Architect of our National Flag




Lives of pioneers have a purpose while those of others have only a desire in life. They do not serve others’ will to prosper. They are freed from the servile bonds of hope to rise or fear to fall and having nothing yet possess everything. They are like lamps who are a light to others and destruction to themselves. They make history while standing out of it. Like the foundation-stones, while sustaining the super structure, they remain unseen and unknown. Their lives constitute a saga of suffering and sacrifice. Sri Pingaly Venkayya, the architect of our national flag and a man of many parts, was a pioneer in every sense of the word.


In every country national flag is the symbol of unity and embodies national ideals and aspirations. It has the power of influencing by its very sight. During the period of struggle for liberation it becomes the rallying centre for patriots, while the flag of the foreign rulers remind the people of their subordination and shame. Though the credit of having unfurled our flag for the time outside the country before a gathering of Social Democrats in Germany has gone to the distinguished Parsi lady, Madam Cama, the honour of having propagated and perfected it architectually belonged to the late Sri Venkayya. Both of them suffered silently without much of public recognition. Madam Cama had to remain as an exile in Europe and was permitted to return to in 1936 when she was physically broken and mentally on the verge of insanity to pass away almost unknown till her birth centenary was celebrated sometime back by issuing a commemoration stamp. Sri Venkayya too passed away having experienced poverty and suffering. His long and varied life has many useful lessons for the present generation.


Sri Venkayya was born on 2nd August 1878 at the village of Bhatlapenumarru, Krishna District, Andhra Pradesh, in a Poor but respectable family. His father Sri Hanumantharayudu was a village Karnam. The Pingaly family, noted for its martial traditions, originally belonged to Maharashtra. Pingaly Moropant, father of Rani Lakshmi Bai of Jhansi, was the commander-in-chief to Baji Rao II who was the last among the Peshwas. Pingaly Madanna was the commander-in-chief to the Nawab of Golconda. Having finished his High School education at Masulipatam, Sri Venkayya joined the army and left for South Africa in 1897 and fought in the Boer War where he came in contact with Gandhiji and Mr. Polak. While returning to India he visited Arabia, Persia and Afghanistan. After a brief service as Plague Inspector he went to Ceylon and passed the Senior Cambridge examination, with Politics and Economics as optional subjects from the City College of Colombo. After returning to India he was employed in the Railway Department.


But material prosperity had no attraction for him. His thirst for knowledge was unquenchable. Coming to know that Lala Hans Raj, a, colleague of Lala Lajpat Rai, started the Dayananda Anglo-Vedic College at Lahore, he went there and joined the institution. At that time Japan won its epic victory over Russia–a European power–and Dean Inge described it as a turning point in the history of Asia. Lala Hans Raj brought Prof. Gote from Japan to teach Japanese. It was there that Sri Venkayya mastered Sanskrit, Urdu and Japanese and came to be known as “Japan Venkayya.”


He was drawn towards the nationalist movement and attended the twenty-second session of the Indian National Congress held at Calcutta in 1906 presided over by Dadabhai Naoroji. Dr. Rajendra Prasad used to say that he was only a volunteer at the Calcutta session while Sri Venkayya was a respected member of the Subjects Committee. Thereafter he attended the Congress session year after year and pleaded for the repeal of the Arms Act. He stayed at Rawalpindi, Delhi, Kashi and Allahabad for over five years and established close personal contacts with the leaders of the revolutionary movement. He desired to see India militarised and gave physical training to the youth. He conceived the idea of establishing National Cadet Corps to impart military training to the students. His contributions to the press on military matters were authoritative. He became friendly with the Raja of Munagala who was then experimenting in the scientific methods of agriculture. Sri Venkayya succeeded in growing tobacco, sugarcane and long-stapled Combodia cotton on a commercial scale and wrote a standard book on agriculture and became a member of the Royal Agricultural society, London.


He was invited to occupy the professorial chair in the Andhra Jateeya Kalasala at Masulipatam in 1911 and remained there till 1919. Incidentally he made a special study of Geology and became a recognised authority on Diamond Mining in India and carried on research. Having studied in the Presidency College at Madras he took diplomas in Mining and Geology. The Mining Survey reports published by the Government of India frequently referred to his work and views with approval and appreciation. His work on the genesis of diamonds is regarded as original and epoch-making and the ‘Journal of Scientific Research’ published by the Government of India complimented him on his achievements. He continued his pioneering work till 1944. Prof. Paul F. Kerr, Department of Geology and Minerology at the Columbia University, eulogised his work.


Besides, he was a good speaker and a powerful writer in English, Telugu, Urdu and Japanese. He was a man of versatile abilities and touched life at many points. His articles on current topics appeared in standard journals like the Hindu, Leader, Tribune, and Modern Review from time to time. He was a faithful Chela of the nationalist trio “Bal, Pal and Lal” (Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Bepinchandra Pal and Lala Lajpat Rai). He took an active part in the Home Rule Movement inaugurated by Dr. Annie Besant and was invariably shadowed by the C. I. D., Mr. Bepinchandra Pal referring to Sri Venkayya as a speaker and writer said, “The burning words of Venkayya pour forth like a lava flood. His voice is like the peal of a clarion and he puts his whole soul into his appeal. His writings are couched in a vigorous style. His sincerity is so great, his earnestness so serious that often he is led to use words that almost pulverised the enemy against whom they were directed.”


“Life of Dr. Sun Vat Sen” published in 1912 attracted the attention of the thinking public throughout the world. The Times of London described it as “The first tribute to an Asiatic leader from India.” It contained startling prophesies regarding the prospective flight of Dalailama into India followed by the Chinese aggression on India. Thus he proved to be the most clear-headed and clear-eyed public man looking ahead with crystal clarity and anticipating coming events with an almost alarming accuracy. In the fitness of things he dedicated the book to the freedom-loving people of England who rescued Dr. Sun Vat Sen from the cruel jaws of death when he was kidnapped in the streets of London by the agents of the Manchu Dynasty which was then ruling over China.


In 1916 he started the Indian National Flag Mission with branches all over the country in collaboration with patriots like Mr. Omar Sobhani and Mr. S. R. Bommanji. He wrote a book on “A National Flag for India” which was published with a Foreword by Sir B. N. Sarma, a member of the Viceroy’s Executive Council. The entire expenditure for printing and publishing the same was met by Dr. C. P. Ramaswamy Iyer. In 1919 he brought forth a well documented book detailing the claims of the Nizam of Hyderabad to the Masulipatam Port. His Exalted Highness was so much impressed with the marshalling of the facts and law on the subject that he specially invited Sri Venkayya to carry on further discussions which enraged the British rulers. When Mahatma Gandhi asked him in 1921 at Vijayawada to give him a design of the national flag containing a spinning wheel, he prepared it within three hours to the entire satisfaction of Mahatma Gandhi. Gandhiji publicly expressed his admiration to the persistent zeal with which Sri Venkayya prosecuted the cause of our national flag.


Sri Venkayya retired from active politics in 1922 as he had no faith in the non-violent Satyagraha of Mahatma Gandhi. He belonged to the old school of revolutionaries. At the same time he enjoyed the privilege of friendship with stalwarts like Sir C. Sankaran Nair, Sir S. Subrahmanya Iyer, Sir M. Ramachandra Rao, Sir Brojendranath Seal, Sir Asutosh Mookerjee, Sir P. C. Roy, Dr. J. C. Bose, Sir Jadunath Sarkar, Dr. Rabindranath Tagore, Sir Ali Imam, Sir Md. Habibullah and others. He was intimately known to Lord Curzon, Lord Hardinge (both were Viceroys of India) and Lord Pentland, the Governor of Madras. He was a puritan in life and religious by temperament. He was frank to a fault and modest to the point of self-effacement and never compromised on principles and convictions. He was a man of grim determination, firm conviction and powerful character.


His last appearance on the public platform was in 1961 when the Golden Jubilee of the Andhra Jateeya Kalasala was celebrated with Dr. S. Radhakrishnan as president. Free India and its leaders left him in the lurch. Ill-health, advancing years and the incidental infirmities pursued him relentlessly. He had to face grinding poverty as his eldest son was unemployed and his second son serving in the military died of T. B. A few months prior to his passing away some of his admirers honoured him by presenting a purse of about Rs. 5000 which included a handsome grant of Rs. 1500 from the Central Government, and rendered his last days tolerable, if not comfortable. He passed away peacefully on 4th July 1963 at the ripe old age of eighty-five.


Many of the giants of our national struggle are forgotten today. It is however in the national interest to recognise their services. A nation that forgets past heroes and honours only those who now stand upon the stage, suffers from impoverishment of inspiration and faces the risk of sudden upheaval and change. It would be a sign of political immaturity and cultural barbarism if the services of the stalwarts who built up the nation and gave direction and strength to the national movement are forgotten and the younger generation of today grown up without knowledge of their contribution and regard for their services.


His subsisting interest in our national flag is typified in the following poem he composed prior to his passing away:


Our Tricolour


The tricolour ensign of our ancient rich domain,

Shall fly aloft and there for ever and ever remain;

To remind the World of our famed Maurian Asoka the Great of

Vast empire, peaceful and brotherhood state.


Sacrificial saffron will for noble courage stand,

Peaceful white is the truthful central band

Parrot green will rich chivalry and faith denote,

Universal peace fellowship the Asoka wheel connote.


Two-thirds the length shall be its solemn width,

The horizontal bands are a most colourful mirth,

The Abacus Saranath sign shall nobly its body bedeck,

The central white as a lone safiire the lady’s neck.


The clarion call our sons of native soil

To greater tasks and nobler human toil

Shake off thy slumber and attend our mother’s call

For greater honours await you even if you nobly fall.