S. Nadesan' speech in the Senate, 19 January 1948
Senator S.Nadesan, Dissent, Report of the
Parliamentary National Flag Committee15 February 1951
Sri Lanka Army orders Tamil
homage to lion flag, 1997
Sri Lanka's National
Flag, the Symbol of Inequality and Separation,
The Lion flag - how it
came to be
- Carol Aloysius, Sri Lanka State controlled
Sunday Observer, 10 February 2002
How national is our National Flag? C. V. Vivekananthan, 2003
Reflections on the
national flag of Sri Lanka and State terrorism:Symbolism of
the Sinhala oppression of the Tamils - Professor
"In my view,
this design if adopted far from being a symbol of
national unity will be symbol of our disunity."
Senator Nadesan, Dissent, Parliamentary Select Committee
first House of Representatives of Ceylon (as it was then
known) under the new Soulbury Constitution was elected in
August 1947. The first Prime Minister was D.S.Senanayake who
headed the Sinhala dominated United National Party. In
anticipation of independence which was to be declared on 4
February 1948, a motion was tabled in January 1948 calling
for the adoption of Lion Flag of the last Sinhala King of
Kandy, Sri Wickrama Rajasinghe as the National Flag.
The motion was
moved by Mudaliyar A. L. Sinnelebbe, the Muslim Member
of Parliament for Batticaloa and stated
"This house is
of the opinion that the Royal Standard of King Sri
Wickrama Rajasinghe depicting a yellow lion passant
holding a sword in its right paw on a red background,
which was removed to England after the convention of
1815, be once again adopted as the official flag of free
The Sinhala Lion flag not find acceptance amongst the
Tamil people and
Senator Nadesan moved a motion in the Senate on 19 January
1948 in the following terms -
“That this House is of opinion that the National Flag
of Sir Lanka should be designed so as to be acceptable
to all sections of the people, and to be in keeping with
the ideals of the present age”.
Nonetheless, the Sinhala Lion Flag was used as the
National Flag on Independence Day on 4 February 1948 and on
the occasion of the opening of the first Parliament of
independent Ceylon on February 19th, 1948. Prime Minister
D.S. Senanayake unfurled the Lion Flag at the Octagon
(Pattirippuwa) during the independence celebration held in
Kandy on February 12th, 1948.
Later on 6 March 1948, a Parliamentary Select
Committee was appointed by Prime Minister D.S.Senanayake for
the design of the Flag. The Members of the Committee were
Mr.S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, Sir John Kotelawala, Mr. J.R.
Jayewardene, Mr. T.B. Jayah, Dr. L.A. Rajapakse,
Mr. G.G. Ponnambalam
Senator S. Nadesan. The first three were future
Prime Ministers of Sri Lanka.
The Select Committee submitted its Report on 14 February
1950 and recommended by a majority that the Lion Flag be
kept intact, together with its border and Bo leaves in the
four corners - and to this Lion Flag (and outside it) two
strips, one green and the other yellow be added. Each of
these equal to one seventh the size of the flag were to
represent the two minorities, the Tamils and Muslims.The
National Flag recommended by a majority of the Select
Committee was later presented to Parliament by Prime
Minister D.S. Senanayake and adopted.
The decision to retain the Lion Flag in its entirety and
keep the strips representing the minorities 'outside' its
borders was symbolic of the will of Sinhala majority to
build the newly independent state on the narrow and divisive
foundation of the old Kandyan Sinhala kingdom.
Senator S.Nadesan, an Independent Tamil Senator,
dissented from the majority view. In his dissent dated 15
February 1950, he said:
"I regret that I am unable to agree with the majority
decision of the National Flag Committee. In my view a
national flag apart from giving an honoured place to all
communities, must also be a symbol of national unity.
From the point of view of giving an honoured place
to all communities irrespective of their numerical
strength, I would have preferred a Tricolour of yellow,
red and white or of saffron, red and green.
But as objection was taken to a Tricolour by several
members of the Committee on the ground that the Lion
Emblem will be considerably reduced in size and that it
will not be acceptable to majority community, this
proposal had to be abandoned.
The only line of approach which appeared to promise a
solution acceptable to all the members of the Committee
was a consideration of various modifications of the Lion
Flag and during the last two years the committee has
been addressing itself to this task and I shared the
regret of other members of the Committee when at one
stage it was found even necessary to consider reporting
to the Prime Minister that we were unable to suggest a
solution on account of there being a complete lack of
The meeting of the 13th instant was held for the
purpose of considering the draft report informing the
Prime Minister that we were unable to agree. However, on
the 11th instant I learnt that the Flag question had
been settled through negotiations which had taken place
outside and that it was agreed that two strips of
saffron and green should be added to the Lion Flag in
the proportion of 1:1:5. At the meeting itself,
Mr.Ponnambalam made what he called a last minute appeal
to the members to accept a flag in the proportions
suggested by him, and the other members readily agreed
to the proposal.
I stated to the members of the committee my reasons
for dissenting and it is a matter of sincere regret to
me that I was unable to convince them of the correctness
of my view. However, as it was necessary in a matter of
such importance, particularly when all other members of
the committee had agreed to the design, that I too
should consider the matter carefully, and if possible
agree with the rest of the committee, I asked for
further time to consider in all its aspects and the
committee was good enough to give me further time.
I have since examined the position carefully and I
feel that I cannot subscribe to the design that has been
adopted by the rest of the committee. In my view this
design if adopted far from being a symbol of national
unity will be a symbol of our disunity.
Once the committee agreed that the national flag
should be devised by modifying the Lion Flag, one would
have thought that any strips adopted for the purpose of
satisfying the minorities will be integrated with the
Lion Flag and that these strips will not be an appendage
to the Lion Flag. Anyone looking at the proposed Flag
will see the Lion Flag is preserved in all its integrity
and outside that Flag, two strips are allotted to
represent the minorities.
As the Lion Flag has been used a distinctive flag,
anyone viewing the design that has been agreed to by the
rest of the committee cannot be blamed if he thinks that
the minorities are given a place outside the Lion Flag.
The minorities themselves will feel that they have been
given a subordinate position in the flag. Besides the
yellow border which runs round the Lion Flag effectively
separates the two strips that have been devised to
satisfy the sentiments of the minorities thereby
effectively creating a division in the flag itself - a
division which we are endeavouring, I hope, to eradicate
in our national life. After all a flag is a symbol and
the symbol must at least effectively show the unity and
strength of the nation.
Accordingly I suggested to the committee the minimum
modification which while not disturbing the proportions
of the strips which had been agreed to by the members
will ensure the incorporation of the saffron and green
strips in the Lion Flag, so that the flag may embody the
ideal of national unity which I consider most important
in the conception of a national flag. The suggestion
that I made was that the yellow border which according
to the proposed flag separates the saffron strip from
the red strip should be completely eliminated. In the
result the flag would have been comprised of green,
saffron and red strips in the proportion of 1:1:5 with
the Lion on the red strip with the yellow border
surrounding the entirety of the flag and encompassing
the two strips. This would have meant only the sacrifice
of a yellow border from one side of the Lion Flag to
enable the saffron and green strips to be closely
integrated with the Lion Flag. This I thought was the
barest minimum concession that should have been made to
minority sentiment if one desired a national flag which
would symbolise the ideal of unity.
It is hardly necessary for me to refer to other
countries like Great Britain where national flags have
been designed not by superficially adding a strip to
another flag and outside it, but by making the strips
part and parcel of the flag. In our national life we do
not want to create water tight compartments. Neither do
we desire that one community should be segregated from
another. Why then do we want to segregate the saffron
and green strips which are provided to satisfy minority
sentiments outside the borders of the Lion Flag? In my
view, the suggestion that I have made does not entail
the sacrifice of any vital part of the Lion Flag and
thus cannot offend Sinhalese sentiments. At the same
time it provides a method of evolving a flag which may
be called 'national'."
[Report of the National Flag Committee, Parliamentary
Series (House of Representatives) Fourth Session of the
First Parliament, No.5 - Tabled in the House of
Representatives on 27 February 1951]
How national is our National Flag?
C. V. Vivekananthan
Sunday Times - February 2,
The 'Lion Flag' of the last King of Kandy,
was hauled down when the Kandyan Convention was signed on
March 2, 1815. Though it was buried in the sand of history,
E. W. Perera discovered the banner at the Chelsea Hospital
and made reference to it in his book on 'Sinhalese Banners
J. R. Jayewardene was the first to
proclaim the use of the Lion Flag as the national flag of
Ceylon. Addressing the State Council in September 1945. He
said 'It is the flag that held sway over three portions of
Lanka - Ruhuna, Rajarata and Mayarata. It is a yellow flag
with a lion in the centre'.
JR drafted a motion and
with his machiavellian tactics persuaded Batticaloa MP A.
Sinnalebbe to present it in the House of Representatives on
January 16, 1948. It read: "That this House is of opinion
that the Royal Standard of King Sri Wickrama Raja Sinha
depicting a yellow lion passant holding a sword in its right
paw on a red background, which was removed to England after
the Convention of 1815, should once again be adopted as the
official flag of Free Lanka".
Prime Minister D. S. Senanayake: "It is a well known
fact this flag happens to be the flag of the last King of
Kandy, and we all know that the last King of Kandy was a
Tamil. When we lost our country, when the people chose the
King of England as their Sovereign, this was the flag of the
last Kandyan King who was dethroned, that was pulled down.
Now that England is transferring sovereignty to the people
of this Island, I want England also to replace that flag
along with the sovereignty that they are giving us back. It
is for this main reason that we intend hoisting this flag on
"It was really a surprise to me to
find my good friend, the Muslim Member, trying to show that
we want to impose something on them. All that we want them
to realize is that when Ceylon lost its sovereignty, it lost
its flag, and that when the people are to regain
sovereignty, that flag must be hoisted. During the time of
Sri Wickrama Raja Sinha there were Tamils, Sinhalese and
Muslims living in the Kandyan Provinces and they all lived
as one people. It is true that the low-country lost its
sovereignty long before that: it is true that Jaffna lost
its sovereignty long before that: the Kandyans lost their
sovereignty last. But when the people who graciously give us
back our freedom are the people, who are giving us the flag,
let us have it and not the flag of some other people who
conquered us before them".
National Flag Committee
On February 12, 1948 the Lion Flag that was
hoisted by the Prime Minister in the presence of the Duke of
Gloucester was identical with the one hauled down at the
same spot on March 2, 1815.
On March 6, 1948 the
Prime Minister appointed a committee headed by S. W. R. D.
Bandaranaike and including Sir John Kotelawala, J. R.
Jayewardene, T. B. Jayah, Dr. L. A. Rajapakse, G.
Ponnambalam, and Senator S. Nadesan to advise him on the
question of National Flag.
The committee called for
the views of the public. Their general consensus was that
the Lion Flag should be the National Flag with suitable
modifications made therein.
GG’s compromise formula
The committee had deliberations for about
two years. Yet it could not achieve unanimity. It wanted to
report the deadlock to the Prime Minister. However,
Ponnambalam who came down to 'responsive co-operation' after
his famous 'fifty fifty' demand by joining the Government of
Senanayake in August 1948 as Minister of Industries,
Industrial Research and Fisheries, proposed a compromise
formula which said that two strips of saffron and green
should be adopted to the Lion Flag in the proportion of
1:1:5. All the members except Nadeson accepted the
formula.Thus on February 13, 1950 the committee approved the
Lion Flag incorporating modifications suggested by GG.
In the context of the present political
turmoil in our country, the dissenting Report by Nadesan
becomes an essential reading.
Senator Nadesan never
indulged in communal politics. His views are pregnant with
cogent and valid reasons for the establishment of national
He said in his dissenting report that "a
national flag, apart from giving an honoured place to all
communities in the flag, must be a symbol of national unity.
"In my view, this design if adopted far from being a symbol
of national unity will be symbol of our disunity. Once the
committee agreed that the national flag should be devised by
modifying the Lion Flag, one would have thought that any
strips adopted for the purpose of satisfying the minorities
will be integrated with the Lion Flag and that these strips
will not be an appendage to the Lion Flag. Anyone looking at
the proposed flag will see that the Lion Flag is preserved
in all its integrity and outside that Flag two strips are
allotted to represent the minorities. After all a flag is a
symbol and the symbol must at least effectively show the
unity and strength of the nation".
the elimination of the yellow border which according to the
proposed flag separated the saffron and green strips from
the red strip. Then, the flag would comprise green, saffron
and red strips in the proportion of 1:1:5 with the Lion on
the red strip and 'with the yellow border surrounding the
entirety of the flag and encompassing the two strips within
the yellow border'.
This could be the barest minimum concession that would
have been made to minority sentiment if one desired a
national flag, which would symbolize the ideal of unity.
He referred to other countries where national flags have
been designed not by superficially adding a strip to another
flag outside the flag, but by making the strips part and
parcel of the flag. He believed that his suggestion made no
entailment to sacrifice any of the vital part of the Lion
Flag and could not offend Sinhalese sentiments. It would
only provide a method of evolving a flag, which may be
called 'national' by all the inhabitants of Sri Lanka for
He posed a question in his report: "Why
then do we want to segregate the saffron and green strips,
which are provided to satisfy minority sentiments outside
the borders of the Lion Flag?
A reference to the
National Flag has, for the first time, been made in the
Constitution of 1978. Article 6 states "the National Flag of
the Republic of Sri Lanka shall be the Lion Flag depicted in
the Second Schedule".
The National Flag in the Second Schedule to
the Constitution has four bo-leaves in the four corners of
the red background of the Lion Flag. The four bo-leaves were
not in the Original Design of the Flag, marked Plate XV and
signed by all the members except Nadesan. The majority of
the members of the National Flag Committee had recommended
that the flag upon meticulous examination of the public
views and study by themselves of the various aspects and
issues involved therein. Notwithstanding the acceptance of
the flag by the Committee JR made the change without a word
of general discussion or deliberation at the Constituent
The Lion Flag has acquired historical
recognition as a national emblem. It is nothing but right
that every one irrespective of ethnic feeling should feel
proud of it. Bo-leaves indicate that Sri Lanka is a Buddhist
country. No reasonable person would object to such a
perception. But JR who frequently spoke of embracing the
minority, felt reticent to correct the Flag as suggested by
Senator Nadesan in his dissenting report. As in the manner
he brought the bo-leaves into the Flag he could have
integrated the saffron and green strips with the lion. JR
could have brought about a national unity by removing the
yellow strip that lays between the Lion, which indicates the
Sinhalese and the saffron and green strips, indicating the
minorities in the Flag. He did not do it.
unfortunate that the leaders of the majority fail to
appreciate that when the Lion Flag was used as a distinctive
flag, anyone looking at it would think that the minorities
are given a place outside the Lion Flag and they have been
given a subordinate position in the flag. The yellow border
that runs round the Lion Flag effectively separates the two
strips denoting to satisfy the sentiments of the minorities.
Separation of it promotes an effective division in the
National Flag itself. It is the division that all right
thinking people of this country want to eradicate from our
Will there ever be enough courage and
wisdom among the leaders of the majority to rectify the
National Flag on the lines of thinking of Senator Nadesan?
Will they make Sri Lanka an Asian Switzerland?
The Lion flag - how
it came to be
Sri Lanka State controlled Sunday Observer, 10 February 2002
Sri Lanka's national
flag is steeped in history and tradition. From its hoary
past to the present day, the events linked with this
national symbol of freedom and independence are so packed
with drama, suspense, and political intrigue that it could
easily go down in history as one of the most unique flags in
Dutugemunu’s flag which he carried after his
victory over his enemies
the flag of the Kandyan Kings in the 18th
century, made according to the design of the
original flag found in England.
Much of these
fascinating and exciting events has however been forgotten
in the mists of time, and many of our younger generation are
unaware of the significance and importance of their National
Many may not know that the birth of the Sinhala race began
with the planting of the Lion flag for the first time in
Lankan history. Here is how H.M. Herath describes this epoch
making event in a recently published book on the National
flag and National anthem of Sri Lanka.
He writes: "In about 486 BC, Prince Vijaya, the eldest son
of Sinha Bahu, King of Sinhapura landed at Tammana with
seven hundred companions from his father's kingdom in North
India. So delighted was he, that he took a handful of sand
and called it the land of the copper coloured sand, and
planted the flag they were carrying (a flag with a lion
symbol). He then kissed the sand and called it "Thambani."
So began the history of Sri Lanka, the birth of the Sinhala
If history had not yet begun to be written in Sri Lanka, how
do we know about this event? Replies the author, "The
inscription of this great and grand event on record is among
the archaeological remains at the Sanchi stupa, an ancient
Buddhist monument built during the reign of Emperor Asoka in
the second century BC in the native state of Bhopal in
Since its arrival in Sri Lanka, the Lion flag has played a
significant role in the political history of the country. To
our monarchs of yesteryear it became a symbol of freedom and
Hope. The warrior King Dutugemunu, used the heraldic lion
carrying a sword on his right forepaw with two other
symbols, the Sun and the Moon on his banner.
An illustration in the frescoes of the rock temple at
Dambulla which traces the beginning of the Lion flag of Sri
Lanka shows the victorious king proudly carrying his royal
banner depicting the Lion symbol after he freed his people
from foreign invaders.
As Herath points out, the lion symbol was used by the Lankan
monarchs from the time of King Vijaya. This has been
recorded in both the Mahavamsa and the Chulavamsa. The last
king to use the flag as a symbol of national freedom was
King Sri Vikrama Rajasinghe who was the last king of Sri
Lanka, and whose rule ended in 1815.
Commenting on the significance of the emblems on the Royal
Standard of Sri Vikrama Rajasinghe, Herath writes: "The
heraldic Lion standing holding a sword upright by its right
paw stands for Justice and Righteousness.
"Bordering this is a rectangular line with four Bo leaves at
the four corners, symbolising Metta, Karuna, Muditha,
Upeksha, called the 'Four Brahma-Viharana in Buddhist
"The yellow border represents the Maha Singha who played an
important role in guiding kings in ancient times and
directed and participated in the emancipation of the country
as recorded in the national chronicles." He adds, "All these
emblems, on a brilliant background of crimson indicate
immortality, and remained the Royal Standard of King Sri
Vikrama Rajasinghe, the last king of Kandy."
The ceremony in which the flag was replaced by the British
Union Jack was full of drama and colour. Describing it
Herath writes: "The Kandyan Convention was proclaimed at
3.30 p.m. on March 2, 1815, in the Audience hall, then
called the Magul Maduva of the Palace of Kandy.
This was signed by governor Robert Brownrigg on behalf of
His Royal Highness, the Prince Regent, on the one hand, and
the Adigars, Dissavas and other principal chiefs of the
Kandyan Province. ...Outside, drums were beating all around
the hall. British troops guarded all the entrances to it and
also patrolled the streets. The treaty was next read aloud
to the chiefs in Sinhala and both parties agreed to its
Then the Lion flag was hauled down and the Union Jack took
its place amidst salvoes of artillery and His Majesty King
George III was acclaimed King of Ceylon."
But the act of hoisting the British flag in place of the
Lion flag was premature, a violation of the law, as it was
done before the last Kandyan chieftains had signed the
treaty, and prompted retaliation from the Maha Sangha, a who
were present on the occasion.
Herath re-enacts details of that suspenseful and dramatic
epoch making event." " From amidst the spectators who
watched this drama, stepped out a Buddhist monk, the Ven.
Wariyapola Sumangala of the Asgiri fraternity. Fortified
with confidence, fortitude, self-respect and patriotism he
approached the English general to ask, "who gave you
permission to hoist your flag here?
You have no right to do so - Yet." He then proceeded to pull
down the Union Jack, trampled it and hoisted the Lion flag
in its place. Only after chief Adigar Ehelepola had signed
the Convention with much reluctance on March 10 that the
Union Jack was hoisted."
Not many may know that the Royal standard of the last king
of Lanka languished in a military hospital in London after
the British took control of the Kandyan Kingdom.
According to Herath, it was removed to England by the
British Raj and kept in the Royal Military Hospital Chelsea
in London until a E. W. Perera, a staunch patriot also known
as the Lion of Kotte, discovered it.
The first time the Lion flag became a centre piece of
attraction and the public became aware of the actual design
of the flag following the fall of the Kandyan Kingdom was
when the Dinamina issued a special edition of the paper on
March 2, 1915 to mark the centenary of the end of Sinhala
independence, with the intention of re-kindling the desire
of the people to win back the freedom they had lost to the
British, Herath states. He adds, "On the front page were
portraits of the last King and Queen of Kandy surmounted by
the royal insignia Crown and the Lion flag in colour.
This was the first time since the fall of the Kandyan
Kingdom that the people became aware of the actual pattern
of their national flag."
Although the Ceylon Independence Act 1947 passed by the
parliament of Britain stated that the flag of the British
empire, the Union jack would continue to take precedence
over the Lion flag, the national leaders of the time were
openly opposed to such a decision.
Still, barely nineteen days prior to the dawn of
Independence Day, Lanka's first Prime Minister Mr. D. S.
Senanayake's cabinet had yet not taken a decision with
regard to hoisting the National Flag on the first
independence celebrations of February 4, 1948.
It was left to Mudaliyar A. L. Sinnelebbe, the Member of
Parliament for Batticaloa to move a motion in parliament
stating that, "This house is of the opinion that the Royal
Standard of King Sri Wickrama Rajasinghe depicting a yellow
lion passant holding a sword in its right paw on a red
background, which was removed to England after the
convention of 1815, be once again adopted as the official
flag of free Lanka."
The flag was hoisted on that historic occasion amidst the
joyous sound of temple bells, crackers and beating of tom
toms by Lanka's first Prime Minister, and it occupied a
pride of place when it replaced the Union jack at the
Independence Square, Colombo on the occasion of the first
session of Lanka's independent parliament which was opened
by the Duke of Gloucester.
On March 6, the same year the Prime Minister appointed a
seven member National flag Committee headed by the leader of
the House Mr. S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike to advise him on the
question of the National flag of Ceylon. After several
sittings spread over two years, the committee gave its final
recommendations on February 13, 1950.
"The Lion in gold on a crimson background has been retained.
Four Bo leaves in gold have replaced the pinnacles at the
four corners of the crimson background. Two vertical stripes
of equal size in saffron and green represent the minority
communities; the Muslims and the Tamils. The stripes in
relation to the entire flag are in proportion 1:1:5.
A gold border runs around the flag." A detailed description
of the emblems on the flag and their significance concludes
this fascinating account of Lanka's national flag, followed
by a short description of the origin and significance of the
national anthem written by Ananda Samarakoon.