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61st Independence Day

The Lion - flagged, hoisted and flying

Today our nation celebrates its 61st independence day. The celebrations, parades and festivities should be in abundance along with plenty of national flags. The national flag is more than a holiday decoration, however it is the symbol of our 250-year-old history and a reminder that freedom is not free. It is the banner under and around which our men and women in uniform rally to protect our liberty and die to defend if necessary.

It is said that when Vijaya the first King of the Sinhalese people arrived in Sri Lanka in 486 BC, he brought with him a flag with a symbol of a lion on it. Since then the lion symbol played a significant role in the history of Sri Lanka.

It was used extensively by monarchs who followed Vijaya and it became a symbol of hope and freedom. Even the legendary King Dutugemunu carried with him a banner which portrayed a lion carrying a sword on his right forepaw along with two other symbols, the sun and the moon.

Chulavamsa

As recorded in our national chronicles the Mahavamsa and the Chulavamsa the flag with the lion symbol was invariably used by the monarchy to the fall of the Sinhala Kingdom during the reign of King Sri Wickrama Rajasinghe.

No other country in the world possesses a national flag seeped in history and tradition as the lion flag of Sri Lanka. It is an internationally accepted fact that our national flag is the oldest in the world.

In one of the stone carvings of the archaeological remains at the Sanchi Stupa built during the reign of Emperor Asoka the characters of Prince Vijaya with his band of companions is shown landing in Sri Lanka and one of them carrying the lion flag.

Coming down the 15th century we learn that King Parakramabahu of Kotte continued to use this ancient lion flag.

When the reign of the last Sri Lankan King was brought to an end by the British in 1815 they replaced the Lion flag with the Union Jack as the natio nal flag of Sri Lanka.

The lion flag was taken to England and kept at the Royal military hospital in Chelsea.

As the independence movement in Sri Lanka gained strength in the early 20th century, E.W. Perera a prominent figure of the independence movement discovered the original lion flag in Chelsea.

A picture of it was subsequently published in a special edition of the 'Dinamina' newspaper to mark 100 years since the end of Sri Lankan independence. The lion flag then became a centre-piece of attraction to the public who for the first time since the fall of the Kandyan Kingdom were not aware of its actual design.

The features of the flag are not arbitrarily chosen. Each feature has its own destructive meaning and significance. The gold colour represents the Sangha that acted as advisors to kings.

Immortality

The brilliant crimson in the background indicates immortality. The four Bo-leaves in gold at the four corners of the background with a gold border running right round indicates, Metta, Karuna, Muditha and Upekka the four noble qualities. The two equal vertical stripes of equal size in saffron and green represents minorities, Tamils and Muslims.

The lion in gold represents strength of our nation. The gold sword held by the lion symbolises the righteous rule and justice to all. Our national flag is a symbol of Sri Lanka and its people. At the time of gaining political freedom the question of the national flag became an issue among the political leaders of the day.

On Friday, January 16, 1948 when the Parliament met, A. Sinnalebbe the representative of Batticaloa rose in Parliament and moved 'That this house is of opinion that the Royal standards 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 should once again be adopted as the official flag of free Lanka. But the proposition ran into trouble because a section of the members of Parliament opposed it.

However, on February 4, 1948 the lion flag was hoisted and on February 12, 1948 after a period of 133 years the down trodden flag once again reasserted its importance and dignity when it was hoisted by Prime Minister D. S. Senanayake at the Dalada Maligawa octagon. On the night of March 2, 1951 the lion flag was accepted by the House of representatives with 51 members voting in favour, 21 against and 8 abstaining.

Historic

From February 1952 the Union Jack was replaced by the lion flag after making 11 changes. On the triumphant historic first independence day people across the country from Kankesanturai to Kataragama and Puttalam to Potuvil celebrated the event hoisting the 2000 year old lion flag, the flag of a heroic and fearless people. On Independence Day several thousand people who thronged to the place of celebrations witnessed the colourful ceremony of the lion flag.

The flag a Royal Standard went up majestically on the flat staff at the Independence Square heralding the birth of freedom of yet another Asian nation. The national flag belongs to the common man.

An ordinary Sri Lankan citizen is not allowed to put up his country's national flag atop his house or office while extending all respect to the symbol, except on Independence Day and on such other days as are prescribed by the Government.

The flag code of Sri Lanka does not permit flying the national flag by private citizens except on days of national importance. Only a selected group of high dignitaries are entitled to do so.

One can argue that it is an interference with a citizens fundamental right of freedom of expression or an act of discrimination. Should there by any restriction on the citizens on expressing their patriotism by displaying the national flag? The answers are diverse flags have played an important part in human life since the beginning of recorded history. Over 2600 years ago the Buddha Sakyamuni had referred to in the Dhajagga Sutra the use of flags. The flag is the identity of a nation, a country or a kingdom.

Different

Although a few petty minded critics used to attribute the Lion Flag to one particular community the fact of the flag is absolutely different from such petty thinking. The Lion Flag is hoisted on Independence Day by the people.

Yet its gradual popularity was quite slow until the advent of President Premadasa who cause entrepreneurs to produce the Lion Flag in cloth paper and plastic as well. From that time onwards, from the first week of January the Lion Flag became the largest selling article in shops and boutiques. All schools, public and private hold flag ceremonies on February 3rd since the Independence Day is a National holiday.

On the flag the lion signifies heroism, strength and discipline of the nation. Its head in the shape of a crown signifies the ruler. Its eyes watches the rulers performance and the tongue indicates that the rulers' statements should be honest and truthful. Its head and tail shows equality between ruler and the citizens and its hairy heaps denote strength. The sword is an indication that the country should be ruled righteously meting out justice to all.

Once again on February 4th all people everywhere in this country are prepared to enjoy the unity and harmony as one nation and one Sri Lankan community under the banner of the Lion Flag which gives the message of peace and harmony.

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