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Indigenisation of Naval Power - From Chhatrapati Shivaji to Indian Navy

On Navy Day 2023, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced another step further in the Indianization of our armed forces as India races towards achieving atma-nirbharta. A new ensign has been adopted, inspired by the legendary warrior Chhatrapati Shivaji, who drafted a strong maritime force.

An Illustration on Indigenisation of Naval Power from Team Geostrata

Illustration by The Geostrata


Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj is often referred to as the father of the Indian Navy due to his strategic establishment of a naval fleet to protect the prosperous regions of coastal India. 

Shivaji Maharaj was a visionary who realised the importance of securing the sea routes for the expansion and protection of his empire. He commissioned the construction of forts and a naval fleet for defence and trade regulation. 

After the battle of Jawali in 1656, Shivaji Maharaj recognised the strategic importance of the sea for the protection and expansion of his territory and began building a naval fleet. He commissioned new coastal forts like Sindhudurg to serve as naval bases and early warning stations against potential aggressors entering India via sea lanes, specifically European powers such as Portugal and Britain active in the region at that time.

While ancient Indian kingdoms had utilised watercraft, Shivaji Maharaj was strategically progressive in formally instituting a naval fleet with the assertive mandate to advance both the defensive and commercial interests of the territory under his rule. 

His far-sighted establishment of India's initial blue-water defence capability marked an important evolution in securing the nation's strategic maritime domain.


An Image of Indian Navy's New Ensign

Source: Indian Navy

In August 2022, the Prime Minister's Office announced that the naval ensign featuring the St. George's Cross would be permanently retired in favour of a new design intended to "move beyond the colonial past" and better represent India's "rich maritime heritage.  

The revised ensign, which marked the fourth alteration since 1950, was first unveiled by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on September 2nd at the commissioning ceremony of the aircraft carrier INS Vikrant. Before its unveiling, the revised ensign design, along with patterns for distinguishing rank flags, car flags, and masthead pennants, received presidential approval. 

Consistent with versions introduced post-independence, the current ensign features the national flag of India in the canton on a white field. It includes a navy blue-gold octagon on the fly. The octagon emulates a rajmudra (imperial seal) formerly used by Shivaji I, creator of one of the first Indian naval forces of the modern era. The octagon contains two golden borders on a navy blue background, surrounding the Indian Navy's naval crest highlighting the State Emblem atop an anchor superimposed on a naval shield. 

Below the shield, the octagon also features a golden-bordered ribbon bearing the navy's motto in Devanagari script: शं नो वरुणः (Śhaṁ No Varunaḥ), translated to English as "May the God of Water be auspicious unto us.”  

Additionally, the octagonal shape represents the eight directions—four cardinal and four intercardinal—symbolising the Indian Navy's multidirectional reach and multidimensional operational capability. 

In December 2022, three months after introducing the new ensign, President Droupadi Murmu approved the creation of two additional naval flags—a Presidential Standard and a Presidential Colour as honorary acknowledgements of static and mobile naval formations, respectively, for distinguished and meritorious service.

Both retain the design of the naval ensign, with the sole addition being the State Emblem placed above the naval crest in the upper fly. The first Indian Navy unit bestowed with the new President's Colour was INS Dronacharya, which was conferred the honour by Honourable President Draupadi Murmu on March 16, 2023.


An ensign serves as an important symbol of national identity and military tradition. As the flag is displayed on naval vessels and aircraft, it represents the sovereignty and ideals of the nation those forces serve to protect. Beyond mere geography, a flag embodies the shared history, culture, and values that unite citizens under its design. 

Nowhere is this symbolic power of flags more evident than within the structured hierarchies of the armed forces. Rank insignia and titles hold meaning far beyond practical designation, as they also communicate honour, experience, and responsibility. It is thus fitting that militaries periodically reevaluate such systems to ensure they appropriately represent the people and times they serve. 

In the case of the Indian Navy, recent announcements indicate such a reevaluation is underway. By renaming ranks  according to Indian cultural traditions rather than foreign influences, this modernising initiative aims to strengthen service members' connection to their national identity and heritage. 

The existing (Personnel Below Officer Ranks) PBOR in the Navy to be renamed are Master Chief Petty Officer Ist Class, Master Chief Petty Officer IInd Class, Chief Petty Officer, Petty Officer, Leading Seaman, Seaman Ist Class, and Seaman IInd Class.

Similarly, expanding opportunities for women officers reflects evolving social values, and the navy's commitment to equitable representation was showcased with the appointment of the country's first woman commanding officer on a naval ship.


A military's insignia and ranks are imbued with deep significance, reaching beyond operational roles. As symbols that both inspire personnel and embody a nation's ideals to the world, their form and meaning deserve periodic adjustment to remain relevant. The steps currently envisioned for the Indian Navy appear to be aimed at precisely this goal of maintaining symbolic resonance in a changing geopolitical landscape. An ensign's power to unite a force is strongest when its design resonates with the diverse identities it represents.





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