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Monday, April 29, 2019

Rupees Fifty Banknotes: National Flag & Gandhi Stories

Rupees Fifty banknote was first introduced on 16th September 1975. The new note depicted the Parliament Building at New Delhi having a bare Flag-pole, i.e., without the National Flag, on the reverse. Governor S. Jagannathan was the first signatory, followed by K.R. Puri, M. Narsimhan, and I. G. Patel.

The Flag omission was rectified in 1980 during the tenure of Governor             I. G. Patel. The National Flag now appears on the Flag-pole over the Parliament House.  The legend Satyameva Jayate, i.e., ‘truth alone shall prevail’, also came to be incorporated under the Ashoka Pillar emblem for the first time. The watermark continued to be the Lion Capital, Ashoka pillar with spinning wheels.
On 14th March 1997, a new 50 Rs note under the ‘Mahatma Gandhi Series’ was introduced. The National Flag is now bigger in size in its position of honour. The banknotes of this series bear the portrait of Mahatma Gandhi on the obverse with enhanced security features being introduced in phased manner. The watermark has also been changed to depict the Gandhi portrait. Governor Rangarajan was the first signatory of the notes.

 Banknotes issued initially in the ‘Mahatma Gandhi’ series carried the name ‘M. K. Gandhi’ below the portrait of Gandhi.  

The name M. K. Gandhi was subsequently changed to ‘Mahatma Gandhi’ (when Bimal Jalan was the Governor of RBI).
From the year 2005 onward the Mahatma Gandhi series notes have period/date of printing at the bottom of the reverse side.

It may be recalled that in 1996, former Chief Election Commissioner T.N. Sheshan, wanted portrait of Gandhi to be debarred from the Banknotes to curb the use of “Gandhian Method” in elections.
Queries under Right to Information Act, 2005 have since been raised as to why RBI has used the word ‘Mahatma’ since the title was never officially conferred on him. (‘Weird Wallet’: Without Reserve / October-December 2013).
In April 2006, RBI introduced ’Star Series’(*) banknotes in the number panel to avoid the cost involved in reprinting of the same serial number notes.

Symbol ‘₹’ for Rs. was introduced for the first time in 2012; Governor D. Subbarao.

Progressive number panel was introduced in 2016; Governor Raghuram G. Rajan.

 The banknotes in this series came to an end in 2017, Governor Urjit Patel was the last signatory.                                                                                                                                                                                                                             

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Flags in Grief: Flags at Half-Mast, Flag Draped Caskets and Funeral Cortege

Flags in Grief: 
Flags at Half-Mast, Flag draped Caskets & Funeral Cortege.

Flag at Half-Mast or Half-Staff
The origin of the custom of lowering a flag at half-mast’ to indicate mourning is a little unclear. Its observance appears to date back to the sixteenth century, as a custom of the sea, which has spread to the land and became universal. A sailors superstition perhaps, the flag of mourning is flown at half-mast to leave space for death’s imaginary flag to be flown above it.  It is a sign that death has conquered, and that the invisible flag of the death is flying over the lowered colours of the vanquished. The half-staff tradition has developed important meaning over time.

The earliest record we have of the lowering of a flag to signify a death was an occasion in 1612, when the Master of the 'Hearts Ease', William Hall, was murdered by Eskimos while taking part in an expedition in search of the North West Passage. On rejoining her consort, the vessel's flag was flown trailing over the stern as a mark of mourning. On her return to London, the 'Hearts Ease' again flew her flag over the stern and it was recognised as an appropriate gesture of mourning.
World's First stamps showing a Flag at Half-Mast: Burma 1948
     Issued to commemorate the anniversary of the assassination of Burma's leaders      in the fight for independence.
In the United States, the earliest reference to half-staff, or half-mast, occurred in 1799. All Navy vessels were ordered by the Navy Department to fly the American flag at half-mast when George Washington died. 
Photo Courtesy: Oded Deutch, Israel
A further sign of mourning is to attach black ribbons tied as a bow to the top of the flag. If mourning is to be observed in a parade or procession, where a flag is carried, two streamers of black crepe are attached to the spearhead, allowing the streamers to fall naturally. The use of black crepe in such a manner shall only be by an order of the government.

Flag Code of India stipulatesHalf-mast is meant hauling down the Flag to one-half the distance between the top and guy-line and in absence of the guy-line, half of the staff’. To achieve this position the flag should be first hoisted to the peak for an instant and then slowly lowered to the half-mast position, but before lowering the Flag for the day, it shall be raised again to the peak. 

 Here is a selection of Postage Stamps showing Flags at Half-Mast from across the World.

Flag Draped Caskets
At the time of mourning Flags are draped over the coffins of national heroes. The association of flags with funerals began centuries ago when caskets of Royalty was decorated with symbols of authority.
Guarding Nelson’s Body

Lord Nelson (1758 – 1805) English naval commander who died during the Battle of Trafalgar (1805) in the Napoleonic Wars. 
Perhaps, World's First Stamp Depicting Funeral Scene is on Atahualpa: Peru 1918
Funeral Scene, Timisoara Uprising, Romania 1989.
In the post-independence India, the first National State Mourning was observed when Mahatma Gandhi, the father of the nation died on January 30, 1948.

New Delhi 31 the most immediate the most immediate His Highness Nawab Balasinor. Government of India regret Mahatma Gandhi was victim of shooting outrage. Gandhiji expired yesterday evening.  Cremation will take place Saturday 4 P.M. Prime minister has broadcast Saturday 31st be observed as day of fasting and prayer suggest offices should close entirely and flags half mast from sunrise =

Funeral Cortege

“cortege” is the procession when the coffin is transported to or from the ceremony - and this is done “in style”, with a elegant hearse (car or horse-wagon) and some cars with the family and guests following (or the guests might also be walking by foot).

In State funerals in the United States, a Caisson (a two-wheeled ammunition wagon), is used in place of a gun-carriage.

Funéral of Charles de Gaulle; November 1, 1970

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Sister Nivedita: An avant-garde Flag Designer

This paper will illustrate the unique contribution of Sister Nivedita, who not only propagated the importance of the need of a National flag for India - her adopted country, but also introduced a National flag envisioned by her way back in 1904-5. She was an independent thinker far ahead of her time – an avant-garde flag designer. Her contribution was as unique as her own life story.
In the late 19th century, when the national leaders in India became passionately infused with the spirit of reasserting the country’s independence, they felt the need for a distinctive national symbol for India. Sister Nivedita became most proactive when the question of the invention of a national flag for India began to be discussed in the press. Nivedita advanced her theory for the Vajra as the National flag for India in an illustrated article - ‘The Vajra as a National Flag’ published in the ‘Modern Review for November,1909’
She wrote: “Those who contemplate the desirability of such a symbol, however, seem to be unaware that already a great many people have taken up, and are using, the ancient Indian Vajra or Thunderbolt, in this way. When we look at all that a national banner means, we see the utter impossibility of manufacturing or devising such an emblem.”
It was, one of the first articles in printed form on the subject which delved into the question of the invention of a flag for India.

Yes, it was she who first realised and then relentlessly propagated the need for a pan-Indian national flag during the period that Rajani Palme Dutt termed as the first great wave of national resurgence.

Sister Nivedita had a universal mindset. Ole Bull (1810-1880) the famous violinist and composer was caught up in a rising tide of Norwegian romantic nationalism, and acclaimed the idea of Norway as a sovereign state, separate from Sweden—which became a reality in 1905. Bull had played an important role when the pure ‘red-white-blue’ State flag was hoisted on all Norwegian fortresses on June 9th 1905. On the occasion of unveiling of a statue of Ole Bull, it was Sister Nivedita who drafted the speech for Ms. Sara Bull on April 4, 1901, praising the “Colours of Freedom of the Norwegian Flag. 

Women Flag Makers vis-à-vis Flag Inventors
When we see a flag we generally wonder about its design, colour and graphics. Rarely do we think how the design first came about in flag form – who first translated the design onto a piece of cloth.
Surely, the process had to involve very skilled persons adept at needlepoint. Only someone who is very meticulous, can translate a virtual concept into a physical form. Fascinating stories of women flag makers weaving, stitching, embroidering, appliquéing pieces of cloths to turn them into national pride - their national flags, abound flag history. It is no surprise that the adage ‘behind every successful flag design there was a woman’ is so apt. But for Nivedita she was not behind anyone, she was the front-runner.
 The name and fame of most of the women flag makers remained within the ambit of celebrity seamstresses - ‘the first’ – to transfer ‘flag designs’- into real flags. They are not necessarily Flag inventors or designers.
Many of these splendid women flag-makers have been immortalized in postage stamps, banknotes, paintings, statues and on various other myriad objects. Many of them, the awe-inspiring ladies have been promoted as patriotic role models for young generations in their respective countries. 

In India, however, the fact of the matter is Nivedita’s contribution as first flag designer (not just flag maker) was not known amongst vast majority of people. Prof. Suniti Kumar Chatterji in an article published in the Modern Review for June 1931 had mentioned very briefly about Nivedita’s suggestion in which the Thunderbolt and the Lotus were included, to symbolise the spiritual aspirations of India. Prof.Chatterji wrote the article in response to the questionnaire issued by Dr. Pattabhi Sitaramayya, the Convener of the Flag Committee of the Congress on 23 April,1931. It was perhaps, after the release of Pravrajika Atmaprana’s book “Sister Nivedita” in 1961, that the glimpses of Nivedita’s flag first appeared. The late Sankari Prasad Basu, scholar, writer, researcher and critic in a series of articles “Nivedita O Jatiya Andolan Prasongey’ published in instalments in Bengali weekly ‘Desh’ in 1980s, lamented that none of the so-called great historians in India, not even in Publications Division’s booklet “Our Flag” first published in January 1950, cared to acknowledge or give Nivedita her due credit. I felt honoured that Sankari Prasad Basu very kindly mentioned my name in his book “Nivedita Lokmata” (vol 2, page 156) about my initiative in recording Nivedita’s contribution in the World body of Flag Research, USA. Good news is this that off-late there have been several books published on Indian flag which have dedicated chapters on Nivedita’s flag, this includes Publications Division’s “Our National Flag”,1991 penned by my friend the Late Lt. Cdr. KV Singh.  

  I have already mentioned Sister Nivedita played a pivotal role in organising the anti-partition movement of 1905 and plunged into the Swadeshi movement. She devised a distinctive pan-Indian National Flag to rally around. “India appears to be waking up in these days…. The people are feeling their power. I think Curzon has broken the British Empire” - wrote Nivedita on 13 Sept. 1905.

Sister Nivedita conceived the idea of the Vajra flag during a visit to Bodh Gaya her third in 1904, in the company of Jagadish Chandra Bose, Rabindranath Tagore, Jadunath Sarkar, Swami Sankarananda and Mathuranath Sinha. The idea of the national emblem was inspired by the ancient symbol of the Vajra - a symbol of Buddha that implies ‘The Selfless Man’. It was the weapon of Lord Indra. The thunderbolt is the symbol of renunciation and service. According to legend, Vajra was created from the bones of Rishi Dadhichi. It is a symbol of supreme sacrifice. Vajra is also associated with Goddess Durga.
 On 1 December 1904 in a letter written to Miss MacLeod, Nivedita mentioned her preference of “thunderbolt” as our National symbol. In a second letter dated February 5, 1905 she wrote to Miss MacLeod: “We have chosen a design for a National Flag – the Thunderbolt – and have already made one. Unfortunately, I took the Chinese war-flag as my ideal, and made it black on red. This does not appeal to India, so the next is to be yellow on scarlet”.
The final design of the flag adorned the symbol of the Vajra placed in between the words Bandeand Mataram’ in Bengali with ‘108 jyotis or flames’ embroidered along the outer periphery.
The number 108 is considered to be most auspicious for both Hindus and Buddhists. “108” is a perfect three-digit multiple of three, its components adding up to nine, which is the sum of triple threes. Three is Trinity that represents supreme balance in the form of creation, maintenance and destruction or transformation. The traditional japa-malas or prayer-beads have 108 beads that are used to count the repetitions of prayers, chants or devotions. The song Bande-Mataram meaning ‘Hail to the Mother’ was composed in 1876 by Bankim Chandra Chatterjee and incorporated in his novel ‘Ananda Math’ (Abode of Bliss) in 1882.
During the anti-partition movement in Bengal, “Bande Mataram” also spelled as “Vande Mataram” became the ‘war cry’ of national resurgence.
The Vajra flag was embroidered by her pupils.
Nivedita’s Vajra flag was publicly displayed in the Calcutta Congress Exhibition in December 1906.
The Flag is now preserved in the Acharya Bhavan Museum, Kolkata, the erstwhile residence of Acharya Jagadish Chandra Bose. In spite of efforts of the museum administration to maintain the Flag in apple-pie order, the vagaries of climate had taken its toll on the century old silk satin flag.

 In 2014 the original flag was sent to INTACH laboratory for conservation and restoration.
The flag made of pure Indian silk measuring 3’6” x 3’6”, has been restored recently in 2015. It is now back in its place of pride in the Acharya Bhavan Museum of Sir J. C. Bose Trust, Kolkata

Nivedita’s flag and the subsequent other two flags with inscriptions Bande Mataram’ did not find much support and ultimately relegated to history.

The Modern Review for November 1909
The Modern Review for June 1931
Our Flag, Publications Division, January 1950
Sister Nivedita, Pravrajika Atmaprana, 1961
Desh, 30 October 1982.
Nivedita Lokmata. Sankari Prasad Basu, Ananda Publishers, 1987
Our National Flag, Lt. Cdr. KV Singh, Publications Division,1991
The National Flag unfurled through Philately, Sekhar Chakrabarti, Niyogi Books, 2012.
Proceedings of 26th International Congress of Vexillology, Sydney, 2015.
Des Femmes et Des Drapeaux, by Patrice de La Condamine. 2017, (Women and Flags, 27th Int. Congress of Vexillology, London).

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Vexillology: Study of Flags; One of the Newest Pursuits

Vexillology: One of the Newest Pursuits
Scholarly study of all aspects of flag is Vexillology. The term was coined in 1957 by Late    Dr Whitney Smith from the Latin word vexillum for flag. The Flag Institute, UK defines Vexillology as the scientific study of flags and related emblems. It is concerned with research into flags of all kinds, both modern and historical, the creation of a body of practice for flag design and usage, and of a body of theory of flag development.
Since time immemorial man has felt the need of a sign or symbol to distinguish himself, his family, his tribe, his country, and such symbols have taken many differing forms, of which one is the flag. Every country has a National flag. Today, there is no country in the world which does not have a National flag. It is an explicit outward symbolic expression of how a country sees itself.                                                             
Flags became wide spread symbols of national identity from early 19th century.
Before the French Revolution of 1789, it was monarchy and not the common people,
who had a flag. With the advent of ‘Nation-State’ concept and the ensuing growth
of nationalism - flags have become a globalised phenomenon.
Flags are ‘short hand of history’. The relevance of the adage of Harry Truman;
the only thing new in the world is the history you don’t know” is amply established
in the study of flags. A flag is something more than a coloured piece of cloth (bunting)
of which it is made. It incarnate s something spiritual. Intrinsically a flag may be
valueless but extrinsically a national flag is priceless. In most countries, people
feel that the national flag belongs to the citizens and,therefore, they articulate this
by waving it in innumerable social settings which manifest the existence and
glorification of the country.
 Nowadays, it has become a trend to wave the flag colours profusely to cheer their
favourite teams in the Olympics and other international sports events.
Flags are truly inseparable from society. The serious study of flags is one of the
newest pursuits available to those who take an intimate interest in the world
around them;
Study of a flag is A BIT LIKE BIRD WATCHING; is that it involves Spotting, identification,
classification, and some knowledge of backgrounds, type & various other features
and their functions.
IT IS ALSO A BIT LIKE HISTORY; is that it includes some understanding of past events
and how they came about. In fact, story of flags is mostly interwoven with historical events
reflecting our struggles, aspirations and hopes.
IT IS A BIT LIKE GEOGRAPHY too; is that one has to know his way around the world,
his own country, and even obscure places.
A vexillologist collects, preserves, organizes and publicises flag information. For him
the flag study is not just restricted on collecting the real flags only but from a plethora
of other artifacts
and materials, namely, books, archival documents, news-papers, advertisements
and many other conventional/unconventional sources like; postage stamps, medals,
coins & currency notes, match box labels, propaganda/publicity leaflets, cigarette
cards, and so on and so forth. In another word he embraces a rainbow of all
collecting arena.

H:\Flag foreign stamps\South Africa ICV.jpgInternational Congress of Vexillology (ICV)s
are held each two years under the auspices of the International Federation of
Vexillological Associations (FIAV). The ICVs consist mainly of lectures, presentations
and workshops by the leading flag experts who have the opportunity to present
their research and activities to their international peers. The author represented
India in three consecutive ICVs, the only Indian to do so, at Rotterdam (25th ICV, 2013),
Sydney (26th ICV, 2015) and in London (27th ICV, 2017).