Is Indian Flag Spiritual or Secular?
(Compilation for a Discourse by N.R.Srinivasan, August 2014)
Indian National flag was based on the flag of Indian National congress with three bands of saffron, white and green with spinning wheel or Charaka so dear to Mahatma Gandhi in the middle on the white background. The Chakra or wheel which replaces Charaka is at the center of the National Flag of the Republic of India where it appears in navy-blue color on a white background. A few days prior to India’s Independence (July 27 1947), a specially constituted Constituent Assembly decided that the flag of India must be accepted by all parties and communities. The modified version retained the three bands as such but replaced the Chraka with Chakra, the Wheel of Dharma from Buddhism with 24 spokes. They also justified that way the flag takes care of the least represented Buddhist followers in India which guarantees protection of minority interests by its secular constitution.
When Buddha attained enlightenment in Gaya he came to Saranath on the outskirts of Varanasi. There he re-found his Panchavargeeya Bikshus or five disciples (Buddhist monks)who had earlier moved out of him. He gave his first sermon to them, promulgating Dharmachakra containing eight spokes to represent eight paths of duty. An eight-fold Dharmachakra resembles traditional ship's wheel. As a nautical emblem this image is a common sailor's tattoo. Later Dharmachakra had 12 spokes. Asoka Chakra is an adoption of Dharmachakra of Buddha. This had 24 spokes as in the Indian National Flag. Later Buddhists followers during Asoka’s time interpreted 12 out 24 spokes as representing twelve casual links to life taught by Buddha. These are: 1. Avidyaa (lack of spiritual knowledge; 2) Samskaara (sacrament); 3) Vijnaana (Consciousness); 4) Naamaroopa (name and form); 5) Shadyaatana (six sense including mind); (6) Sparsa (contact); (7) Vedanaa (Pain); (8) Trishnaa (Thirst); 9) Upaadaana (Seeking alms); 10) Bhaava (existing) 11) Jaati (Birth in specific society) and 12) Jaraa-marana (old age and death). These 12 together with the reflection on the other side constituted 24 Dhamma or Life (in Pali language).Probably these 24 represents 24 aspects of the Sun. Buddhist explanation of 24 spokes in Ashoka Chakra is actually 12 on one side and the mirror image of 12 on the other side, making it, 24.
Extending this Buddhist explanation above of Asokachakra Hindus may explain this twenty-four spokes to be representing 48 letters of Sanskrit which 48 symbolizes Supreme Principle (Kshetra of Akshara or Ksherjana). Svetasvatara Upanishad describes Brhamachakra of 50 spokes which includes in addition to 48 alphabets Bindu (.) and Visarga (:) which are not alphabets. Sanskrit language has 48 alphabets from A to Ha which represents Supreme Principle who is described as aksharah and aham as contained in Mahavakya aham Brahmaasmi. The consonants ka to Bha containing 24 alphabets are also said to symbolize 24 aspects of Sun according to Hindu Scriptures. 16 vowels represent Moon the transcendental aspect of Brahman. The consonants from ma to the last letter ha are ten aspects of Fire. Parabrahman is also called Rudra and glorified with Panchabrahma Mantras in MNU. Sun, Moon and Fire are the three eyes of Parabrahman or Rudra praised in Vedas in Rudraprasna. It is therefore logical to conclude that Asokachakra lends itself more towards Brahmachakra than Buddhist Dharmachakra. The forty-eight spokes of the wheel back and forth together represent 48 alphabets of Sanskrit or Parabrahman. 24 spokes could also represent 24 hours in a day and the wheel Kaalachakra whose custodian is Kaala or Time that is Brahman which is in continuous forward motion as a wheel. It is likely 24 aspects of Sun represented by consonants Ka to Bha might have given the idea for Western astronomers to divide a day into 24 equal divisions moving away from 30 Muhurtas for a day as originally followed by ancient Hindu astrologers for time calculation.
Again, the wheel consists of Hub the origin representing Creation, Spokes Sustenance, and Rim the Ending representing three aspects as Srishti, Sthiti, Laya and the wheel as a whole the cyclic nature of these three aspects. Again of the three colors the green represent Motherland, Orange represents spirit of sacrifice and white represent maintenance of Peace which reminds the duty of every Indian to protect the Motherland in a spirit of sacrifice and maintain universal peace. From Vedantic point of View wheel Represents Parabrahman and three colors represents Parasakti in her three aspects of Jnaanasakti, Icchaasakti and Kriyaasakti. Chandrasekharanada Saraswati in his speech on August 15, 1947 when India got its Independence says Green represents Durga as the Universal Mother (Earth is hailed as Universal Mother in MNU) orange of golden hue indicating Prosperity for Lakshmi and white representing Saraswati or Knowledge. It is also possible Green represents Mother Earth or Lakshmi indicating Prosperity; orange (kesari) representing Veerya of Durga (veera-kesari often referred to lion), strength or power and White Saraswati representing Light or Knowledge. He also refers Wheel of Dharma as Bhagawan represented by Sudharsana Chakra which Krishna occasionally wielded to preserve Dharma as dharmachakra (vinaasaaya cha dushkritaam). Just as Vishnu with Sudarsana Chakra, Siva is always identified with the Trident. However Swamiji does not refer to Brahmachakra of Upanishads. Thus the Indian Flag is complete in itself as representing Brahman in his Nirguna aspect (Purusha) and Saguna aspect (Prakriti) and as the manifestation of Kaalachkra with twenty four wheels to represent twenty-four hours in a day in a continuous process in motion as a wheel. Whatever may be the explanation of the flag to defend the secular declaration of Government of India it represents the Supreme Being in all aspects and completely in concurrence with the motto Satyameva Jayate where Satya means Truth which again means Brahman alone. Thus it is a wheel focused on Sanatana Dharma.
Radhakrishnan, the philosopher was an authority in Hindu philosophy. He was aware of Sri Rama’s statement in Ramayana “Jananee janmabhoomischa praanaadapi gareeyaci” (Mother and Mootherland are dearer than life). He also knew the famous Vedic quote Charaiveti Charaiveti (Move on and move forward). He also associated the flag with the motto Satyameva Jayate—Truth alone triumphs or prevails or Brahman alone is True. Sarvapalle Radhakrishnan who later became India's first Vice President and then second President, explained the features the adopted flag and described its significance as follows:
“The saffron color or Bhagwa denotes renunciation or disinterestedness. Our leaders must be indifferent to material gains and dedicate themselves to their work. The White in the center is light, the path of Truth to guide our work. The green shows our relation to (the soil); our relation to the plant life here, on which all other life depends. The Ashoka Chakra in the center of the white is the wheel of Dharma. Truth or Satya-dharma or virtue ought to be the controlling principle of those who work under the flag. Again, the wheel denotes motion. There is death in stagnation. There is life in movement. India should no more resist change, it must move and go forward. The wheel represents the dynamism of peaceful change.” Probably The President was recalling the Vedic Mantra Charaiveti Charaiveti from Vedas meaning move on and move forward, represented by the motion of the wheel.
America’s motto “In God we Trust” with no reference to any God based on religion is free from any religious bias. USA’s other quote found in all currencies “E pluribus Unum” meaning “Out of many One” clarifies that God is One, the Universal Lord as defined in Vedas Tadekam, that alone or Truth. Similarly India’s motto “Satyameva Jayate” reference to Supreme Principle often referred as “Truth” with no reference to later Puraanic Hindu deities—Satyam, sivam, sundaram is free from any religious bias. Hindu origin is Sanatana Dharma which is obligated to treat all people on earth as one family-- “Vasudeka Kutumbakam”. It is interesting to note the Dharmachakra is also US armed forces military chaplain's insignia for Buddhist chaplains. Thus the two countries are spiritually secular if not politically secular but fail to politically convince atheists whose number is growing in the material world.
REFERENCES AND ACKNOWLEDGEMENT
1. Jagadguru Chandrasekharananda Saraswati, India’s Independence Day Speech on August 15, 1947.
2. Seshiengar A, India through the Ages, Sri Ramchandra Book Depot, Mysore, India.
3. Srinivasan N.R., Srichakra of Sri Lalita and Brahmachakra of Parabrahman, <nrsrini.blgspot.com>
4. Srinivasan N.R., Sanskrit Language is Divine, is Tamil too?
5. Wikipedia and other Internet sources.
[This discourse material is a compilation from the reference above as well as other sources for a prepared lecture for delivering at Vedanta Class of Sri Ganeha Temple which is gratefully acknowledged. I do not claim anything as original though I have included my explanations and comments elaborately suitably editing. Anybody is free to download partly or fully this discourse, modify and redistribute this as well as other discourses from the blog Hindu Reflections <nrsrini.blogspot.com> for spreading the wisdom of Vedas and scriptures further. These lectures are posted on the blog for the benefit of those who are not able to attend my lectures personally due to personal reasons or due to not living in Nashville or able to go through the various sources as I have done.]