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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Buddhist flag
A Buddhist flag flying in Beijing.

The Buddhist flag is a flag designed in the late 19th century to symbolise and universally represent Buddhism. It is used by Buddhists throughout the world.



The flag was originally designed in 1885 by the Colombo Committee, in Colombo, Sri Lanka. The committee consisted of Ven. Hikkaduwe Sri Sumangala Thera (chairman), Ven. Migettuwatte Gunananda Thera, Don Carolis Hewavitharana (father of Anagarika Dharmapala), Andiris Perera Dharmagunawardhana (maternal grandfather of Anagarika Dharmapala), William de Abrew, Charles A. de Silva, Peter de Abrew, H. William Fernando, N. S. Fernando and Carolis Pujitha Gunawardena (secretary).

This flag was published in the Sarasavi Sandaresa newspaper of 17 April 1885 and was first hoisted in public on Vesak day, 28 May 1885 at the Dipaduttamarama, Kotahena, by Ven. Migettuwatte Gunananda Thera. This was the first Vesak public holiday under British rule.

Colonel Henry Steel Olcott, an American journalist, founder and first president of the Theosophical Society, felt that its long streaming shape made it inconvenient for general use. He therefore suggested modifying it so that it was the size and shape of national flags. Modifications were made accordingly, which were adopted. The modified flag was published in the Sarasavi Sandaresa of 8 April 1886 and first hoisted on Vesak day 1886.

In 1889 the modified flag was introduced to Japan by Anagarika Dharmapala and Olcott - who presented it to the Emperor - and subsequently to Burma.

At the inaugural conference of the World Fellowship of Buddhists on 25 May 1950, its founder President Professor G P Malasekera proposed that this flag be adopted as the flag of Buddhists throughout the world; this motion was unanimously passed.


The five colours of the flag represent the six colours of the aura that emanated from the body of the Buddha when he attained Enlightenment:

Blue (Nila): Loving kindness, peace and universal compassion
Yellow (Pita): The Middle Path - avoiding extremes, emptiness
Red (Lohita): The blessings of practice - achievement, wisdom, virtue, fortune and dignity
White (Odata): The purity of Dharma - leading to liberation, outside of time or space
Orange (Manjesta): The Buddha's teachings - wisdom

The sixth vertical band, on the fly, is made up of a combination of rectangular bands of the five other colours, and represents a compound of the other five colours in the aura's spectrum. This compound colour is referred to as Pabbhassara ('essence of light').

In Tibet, the colours of the stripes represent the different colours of Buddhist robes united in one banner. Tibetan monastic robes are maroon, so the orange stripes in the original design are often replaced with maroon.


The nonsectarian Buddhist flag is flown over the temples of many different schools. However, some choose to change the colors of the flag to emphasize their own teachings.

  • Buddhists in Japan replace the orange and blue stripes with green and purple stripes. The Jodo Shinshu sect in Japan replaces the orange stripes with pink stripes.
  • Tibetan Buddhists in Nepal replace the orange stripes with plum stripes.
  • Soka Gakkai uses a tricolor of blue, yellow, and red.[1]
  • Theravada Buddhists in Burma replace orange with pink, the color of the robe of the country's nuns.
  • Theravada Buddhists in Thailand rarely use the Buddhist flag, opting the usage of a yellow flag with a red Dharmacakra instead.


In 1963, the Catholic President of South Vietnam Ngo Dinh Diem selectively invoked a law prohibiting flags other than that of the nation, to ban the Buddhist flag from being flown on Vesak, when Vatican flags had habitually flown at government events. This led to a protest, which was ended by lethal firing of weapons, starting the Buddhist crisis.


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