The New Navy Ensign Of New (And Ancient) India

The New Navy Ensign Of New (And Ancient) India

by Aravindan Neelakandan - Saturday, September 3, 2022 09:33 PM IST
The New Navy Ensign Of New (And Ancient) India The unveiling of the new ensign
  • The new ensign or 'Nishaan' of the Indian Navy is inspired by the Maratha Navy and Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj.

    The new Nishaan will replace the ensign with a white flag with horizontal and vertical red stripes, called 'St George's Cross'.

    This is important for more reasons than one.

On 26 January 1950, the British royal symbol that was in the Indian navy crest was replaced with the lions of Sarnath pillar. The emblem of the Indian navy incorporated an invocation from the Rig Veda—Shaṁ No Varuna’—asking the Vedic Deity to protect us and herald auspiciousness.

However, the Indian Navy Ensign still sported the Saint George Cross – symbol of St. George who slayed the dragon – often depicted as a black demon.

In the Christian worldview St. George helps Christians win their battle against pagans in early Rome and later against Muslims during the crusades.

The Indian National flag was resting on one of the bars of the cross, in the top left. That this cross was imposed on Indian Navy despite independence speaks a lot about the need to decolonise.

The cross of St. George is no ordinary cross. It has strong fanatical connotations in the colonial-evangelical worldview. It stands opposite to everything that India stands for - freedom, unity in diversity and Swarajya. Prof. Rod Giblett points out:

The legend of St. George is a foundational myth in which the good Christian St George kills the bad, pagan swamp dragon and established the English nation at home and the British empire abroad in the colonies and common-wealth. ... He even had is own flag, a red cross on a white background and his own saint's day ... celebrated every year by so-called 'Patriots'.
Black Swan Song Life and Work of a Wetland Writer, Hamilton Books, 2021, p.79

In 2001, under the Prime Ministership of Atal Bihari Vajpayee the cross was removed.

Along with the National Flag there was the Ashoka lions, the National Emblem of India with an anchor. However, this was there only for a short time.

In 2004, the ensign was changed again with two red bands cutting each other at right angles and National Emblem was placed at the heart of the intersection of these red beams. It was no longer St George Cross, but nevertheless a cross.

Now Indian Navy Ensign has been changed to reflect the new India.

It shows Indian Tricolour at the top left. It also shows navy blue octagon seal with a gold border. This encloses the three lions of Ashoka and the anchor characteristic of navy. Below this and inside the enclosing octagon is the Vedic declaration that is in the emblem of Indian Navy.

Each of these elements has a significance.

The National Tricolour shows the sovereignty of India. The cross, a symbol of colonial servitude in Indian historical context, is gone.

The octagonal shape is reminiscent of Chhatrapati Shivaji’s seal as this Swarajya article points out.

Shivaji Maharaj was a visionary who wanted India to have its own navy. Hindavi Swarajya of Chhatrapati Shivaji, even after his time, nurtured the naval force and the Hindus emerged as a force on the western coast of India.

This reached its peak under Kanhoji Angre (1669-1729). Veer Savarkar in his scintillating book on the revival and raise of Hindu Nation under Marathas, which was one of the most favourite books of Bhagat Singh, wrote about this genius of naval warfare.

Given the occasion the passage is worth quoting at some length:

The English breathed fury. The very names of their warships were meant to hurl defiance at the Marathas. One was named ‘"Hunter;” another was “Hawk”. Third was “Revenge;” the fourth was “Victory” before the contest began. ...
Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, Hindu Pad- Padashahi, 1925, pp. 46-7
To render success doubly sure, the Portuguese too were invited, and they too readily agreed to march together against the Marathas. The Marathas received the united attack of these two powerful European nations in 1721 and fought so gallantly and skilfully, both by land and sea, as to make it impossible for the European forces to scale the walls of their fortresses. ....
Soon the English 'Victory' like its Commodore, found, after firing, that it had forgotten to load its pistol, and the English 'Revenge' not only failed to avenge, but got itself captured by the Marathas and held in ransom.
In 1724 the Dutch too had their go. They attacked Vijayadurga with no less than seven warships, two bomb vessels and a body of regular troops : but they too failed to make any impression on the rocks of the Maratha fortitude, and the stout old Maratha admiral sailed the Hindu waters unchallenged—unchallengeable—and all this he and his nation had to achieve in spite of the constant wars with the Moslem Siddi by land in Konkan, the Nizam in the Deccan, the Moguls in Gujarat and Malwa and Bundelkhand.

Today India stands in the middle of various battle grounds.

From civilisational battles to battles of economic domination, battles unleashed by technological apartheid to covert battles of terrorism and internal subversion, India is facing a combined fleet of anti-Indian forces. Amidst all these battles one man has emerged as the modern Kanhoji Angre, holding the fort for us Indians.

The octagonal logo brings this spirit of guarding India against all odds - the spirit of Shivaji Maharaj that was the foundation on which the institution of India's modern navy was built.

Below the three headed lion on the anchor, one finds ‘Shaṁ No Varuna’.

Who is this Varuna? Is he the ‘Aryan’ equivalent of Greek mythology’s Neptune? Why should Indian Navy incorporate an appeal to a mythical God of an ancient time?

The answer is that Vedic Varuna is much more than Neptune.

He is fundamentally associated with the very fabric of Indian nationhood right from time immemorial. He unites people across space and time. He is the unifier of diverse humanity.

Prof. Parveen Talpur is a Pakistani archaeologist-historian. She has written books on the Harappan civilisation.

In 2017, she published a book Indus Seals (2600-1900 BCE): Beyond Geometry. In the book she discusses a button seal discovered in a Harappan site. It has a central four-pointed star surrounded by four three-concentric circles with a similar three-concentric circles in the middle of the star.

This may be the eye of Varuna who was to the earlier Iranian religion, Ahura. All the stars are the eyes of Varuna, she points out.

This is quite meaningful. After all, in ancient times to traverse the oceanic waters one needed the stars.

Varuna being the lord of the expanses also guides and protects the sailors through his countless eyes. The ever-watching eyes are today important part of all Hindu Gods and Goddesses so much so that when Rabindranath Tagore wrote ‘Jana Gana Mana’, in the fourth stanza he spoke of the never blinking ever watchful eyes - Nayan Animeshey- of Snehamayi Tumi Mata.

Though Islamised, in rural Pakistan, Varuna worship rituals still exist, states Talpur.

As Ahura, Varuna unites ancient Iran and India. Still living in modified rituals, He asserts the deep spiritual unity of what is today Pakistan and India.

His worship has been traced across Asia. Unlike St George who stands for colonial subjugation, Varuna stands for spiritual unity in diversity.

Sri Aurobindo brings out this magnificence of Vedic Varuna in his Secret of the Vedas:

Thither the Dawns shining arise, the rivers travel and the Sun unyokes there the horses of his chariot. And Varuna contains, sees, governs all this in his vast being and by his illimitable knowledge. ... Oceanic Varuna is king of all these waters. “In the uprising of the rivers” it is said “he is a brother of seven sisters, he is in their middle.”
Sri Aurobindo, The Secrets of the Vedas, 1916:1998, pp.503-4
... Not only the goal, the march too is his. “Varuna of the puissance and the thousand-fold vision beholds the goal of these rivers; he is the king of the kingdoms, he is the form of the rivers, for him is a strength supreme and universal.” ...
Varuna, we see, is the oceanic surge of the hidden Divine as he rises, progressively manifested, to his own infinite wideness and ecstasy in the soul of the god-liberated seer. The illusions which he shatters with his tread are the false formations of the Lords of Evil.

Thus, the qualities of Varuna from time immemorial to the present represent the essence of Indian spiritual traditions, protecting which is the civilisation that is India.

Dr. Ambedkar asserted this civilisational point when he declared that more important than gaining Swaraj was protecting Hindus in the Swarajya obtained.

The new ensign combines powerfully two vitals of the modern Indian Navy – the historical-institutional roots and the civilisational spiritual core.

India is both a Nation-State and a Civilisational Nation. That this has been done when Indian unveils her indigenously built air-craft carrier is the most appropriate time to declare this message to the world and more importantly, to ourselves.

Aravindan is a contributing editor at Swarajya.

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