The Oldest Flag in the World

The Sinhala Story and the Lion Flag:

The Asiatic Lion carrying a Kastane sword has been the symbol of Sri Lanka’s Sinhalese race for over 2600 years (since around 600 B.C.) making the Sri Lankan flag the oldest in the world*!

oldest flag in the world
Flag of Sri Lanka (543 B.C.)
Oldest country flag in the world
Flag of Sri Lanka (Present)







However, there are no lions in Sri Lanka. So, why the lion flag ?

The reason stems back long ago, based on a legendary lion myth back when the Sinhalese where still in Northern India. Here’s a summary:


sri lankan history
Map of Ancient India (600 B.C.)   Magadha Region – Green   Kalinga Region- Yellow  //   Vanga –  X  //      Lálá – Red circle

The birth of the Sinhalese race was believed to be from a lion (named Sinha) and a human mother (Princess Suppadevi of Vanga).

In a prophecy, it was said that the Princess Suppadevi of Vanga would end up loving a beast. Through the shame that the daughter may bring to the Kingdom of Vanga she was asked by her father the King of Vanga to seek an independent life. Disguised as a commoner she joined a convoy headed to the outskirts of Magadha, when she was attacked by ‘Sinha the Lion*’.

Whilst members of the convoy ran in fear from the beast, Suppadevi pursued him with the prophecy in mind. The lion, astounded by Suppadevi’s bravery came towards her and caressed her.  Years later, the couple bore two children, a son named Sinhabahu (sinha = lion   bahu= hands) and a daughter Sinhasivali whom both had human and lion features. They were born in a cave in Lálá in the region of Kalinga.

However, Sinha the lion aspired to control the Kingdom of Vanga. He decided to hold Suppadevi and his two children in the cave by blocking the entrance with a boulder while launching attacks on the Kingdom.  At the age of 16, Sinhabahu had mustered the strength to push the boulder and escaped with his mother and sister.

When Sinha came back to the cave, he became enraged and went on a rampage killing citizens from Lálá to Vanga in a bid to find those responsible for the escape. Kalinga and Magadha were now in a state of trouble and the ageing King of Vanga (Sinhabahu’s grandfather) was even prepared to give up his throne as a reward for anybody that could kill Sinha.

Young Sinhabahu, who felt responsible for the deaths of the innocent people through his fathers’ actions, stood up to accept the challenge. He confronted his own father and slayed him in battle. When Sinhabahu returned to Vanga, the King of Vanga had passed away from age and Sinhabahu was declared the new King by the ministers.

However, Sinhabahu declined the offer to become the King of Vanga and instead returned to his birthplace in Lálá. Inspired by Sinhabahu’s heroic and humble attitude, the people of Lálá and Vanga, believed him to be the rightful King. Thus, he founded the Kingdom of Sinhapura (meaning “Lion City” in Sanskrit) with the official flag being the ‘Lion holding the Kastane sword’.

King Sinhabahu married his sister Sinhasivali and ended up having 16 twins, the eldest being a son named Vijaya (meaning ‘Valiant’).

(Insect was very common among people in positions of royalty in ancient times as it was believed to keep the family bloodline pure).

First Kingdom of Sri Lanka
First Kingdom of Sri Lanka

As a teenager, Prince Vijaya was very rebellious and seen as unfit to become future King. Ultimately his own bad behaviour lead to King Sinhabahu exiling him. Prince Vijaya set sail to conquer new land along with 700 of his loyal followers. They eventually landed on the West coast of Sri Lanka (modern day Puttalam).

The now, King Vijaya, kissed the copper coloured sand and hoisted the ‘lion flag’ declaring the land as the Kingdom of Tambapanni (meaning: Copper-red hands) and all his followers being titled the ‘Sinhala’ (meaning: “lion blooded”) due to the ancestral ties with ‘Sinha the Lion’. King Vijaya went on to become a mature King for the Sinhalese and was very intelligent and cunning in his conquest of Sri Lanka from the indigenous ‘Vedda’ people.




Additional Notes:

  • *Historians believe the ‘Sinha the Lion’ was metaphorical for a ferocious ruler of Kalinga who was hungry for power.
  • *Sri Lanka flag retained its design concept for 2600 years making it the worlds oldest. However, Denmark has the oldest ‘continuous’ flag (1625-present). Sri Lanka become a British Colony (1815-1948) thus a Commonwealth flag was used. The lion flag was re-adopted after Independence.
  • Sinhabahu’s story is seen as one where through tough times, one must stand on behalf of the people to defend the country no matter what.