The national flag of India was adopted in 1947. It is a tricolor of deep saffron, white, and green, in horizontal bands (with green at the bottom). In the center of the white band is a blue wheel, the chakra, the wheel of law. [Source: Worldmark Encyclopedia of Nations, Thomson Gale, 2007]

The chakra also appears on the 2,200-year-old lion column-capital of the Emperor Asoka at Sarnath. Preserved in the Sarnath Museum, this sandstone carving features four lions back to back, separated by wheels (chakra,), standing over a bell-shaped lotus. The whole carving once was surmounted by the wheel of law.

The national anthem of India is “Jana gana mana” (“Thou Art the Ruler of the Minds of All People ). It was composed by Nobel-Prize-winning poet and scholar Rabindranath Tagore in 1911. A national song of equal status is Vande Mataram (I Bow to Thee, Mother).

National holiday: Republic Day, 26 January (1950)

The Bengal tiger is the national animal of India and the lotus is the national flower The nearly useless Saka-era calendar also may be considered a national symbol, adopted in 1957 and still often used officially alongside the Gregorian calendar.

Flag of India

The national flag of India was adopted in 1947 as we said above and is called the Tiranga.. It is composed of three equal horizontal bands, with a saffron (subdued orange) band at the top, white in the middle and green, at the bottom. There is a blue chakra (24-spoked wheel) centered in the white band. The dharma chakra (wheel of religion or wheel of law) of Asoka is a symbol of India’s ancient culture.

1) Saffron signifies courage, sacrifice, and the spirit of renunciation; 2) white represents purity, peace and truth; and green stands for faith, chivalry and fertility; the blue chakra symbolizes the wheel of life in movement and death in stagnation. The Indian flag is similar to the flag of Niger, which has a small orange disk centered in a white band. [Source: CIA World Factbook]

India has had strict regulations on where flags can be displayed. The 1972 Act strictly regulates the use and display of the flag. It says: Only senior government leaders and state institutions are allowed to fly it on their premises. 2) People were allowed to fly the flag and wear tricolour badges on Republic Day, Independence Day and Mahatma Gandhi's birthday.

In 2017, External affairs minister Sushma Swaraj said she would revoke visas for Amazon officials in India if Amazon continued selling ‘insulting’ Indian flag doormats on the company’s Canada site. The official Sushma Swaraj tweeted to the Indian high commission in Canada to take up the issue of Indian national flag doormats to highest level of Amazon. Amazon’s Canadian site offered a range of doormats depicting the Indian flag as well as those of other countries, including the U.S. and the U.K., sold by a third party. In the end Amazon did remove the doormats.[Source: Michael Safi, The Guardian, January 11, 2017]

Flag of India and the Indian Fashion Industry

Only in 2005 were Indians allowed to wear images of their flag on their clothing — but only on garments above the waist according to an amendment easing the restrictions of the Prevention of Insults to National Honour Act (1971). The BBC reported: Caps and T-shirts are in but swimsuits and evening gowns are still a no-no. Neither can the flag be embroidered or printed on cushion covers, gloves, handkerchiefs, napkins and dress material. [Source: Monica Chadha , BBC News, July 6, 2005]

The fight to ease the restrictions began in 1995, when industrialist and present Congress party MP, Naveen Jindal, began legal action demanding that all Indians and institutions be allowed to fly the national flag respectfully. Mr Jindal told The Telegraph newspaper on Wednesday the move was a "good start", adding: "In due course, I'm sure other restrictions will be removed too." The court ruled in his favour in 2001, leading to this week's amendment.

The fashion industry has had its run-ins with the flag rules in the past. Popular designer Malini Ramani wore a strappy knee-length dress that used the saffron, white and green stripes with the wheel of progress in the centre to a fashion show in 2000. The event sparked off a national debate and led to police action against the designer. A case filed against her is still going through the courts. Hindu symbols have also caused problems - Bollywood star Sonali Bendre fell foul of the police in 2001 for wearing a short, ochre-coloured top inscribed with Hindu religious phrases.

Delhi-based designer Nikhil Mehra told the BBC he welcomed the new ruling. "We Indians are very patriotic by nature and after 57 years of independence, it is only fair that we be allowed to express our patriotism," he said. But he also said saffron and green were not suited to Indian skin tones, while white in India represents the colour of death. "The flag colours are very mature and sombre, unlike say the British or American flag colours. These are very sporty colours, look good on almost any person and people don't mind wearing them. "But our national colours don't represent fashion."

Indian National Anthem

The national anthem of India is “Jana gana mana” (“Thou Art the Ruler of the Minds of All People ). It was composed by Nobel-Prize-winning poet and scholar Rabindranath Tagore in 1911.Tagore wrote the lyrics and music: It was adopted 1950, three years after India became independent. Another song-poem “Amar Sonar Bangla” ("My Golden Bengal") became the national anthem of Bangladesh.

Rabindranth Tagore (1861-1941), a poet, philosopher and writer from Calcutta, was the first non-European to win the Nobel Prize in literature. He was a formidable personality who played a major role in shaping the cultural life of India at the turn of the 20th century, “when the country was struggling for its independence and searching for its identity in the international community. He also helped introduce Indian literature to the West.” [Source: Suketa Mehta, Time, August 23, 1999, Dr. Jukka O. Miettinen,Asian Traditional Theater and Dance website, Theatre Academy Helsinki]

“Jana gana mana” has been described as paean to Indian pluralism. It goes:
”Where the mind is with fear and the head is held high;
Where knowledge is free;
Where the world has not
been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls;
...Where the clear stream of reason has not lost it way into the dreary desert sand of dead habit;
...Into that heaven of freedom, my Father. let my country awake”

For a time It was compulsory to stand to attention when the anthem is played and cinemas that played the anthem often displayed messages asking audiences to stand up. In the 1960s and 1970s, cinemas regularly played the anthem but the practice declined. Although there is no specific law that mandates standing for the anthem in India, the home ministry's rules, which carry the force of law, specify that it is compulsory to stand to attention when the anthem is played. India’s 29 states have had their own laws on the issue. [Source: BBC, November 30, 2016]

Indian Court Orders People to Stand Up for the National Anthem at Movie Theaters

In November 2016, India's supreme court ruled that the national anthem of India must be played in every cinema before a film is screened, accompanied by an image of the Indian flag.. Judges said the order should be enforced within 10 days and audiences must stand when the anthem is played. "The people should stop following individual notions of freedom and have a sense of committed patriotism," Indian media reports quoted judges as saying. [Source: BBC, November 30, 2016]

According to the Los Angeles Times: “It was a striking show of nationalism in a democracy whose constitution enshrines free expression, but the court did not stop there. It said the national flag must be displayed on screen and the auditorium doors closed while the anthem is played, “so that no one can create any kind of disturbance.” “Indian citizens are “duty-bound to show respect” to the anthem and, when it comes to such national symbols, “the perception of individual rights … is constitutionally impermissible,” the judges wrote. The decision immediately provoked arguments between those who view it as an infringement of individual rights and others sympathetic to a surging tide of nationalism in the world’s second-most populous country. [Source: Shashank Bengali, M.N. Parth, Los Angeles Times, December 14, 2016]

Under the leadership of the conservative Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP, which is rooted in Hindu nationalist groups, many liberals and religious minorities believe India is growing more hostile to them. Shyam Narayan Chouksey, a 77-year-old resident of Bhopal, had petitioned the court asking for the national anthem order. "Over the years I've been seeing that the proper respect for the national anthem is not being paid by the common people as well as the constitutional functionaries," he told the BBC. Shaina NC, spokesperson for the ruling BJP party, called the court ruling a "fantastic" move. The BBC India Facebook page asked its followers for their opinion. "Why are we moving backwards," asked Krushik AV. "Patriotism is something through education..." Another follower, Sachin Sudheer, disagreed saying it was a "wonderful feeling to stand up with everyone".

Moviegoers Arrested and Attacked for Failing to Stand for the National Anthem

In December 2016, Nineteen moviegoers were arrested in southern India for violating a new law that required them to stand when the national anthem was played in a movie theater. The Los Angeles Times reported: “At an international film festival in Kerala state on Monday, 12 people refused to rise for the anthem, prompting a scuffle in which six of them were reportedly assaulted by other patrons. The 12 were arrested and charged with offenses including contempt of court before being released on bail. No charges were filed against their attackers, police said. A day earlier in the city of Chennai, formerly known as Madras, seven people took selfies while the anthem was played, leading to an altercation outside the theater with filmgoers who objected to their behavior. Police brought in both sides for questioning before charging the seven with failing to observe the new law.[Source: Shashank Bengali, M.N. Parth, Los Angeles Times, December 14, 2016]

“BJP leaders have supported the court decision, saying Indians should not allow anyone to disrespect national symbols. “Those who find fault with the Supreme Court directive on the national anthem should fight it legally rather than insulting it in the street,” the party’s state president in Kerala, Kummanam Rajasekharan, said in a statement.

In October 2016 the BBC carried an article by a disabled man who described how he had been assaulted for not standing up for the anthem in a cinema. The filmgoer was attacked in the western state of Goa by a couple sitting behind him when he did not stand for the anthem. The assailants apparently did not realize that their victim, a prominent disabled rights activist named Salil Chaturvedi, used a wheelchair because of a spinal cord injury. In 2015, a group of people were thrown out of a cinema hall for not standing for the national anthem. In 2014, a man was beaten by a mob in Mumbai after his South African friend refused to stand for the national anthem Also in 2014, a man in the southern state of Kerala was charged with sedition for refusing to stand

Court Reverse Itself and Says Standing for National Anthem Is No Longer Compulsory in Cinemas

In January 2018, India's Supreme Court reversed its previous order that the national anthem must be played in every cinema before a film is screened. According to the BBC the court order came in response to a government request to reconsider the controversial ruling. The ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party's stance has surprised many as it had called the 2016 order a "fantastic move" at the time. [Source: BBC, January 9, 2018]

That order was challenged by a film club in the southern state of Kerala. The film club had argued that forcing cinemas to play the national anthem and insisting that people stood while it was being played "infringes fundamental rights", and talked about the false equivalence between an "outward show of respect" and an "actual sentiment of respect".

During its hearing of the petition, the court asked the government in to decide whether standing for the national anthem in cinemas was mandatory. In its response, the government said it had formed a panel to decide on the issue and asked the court to reverse its ruling until a decision was made. Both the court ruling and the government stand are making waves on social media. Many are criticising the BJP for reversing its previous stance.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Library of Congress, Ministry of Tourism, Government of India,, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Wall Street Journal, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated December 2023

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