At the heart of symbolism

The flag of Sri Lanka

(Detailed page)


Flag of Sri Lanka

The colours of the flag

The two flag panels are bordered with yellow, the medium colour of the rainbow spectrum. Yellow balances the extreme colours of the spectrum such as red and blue.

Mixed with red and blue, yellow provides the more tempered green and orange colours of the two vertical bands of the panel next to the hoist. As these colours are supposed to represent the Muslim and Hindu communities, the presence of yellow within each of them is a reminder that different traditions have more in common than usually recognized.

Similarly, the yellow drawing tempers the perception of the dark red background of the panel next to the fly.

Red is usually regarded as a symbol of life-force with a strength and power which are depending on whether it is bright or dark:

  • Bright red is diurnal, masculine, revealed to everybody and casting its glow on everything;
  • Dark red is nocturnal, feminine, mysterious and hiding things in the shadow.

Dark red is the colour of the hidden knowledge, kept secret in the background and which can only be revealed through the initiation to mysteries. The postulant has successively to die to a current state and be reborn into a new state. Cycle after cycle, he is progressing alongside or around a vertical axis represented by the upright sword 1 held by a lion. The yellow colour of the lion, the sword and the four leaves of a fig tree refers to the spiritual influence transmitted by the Sun.

The lion, the sword and the leaves

The lion

The lion symbol can be encountered in many traditions and particularly those the flag of Sri Lanka is referring to:

  • The Iranian state flag before 1979The Buddha is “the Lion of the Shakyas” 2;
  • The Bhagavadgita calls Krishna “a Lion among wild creatures”;
  • The Christ is known as “the Lion of Judah's Kingdom” 3;
  • Ali, Mohammed's son-in-law, is honoured by the Shiites as “the Lion of Allah”. He was represented on the former Iranian state flag as a lion holding a sword in front of the rising sun.

The lion represents the physical or terrestrial shade of the spiritual or celestial Sun as its mane testifies. As terrestrial shade of the celestial Sun, it is hiding the secret of the godhead that shroud the mysteries into the darkness depths. The firm standpoint of the lion shows that it is keeping the vulgar gaze away from the secret access.

The sword

The sword is a war symbol. The outer war undertaken to restore order is similar to the inner fight against our own enemies, our own devils (from the Greek “diabolos”, which means disuniting, splitting, dividing), which are opposed to order and unity. Outer or inner war always strives for establishing balance, harmony and unity between opposites. In various traditions, the outer war is considered as a symbol of the inner struggle and so are weapons.

The sword, which cleaves and sparks, represents the thunderbolt flashing against the enemies. It is also assimilated to the lightning in the form of the flaming sword. As the fire, the flaming sword is a symbol of the fight for the attainment of knowledge as well as the destruction of ignorance. It produces generation and destruction, life and death, light and darkness and can be assimilated to the Sun beam, the “World Axis”, the direct communication channel between Earth and Heaven often represented by a tree.

The four leaves of a fig tree

The Bodhi tree on a stupa reliefIn Eastern Asia, the fig tree has an extremely important part within several different traditions. The Bodhi tree at the foot of which Gautama received the enlightenment, the tree under which the Buddha preferred to sit when he was teaching his disciples was a fig tree.

With its roots delving into earth and its upper branches stretching up in the skies, the tree is universally regarded as a symbol of the “World Axis” and the cyclical development through death and rebirth. This is particularly true for deciduous trees since they shed their leaves and cover themselves with new foliage each year.

Beyond the reference to the religious trends in the country, the four leaves drawn on the panel next to the fly are related to the compass points and portray the terrestrial plan compared to the vertical axis symbolized by the sword.

Before climbing an indefinite number of states alongside the vertical axis joining Earth to Heaven, the being has firstly to be centred within his current state. Then, he will move from the outskirts of the terrestrial plan to the intersection with the vertical axis. From there, he will be able to gaze at all state centres on the vertical before integrating them one after the other or at once. At that point, he will be ready to follow in Buddha's footsteps.


  • René Guénon:
  • “Symbols of Sacred Science”, Sophia Perennis Publisher 2004;
  • More specifically, chapters 26 on “Symbolic weapons” and 27 titled “Sayful-Islam”.

1 back In fact, the weapon held by the lion is not a (two-edged) sword, but a (single-edged) sabre. Nevertheless, in the whole text, we will refer to the richer sword symbolism as most traditions do.

2 back The prince Siddhartha was born to a noble family of the Shakya Clan.

3 back When King Solomon died, Palestine was divided into two Kingdoms: Judah and Israel.