The flag of India – called the Tiranga, meaning tricolor – has three horizontal bars of saffron, white and green, and is embossed in the middle with a blue wheel. It was adopted on July 24, 1947, in the wake of India’s independence from the British, and it is made only from khadi, domestically spun Indian cotton, as a symbol of nationalism and freedom. Those who wish to display the flag of India must adhere to a detailed flag code that mandates the upmost respect. Included in the code are requirements that say the flag cannot touch the ground, cannot be displayed upside down, should be hoisted at a brisk pace and lowered slowly and cannot be torn, damaged, burned or disrespected in any manner.
The circular symbol in the center of the flag, the Ashoka chakra, is the wheel of the dharma, the cosmic law that upholds the order of the universe. At the crux of their faiths, Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism and Sikhism all subscribe to the concept of the dharma. In this way the flag speaks to many, but not all, of the religious traditions that are present in India. In addition, the wheel represents motion as a reminder that India cannot oppose change, as forward progress is the key to national success in a quickly modernizing world.
The upper saffron part of the flag is meant to denote courage and selflessness. It is a religiously significant color to the Hindu, Buddhist and Jain religions as it signifies renunciation and the absolution of the ego. It is the color worn in the spirit of detachment by the wandering renunciants, and it is meant to remind political leadership to conduct their work without seeking material gains, but rather for the good of the nation.
The white stripe in the middle of the flag is representative of honesty, purity and peace. In Indian philosophy white also represents cleanliness and knowledge. It signifies light and the path of truth to guide India’s national conduct. Politically, the white stripe functions as a reminder to India’s leadership that the ultimate national objective is to maintain a state of peace. This is particularly important due to the bloodshed that surrounded India’s independence and subsequent partition.
The green stipe on the bottom half of the flag represents faith, fertility and prosperity. In Indian philosophy it is considered to be a festive and stabilizing color that represents life and happiness. It demonstrates the value placed on the earth as the ground upon which all life is dependent. In this way the green stripe serves as a reminder to political leaders to protect Indian soil both from external enemies and from internal human destruction.
Rachel Alexander is a cultural and political area specialist of South Asia and the Middle East. She received the State Department’s Critical Language Scholarship in 2011, and again in 2012, to live in northern India and study advanced Hindi. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in international studies from Loyola University of Chicago.