At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, we will recollect a fact that it was this day (March 31, 1921) when the well-known freedom fighter Pingali Venkayya (from Bhatlapenumarru in Krishna District, Andhra Pradesh) handed over a flag he designed to Mahatma Gandhi at Victoria Museum on MG Road in Vijayawada to set the pace for the freedom movement. The flag became an identity of self-respect and a symbol of unity in days to come. This poignant moment will be relished and cherished by every Vijayawadiate in particular and countrymen in general.
Incidentally, the flag, with little modifications, (Gandhi suggested a white band to symbolise peace and a charkha to represent self-reliance) went on to soar in the sky enabling Indians to raise their heads with pride which was otherwise bowing to invaders.
The nation, long suppressed, found its common purpose in a tiny cloth with three colours and a 24-spoke wheel signifying that there is life in movement and death in stagnation. It also gave a message that India should not resist the change.
Pingali Venkayya first gifted his designs of the flag to Mahatma Gandhi, who, in turn recognising his passionate efforts noted in his journal “Young India”, “We should be prepared to sacrifice our lives for the sake of our national flag. Pingali Venkayya, who is working in Andhra National College, Machilipatnam, has published a book describing the flags of countries and designed many models of our own National Flag. I appreciate his hard struggle for the approval of the Indian National Flag. Post-Independence, a national flag committee was also formed under President Rajendra Prasad. It used Venkayya’s tricolour design but replaced the charkha with the Ashok Chakra. The question of who recommended this change is still unclear.
Ón July 22, 1947, the Constituent Assembly adopted the Flag as “Free India National Flag” and thus Pingali Venkayya was credited as architect or designer of the Indian National Flag. The flag designed by him came to be synonymous with the spirit of free and independent India. He also published a book in 1916 offering thirty designs of what could make the Indian flag. Throughout all Congress sessions between 1918 and 1921, he relentlessly put forward the idea of having a flag of our own. However, his life and works largely remain unrecognised. He, however, died in poverty in 1963 and was largely forgotten by society. His legacy was revived in 1992, by former Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh N.T. Rama Rao, when he included Venkayya’s statue as part of the 31 statues of prominent state icons in Tank Bund, Hyderabad.
In 2009, a stamp was also issued to commemorate him, and the Andhra Pradesh government recommended his name for the Bharat Ratna in 2014. Venkayya was, however, not considered for the honour that was eventually bestowed on cricketer Sachin Tendulkar and scientist C.N.R. Rao that year. In 2015, the then Urban Development Minister M. Venkaiah Naidu renamed the AIR Vijayawada after Venkayya and unveiled his statue on its premises. In 2021, Chief Minister Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy felicitated Venkayya’s daughter Ghantasala Seetha Mahalakshmi and his other family members on the occasion of 75 years of the Flag, and presented a cheque for Rs. 75 lakhs.
Venkayya was clear that the flag must command respect from all countrymen and should not feature any object associated with any specific community. For Venkayya, the aspiring nation needed a flag to integrate Indians within a common banner — one that stood for sacrifice, peace and unity.