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 Post subject: Story of the Lion Flag
 Post Posted: Sun Feb 14, 2010 9:48 pm 
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Story of the Lion Flag

by Walter Wijenayake
@ SO / 04 Feb 2010


It has mentioned in our chronicles, the Mahavamsa and the Chulawamsa, that the flag with the symbol of the lion was invariably used by the monarchy from the reign of King Vijaya, who was the first and foremost Sinhala king of this small, beautiful island. This nation's flag was thus used up to the fall of the Kandyan kingdom, during the reign of King Sri Wickrama Rajasinghe, on March 02, 1815.

King Dutugemunu when marching to war with foreign invaders, used the heraldic lion carrying a sword in the right paw with two additional symbols of sun and the moon. When he was at war, he planted this particular flag in the battlefield, as King Vijaya did when he landed at Tammanna. He planted the flag he was carrying with the lion symbol, on the soil of Sri Lanka.

The king of Kotte, Parakrama Bahu IV, is also said to have used the same flag. The paintings on the rock temple at Dambulla show the victorious King Dutugemunu proudly carrying his royal banner depicting the lion symbol, after he freed his people and the land from the enemies.

Sri Wickrama Rajasinghe, the last King of Kandy, had four principal flags. Out of these, three flags depicted the lion, the fourth flag represented a drum, knife, axe, bow and an arrow. Two lion flags of the king were captured by Captain Pollock near Hanwella, on September 13, 1803, when king Sri Wickrama Rajasinghe abandoned his flag and retreated to the Kandyan hills.

These flags were taken to Whitehall Church in London and later deposited at the Chelsea War Hospital. When the British Governor, Robert Brownrigg, led a war against the king of Kandy in 1815, king Sri Wickrama Rajasinghe removed his royal flag, the throne footstool and the royal seal to safety. However, they were recovered on February 25, 1815 by the British.

When E. W. Perera and D. R. Wijewardena studied in England in 1908 they interested themselves in obtaining a coloured photograph of this flag and included it in a book on 'Sinhalese banners and standards' complied by E. W. Perera. It was then preserved for posterity.

However, after their studies in London they brought a duplicate of the Lion Flag to the country. Further it was exhibited for the people to make them aware of the importance of a national flag in an era when Sri Lanka was a British colony, to promote a nationalist fervour among the masses.

The flag was a symbol of our nationality. Southwood and Company were commissioned to reproduce an exact copy of the flag in colour, and as dawn broke on March 02, 1815, the journal 'Dinamina' hit the streets with a front cover exhibiting the coloured Lion Flag.

J. R. Jayawardene (later President), in 1945 made a statement in Parliament about the importance and necessity of hoisting our national flag at state functions. Prime Minister D. S. Senanayake, S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike and J. R. Jayawardena, were leading politicians attempting to revive the flag issue. On July 16, 1948, MP for Batticaloa, A. Sinnalebbe, rose in Parliament and explained the reason the Lion Flag should be accepted as the national flag. A. E. Goonesinghe seconded the proposal, but the proposition ran into trouble with MP for Kankasanturai S. J. V. Chellvanayagam and MP for Vadukodai K. Canagaratnam protesting and awaiting for it to be revised.

Unperturbed by the turbulence caused by this flag issue in Parliament, Prime Minister D. S. Senanayake spoke with much emphasis, explaining that the Lion Flag was not only a Sinhalese flag - but also the royal flag of our last king of Kandy, who was a Nayakkar king, in whose era Tamil, Sinhalese and Muslims lived as one race in Kandy, where unlike in the other parts of Sri Lanka, independence was lost last of all. He therefore called for the acceptance of the flag.

On January 27, 1948 a committee was appointed to review and advise the Prime Minister on the issue of the national flag. Those invited to serve on the committee were S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike, John Lionel Kotelawela, J. R. Jayawardena, T. B. Jayah, Lalitha Rajapaksa, G. G. Ponnambalam and Senator S. Nadesan.

With the dawn of our independence on February 04, 1948, Prime Minister D. S. Senanayake, Leader of the House S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike and Finance Minister J. R. Jayawardena, were insistent that the national flag be hoisted. They were aware of protests and attempts of sabotage and to avoid these problems they issued a stern warning, prohibiting any other communal flag being hoisted. If any person felt it improper to hoist the national flag they were permitted to raise the Union Jack. All state buildings flew both the national flag with the Union jack alongside each other. However, it is sad to state that in the North and East the national flag was ignored. That was how our communal politicians played their role, beginning a new era.

The National Flag Committee met in 1948, 1949 and 1950, eleven times with S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike spearheading it, and finally decided to hand over the decision on February 1950. Everybody, except the Minister for the North B. Nadesan, approved and signed the agreement.

In 1951 this committee report was forwarded to Parliament for debate, where S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike and J. R. Jayawardena withstood the opposition barrage bravely.

This debate illustrated the oratorical and debating powers of S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike, when he was pitted against opposition MP Sunderalingam. In the latter hours of the night of March 02, 1951, the committee report was passed by 51 votes for and 21 against. Eight abstained. From February 1952 onwards the Union Jack no longer dominated our flagstaff.

The flag represented the lion in yellow, holding a sword in its right paw, against a red background, with a yellow border right round and four stylized Bo-leaves emanating from its four corners. On the left side of the flag appears two vertical stripes - green and saffron. It is interesting to note that no explanation was given in the report to describe the colours and the symbol depicted in the flag. The meaning of the two stripes in the flag is only gathered from the dissent note of S. Nadesan, which implies that the green stripe represents the Muslims and saffron the Tamils.

The national flag was re-examined in 1971-1972 and on May 22, 1972, the flag for the first Republic of Sri Lanka had no change except that the Bo-leaves at the four corners of the national flag stood out more prominently than in the national flag designed in 1951.

It is important to note that for the first time in this country, under the second Republican Constitution of 1978, the national flag was incorporated in the constitution as article six, in the second schedule.

However, the Lion Flag of the Sinhalese kings of Sri Lanka, with few modifications down the ages, has become the national flag of this country.

Our national flag is a part of the constitution of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, promulgated on September 07, 1978. It should be displayed -


(a) On days of national importance, such as the National Day and on such other days as are prescribed by the government.

(b) At all state functions. Display out of doors.

(c) Whenever the national flag is flown, it should occupy the position of honour and be distinctly placed.

(d) On the occasion of a visit of a foreign Head of State/Government when his/her national flag is displayed, the Sri Lankan national flag also should be displayed.

(e) The national flag should always be hoisted slowly and ceremoniously.

(f) The national flag should be flown with the two vertical stripes next to the flag-pole.

(g) It should be given pride of place. No other flag should be placed over it. If there are flags of other nations, they should be flown at the same level and to the left of the national flag of Sri Lanka, with all the flag masts being of the same height. Flags should be of approximately equal size but generally not larger than the national flag. International usage forbids the display of the flag of one nation above that of another nation in time of peace.

(h) The flag may be flown on buildings - at night also, but only on very special occasions. On all such occasions, the flag should be always flood-lit while it remains hoisted.

(i) Religious flags should be splayed at the same level.

(j) When a number of flags of localities, of pennants of societies, schools and club flags etc., are grouped and displayed from staffs with the national flag, the national flag should be at the centre and at the highest point in the group.

(k) When the flags of provinces, pennants of schools, etc., are flown on the same halyard with the national flag, the latter should be at the peak.

(l) When flags are flown from adjacent staffs, the national flag should be hoisted first and lowered last.

(m) When the national flag is displayed from a staff projecting from a window sill, balcony or front of a building, the flag should be placed at the peak of the staff, unless the flag is at half-mast. The staff should be at an angle of 45 degrees and not horizontal.

(n) When the national flag is displayed over the middle of a street, it should be flown horizontally along its length with the lion upright.

(o) On days of national mourning, the national flag should be flown at half mast, should be first hoisted to the peak for an instant, then lowered to the half-mast position. But before lowering the national flag for the day, it should be raised again to the peak.

(p) When the national flag is flown, it should occupy the same position on all days, including Sundays and holidays, from sun-rise to sun-set, irrespective of weather conditions.

(q) When the national flag is displayed on a speaker's platform, it shall be flown on a staff on the speaker's right as he faces the audience or flat against the wall above and behind the speaker.


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