India ‘Doing Away With Colonial Past’ With New Naval Flag

Prime Minister Narendra Modi will unveil a new ensign for the Indian Navy Friday, September 2 during the commissioning of the country’s first home-built aircraft carrier INS Vikrant.  The commissioning of INS Vikrant will take place at Cochin Shipyard Limited in Kochi and during the event, the PM will also “unveil the new Naval Ensign (Nishaan), doing away with the colonial past,” the PMO said in a statement.

The new ensign will be “befitting the rich Indian maritime heritage,” it added, although the design has not been unveiled yet. 

What Is A Naval Ensign 

As the name suggests, a naval ensign is a flag that is installed atop naval warships, on ground stations, at air bases and other institutions used as a form of maritime identification. Indian naval ensign is also known as Nishaan meaning symbol. 

Every country’s navy has its own ensign which can be the same as their country’s flag or a distant one. For example, the US Navy’s ensign is the same as its national flag but many other navies have distinctive naval ensigns which are used by their war vessels.

The Indian Naval Ensign 

The existing ensign of the Indian Navy draws its origin from the colonial past. 

The current ensign of the Navy is a white flag with horizontal and vertical red stripes, with the Emblem of India emblazoned at the intersection of the two stripes. The tricolour is placed in the canton.

From 1879 to 1892, the blue ensign of Star of India was used as the naval ensign of Her Majesty’s Indian Marine. 

On October 2, 1934, the naval service was renamed Royal Indian Navy (RIN), with its headquarters at Bombay (now Mumbai) and the ensign also changed to the one used by the Royal Navy till 1950. 

After 1950 when India became a Republic, the prefix ‘Royal’ was dropped and it was rechristened as the Indian Navy. The ensign was also replaced with the Indian flag instead of Britain’s flag over the St George’s Cross. Now the naval ensign had an Indian flag at the top left corner of the St George’s Cross over a white background. 

The naval ensign was again modified in the year 2001 where the St George’s Cross was dropped and a blue crest of the Indian Navy was set upon the white background with the Indian flag retaining its position. The modification which was approved by the President of India and came into effect on August 15, 2001 did not go well as many complained that the blue of the naval crest was indistinguishable from the sky and the ocean. 

As a consequence, changes were made to the naval ensign in 2004 where the blue crest was dropped and St George’s Cross was restored, with a National Emblem at the intersection of the cross. 

Ten years later in 2014, the ensign which is in use till date was customised to add Satyamev Jayate written in Devanagari script under the State Emblem of India at the intersection of St George’s Cross.  

On 26 January 1950, the Crown in the naval crest, depicted with an anchor, was replaced by Ashokan Lion for the Indian Navy’s Emblem. The invocation to Lord Varuna (The Sea God) in the Vedas was adopted by it for its emblem, with the Motto: “Sam no Varunah”, meaning: ‘Be auspicious unto us Oh Varuna’. The inscription of ‘Satyamev Jayate’ below the State Emblem was included in the crest.

Designed by the Navy’s in-house Warship Design Bureau (WDB) and built by Cochin Shipyard Limited, a public sector shipyard under the Union Ministry of Ports, Shipping & Waterways, Vikrant has been built with with “state-of-the-art automation features and is the largest ship ever built in the maritime history of India”, it said.

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