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Editorial 28: The Buddhist Flag

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buddhist flag

buddhist flag

Henry Steel Olcott was the president of The Theosophical Society from 1875 until his death in 1907. He invested much of his time as president of the T.S during his Indian period (from 1879 onward) in Adyar into the revival of Buddhism in Sri Lanka. He took many initiatives there, such as founding the first Buddhist school in Sri Lanka, introducing the first movie camera to Sri Lanka, being the first westerner, together with H.P. Blavatsky to take panchashila – the five virtue vow of Buddhism and thus became a formal Buddhist, thus openly showing the submission of his Christian background to the Buddhist faith. One of his actions was to write a widely accepted Buddhist Categism (1881)1. He also was involved in the founding of the Buddhist Theosophical Society in Sri Lanka in 1880 there, of which theosophist Charles Webster Leadbeater became the first Principle, and the First English School (later this school was shifted to Maradana in the far South of Sri Lanka (not far from the city of Galle) where present day Ananda College became one of the foremost colleges in Sri Lanka. The Buddhist Theosophical Society still exists today on the main avenue of Colombo, which avenue is nowadays named Olcott Mawatha after him, where also the main railway station (Fort R.S.) is situated, in front of which shows a large statue of Olcott at its main entrance.


H.S. Olcott – statue in front of the main Railway Station in Colombo. (Sri Lanka)

Olcott was also intimately involved in the designing of the Buddhist Flag, which, though originally Sri Lankan, can now be found in Buddhist countries all over Asia.

(text from World Museum of Buddhism, Kandy, Sri Lanka)

The Buddhist Flag used universally is formed of five primary colors: Blue, yellow, red, white and orange, the combination of which signifies world peace and ethnic harmony.

In 1883 this text was designed by a committee of erudite Buddhists, including venerable Migettuwatte Gunananda Mahathera, with venerable Hikkaduwe Sri Sumangala Mahathera in the chair. Colonel Henry Steele Olcott of American descent and a rank officer in the American Army and founder of the famous Theosophical Society played a singular role in the succesful execution of the design of the Buddhist flag. The proposed flag was ceremonially hoisted at the Dipaduttamarama Temple, Kotahena, on 28 April, 1885.

In 1889 the flag was introduced to the Emperor of Japan by Anagarika Dharmapala and Colonel Henry Olcott. In 1950, the proposal to approve the flag was introduced to the World Fellowship of Buddhists by Prof. S.P. Malalasekara and was finally approved as the International Buddhist Flag by the World Buddhist Congress held in 1952.

  1. still available and in use today, and also online in various formats under the Gutenberg Project []