The Sri Lankan flag is not an aesthetic triumph, but neither am I. I like it anyways. In this (random) graded review of flags Sri Lanka got 41/100 with demerits for weapons, bad colors, graven images and being too busy. Which I think is fair, but again, I like it anyways. It’s a flag, it’s our flag. I have one in the house in case there’s a big cricket match or something. What’s news is that a Tamil leader made news by simply holding the flag at all.
The Sri Lankan flag is a lion on a maroon background with orange and green stripes, plus a yellow border. The lion flag was the last insignia of the last Kandyan king, who was Tamil/Telegu, insomuch as such distinctions were distinct back then. It has nevertheless come to symbolize the Sinhalese to many people. I mean, I think it officially does symbolize the Sinhalese, tho – like all forms of identity – it breaks down if you look closely enough. I mean, by the mythology the lion was the Indian grandfather of Vijaya, the mythical progenitor of the Sinhalese race.
But nevermind. The rub is that the stripes symbolize the other races rather explicitly, kinda on the sword side also. I’m not a fan of putting demographic info in flags. I mean, demographics change. But nevermind. Those are criticisms of the flag, but honestly my main complaint as a child was that I just couldn’t draw the lion. It’s a symbol and I at least have got over my design issues to have a love for the symbol as it is, and what it represent, which to me is Sri Lanka.
For a lot of people, however, the idea of a Sri Lankan state is scary and Sinhala, and the flag represents that. So they don’t like the flag. Hence there’s a controversy about Tamil National Alliance MP Sampanthan even holding the flag at a UNP rally. He’s a sitting MP so there really shouldn’t be an issue, but there is, which shows you how deep the mistrust is, and how insecure the idea of a united Sri Lanka has been. And is, to a degree what with INTERNATIONAL CONSPIRACIES ABOUND. I refer to Mahinda’s May Day refrain, which is the only issue keeping economic protests off the streets.
The bigger issue, of course is that there’s still mistrust around the very idea and symbols of a centralized Sri Lankan state. Which is why I’m glad that Sampanthan did wave the flag. The ‘I’ll respect the state once the state respects me’ argument is, IMHO, about as pointless as figuring out whether the chicken or the egg came first. I mean, just let there be chickens and eggs and get on with things. Hence I’m all in favor of waving the flag, even if we have an imperfect state.
Regarding which, I’ve always found it interesting that Mahinda has his own flag, and I’ve often wondered what it was about. Apparently Sri Lanka Presidents have their own personal flags. Mahinda’s one I rather like. It’s simple, austere and SYMBOLIC rather than being, you know, a sort of ethnic infographic. But you know, wave the flag you have. Happy, uh, Monday.