Buddhist Flag History & Significance

The Design of the Buddhist Flag

The Buddhist flag is prominently displayed during Vesak processions along with other important symbols such as Buddha statues. However, the meaning of the flag goes far beyond the bright colors on display. Most significant is that the colors portray the aura which emanated from the head of the Buddha after he achieved enlightenment. Similar to Buddha statues, the colors of the flag have come to reflect the virtues of Buddhism.

Primarily, there are 5 individual colors which are displayed vertically on the flag, running from left to right. Plus, the 6th and final rectangular band is a conglomeration of the 5 colors and displayed perpendicular to the other bands. Ultimately, the 6th band is meant to be a blend of the 5 separate colors. However, they are displayed independently for design purposes.

Colors of the Buddhist Flag

The Buddhist Colors & Their Symbolic Meaning

  1. Nila (Blue) – Spirit of Universal Compassion
  2. Pita (Yellow) – Middle path of emptiness and avoiding extremes.
  3. Lohita (Red) – Merits of practice – achievement, wisdom, virtue, fortune and dignity. 
  4. Odata (White) – Purity of Dharma which leads to liberation outside time or space.
  5. Manjesta (Orange) – Wisdom of the Buddha’s teachings.

During Vesak Day celebrations the colors of Buddhism are displayed using many variations such as independent flags, formations and also the formal flag itself. 

Buddhist Flags Displayed in Formation

Common Variations of the Buddhist Flag

There are several common variations of the Buddhist flag which incorporate additional Buddhist symbols onto the colors. For example, it is common to see the Dharmachakra superimposed onto the traditional flag. Additionally, the swastika has historically been a prominent symbol used in Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism. Unfortunately, in modern times it’s image has become controversial due to it’s use by the Nazis during the 20th century. Nonetheless, it has been an auspicious symbol that has been considered sacred for over 11,000 years.

Buddhist Flags Displayed in Formation

History of the Buddhist Flag

In contrast with the long and venerable history of Buddhism, the Buddhist flag has more recent beginnings. In fact, it was not until 1885 that the flag was designed in Colombo, Sri Lanka by the Colombo Committee. The flag served to symbolize Buddhism and also assist with the revival of Buddhism in Sri Lanka.

Unfortunately, in Sri Lanka Buddhism had become repressed by British colonialist ambitions. As a result, the first flag was designed by the committee and hoisted on Vesak day on May 28, 1885. However, the original design was rather elongated. Therefore, the flag was subsequently modified to conventional proportions commonly displayed by national flags. Although the Buddhist flag has always been nonsectarian.

The hoisting of the Buddhist flag on May 28, 1885 has special significance because it was the first Vesak Day public holiday under British rule. Furthermore, in 1952 the flag of Buddhism was adopted by the World Fellowship of Buddhists as the international Buddhist flag. As a result, it’s widespread acceptance has come to symbolize the unity of all Buddhists worldwide. Additionally, the Buddhist flag is used in over 60 countries for Buddhist festivities.

Buddhist Flags Displayed in Formation

Buddhist Flags Displayed in Formation

 

Additional sources:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buddhist_flag
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swastika
http://www.buddhanet.net/e-learning/history/b_flag.htm
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_Steel_Olcott