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Sunday, 31 January 2010





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Our national symbols...

National Flag

Every country has a national flag and many of you must be familiar with most of these flags which come in various sizes, shapes and colours depicting different designs and symbols.

Our national flag which depicts a sword bearing lion, two green and yellow strips and Bo leaves which is hoisted at all national functions however, is not the original flag that was unfurled at the first Independence Day celebrations in 1948.

The need for such a national flag was discussed and eventually a motion was also tabled in the State Council by the then MP for Batticaloa, A. Sinnalebbe on January 16, 1948, stating that the Lion flag used by our last king. Sri Wickrama Rajasinghe (which was taken to Britain way back in 1815) should become our national flag.

But there was disagreement and so, the Prime Minister D. S. Senanayake appointed a national Advisory Committee to look into this. But, as no final decision for a different flag was made, the Lion flag fluttered at the Independence celebrations in 1948.

The Prime Minister unfurled the Lion flag at the opening of the first Parliament of Independent Ceylon (as it was then known) on February 11, 1948 and it fluttered alongside the British Union Jack. Then again it was unfurled at the Octagon (Pattirippuwa), Kandy during Independence Day celebrations held there on February 12, 1948. The national flag that we have today which was recommended by the special committee was presented to Parliament by Premier D. S. Senanayake and was adopted only on March 2, 1951’. The special advisory committee members comprised S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike (Chairman), Sir John Kotalawela, J. R. Jayewardene, T. B. Jayah, Dr. L. A. Rajapaksa, G. G. Ponnambalam and Senator S. Nadesen and Dr. Senarath Paranavithana (Secretary). As recommended by the committee on March 2, 1951 two strips of green and saffron yellow (each strip equal to one-seventh the size of the flag) was added to the original Lion flag along with the other symbolic motifs and designs we see today.

However, when Sri Lanka became a republic in 1972, the stylised Bo leaves were replaced with natural Bo leaves. It was the amended flag that was unfurled at the Republic Day celebrations on May 22, 1972. The flag which was designed with great care retaining the original design of the Lion flag, the civil standard of King Sri Wickrama Rajasinghe, not only represents the heritage of the country but also integrates the minority races into the majority race.

The lion which is symbolic of bravery represents the majority Sinhalese ethnic strength while the saffron vertical strip represents the Tamils, the green strip the Muslims and Moors. Crimson background, the European Burghers and the yellow border other minority ethnicities. Each part of the lion has a different meaning.The Bo leaves represent kindness, friendliness, happiness and equanimity (metta, karuna, muditha and upeksha).

The national flag should be treated with respect and not just thrown around as just another piece of cloth or paper.

National Anthem

Ananda Samarakoon’s composition ‘Namo Namo Matha’ is our national anthem which should be sung with great pride and reverence. The main theme of the anthem is designed to instil honour and respect to our Motherland and also create national development through unity.

Do you know that a competition to select a national anthem was conducted in January 1948 on the recommendation of the Sri Lanka Gandharva Sabha and Samarakoon’s composition was selected on November 22, 1951 However, as there was some controversy about the lyrics, the opening words in Samarakoon’s composition, were changed to “Sri Lanka Matha - Apa Sri Lanka...”

On Independence Day in 1952, a group of 500 students from Musaeus College rendered the national anthem for the first time and it was broadcast over the radio.

National Emblem

Even after we gained independence we continued to use the British emblem, but a select committee was later appointed to devise a new State emblem.

Initially it had a lion with a sword in its right fore paw encircled by a palapethi open petal design at the top. A strip carrying our country’s name in all three languages was at the bottom.

When we became a Republic in 1972 a new emblem was chosen. Retaining the original design, a punkalasa, the dhammachakka, sun, moon and two sheaves of paddy were added to make the State emblem what it is today.



National Flower

The beautiful fragrant and star-like blossom of the lily family, the blue water lily (Nymphaea stellata) or the Nil Manel as it’s known in Sinhala was selected as the national flower of our Motherland in February 1986.

The lily which has several bluish-green petals arranged like a star and flat, round waterproof leaves grows in the shallow water in all parts of the country.

It is considered to be a symbol of purity and truth. Buddhists and Hindus use these flowers for religious purposes.




National Tree

The ironwood (Mesua ferrea) or the Na tree which is a rainforest tree indigenous to the lower Wet Zone of the country was named the National Tree in 1986. This tree which grows to about 30 feet in height has a radiant white flower with a golden centre which is used by many Buddhist devotees as offering to the Buddha. The beautiful bright red leaves, mature to a deep green.

The wood of this tree is hardy and has been used to construct even bridges, but the reason it was chosen as our national tree is not because of its hardiness, but its religious connection. It is believed that the Buddha’s first visit to Mahiyanganaya was to a grove of Na trees and also that the next Buddha, will attain enlightenment under a Na tree.





National Bird

The bright brown hued fowl, the Ceylon Jungle Fowl (Gallus lafayetti), known as the Wali Kukula in Sinhala has been elevated to national status.

It can be found strutting about and scratching the ground for food in typical fowl fashion, in many parks of the country.

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