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Indian Army Flags

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Discussion on the use of the national flag as a war flag

[Flag of India] by Željko Heimer

I am not sure about the military flag on land - I would guess that the national flag is used, but I have not found the confirmation for that. However, Smith (1982) (and others) show for the war flag purpose the red flag with three golden lions and swords in saltire. However, I think this is the Army flag, and not the national flag for use by the military on land (although in some countries this difference is not easy to determine, and sometimes is very vague and possibly not clearly legislated).  I would guess that in India, since the two are so different it should not be so difficult to decide. The war flag is the one that is hoisted daily on military installations (barracks) and that one to which the pledge is given. And in India, I think, it is the tricolour.
Željko Heimer, 15 January 2002

I believe Željko is correct in this - the Indian Army is the world's chief repository for the maintenance of old British Army traditions--probably more so than the British Army itself. British Army garrisons hoist the union jack on their flagpoles; it would be very surprising if Indian Army garrisons hoisted a flag other than the national tricolor under the same circumstances. In fact, the Indian Army uses the tricolour as the equivalent of the union jack in all other circumstances of which I am aware, including as the national colour (equivalent of queen's colour) of infantry regiments and to cover the bodies of soldiers killed in action.
Joe McMillan, 16 January 2002

Das (1981), Traditions and Customs of the Indian Armed Forces has a wealth of information on colors, rank flags, and so on, including, on page 50, that the national flag of India is flown only on the following army installations:
- Forts
- Establishments of the Army Ordnance Corps, Defence Inspectorate Organisation, and Defence Research and Development Organisation
- Posts along the border
- Headquarters of prisoner of war camps
- Field medical units (along with the Red Cross flag)
- Recruiting offices
- The National Defence College, Defence Services Staff College, National Defence Academy, Indian Military Academy, and Armed Forces Medical College.
Joe McMillan, 16 January 2002

Otherwise, the army normally flies the flag of the headquarters, formation, or other unit at the headquarters building and the commander's residence. The national flag is displayed at all posts for ceremonies in connection with Republic Day and Independence Day, and is broken when the national anthem is played to render a national salute to a civilian VIP.

Now, as it turns out, this is roughly consistent with old British practice, as are most ceremonial practices in the Indian Army. The 1894 Queen's Regulations and Orders for the Army (HMSO, 1894) lists well over a hundred installations as "flag stations," but only about a third of them were authorized to fly the Union Flag on a daily basis. The others were authorized to fly it either on Sundays and royal anniversaries only, or on anniversaries and when required to render salutes.

I still don't think this makes the red flag with crossed swords and Ashoka lions a "war flag" in the proper sense of the word. The national flag does fly at the most important installations ("forts") and is used to cover coffins. The Army flag is not flown at most installations--the local formation flag is.
Joe McMillan, 23 January 2002


Army Flag

[India Army] by Paige Herring, 23 August 1998

In the Defense Planning Staff briefing room in New Delhi, this flag appeared to be used as the army flag, along with the flags of the other services. The flag on the car of the Chief of Army Staff may have been this flag, but I thought at the time that it had instead the insignia of a general of the Indian Army on the fly rather than the Army badge: Ashoka lions above a five pointed star above a crossed baton and sword. The flag was made of metal with the emblems painted on it.
Joe McMillan, 3 December 2000

The army webpage contains a flashing image starting with a version of this flag without the swords, suggesting that it may be the army flag.
Contributed by Ivan Sache, 26 August 2001

The flag Das (1984) describes as the Chief of Army Staff flag, but with the swords in the horizontal orientation that this page and Das show for the Army flag, seems currently to be used as the flag of the Army, as I have noted before. It is displayed with the naval and air force ensigns in the joint planning directorate in New Delhi. It is shown and captioned as the Army flag on the unofficial but very highly regarded Bharat-Rakshak website. And a story in India Defence on the occasion of the adoption of the new naval ensign in August 2001 said the new design was intended to give the naval ensign a commonality of design with the other service flags. That only makes sense if the army flag has the national flag in the canton.

On the other hand, however, another article, at http://www.indiadefence.com/Naval_flags.htm says "the Army has no ensign, not even an army-wide flag.... It has, instead, formation flags at command/unit levels."

Finally, very inconclusively, a photograph of the just-retired Chief of Army Staff General Padmanabhan at http://spacedaily.com/news/nuclear-india-pakistan-02a.html shows a red flag behind him with what is obviously the handle of a large yellow sword with black detailing, but the entire flag is not visible. In any case, the Chief of Army Staff might equally well be portrayed with the Army flag as his personal flag, so it might not tell us anything anyway.

So for now all we have authoritative is Das, but I would nevertheless speculate that there may have been a change since 1984.
Joe McMillan, 3 February 2003

At India Gate in New Delhi, the huge memorial to the dead of World War I and site of the tomb of the unknown soldier, the flag representing the army in the display of the three services' flags is the crimson one with national flag canton and the Army badge in the fly. It is 2:3, in clear contrast with the 1:2 ratios of the naval ensign and Indian Air Force ensign flown alongside it at the memorial.
Joe McMillan, 2 February 2006

This link to a photo of the Indian military flags at the India Gate in New Delhi shows all three service flags with the same length, but the Army flag (proportions 2:3) is wider than the Naval and Air Force ensigns (proportions 1:2 for both).
Miles Li, 2 December 2008

The flag should bear the words "Satyameva Jayate" below the lions. In a report in the New Indian Express, the Indian Army, in a letter to an ex-serviceman, has admitted to omitting the words Satyameva Jayate from the State emblem in its official flag. The motto inscribed below the four lions and Ashok Chakra, which means ‘Truth Alone Triumphs’, is an integral part of the State emblem. ...

A February 25 letter from Colonel V S Rawat of Ceremonial and Welfare Directorate at the Integrated Headquarters of the MoD said that the army was grateful to Govindarajulu for bringing it to their notice. “We are grateful to you for bringing to our notice the omission of Satyameva Jayate in the State Emblem inscribed in the Indian Army Flag,” the letter said, pointing out that the Army had been sensitised on the correct usage of Satyameva Jayate and instructions to all would be passed again. Govindarajulu said that following the reply, the Army had rectified its flags on its website.
Andy S, 3 March 2013


Chief of Army Staff

[Chief of Army Staff] image by Miles Li and Paige Herring, 13 August 2009

The flag of Chief of the Army Staff of the Indian Armed Forces is the same as the Merchant Ensign; however, emblems from the Army General flag, the swords and the national arms, have been appropriated. Proportions 2:3. [This would be identical to the Army flag, shown above - ed.]
Source: Kannik (1958).
Paige Herring, 23 August 1998

According to several sources, including http://www.tribuneindia.com/1999/99sep20/nation.htm, there is now a flag known as the Chief of Army Staff's Banner that can be issued to military units as a reward for distinguished service. The then-COAS, General V.P. Malik, presented it to the Ladakh Scouts (a paramilitary unit in northern Kashmir) for service during the 1999 Kargil conflict. The photo shows a red flag with gold fringe; unfortunately the design on it is not visible.

I believe this must be a way of recognizing organizations that are not eligible for award of the President's Colour (about which more later). Since the Ladakh Scouts are not a regular Army unit, presumably they do not carry official colours. If so, this flag would be similar to the "banners" awarded to non-colour-bearing Australian military organizations by the Queen, Governor-General, and other dignitaries.
Joe McMillan, 30 January 2003

While in Delhi, I had the opportunity to attend the Beating Retreat ceremony on 29 January (2006) that concludes the celebrations surrounding Republic Day. The
Chief of Army Staff, General J. J. Singh, arrived in a car flying a flag similar to the one we show as the flag of the army, but with four gold stars arranged vertically down the fly. There can be no doubt that this is the current flag of the COAS.
Joe McMillan, 2 February 2006


Army Flag (previously reported)

[War Flag of India] image by Željko Heimer
Source: Smith (1982)

This flag is reported as the Indian "war flag" by Smith (1982), but its use is uncertain.  It is identical to the Army General flag.

This is probably the flag of the army.  It is red with golden crossed swords and a capital from the Maurya empire time that is the national coat of arms of India. On the flag is just the capital without the inscription that is a part of the arms.
Željko Heimer

The Army Flag "is flown:
(a) at Command HQ, on such occasions of purely army character as the G.O.C-in-C may decide (it is, however, not flown in place of the National Flag wherever the latter is flown), and
(b) at Army sports meetings when representative matches are played."

It does appear to be modelled on the British "Army Flag".  The India Office asked for a drawing of the British flag on 14 November 1938. [WO 32/4632]
David Prothero, 23 January 2002