Opinion
Who designed the Buddhist Flag?

There appears to be a controversy over as to who designed the Buddhist Flag.

The Buddhist revivalist movement was first headed by Ven. Weliwita Saranankara Thera, who produced scholar monks to spread Buddhist learning throughout the country. However, the arrival of the British in 1796, negated the process. The British set about undermining Buddhism by getting Christian missionaries to take over the educational system. Education and employment opportunities were given as rewards to new converts. The situation at the time was such that a visiting French journalist has gone on record as having stated that the Sangha did not have the vitality for saving Buddhism. J. Barthelmy Sainte-Hilaire, who said so, was to be proved wrong.

In the latter part of the 19th century, Buddhist revivalism came to the fore with Scholar Monks such as Ven. Hikkaduwe Sri Sumangala Thera, Ven. Yatramulle Sri Dharmarama Thera and Ven. Waskaduwe Sri Subhuthi Thera, influencing the process. Anagarika Dharmapala and Valisinghe Harischandra too made a great impact on the movement. The debates at Baddegama and Gampola had far reaching effects whilst the Panadura Debate in 1873 at which Ven. Migettuwatte Sri Gunananda Thera the erudite speaker, backed by Ven. Hikkaduwe Sri Sumangala Thera, won the day for the Buddhists, was crucial. It was this debate that brought Henry Steele Olcott, a retired American Army Colonel to Sri Lanka in May 1880.

Olcott embraced Buddhism and joined the Buddhist revivalist movement and pioneered Buddhist education. Ananda, Nalanda, Mahinda and Dharmaraja stand as monuments to his pioneering efforts.

In 1884, the Buddhists succeeded in getting the British rulers to declare Vesak Poya Day as a Public Holiday as from May 1885. At this stage the Buddhists established the ‘Colombo Committee’, the members of which were: Ven Hikkaduwe Sri Sumangala Thera (Chairman), Ven. Migettuwatte Gunananda Thera, Don Carolis Hewavitharana (father of Anangarika Dharmapala), Andiris Perera Dharmagunawardhana (maternal grandfather of Anagarika Dharmapala, William de Abrew, Charles A. de Silva, Peter de Abrew, H. William Fernando, N. S. Fernando and Carolis Pujitha Gunawardena (Secretary). This committee set about the task of evolving a Buddhist Flag to be hoisted on Vesak Full Moon Day, 28th May 1885, the day declared as a Public Holiday, for the first time.

Thus it is this committee that jointly designed the Buddhist Flag and of course, Carolis Pujitha Gunawardena, as Secretary of the Committee presented it to the public as approved by the ‘Colombo Committee’ on 17th April 1885.

The Buddhist Flag, so designed, was hoisted for the first time on 28th May 1885, Vesak Full Moon Day, by Ven. Migettuwatte Gunananda Thera at Deepaduththaramaya in Kotahena. On a suggestion by Olcott the flag was modified to be of the normal size of National Flags. The Buddhist Flag so modified was hoisted on Vesak Full Moon Day in 1886. It remains unchanged up to date.

Professor G .P. Malalasekera was instrumental in making it the Flag of the Buddhist World. His proposal at the meeting of World Federation of Buddhists held in Kandy on 25th May 1950, to accept it as the official Buddhist Flag, internationally, was adopted and since then it has received international recognition.

Upali S. Jayasekera
Colombo 4.


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