Sri Lanka’s national flag, part of constitution
King Vijaya brought with him a flag from India with a symbol of a lion on it. Since then it has been used extensively by successive rulers. king Dutugemunu carried with him a banner which portrayed a lion carrying a sword in its right forepaw along with two other symbols, the sun and the moon.
This particular banner was used until the reign of the last king of the Kandyan Kingdom, Sri Wickrama Rajasinghe, who was deposed with the signing of the Kandyan Convention on March 02, 1815, proclaiming King George III as the King of Sri Lanka, then called Ceylon, and replacing the Lion Flag with the Union Jack as the national flag of the country. It was taken to a church in England and later deposited at the Chelsea War Hospital.
When the interest in the designing of a national flag for the country was born, the then Commissioner of the Archaeological Department, A.C. Bell, the Director of the Museum, Dr. Joseph Piersen, the State Councillor, E. W. Perera, the founder of the Lake House Group of Newspapers D. R. Wjewardena and Sir D. B. Jayathilleke had been the prime movers to find out the whereabouts of the national flag.
After their studies in London, E. W. Perera and D. R. Wijewardena could discover three flags belonging to Sri Lanka at the Chelsea War Hospital, out of which one was the Royal Lion Flag, which was used by our last king. They were so satisfied with the discovery that they brought a coloured photograph of it to Sri Lanka and exhibited it to make the people aware of the importance of a national flag. Further, it was published in the Sinhala journal Dinamina on March 02, 1945.
The Member of Parliament for Batticaloa, A. Sinnalebbe, suggested in Parliament on January 16, 1948 that the Lion Flag should be accepted as the national flag. This proposal was seconded by A. E. Gonesinghe. However, this proposition ran into trouble with M.P. for Kankasanturai S. J. V. Cholvnayagam and M.P. for Vadukkodai K. Kanagaratnam, who protested that it be revised.
All these caused Prime Minister D. S. Senanayake to appoint a committee of seven members headed by S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike to make recommendations on the national flag, on January 27, 1948. The other members were, G. G. Ponnambalam, T. B. Jayah, J. L. Kotelawela (later Sir John), Dr. L. A. Rajapakse (later Sir Lalitha), Senator S. A. Nadesan and J. R. Jayewardena.
In accordance with the report of this committee, two new stripes, in front of the lion with the sword, were added in saffron and green, to represent the Tamils and Moors while retaining everything else which appeared in the original flag.
With the dawn of independence on February 04, 1948, the Prime Minister D. S. Senanayake, the Leader of the House S. W. R.D. Bandaranaike and Finance Minister J. R. Jayewardena insisted that the national flag be hoisted on this particular day. They were aware of the protests and attempts to sabotage and to avoid these problems they issued a stern warning, prohibiting any communal flags 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 the East the national flag was ignored. That was how our politicians played their role, beginning a new era.
National Flag Committee met in 1948, 1949 and 1950, eleven times with S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike spearheading it and finally handed over the decision in February 1950. Every member except S.A. Nadesan signed the agreement. It was passed in Parliament on March 02, 1951 by 51 votes for and 21 against, eight abstained. The Union Jack no longer dominated our flagstaff since February 1952.
This flag was re-examined 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 flag stood out more prominently than in the national flag designed in 1951.
The national flag was incorporated into the constitution as article 6, in the second schedule, under the Second Republican Constitution of 1978.
Our national flag is a part of the constitution of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, promulgated on September 07, 1978. However, the Lion Flag of the Sinhala kings of Sri Lanka, with few modifications down the ages, has become the national flag of this country.
by Walter Wijenayaka