News at Tipitaka Network
The Buddhist Flag
by Rupa BANDUWARDENA, Daily News (Sri Lanka), Wednesday, 4 June 2008
The Buddhist Flag is a unique symbol of religious tradition. It denotes the pride of place given to religion playing a very important role in enhancing the religious significance.
The Buddhist flag has come down the years, not very distant past adding charm and simplicity to our religious heritage. It is of very special significance to Buddhists and it has a special place in Sri Lankan culture. Even the Buddha has pointed out the use of flags in Dhajagga Sutta.
Back to its origin - the story of the Buddhist flag is the outcome of the eminent people who worked with great commitment and devotion.
In the annals of Sri Lankan history during the time Ceylon was under western rule it is a well-known fact that the places of worship fell into decay depicting a general decline in the religion, but continued to serve on account of painstaking efforts of monks and national leaders of the country.
The education too was dominated by the Christian Missionaries due to foreign rule Gradually patriotic heroes like Venerables Hikkaduwe Sri Sumangala, Migettuwaththe Gunananda and Anagarika Dharmapala began their fight to win the religions and cultural rights, to free the long last education system and to restore Buddhist philosophy and the education once more.
They engaged in numerous arguments leading to debates which came to be known as Pancha Maha Vadha (five fold debates). Eloquent and erudite scholars like Ven. Migettuwaththe Gunananda played a leading role in the debate which was given publicity in the American Press.
Colonel Henry Steel Olcott, an intellectual who could grasp the facts, came to Sri-Lanka on 17th May 1880 accompanied by an equally interested Russian lady, Madam Blavetsky and Mary Musaeus Higgins who jointly performed a magnanimous service to Buddhist education with the inauguration of the Buddhist Theosophical Society. Another educationist Clasa Motwani came to continue this mission, and his contribution is gratefully remembered by the present generation.
On 25th May 1880 Colonel Olcott accepted Buddhism creating a cornerstone in our religious history. Every effort was made to declare Wesak Full Moon Poya day a public holiday which was materialised in 1885. His next major contribution was the Buddhist Flag. If not for him, the dream of the Buddhist flag would never have been fulfilled.
His efforts were appreciated and duly recognised by the Buddhist world. The sketching of the Buddhist flag was entrusted to a committee, headed by Ven. Hikkaduwe Sri Sumangala, the head of the Vidyodaya Pirivena.
Col. Henry Olcott was not very happy with the perimeter of the flag. The length was not in proportion to the width for him. Hence the committee had to re-caste it on his advice in keeping with international standards.
It is a pleasure to note the responsible pioneering undertaken by them in the choice of colours of the Buddhist flag mainly based on the emanating glow, Budu Res from the Buddhist body infused to as Savanak Res - six-fold rays encircling the Buddha’s Sheersha forming a halo round the head.
The shades are blue, yellow, white and orange commonly called Neela, Peetha, Lohitha, Odatha and Manjyeshta in Pali language. Accordingly the flag consists of strips of five shades with a combination of all five in the last strip. This re-designed flag on the instructions of Col. Olcotte was hoisted in 1886 on the Wesak Full Moon Poya day of 1886. It is the present Buddhist flag in use and it has not seen any changes over the years.
He worked tirelessly towards it. His sincerity and enthusiasm is reflected in the whole deed bearing good testimony to his genuine efforts in providing us with a Buddhist flag. It remains to this day as a monument of the past.
Today the Buddhist flag adorns religious places symbolising Buddhist ceremonies. The fact that the Buddhist flag has been given pride of place in every religious function is something to be proud of. It is a precious heritage for Sri Lankan Buddhists and it is a venerated household item in every Buddhist abode.
It is being hoisted in every Buddhist house on important Poya days like Vesak. It is hoisted everywhere to mark Buddhist festivals. Temples are being decorated with Buddhist flags at special functions like Pirith, Katina Puja and Daham Pasal ceremonies.
The same is being done in school functions such as Bhakthi Gee, Sil campaigns and stage plays based on Jataka stories. It makes a tremendous impact on our cultural revival today based on peace - an urgent need of the hour.
Memories of heroes like Olcotte and Dharmapala will undoubtedly be treasured for generations to come, for all those who wish to uphold the Buddhist flag and the Buddhist way of life. May the sacred Buddhist flag flutter all over for peace.
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Buddha sāsana.m cira.m ti.t.thatu.