Who designed the NATIONAL FLAG of India?
Our Indian National Flag never fails to imbue a sense of patriotism. The combination of meaningful tricolors and the Ashoka chakra in the center is a beautiful reminder of our independence, sacrifices, sovereignty and unity. It is not just a piece of cloth but a tangible part of our heritage and culture. Interestingly, all flag designs have an evolution story. The colors and design are chosen very carefully before they are retained as a national symbol. The current Indian flag was also modified subsequently, over the years of our struggle for freedom. Honestly, I had never been curious enough to find out what led to its design and who was the Andhra boy who had impressed Mahatma Gandhi with his design in Bezwada in 1921 (now Vijayawada), until one Sunday when I had an impromptu visit to Bhatlapenumarru, the native village of Pingali Venkayya. Mr. Venkayya is hailed as the designer of the Indian National flag and to my ignorance, I had heard his name for the first time. He was the Andhra boy who had presented his flag to the Father of the Nation and his vision was further improvised to make our flag today.
Who was Pingali Venkayya or Jhanda Venkaiah?
“I am sure you know “Jhanda Venkaiah”, the freedom stalwart from Andhra? His village is close-by. No one from his family lives there but if you have time, you may go there”, said one of the dance gurus at Kuchipudi village.
Kuchipudi village needs no introduction. It is the dance village of India. It is located fifty kilometres away from my current city Vijayawada in Andhra Pradesh. One Sunday, before the lockdown, I was there to interact with some of the classical dance teachers to gain a first-hand experience of the neighbourhood that has nurtured world class dance form. After spending a couple of hours there and learning about the exquisite dance form of Kuchipudi, I curiously asked about the surroundings. It was then that one of the dance teachers mentioned Pingali Venkayya and his village Bhatlapenumarru. I googled it on the internet and the next thing I knew was that my chauffeur was driving me to Bhatlapenumarru. To be precise, the village is only six kilometers away from Kuchipudi and we reached there in hardly twenty minutes.
Bhatlapenumarru and Mr. Rao
The village appeared calm and peaceful. As soon as my vehicle touched the premises, an unmissable sprawling memorial of Pingali Venkayya caught my eye. The national flag in his hand and the writings below spoke of his accomplishments. The statue looked in good shape and the year of its installation made it obvious that it had been installed much later after his demise. I had been warned that there is not much in the village but I stood there silently, waiting for a local to tell me more about him. As I fiddled with my camera, I saw someone arrive on a bicycle. He greeted me with a warm and subtle smile on his face as if he had deduced my purpose of the visit. He waved hands and guided my car towards a newly built multi-purpose hall, beaming as Pingali Venkayya Bhavan. The elderly gentleman walked me inside the neat and clean hall. There was no furniture except his cot and a chair. I spotted the Indian flag and some framed pictures of Pingali Venkayya on the walls. He immediately brought to my notice that the bhavan was used as a wedding venue for the locals. This was the source of income for him and the locals who had come together in the making of this place in honor of Pingali Venkayya.
In his fluent English, the elderly gentleman introduced himself as Mr. Sangisetti Sambasiva Rao. He proudly mentioned that he hailed from the same village and had been given the complete charge of the building by the common consensus of the locals. His sons were well employed in the cities but he had decided to stay back in the village to spread information about Pingali Venkayya. His love and admiration for the freedom fighter showed in his collection of hundreds of cuttings of articles of magazines and newspapers mentioning Pingali Venkayya. He was not just a caretaker but a poet too. He had composed a song ‘Ghana Keerthi Jhanda’ dedicated to Pingali Venkayya. A few years ago, he had inspired the local villagers to put up a book for their ideal Venkayya. Every time he talked about the flag designer, I could see a gleam and joy in his eyes. He was happy like a child as he took me through the life and research work of Pingali. In return, all he expected was my attention and time. Even my driver was inspired to hear his engaging talks.
Pingali Venkayya and his accomplishments
Mr. Rao showed me hundreds of old pictures related to the initial designs of the flags. What really caught my fascination was the research and study that Pingali Venkayya had done before coming up a design for India. He had studied the flags of almost thirty countries to be able to present a rudimentary design of the national flag to Father of the Nation, in Vijayawada. Initially, there were only two colors- saffron and green but gradually white came in the picture and Ashoka Chakra was adopted as the emblem. After India’s freedom, Pingali Venkayya also published a book on the various flag designs and models that he made for Indian flag. This Andhra lad was a very well-read person and had the knowledge of many languages. Apart from flags, he did a lot of research on farming of cottons as well. It was very sad that he died in poverty and only a few decades ago, his work has been acknowledged well. Some of his memorials were installed in the state and a postage stamp was issued in his honor in 2009. The state did recommend his name for Bharat Ratna but there has been no breakthrough there.
Based on some of facts reiterated by Mr. Rao again and again, I could deduce that Pingali Venkayya was a freedom fighter from Andhra Pradesh and later came to be known as ‘Jhanda Venkaiah’ as the current national flag is based on his design. He was born on 2nd August, 1876 and lived a very humble life until his death in 1963. He was part of British army and had met Mahatama Gandhi in South Africa. They share a special bond. Pingali Venkayya insisted on the need for their own flag and finally came up with a design too. While he was alive, he lived a very humble living and not much is known about his last days, except that he wrote a few books. He was also conferred with titles of Japan Venkayya (for giving speech in Japanese language) and Patti (Cotton) Venkayya for his research on cotton farming.
The article was published in Deccan Herald first!