The Story of the Indian Flag and First Stamps of Independent India

The Story of the Indian Flag and First Stamps of Independent India

India gained Independence after 90 years of British Rule on 15th August 1947. As was the norm, prior to 1947 the Indian postage stamps depicted the heads of British Monarchies whereas the stamps of Princely States depicted the heads of their respective Princes. On 15th August 1947, India (as we know today) and its various regions (few exceptions) were united under one Dominion and adopted the Tri-Colour as the national flag and the Lion Capital as the national symbol. The article discusses in detail the evolution of Indian Flag and the first three postal issues of Independent India - The National Flag (issue date 21st Nov. 1947 ), The Ashokan Capital (issue date 15th Dec. 1947) and The Douglas DC4 Aircraft (issue date 15th Dec. 1947). This series of stamps are also referred to as the Jai Hind (Triumphant India) Issues.

The blog starts by briefly discussing the history of the first postal issues in 1854, history of India’s Independence Movement, evolution in designs of Indian Flags, adoption of the Tri-Colour and the National Symbol in 1947 and finally issue of the special cancellation and postage stamps.

Evolution of Indian Flag Souvenir Sheet Issue dt. 02.08.2022

History of the first Postage Stamps

1852, Scinde District Dawk in Blue

The Scinde Dawks issued in Sind District in 1852 became the first stamps of India. These were introduced as part of the Postal Reforms by the Governor of the district Sir Bartle Ferer. The stamps introduced as part of the Postal Reforms by the Governor of the district Sir Bartle Ferer. The stamps were issued in three colours - Red, White and Blue. However, these Stamps were meant for use within the boundaries of the district. Taking inspiration from the Uniform Penny Postage system in Great Britain, a need was felt to introduce stamps in India as well. Initial plan to prepare these stamps in Great Britain was given up in favour of indigenous production and the task was assigned to the Surveyor General office in India headed by Capt. Thuillier. In the October of 1854, four stamps were introduced across the country for postal usage. Half Anna in Blue, One Anna in Red and Four Annas in Red & Blue (bi-coloured) were printed using Lithography whereas the Two Annas in Green prepared using Letterpress.

First Issues of India, indigenously produced in 1854

The first attempt was a great success, however Indigenous production was halted and the contract for future supplies was handed over to the De La Rue & Co. in England. New values, colours and perforations were introduced. East India Postage replaced the word India from the stamps as India was then not a Crown Colony. But the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857 was about to change this.

Economic stifling and subjugation by the East India Company was already beginning to cause discomfort to the Indian Princely States. By 1857 a general sense of disapproval was starting to emerge. East India Company who came to India as a trading company were now controlling large land assets and were an influential power because of the strong military presence. The spark in form of the Sepoy Rebellion came in 1857 with the newly introduced model of 1853 Enfield rifle cartridge, suspected of using tallow (from cows) and lard (pig fat). Soldiers had to bite the cartridge with their teeth before loading it into the rifle and ingesting the grease. This hurt the religious sentiment of the soldiers who were primarily Hindus and Muslims

Sepoy Mangal Pandey, First war of Independence

Mangal Pandey a sepoy under the East India Company accompanied by the others rebelled against his British superiors but were subsequently executed. The information of execution triggered country wide protests which soon took the shape of the First war of Independence in 1857. The rebelling forces joined hands with the Indian States and battle erupted in different parts of the country. By the June of 1858 the British Forces of East India Company were successful in controlling the rebellion partly due to the superior postal lines, though at a much greater cost. It could no longer continue to hold its Indian assets and the control was shifted to the Crown and India thus became a British Colony.

East India Postage replaced by India Postage

The Evolution of the Indian Flag “Tri-Colour”

Star of India Flag

Prior to the British rule over India, India was divided into several Princely states and each one of them had a different flag and symbol of their own. The Flag under the British Rule was an Imperial one with a Union Jack. The first Star of India flag in 1863, kept the design similar to the other British colonies such as Canada and Australia, combining symbols of Imperial authority such as the Union Jack, the royal crown, with symbols specific to the colony in question. After the transfer of power to the Crown in 1857, the EIC’s Lion Passant Regardant Holding a Crown was replaced by the Royal Crown. The Viceroy's standard had the Union Jack superimposed with the Jewel of India, while, as the Governor-General, his flag had a lion, mounted on the crown, against a Blue background.

Presidents of INC

By 1885 a need was felt to create a body of Indian representatives who could form a bridge of communication between the ruling British and the Indian masses. The proposal of A.O. Hume, who was a retired Scottish civil servant, led to the establishment of the Indian National Congress (INC) in 1885, with 72 Indian representatives meeting in Bombay. This historic period represents the first political mobilisation of Indians from all parts of the subcontinent as one nation.

Sister Nivedita and the flag designed with her

At the turn of the century, the quest for a National Flag assumed greater urgency with rise of Swadeshi (indigenisation) Movement. Sister Nivedita, an Irish disciple of Swami Vivekananda, was one of the first to conceive a National Flag for India. Sister Nivedita's flag was square in shape, with a Red background. It had hundred and eight Jyotis (lamps) all along the border and Vajra (thunderbolt) in yellow at the centre with Vande (Ode to the) on the left and Mataram (Motherland) on the right of it in Bengali Script. According to Sanskrit scriptures it denoted the honour and sanctity, strength and sacrifice, purity and power, wisdom and energy, and above all, absolute selflessness.

                               Swadeshi or Vande Mataram Flag                           Song Vande Mataram written                                                                                                                               by Bankim Chandra Chatterjee

The first Swadeshi flag also known as the Vande Mataram Flag inscribed with the slogan Vande Mataram was created between 1905-1906. The flag was defiantly unfurled on 7 August 1906 at Green Park, opposite University Science College in Calcutta. The day was being observed as Boycott Day, the first anniversary of Lord Curzon's proclamation of the Partition of Bengal. No sooner than the Partition of Bengal was declared, thousands of volunteers protested the decision in an unanimous voice chanting the newly-discovered war cry Vande Mataram. The song soon spread beyond the boundaries of the state of Bengal and throughout India and would eventually reunite Bengal in 1911, the same year India's capital was shifted from Calcutta to Delhi.

This flag had three stripes: Green, Yellow and Red. It had eight half open White Lotuses on the top on the Green stripe, Vande Mataram in Blue on the middle Yellow stripe and the Sun and the Crescent Moon in White on the bottom Red stripe.

Another version of the flag fondly known as The Calcutta Flag was designed jointly by Sachindra Prasad Basu and Sukumar Mitra. Both were inspired by the the French Tricolore and its message of Liberte, Egalite and Fraternite. The flag was hoisted on 7th August 1906 during the “Boycott Day”. The Vande Mataram Flag was again hoisted by the Congress President Dadabhai Naoroji at the Calcutta session of the Congress in December 1906.

  Bikaji Cama and the Berlin Flag

"Behold, the flag of independent India is born! It has been made sacred by the blood of young Indians who sacrificed their lives in its honour. In the name of this flag, I appeal to lovers of freedom all over the world to support this struggle. These words were spoken by a fiery - Bhikaji Cama at the International Socialist Conference in Stuttgart, Germany. This was the first time the Indian Tricolour was unfurled on foreign soil. "This is the flag of Independent India. I appeal to all gentlemen to stand and salute the flag," she further added.

Based on the Calcutta Flag, the Green, Yellow and Red fields represent Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism respectively. The crescent moon and the sun again represent Islam and Hinduism, respectively. The eight lotuses in the upper register represent the eight provinces of British India. The words in the middle are in Devanagri script and read Vande Mataram. This flag is generally called as Berlin Flag. The design was adopted in 1914 as the emblem of the Berlin Committee.

Indulal Yagnik

Following Cama's 1907 Stuttgart address, the flag she raised there was brought into British India by Indulal Yagnik and is now on display at the Maratha and Kesari Library in Pune.

“Swaraj (freedom) is my Birth Right” - Bal Gangadhar Tilak”

Home Rule Flag

At the time of the Home Rule movement in 1917, Dr Annie Besant and B.P. Wadia, in consultation with Bal Gangadhar Tilak and Mohammad M Jinnah, devised the Home Rule flag. The Home Rule flag had five red stripes representing Hindus and four green stripes for Muslims placed in between the red stripes, superimposed with seven stars representing Great Bear constellation typical of the seven wise sages of India. The flag also had the symbols of a crescent moon and a star of the Muslims. On the canton there was the British Union Jack. The inclusion of the Union Jack, symbolising the goal of dominion status that the movement sought to achieve, however, was not met with a favourable response and fell into oblivion shortly.

The Birth of Swaraj Flag and Boycott of British Goods

Economic subjugation by destruction of the local Industries caused huge resentment among the masses. India in turn became a supplier of raw materials to the British Industries and a huge market for British finished goods. One such was the indigenous textile industry which collapsed and several workers were left unemployed.

Champaran Satyagraha Souvenir sheet

2009, Special Cover Pingali Venkayya designer of Swaraj Flag

In 1917 during a visit to an impoverished district named Champaran, Mahatma Gandhi witnessed the plight of the farmers who were forced to grow Indigo crops for dyes to be used by British Industries. Boycott of British Goods in favour of Swadeshi soon gained momentum across India and mass burnings of British made goods took place. Mahatma Gandhi wanted a symbol behind which Indians could be united and thus came the idea of Swaraj Flag. Gandhi asked fellow congressman Pingali Venkayya to prepare a design of the Flag which should contain a Charkha (Spinning Wheel - symbol of Indian Textile Industries) on a Red (Hindu Colour) and Green (Muslim Colour) background. The Charkha was placed on the white background at the top of the flag which represented all the other religions. Gandhi explained in his article “The National Flag” - The white portion is intended to represent all other faiths. The weakest numerically occupy the first place. The Islamic colour comes next; the Hindu colour red comes last, the idea being the stronger should act as a shield to the weakest… represent equality of all, an equal part is suggested to all three colours in the design…..the flag should also contain full sized drawing of a spinning wheel.”

“My Life is my Message” - Mahatma Gandhi

The Swaraj flag became a symbol of the largest NonCooperation Non-Violent Movement the world has ever seen. This movement resulted in a boycott of British goods and services like schools and courts, government jobs, refusal to pay taxes, and called on people to give up their British titles and honours. Even though the flag was never officially adopted as the ‘national flag’ by a formal resolution of the INC, its approval by Gandhi made it acceptable to the people in general.

Boycott British Goods Lables

Mails prohibited for transmission found with Boycott British Goods labels or markings

Many labels issued defying the government orders were affixed on postal articles for the Swadeshi propaganda. Repeated postal notices were issued from time to time prohibiting the use of such labels and markings on postal articles. Postal articles found affixed with such labels were sent to the Dead Letter Office (DLO) for disposal. The years following the flag Satyagraha in 1923 were crucial in the history of the Indian freedom struggle.

Swaraj Flag used during Salt Satyagraha

Many historic events took place where the Swaraj flag was pivotal. On 12 March 1930 Mahatma Gandhi launched Salt Satyagraha and set out from Sabarmati ashram with his volunteers to Dandi on the Gujarat coast. The twenty-five-day long march culminated on 6 April 1930. It was a campaign for the non-violent movement against the British salt monopoly in India, which eventually grew into the Civil Disobedience movement and drew more volunteers to join the freedom struggles. The miniature sheet issued to commemorate the 75th anniversary of Salt Satyagraha by India Post in 2005, captures the historic moment and the varied facets of Salt Satyagraha. The fluttering Swaraj flag is depicted on the top margin of the miniature sheet.

The Congress Working Committee (CWC), which met in Karachi on 2 April 1931, passed a resolution stressing the need for a flag to be not based on communal values. In pursuance of the resolution, a seven member flag committee was formed for recommending a new flag which will be acceptable to all. After collecting the recommendations sent by several party members, the CWC met in Bombay from 6 to 8 August 1931 and came up with a new tricolour named as the Purna Swaraj Flag (Complete Freedom Flag). The Red was changed to Saffron and the colours of the existing Swaraj flag was rearranged. The new arrangement was in conformity with the basic principle of flag designing. Saffron over white over green with a charkha (spinning wheel) in navy blue at the centre of the white stripe. Since the colour white was interposed between saffron and green, all the three colours stood out distinctly from each other in the new flag. It implied that the colours stood for qualities not communities. The saffron would represent courage and sacrifice, white would stand for peace and truth, and green would symbolise faith and chivalry while the spinning wheel would be an emblem of hope of the masses.

The Quit India Movement

                                           Quit India Movement                                                     Martyred Students holding Purna Swaraj Flag


On 8th August 1942, Mahatma Gandhi gave the historic “Quit India” call at the AICC session in Bombay. “Here is the mantra, a short one that I give you. You may imprint it in your hearts and let every breath of yours give expression to it. The Mantra is “Do or Die”. We shall either free India or die in the attempt. We shall not live to see the perpetuation of our slavery.” The entire country rose and mass protests broke out in different parts of the country. The Purna Swaraj flag became the iconic symbol of protest and waving it became an act of defiance as well as proclamation of freedom. One such incident of protest took place in the city of Patna on 11th August 1942 saw seven brave young students die and several others seriously injured by the bullets of the police as they tried to hoist the Purna Swaraj flag atop the Secretariat building. While dying each student held the flag high and had collapsed only when the flag was passed onto the next one; the flag had remained unsullied.

Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose and INA

Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose as the Supreme Commander of the Indian National Army (INA) better known as Azad Hind Fouz, adopted the Purna Swaraj Flag but substituted the Spinning Wheel with the ‘Springing Tiger’ in 1943. The springing tiger on the flag of the INA symbolised the strength of the Indian People and their indomitable will to fight. Interestingly, the springing tiger was also Tipu Sultan’s emblem of revolt against the British. The design was replicated on stamps which were printed in 1943 at Reichsdruckerei in Berlin. These stamps were never sent to India for postal service.

On 20th February 1947, the British Prime Minister Clement Attlee announced that they would transfer all the powers to India indefinitely by June 1948. The date was later shifted to 15th August 1947 and a part of India was split to form Muslim dominated Pakistan. Prior to India’s Independence, the constituent assembly set up a nine-member ad hoc committee on 23 June 1947 to recommend a new flag for Independent India. Lord Mountbatten suggestion to retain the ‘Union Jack’ at the canton of the national flags of India and Pakistan failed to garner support from most of the leaders and was eventually turned down.

The ad hoc committee finally referred to the strong sentiment in the country in favour of adopting the Purna Swaraj flag used for years as the national flag of India and suggested that it should be duly honoured. After detailed deliberations and taking cues from the history of India, the committee decided on 14th July 1947 to retain the Purna Swaraj Flag but replace the Charkha “Spinning Wheel” with Ashoka’s Dharma Chakra (Wheel of Law) at the centre of the white stripe. The wheel on the chakra flag is intimately linked to Indian heritage and tradition. It is a reflection of India's religious beliefs, philosophical convictions and universal popular beliefs. The twenty-four spokes, “.. stand for the twenty-four modes of principal casual relations spoken in Buddhist philosophy. As a whole, it represents the Wheel of Law which is considered the king of kings and whose message of righteousness was binding even on the greatest monarch.”

Dr. Rajendra Prasad and Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru proposed the final design of the flag to the Constituent Assembly on 22.07.1947

The flag committee immediately arranged for the samples of the new flag for approval. The sample prepared by Mrs Badr-ud-Din Tyabji was approved unanimously on 17 July 1947. It was then decided that Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru would place the recommendations before the Constituent Assembly on 22 July 1947. The day is referred to as the National Flag Day.

The Constituent Assembly Debates of 22 July 1947 with Dr Rajendra Prasad in the Chair, Pandit Nehru delivered the opening speech after moving the resolution on the new national flag. “…..The National flag of India shall be a horizontal tricolour of deep saffron (kesari), white and dark green in equal proportion. In the centre of the white band, there shall be a wheel in navy blue to represent the charkha. The design of the wheel shall be that of the wheel (chakra) which appears on the Sarnath lion capital of Asoka. The diameter of the wheel shall approximate to the width of the white band. The ratio of the width to the length of the flag shall ordinarily be 2:3”

The Hindustan Times on 23 July 1947 reported the day's proceedings under the heading 'Flag of Independent India’: The Indian constituent Assembly today unanimously adopted the Tricolour as the National flag of India. All members without exception stood up for half a minute in solemn silence to pass the resolution and to pay homage to the Flag of the Nation. ... The proceedings excelled the expectation of everyone by the warmth, patriotic emotion and unanimity. Pandit Nehru's speech was couched in words befitting the great occasion and some thought that no more speeches were necessary. But the House felt otherwise. The House demanded that full opportunity should be given to members to speak on the occasion. As one member said: 'A nation adopts its Flag only once. Let us have our say". It became a 'National Flag Day' in the Constituent Assembly. The amendment notices served earlier were also immediately withdrawn in favour of the flag presented by Pandit Nehru.

Sri Aurobindo

Sri Aurobindo a freedom fighter turned spiritual leader played an important role in India’s Freedom movement. ‘Vande Matram’ a published news letter was edited by him. His message to the nation which was broadcasted on August 14th 1947 by All India Radio: “August 15th, 1947 is the birthday of free India. It marks for her the end of an old era, the beginning of a new age. But we can also make it by our life and acts as a free nation an important date in a new age opening for the whole world, for the political, social, cultural and spiritual future of humanity.” This year 15th August 2022 also marks 150th year of his birth, a commemorative postage stamp and souvenir sheet is issued to mark the occasion.

Historic Letter by Lord Mountbatten on the eve of Independence

Council House was renamed Parliament

Government House was renamed Rashtrapati Bhawan

At the stroke of midnight on 15 August 1947, free India's national flag was hoisted atop the Council House, renamed Parliament Bhavan in New Delhi. The flag was presented by Mrs Hansa Mehta representing the Flag Presentation Committee, comprising all the women members of the Constituent Assembly, as a gift from the women of India. During the swearing-in-ceremony at the Viceroy's House re-named 'Government House', the new government took the oath and independent India's flag was raised for the first time on the central dome at 10:30 am. The Government House was renamed to Rashtrapati Bhawan on 26th January 1950 with the birth of Indian Republic. It is the official residence of the President of India.

War Memorial Arch renamed India Gate

Flag hoisted on the Red Fort in Delhi

First Public Flag Salutation Ceremony was held in the afternoon of 15 August 1947 near the War Memorial Arch, later renamed India Gate. As the Prime Minister unfurled the flag against a clear blue sky, a rainbow resembling the hues of the flag appeared out of the blue on the horizon which startled the crowd that had assembled there. Prime Minister Nehru unfurled the national flag for the first time on the ramparts of the Red Fort on 16 August 1947 at 8:30 am. On this occasion, Nehru referred to Netaji Subhash Bose's call of “Chalo Dilli" (onward to Delhi) and his dream of hoisting the 'flag of freedom' atop Delhi's Red Fort. Since then every year the official Independence Day Flaghoisting ceremony is performed on 15th August by the Prime Minister’s designate at the Red Fort.

First set of Postage Stamps of Independent India

“Jai Hind” (Triumphant India) cancellation 15 AUG 47

To Celebrate the attainment of Independence, the Indian Posts & Telegraphs Department wanted to issue special postage stamps for the occasion, however, couldn't issue the same on 15th August 1947, since the Viceroy of India Lord Mountbatten ordered P&T Department to overprint the word “Pakistan” on Indian stamps in the first choice to cater the desires of Pakistan. Instead a special bilingual duplex cancellation reading “JAI HIND” in English and Hindi languages in two lines was issued on 15th August 1947 from all major towns of India. The postmark was applied on all outgoing mails.

This Postmark was withdrawn on 31st December 1947 and was reintroduced from Girdikot Post Office, Jodhpur in June 1948. This Slogan was withdrawn from Girdikot Post Office in April 1949 however reappeared in June 1949 with a brand new layout which was in a form of a rectangular box with ‘JAI HIND’ written in English and Hindi. It was also used as a canceller. It remained in use until November 1955.

Special cancel prepared by the Indian troops stationed in Japan after World War II

The Indian Army which was stationed in Japan as a part of Brindiv (British and Indian Division) which functioned under the BCOF (British Commonwealth Occupation Force). The Indian Army itself was being divided into the two parts. However Indian and Pakistani army-men having been at the same time getting ready for celebrations of their nation's Independence, created a long-lasting memento in form of a special cancellation to be used on outgoing mails. A special cancellation was prepared depicting the flag of both countries. Very few examples of this cancellation has survived.

Finally, a set of 3 commemorative Postage Stamps was all set to be introduced in the later months of the Year 1947. Although it is called a set of 3 stamps, they were issued on two different dates. The Postage stamp with the denomination 3½ annas depicts India’s National Flag flying high in the clouds along with the words ‘JAI HIND’ in Devnagiri Script and the date (15th Aug 1947) on the stamp depicts the day India attained Independence.

On 15th Dec 1947 two more stamps were issued, the first with Denomination 1½ Annas, which depicts Ashoka’s Lion Capital (The National emblem of India) along with ‘JAI HIND’ written in Devnagiri Script. It was primarily meant for use on Domestic mails. The Lion Capital of Ashoka is the capital, or head, of a column erected by the Mauryan emperor Ashoka in Sarnath, India ca. 250 BCE. Its crowning features are four life-sized lions set back to back on a drum-shaped abacus. The side of the abacus is adorned with wheels in relief, and interspersing them, four animals, a lion, an elephant, a bull, and a galloping horse follow each other from right to left. A bell-shaped lotus forms the lowest member of the capital, and the whole 7 feet (2.1 m) tall, carved out of a single block of sandstone and highly polished, was secured to its 42 feet (13 m) monolith column by a long metal dowel. The column was erected after Ashoka's conversion to Buddhism and commemorated the site of Gautama Buddha's first sermon some two centuries before. It was excavated by the Archeological Survey of India (ASI) in the very early years of the 20th century. The excavation was undertaken by F. O. Oertel in the ASI winter season of 1904–1905. The lion capital is rich in symbolism, both Buddhist and secular. In July 1947, Jawaharlal Nehru, the interim prime minister of India, proposed in the Constituent Assembly of India that the wheel on the abacus be the model for the wheel in the centre of the Dominion of India's new national flag, and the capital itself without the lotus the model for the state emblem.The other one with denomination 12 Annas depicts Douglas DC-4 Aircraft along with ‘JAI HIND’. The aircraft symbolises freedom and continued progress. It signified aspirations of new India. It was meant for use on International Air Mails.

1947 Independence issue, watercolour or pencil sketches of the issued designs by T.I Archer, head artist and engraver at India Security Press Nasik, on wove paper (275x232mm), holes where carefully painted copies of these original sketches were excised and submitted (mounted on card) for approval, with an explanation of the design and printing of the stamps written and signed by Archer - “INDIA’S INDEPENDENCE STAMPS. Called to Delhi from Security Printing India, Nasik Rd (where I was Head Engraver) by Director Postal + Home Dept on 2-10-47. I was housed in a Guest House where I was asked to submit designs for India’s Independence stamps 4-10-47. Using water colour I made these rough sketches then submitting carefully printed designs cut out + mounted 5-10-47. 3½as Showing steps leading up to India’s Independence Flag, 1½as Asokan pillar. The House Member was very pleased with them and asked to meet me. He was very kind & I didn’t have much to say. I returned to Security Printing India Nasik Rd on 7-10- 47 submitting final proofs on 17-10-47. Printing started on 27-10-47. T.I Archer, Sunny Side, Nasik Rd” (again signed by Archer when back in London).

Used on mail by British Legation in Nepal addressed to Pondicherry

All the three stamps were designed by T.I. Archer and printed at India Security Press at Nasik by Offset Lithography. The stamp paper used for printing the stamps are watermarked by multiple stars for security. The stamps were also used from Nepal, Tibet and parts of French Settlements in India like Pondicherry etc.

Jai Hind Special Presentation Folder

The Period of India’s being as Dominion of India lasted up to 26th January 1950. The Constituent Assembly headed by Dr B R Ambedkar completed the work of drafting the constitution on 26 November 1949 and on 26 January 1950, the Republic of India was officially proclaimed.












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