The Buddhist Flag, first hoisted in 1885 in Sri Lanka, is a symbol of faith and peace used throughout the world to represent the Buddhist faith.
There appears to have been a controversy over as to who designed the Buddhist Flag.
Some give the credit to Henry Steele Olcott, a retired American Army Colonel to Sri Lanka in May 1880.
Olcott embraced Buddhism and joined the Buddhist revivalist movement and pioneered Buddhist education. He initiated the establishment of close to 400 Buddhist schools and colleges in Sri Lanka. Ananda, Nalanda, Mahinda and Dharmaraja stand as monuments to his pioneering efforts.
In 1884, the Buddhists succeeded in getting the British rulers to declare Vesak Poya Day as a Public Holiday as from May 1885. At this stage the Buddhists established the ‘Colombo Committee’, and Olcott was indeed one of its members, but there were also more than ten other eminent members of the Sri Lankan laity and sangha.
This committee set about the task of evolving a Buddhist Flag to be hoisted on Vesak Full Moon Day, 28th May 1885, the day declared as a Public Holiday, for the first time.
Thus it is this committee that jointly designed the Buddhist Flag and the then Secretary of the Committee presented it to the public as approved by the ‘Colombo Committee’ on 17th April 1885.
The Buddhist Flag, so designed, was hoisted for the first time on 28th May 1885, Vesak Full Moon Day, by Ven. Migettuwatte Gunananda Thera at Deepaduththaramaya in Kotahena.
On a suggestion by Olcott the flag was modified to be of the normal size of National Flags. The Buddhist Flag so modified was hoisted on Vesak Full Moon Day in 1886. It remains unchanged to this day and is used by all the traditions and schools of Buddhism throughout the world.
Professor G .P. Malalasekera was instrumental in making it the Flag of the Buddhist World. His proposal at the meeting of World Federation of Buddhists held in Kandy on 25th May 1950, to accept it as the official Buddhist Flag.
It was accepted as the International Buddhist Flag by the 1952 World Buddhist Congress.