Thursday, October 20, 2005

The Indo-Caribbean Custom of "Jhandi"

The latest issue of the Newsletter of the Indian Diaspora Project raises a fascinating question. Is the Caribbean Indian custom of raising a "jhandi" (a little flag on a long bamboo stick, planted after a Hindu ritual of sacrifice), an unique Indo-Caribbean invention? The custom is apparently hardly found in India nor is it found in other Indian diaspora communities.

In order to understand my answer, readers will have to familiarize themselves with at least the bare bones of the history of sacrifice in Indian tradition and Indian spirituality (available on my website ( - please click on "Articles and Reviews", and then "by subject" and then (at the very bottom), "Vedas", where you will find two articles, one "Sacrifice" and the other on "Indian Spirituality". These will provide the background in terms of India.

When the practice of raising the flag came in, I am not sure, but I would guess that it had to do with the horse sacrifice (aswamedha), which was performed originally to assert a claim of kingship over a certain geographical area.

I would further guess that this notion was then extended to assertion of spiritual rule over a certain area by the spirit or god that was being propitiated by the sacrifice over which the flag was raised.

The practice was probably first started in India, but then discontinued in India because of the objection of either British or Indian rulers who did not want such flags raised in competition to theirs.

The objection to "religious flags" probably disappeared in India with the rise of the independence movement, when various flags of all sorts began to be raised.
However, this is simply "informed speculation" on my part. I will be pleased to have any further scholarly or anecdotal information on the subject.

ENDS Sphere: Related Content