|Sunday, 30 October 2005|
How the lion flag evolved
Continuing our series on flags, today we tell you more about flags of different castes and some of the different sizes and shapes of flags.
The flag of the Nawandanno was known as the Hanuman flag and consisted of two different designs.
One shows Vishwakarma (the architect of the universe) throned atop the Himalaya with a sceptre (symbol of power) and a book of arts and crafts in each hand.
Hanuman, the lord of the monkeys, has in his hand a magic shrub. Tiny bells are tied to his right leg and tail. The sun is seen on top of the flag while blacksmiths at work appear at the bottom. Hanuman holds pride of place in the other flag. He is in fine garments with gold chains, bells and bracelets and has on his hand the magic shrub.
He faces the Vishwakarma who is holding the sceptre. The sun and the moon are also depicted here. It is believed that the Durawa caste also had their own flag known as the Adealam flag.
However, its appearance is unknown as no specimens of the flag had ever been discovered. The many flags used those days were mainly divided into two main sections - Daja and Pataka - depending on their size and shape.
Those that hung from an angular point to the flag-pole were known as Daja (pennon/flag) while those that stretched along the pole were known as Pataka (banner). The flagpoles were usually made of wood like bamboo, kele, sapu and khomba and was twice as long as the length of the standard.
The different sizes again divided flags into eight sections - Jaya, Vijaya, Bhima, Chapala, Vaijayanthika, Dirgha, Visala and Lola. Jaya was five cubits long and one cubit wide; each flag that followed was bigger by a cubit in length and a foot in breadth than its predecessor. The colours of the above flags were also different; red, white, pink, yellow, multi-coloured, green, purple and black respectively.
Flags and banners were carried during religious and cultural pageants of ancient Sri Lanka. These events were patronised by the kings and saw people from different parts of the country gathering under their respective banners.
The lion being identified as the national symbol of Sri Lanka dates to 544BC, to the arrival of Prince Vijaya from India. It is said that on landing, he kissed the sand, called it 'thambapanni' and planted a flag depicting a lion they had with them, on the ground. This landing, complete with the prince hoisting the lion flag, is shown on a stone carving in Sanchi, India.
There is evidence that King Dutugemunu continued to use the lion flag as the royal standard and that the practice was carried on until the Sri Lankan Kingdom fell to the British during King Sri Wickrama Rajasinghe's regime, in 1815. Ola manuscripts discovered from the Malwatte Vihara, Kandy state that this king used four flags; three of them depicted the lion while the other was the Davunda flag which he used during wars.
Governing of foreign forces
These national treasures started gradually disappearing with the governing of foreign forces. However, the latter part of the British era saw a revival in archaeology and most ancient Sri Lankan flags and banners, which otherwise would have disappeared altogether, were restored.
Former Archaeological Commissioner H.C.P. Bell was the first to draw attention to the Sinhala flags and banners and some of them were reproduced in his 'Report on the Kegalle District'. After Sri Lanka came under British rule, Britain's Union Jack was used as the island's national flag until 1948 when the country regained independence.
A lion flag resembling that of Sri Wickrama Rajasinghe was hoisted on this occasion by the country's first Prime Minister D.S. Senanayake. The national flag as we know it today was accepted in the 1978 Constitution of Sri Lanka.
Facts: Ancient Flags of Sri Lanka by T.M.G.S. Silva
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