The Flag of India: History, Meaning, and Symbolism

The flag of India
© Tatohra/Shutterstock.com

Written by Jennifer Gaeng

Updated: March 9, 2023

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When displayed, the national flag of India is a source of great pride for the entire country. It is a “flag not only of freedom for ourselves but a symbol of freedom to all the people,” as the late Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru put it. The Indian flag, also known as the “tricolor,” is a rectangular banner in blue, white, and green, with a blue Ashoka Chakra (24-spoked wheel) in the middle. It was officially approved as the flag of India on August 15, 1947.  The meaning, symbolism, and historical context of this flag are explored here.

The Flag of India History

The flag of India

The national flag of India is a tricolor flag in orange, white, and green horizontal stripes with a spoked wheel in the center.

©MriMan/Shutterstock.com

Summary

The current flag of India was decided upon at the annual conference of the All-India Congress in August 1931. It is a tricolor flag with an arrangement of stripes, as well as a depiction of a spinning wheel. However, it wasn’t until July 22, 1947 that the Indian flag was formally hoisted for the first time. The flag of independent India was changed in August 1947 to feature a blue chakra designated as the Dharma Chakra instead of a spinning wheel, while the core colors remained the same.

Detailed History

1921 – 1923

Mohandas K. Gandhi spent decades leading the All-India Congress in an effort to bring together India’s disparate population when it was ruled by the British. As with nationalist movements in other nations, the movement quickly realized it needed a distinctive emblem to represent its goals. Gandhi was given a flag design that incorporated both the Hindu and Muslim sacred colors by a university teacher named Pingali (or Pinglay) Venkayya in 1921. To symbolize Gandhi’s effort to encourage Indians to produce their own clothes from natural fibers, Lala Hans Raj Sondhi suggested including a spinning wheel in the center of the horizontally divided flag.

However, Gandhi modified the flag by inserting a white line down the middle symbolizing the diversity of India’s religious communities. The white line also provided a clearer backdrop for the spinning wheel. Thousands of people carried the flag in peaceful demonstrations against British authority in Nagpur in May 1923. These demonstrations lead to the detention of hundreds. The Congress flag’s significance as an emblem of Indian nationalism was formally acknowledged at the party’s yearly conference that year, which took place in August. Additionally, the existing stripe arrangement and the substitution of deep saffron for red were both approved.

To remove any religious connotations from the initial proposal, the saffron, white, and green stripes were given new meanings. It was stated that they represented bravery and selflessness on one side, harmony and honesty on the other, and faith and honor on the third. Subhas Chandra Bose, who had an army assisted by the Japanese, used this flag (without the spinning wheel) in occupied territory.

1947

Despite the fact that Pakistan, which was founded by Muslims, was granted independence after the war, Britain agreed to consider granting India its freedom. The first official display of India’s flag took place on July 22, 1947. The saffron, white, and green stripes are the same as before. However, the spinning wheel has been replaced by a blue chakra called the Dharma Chakra (“Wheel of the Law”). During the first real attempt to unite all of India under a single administration, the Dharma Chakra, which is linked with Emperor Ashoka in the third century BCE, emerged on pillars erected throughout the Mauryan kingdom. India is still using the flag from 1947, however, modifications have been made for use on ships with Indian registration.

The Flag of India – Design And Colors

The flag of India

The flag of India has a white band in the center with a blue chakra or wheel with 24 spokes at its center.

©Roland Magnusson/Shutterstock.com

The Indian flag features three parallel horizontal stripes. There is a green stripe at the bottom, a white one in the middle, and saffron at the top. The white band has a blue chakra with 24 spokes at its center (wheel). Two to three is the ratio of the flag’s width to its length.

The Flag of India Symbolism

India’s saffron, white, and green stripes symbolize its principles. They represent courage, sacrifice, peace, truth, faith, and chivalry. Gandhi suggested a flag to the Indian National Congress in 1921. Pingali Venkayya designed the flag. Gandhi’s goal of making Indians self-reliant by creating their own clothing was symbolized by a traditional spinning wheel with a red stripe for Hindus and a green stripe for Muslims. The pattern was then changed to replace red with saffron. It also incorporates a white stripe in the center for other religious communities (and symbolizes harmony between them). The pattern also creates a background for the spinning wheel. The three bands were later renamed courage and sacrifice, peace and truth, and faith and chivalry to minimize sectarian connections with the color scheme.

The specially created Constituent Assembly determined that all parties and communities must embrace the Indian flag a few days before independence on 15 August 1947. The tricolor maintained saffron, white, and green in a modified Swaraj flag. The Ashoka Chakra—the eternal wheel of law—replaced the charkha.

The philosopher Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, India’s first Vice President, and second President, explained the flag’s meaning:

Saffron symbolizes renunciation or indifference. Our leaders must put effort before money. The light in the center is truth. The green symbolizes our connection to the dirt and plant life, which sustains all life. The dharma wheel is the “Ashoka Chakra” at the center of the white. Truth, dharma, and virtue should guide those under this flag. Again, the wheel indicates mobility. Stasis kills. Life is movement. India must embrace change. The wheel symbolizes calm transformation.

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About the Author

Jennifer Gaeng is a writer at A-Z-Animals focused on animals, lakes, and fishing. With over 15 years of collective experience in writing and researching, Jennifer has honed her skills in various niches, including nature, animals, family care, and self-care. Hailing from Missouri, Jennifer finds inspiration in spending quality time with her loved ones. Her creative spirit extends beyond her writing endeavors, as she finds joy in the art of drawing and immersing herself in the beauty of nature.

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