The verge of the 60th independence celebrations brings an ideal occasion to pay tribute to those who gave us the national flag that we flaunt so proudly now.
The story of E.W. Perera, the ‘Lion of Kotte’, tracing the national flag of Lanka to the Chelsea Royal Military Hospital in London is well known. The flag was taken by British at the collapse of the Kandyan Kingdom in 1815 February. Controversy remains whether it was the national flag or the flag of the Kandyan kings. A proto type of the lion flag appears in a mural in Dambulla caves, depicted as held by the troops of king Dutugemunu in 2nd Century BC, but the paintings were made during the Kandyan period and it is also possible that the painter transposed a contemporary symbol to the past. Still that does not negate the fact that lion had been used to symbolize the nation in ancient times, as seen clearly from the ruins of, among other places, Yapahuva.
Photos: Evolution of the National flag: First Row: ‘Lion Flag’ found in Dambulla murals and original ‘Lion Flag’ of the Kandyan kingdom; Second Row: Flag of Ceylon from 1875-1948 and Flag from 1948-50; Third Row: Flag 1950-72 and modern version we use since 1972
It is unfortunate that the contribution made by another patriot in not only finding but establishing the lion flag has gone unnoticed. D. R. Wijewardene, the press baron, grandfarther of opposition leader Ranil Wickramasinghe, not only encouraged E.W. Perera in this task, but also provided much needed financial support.
Original Lion flag became a centre piece of attraction and the public became aware of the actual design after the fall of the Kandyan Kingdom was when the Dinamina, leading local language newspaper of the day published by D. R. Wijewardene’s Lake House, issued a special edition of the paper on March 2, 1915 to mark the centenary of the end of independence, with the intention of re-kindling the desire of the people to win back the freedom they had lost to the British. 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.
Photos: Men behind the National Flag saga: E. W. Perera, D. S. Senanayake and D. R. Wijewardene
In the Independence ceremony in 1948, held at the land later known to be the ‘Independence Square’ Rt Hon. D. S. Senanayake, first Prime Minister of independent Lanka, hoisted the original lion flag while the girls from Musaeus College sang “Sri Lanka Matha, Paala yasa Mahima” – the national anthem of the day. Later, “Namo Namo Matha” – popular gramophone song then, written by Ananda Samarakoon replaced it.
It was Mudaliyar A. L. Sinnelebbe, the Member of Parliament for Batticaloa moved the 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.” , just nineteen days prior to the historic occasion.
On March 6, 1948, Prime Minister D. S. Senanayake 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 independent Ceylon. After two years and several controversies, the committee gave its final recommendations on February 13, 1950. 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.
Photo: Opposition leader with the National Flag, his grandfather has been instrumental in finding and popularising
Lion Flag today stands as a symbol of national unity. It represents all communities in Sri Lanka.