress party.
That day was a pride moment for all Indians as that tri color gave a special identity to them. It was this tiranga which was added as unifying factor besides ‘Vandemataram’ slogan. From Kashmir to Kanyakumari people of all walks could own that flag and it became a proud event to hold the flag, hoist the flag as defiance and pull down ‘union jack’ and chant vandemataram. This combination of flag and slogan has changed the course of freedom movement dramatically.
Earlier to that, India suffered from not having an object like a flag, which was a norm in all European nations, with which all its people could identify. Perhaps Chatrapati Shivaji, the great Martha king of 16th century, was the first Indian to give a ‘dwaja’ of saffron as the pride symbol of Hindu renaissance in this country. Subsequent to Shivaji Maharaj there was no such fighter worth recalling and as the country slowly passed into the hands of East India Company and each smaller kingdoms developed their own flags. The first war of Indian independence under the leadership of Rani Jhansi gave Indians tried to offer a ‘dwaja’ identity to revolt against the Company. The next ninety years of freedom struggle took a different turn with the intellectual groups adopting a petitioning the British crown with all the demands which they fit needed for Indian society. It was Mahatma Gandhi’s entry which gave a new meaning for the independence struggle and Congress converted this into a mass movement.
A witness to all these changes is Pingali Venkaiah whose mind is obsessed with a flag for India. His study of national flags of other nations gave him clarity in the pride of having a national flag of our own. It was his obsession which has ultimately gave us the current day ‘tri color’ about which we all feel proud to respect and salute. Pingali Venkaiah, the designer of the national flag, was a multi-faceted personality hailing from Andhra Pradesh, born into not so rich Brahmin family, was a self-made man. He went to Colombo for school studies, then went to Lahore to learn Japanese language and then sailed to South Africa to study the mining, gemology. There he met Mahatma Gandhi and his association with Gandhi went on though he shifted his activity to Machilipatnam, the coastal town of Andhra Pradesh, to teach in the Andhra Jateeya Kalasala (National College).
Pingali Venkaiah was attending all the Congress meetings held in different corners of the country since 1906 meeting held in Calcutta and presided by Dadabhai Nouroji. He was meeting all the senior leaders of the movement and used to broach the subject of his pet theme, the Indian National Flag. The absence of a national flag was haunting him and he penned all his thoughts and flag designs he conceived to publish a book titled National Flag for India in 1916 and presented the same to Mahatma Gandhi. His idea of flag was very broad with a representative image of all the communities, areas and languages in India. It was a very broad canvas. More over the Gandhi, by then the undisputed leader of Congress and Indian masses, is not yet ready to accept the idea of national identity in the form of a flag. National flag was not there in Gandhi agenda as he felt that such a flag can be designed after India gained independence. It took almost three years for Pingali Venakiah to convince Gandhi for the need for a flag. As the designer of the flag Pingali Venkaih has the vision of his flag galvanizing Indian masses and he is confident that flag is a good addition to the Vandemataram slogan of early twentieth century.
Finally it was in 1921 Congress committee meet in Vijayawada where Gandhi was finally accepted the idea of flag and gave hardly three hour time for Pingali Venkaiah to come out with a design of flag for his consideration. The visionary of flag Pingali Venkaiah, whose mind is ‘flag occupied’ all through, designed the tri colour with a Lotus in the middle. Since Lotus is believed as the religious symbol and Gandhi has formed an idea of flag himself, as he wrote in the Young India issue dated 13.4.1921, where he mentioned about Lala Hansraj of Jalandhar having spoken to him about Charka as the symbol on the proposed flag. It was Mahatma Gandhi who while approving the idea of having three colours of Red, White and Green as designed by Pingali Venkaiah suggested to the designer to incorporate Charkha in the middle white strip. With the help of the drawing teacher colleague of his college, Pingali Vnekaiah finalized the flag design and formally handed over to the Mahatma. The luminary leaders including Motilal Nehru, Sardar Vallabhai Patel, Babu Rajendra Prasad, C. Rajagopala Chari, Chittaranjan Das, Abul Kalam Azad etc., are all witness to the event. Thus the design of National Flag was formally approved it was left to the next All India Congress session for taking the overall approval and announcement. The tiranga, as imagined by the designer Pingali Venkaiah , has changed the course of struggle with all Indians coming under one flag and stood for the honour of that braving the lathis and bullets of British police.
Thus it is the momentous day for the creation of national identity through the flag though it has undergone some changes subsequently. The original red colour was changed to saffron and the charkha was replaced by the Asoka’s dharma chakra. The conceived colour representation for each religion was abandoned and symbolism is added appealing to all. Despite those modifications the day of creation of original design is worth remembering.
(Author is retired professor and occasional contributor for dailies and magazines on politics and environmental issues. The views expressed are personal opinion of the author. He can be reached at [email protected])