THE FIRST FLAG HOISTING CEREMONY IN INDIA

When India became independent, the National Flag was hoisted for the first time at 6 p.m. on 15 August 1947, in the open lawns of Princes Park near India Gate. The ceremony was organised under the aegis of Headquarter Delhi Area, commanded by Major General Maharaj Shri Rajendra Sinhji, DSO, who also commanded the parade at the flag hoisting.

The parade had six contingents, four from the Army and one each from the Navy and Air Force. The Army contingents were provided by 1 Sikh and my father, Colonel Harwant Singh, MC, (then a Major), being the senior most officer present in 1 Sikh at the time, was privileged to lead the six contingents and was also the Deputy Parade Commander. The contingents were formed in two hollow squares; the inner square comprised of three rifle companies of 1 Sikh and the outer square had the contingents of the Navy, the Air Force and the fourth rifle company of 1 Sikh.

It was a pleasant sunny August day and the flag hoisting was scheduled for 6 p.m.. A huge crowd had turned up for this historic event and there was an air of festivity and jubilation all around. As per the ceremonial procedure, the parade commander was to call the parade to attention once the Governor General of the newly created Dominion of India, Admiral Lord Viscount Mountbatten of Burma, accompanied by the Prime Minister Shri Jawahar Lal Nehru arrived at the dais. The parade would then ‘present arms’ followed by the Prime Minister unfurling the National Flag along with a 31 gun salute by an artillery battery. This would be followed by the Prime Minister’s address, after which the contingents would ‘March Past’ the saluting dais and then get back to their hollow square formation.

The administrative arrangements for the parade and for the rehearsals had been made by 1 Sikh, which had also catered for seating 15,000 people on either side of the saluting dais. Pipe barricades had been erected as large crowds were expected. The crowd was jubilant when at 1715h, the marching contingents, commanded by Major Harwant Singh entered the ground. Marching to the beat of the brass band and the unit ‘pipe and drums’, the contingent took its place, the Sikhs looking colourful in their red turbans with steel Chakkars, white spats and black web belts. An unbelievable air of festivity permeated from every nook and corner of the ground and expectancy was writ large on the face of the lakhs of people who had gathered to witness the making of history.

At the scheduled time, Major General Rajendra Sinhji, arrived at the dais. Major Harwant Singh brought the contingents to attention, gave the ‘General Salute’, and then handed over the parade to the General. At this point the crowds became excited as many people in the rear, who could not see what was happening, thought that the Flag had been unfurled. The cheering crowds then surged forward, jumping over the barricades and filled the hollow square.

The swirl of happy humanity was impossible to control and under such circumstances, Prime Minister Nehru arrived with Lord Mountbatten and reached the saluting dais. The parade commander gave the National Salute and India’s Prime Minister unfurled the Flag to the accompaniment of the National Anthem, the 31 gun salute and to the thunderous applause of the milling crowds. History had been created but the march past obviously could not be carried out as crowds thronged every inch of the area. The Prime Minister and Lord Mountbatten, after mingling for some time with the crowds swirling around them, were then escorted to the waiting horsed carriage. Indeed, it was a momentous occasion for all.

Col Devinder Singh Sidhu, a third generation officer was commissioned in the Bengal Sappers on 31 March 1972. He commanded an Engineer Bridge Regiment and retired in Oct 2005.

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