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Indian Princely States

Last modified: 2022-12-17 by ian macdonald
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Generalities and current usage

As far as I have learned from reading, the princely flags are banned. State flags for the modern Indian states do not exist save for Jammu and Kashmir. Even use of the national flag of India is restricted. If I recall, Whitney Smith told me that the average Indian citizen may only fly the national flag on certain prescribed holidays. Use on other days is a civil offence.
Don Healey, 1 July 1996

Now, the current usage: The "ex-princely" families still use the flags, although the central government doesn't like it (the provincial governments, especially in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, and Gujarat look gleefully the other way). Most of the residences of the ex-rulers still fly the State flag, for example Gwalior or Jaipur, those rulers who still own their "houses" in New Delhi (sort of "high commissions" until 1950 or so, when some [Hyderabad] were taken as government ministry buildings [Hyderabad House became the Railway Ministry]) still fly the flag (Alwar comes in particular to mind here). Even some of the rulers (well, ex-rulers) fly their flags over their own private houses in Delhi (H.H. Dhrangadhgra flew a gigantic Dhrangadhra State flag over his house, two blocks from the Chinese embassy!).

None of this is legal, as such, but little of it is restrained. As the "pre-1947 generation" passes, this practice is falling into abeyance (and the pre-47 flags fall apart in the Indian climate!). Also, in some cases, the State flags have been used by members of the royal houses standing for election to parliament (as in the recently-concluded elections). (I'm trying to get together some postings on the political party flags used in that contest.
Ed Haynes, 1 July 1996

In Murray's Handbook for travellers in India (&c) there is a curious passage (at least to me): 'The Nizam succeeded his grandfather in 1967 (!)'... Does anybody know what his position then was? I don't suppose he had (has) the right to hoist his own flag?
Jarig Bakker, 13 November 1998

In 1956 the Nizam officially became a private citizen of India (as did all the princes). Unofficially many of the princes continued to hold court, maintain ceremonial bodyguards, and fly their flags. In some cases this provides valuable tourist revenue for India. I believe the official position of the government of India is to frown on continuing vestiges of the princely states, but in practice I think the government is hoping that attrition (e.g. the passing of the 1947 generation -- both the princes and the people who validate their existence) will solve the problem. Considering that many of these states existed for centuries, it may take more than a generation to erase regal behaviour (especially considering that many princes remain in their palaces -- unlike former European monarchs who are exiled from their countries.)

In short, many Indian States flags probably still fly, but not beyond palace grounds; and India wishes they would go away.
Todd Mills, 14 November 1998

While the Government of India does not "officially recognise the princes anymore and does not grant ordinary citizens the right to fly their own flags, many of the former princely families here, including the Patwardhans, fly their flags in their home states.

Flags are used by the princely families on Ceremonial occasions like marriages and during funerals. When my grandfather the Late His Highness Shrimant Madhavrao Raosaheb Patwardhan, Raja of Miraj, passed away, the State Government gave him a state funeral.
GG Patwardhan, 5 Jun 1999

The two terms "British India" and "Princely State" are mutually exclusive. If somewhere was in British India it was not a Princely State, and if it was a Princely State it was not in British India. British India was Bombay, Sind, British Baluchistan, North West Frontier Province, Punjab, United Provinces, Central Provinces, Madras, Bihar, Orissa, Bengal and Assam. The 140 large, and 420 small states that made up the rest of India were not part of British India.
David Prothero, 30 April 2002

The states ordered by "guns"

Below, the states are ordered by the old British system of the numbers of "guns" in a ruler's salute. The "major" states are 21-, 19- and 17-gun states.

21-gun states:






19-gun states:



Jammu and Kashmir








17-gun states:
















15-gun states:


Dewas Junior







13-gun states:


Cooch Behar




11-gun states:

















Tehri Garhwal


9-gun states:






Chota Udaipur





Mohanpur Mudhol





The states ordered administratively

Below, the states are ordered administratively, according to a map of british India that can be found here. Other geographical information comes from several modern atlases.

As far as I could understand, British India was divided into two different types of organization: the Provinces, directly ruled by the British crown either through a governor or a Chief Commissioner, and further subdivided in other territorial entities (Ed's site has some information on this, but I found it somewhat confusing and did not understand it enough to say anything), and the agencies and residencies, that where the British organisms that superintended the issues relative to groups of princely states. There where also some special areas, on whose organization I have no information.

Jorge Candeias, 2 May 1998

Baluchistan Agency



Las Bela

Baroda, Western India and Gujarat Agency





Sanjeda Mehvassi


























Chota Udaipur        

Northwestern special areas

Hazara Tribal Area

Kohistan Tribal Area


Tochi or Northern Waziristan

Wana or Southern Waziristan






Punjab Province


Simple and elaborate flags

In many cases, Filcher (1984) shows a more elaborate "state" flag with coats of arms, etc. Based on my personal observation in many of the erstwhile states and conversations with the some of the ex-rulers, these elaborate flags usually existed on paper only and more simple ("civil") flags were more common.
Ed Haynes, 3 April 1996

Red Ensigns of the Native States

The term "Native States" was used in official correspondence about the defaced Red Ensigns instead of "Princely States" under the heading "India"; in the National Geographic Magazine of September 1934, they are called, "Native Indian States". Anyway, the States in this context were those on the western seaboard of India which were protectorates of the Government of India.

In 1917 it was reported that vessels from these States, which flew their own State flag when within the territorial waters of India and other parts of the British Empire, were flying the British Red Ensign on the High Seas and in foreign territorial waters.

The inhabitants were not British subjects and were not legally entitled to fly the Red Ensign. It was decided that they could be authorized to fly a Red Ensign defaced with the badge of the appropriate State, as had been done for British North Borneo.

A problem arose because flying any form of Red Ensign made the ships subject to the Merchant Shipping Act of 1894. This imposed certain regulations to which the States objected. However after negotiating for three years an agreement was reached. As one Board of Trade official cynically wrote, "..the Act created liability to penalties but did not require enforcement."

On the 14th July 1921 an Order in Council authorised the application of Section 74 of the Merchant Shipping Act 1894, and a General Warrant, covering all twelve States as a group, was issued by the Admiralty on 2nd August 1921, with a request for sketches of revised designs, as the flags then in use were not suitable for use as badges on the Red Ensign.

The States submitted some interesting designs, of unacceptable proportions, canton size and badge size, but after another three years of protracted correspondence the individual Warrants were finally issued on the 10th October 1924.

The Office of Lord High Admiral issued the Warrants which all began,

"Red Ensign with the badge of said state on fly thereof ....."

and ended
" be worn by vessels belonging to the ruler or subjects of ...(named state)"

  • Baroda: "... a mounted trooper and a scimitar and the word BARODA in white on a rectangular field of red ochre with a white margin .."
  • Bhavnagar: "...a crimson shield bearing an eagle in gold and in the first canton a crimson lion on a gold field supported by bulls with crest a galley: below the motto, [translates as], 'Man Proposes, God Disposes'.."
  • Cambay: "...a green shield bearing two galleys and a tower in white supported by angels, a portcullis as crest with helm and mantling ..."
  • Cochin: "... a palanguin in gold and red, a lamp in gold, an umbrella in red, and a conch in white in a white circle ..."
  • Janjira: "... a crescent moon and a five pointed star in white above a fort in black and white, or a crescent moon and star alone ..." [Jafrabad]
  • Junagadh: "... three bezants and three mountains in green and above the words JUNAGADH STATE BADGE in red in a white circle ..."
  • Kutch: "... a crescent moon and sun and words KUTCH STATE in white ..."
  • Morvi: "... a shield in gold bearing an oval badge charged with the sun, crescent moon and stars and the words MORVI STATE, with sword and lance on either side above supported by tigers and surmounted by a crown, below the motto, [translates as], 'Valour With Forgiveness' ..."
  • Navanagar: "... a shield bearing three fish above and a galley, supported by antelopes with crest a lion: below the motto, [translates as], 'Victory Be To Shrijam' ..."
  • Porbandar: "... a figure of Hanuman flying and having in his hand a club and a mountain ..."
  • Sachin: "... a right hand in green ..."
  • Travancore: "... a conch shell in white surmounted by a crest in gold adorned by a cloth in blue ..."

The drawings of the badges first appear as an amending supplement to the 1916 edition of the Admiralty Flag Book; Errata N.S. 20637/25; Authority N.L. 4002/24. The correspondence and most of the submitted designs are in document ADM 116/1847B at the Public Record Office.
David Prothero, 23 May 1999

There were 13 Indian Native State Red Ensigns, of which only two, Cochin and Junagadh, had the badge on a white disc. Naval Law letter NL14197 of 10 August 1921 informed the India Office that, "Unless there is some special reason for obtaining a particular colour around the badge, the badge should appear on the Red Ensign without a surrounding circular disc except that if the colouring of the badge is indistinguishable from the red field the badge shall appear in a white circle"
David Prothero, 26 April 2002

The states were part of the British Empire, but were not in British India. Take as an example a resident of Bombay, and a resident of Baroda, who each owned a ship. Each ship was technically British. The resident of Bombay, which was in British India, was automatically a British subject, and if he wanted to send his ship to, say, the Persian Gulf, it could go flying the plain Red Ensign.

The resident of Baroda, which was not in British India, was not automatically a British subject. If he was not British by birth, or naturalisation, and wanted to send his ship to the Persian Gulf there was a problem. The ship had to fly an internationally recognised flag. The flag of Baroda could not be used, as it was not recognised internationally. The Red Ensign could not be used, as a ship flying it had to be owned by a British subject.

The solution was to issue an Admiralty warrant creating a modified Red Ensign, with a specified badge in the fly, for a specified purpose. This was then the legal national flag of a British ship owned by a person who was not a British subject, and a drawing of it was published as an amendment to the Admiralty Flag Book.
David Prothero, 3 May 2002


The main source is A. Filcher (1984), Drapeaux et Armoiries des Etats princiers de l'Empire des Indies (Flags and Arms of the Princely States of the Empire of the Indies), Dreux, 1984, Neubecker (1992), Ziggioto (1998)

Other sources of information on the Indian princely states include:

  • Charles Allen and Sharada Dwivedi
    Lives of the Indian Princes
    London: Century Publishing, 1984
    ISBN 0-7126-0910-5

  • or, if you crave a set of more "academic" things:
    Robin Jeffrey, ed.
    People: Princes, and Paramount Power: Society and Politics in the Indian Princely States
    Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1978
    ISBN ??? 19-560886-0

  • When it comes out, the volume on the Princes by Barbara Ramusack in the New Cambridge History of India (Cambridge Univ. Press, sometime "soon"?) will be good.

  • As a more general background, the choices are mostly all bad. The whole "Dissipate Maharaja" genre is dominant and useless (unless you want unfounded tales of sex and degradation, but we learn little about the states).

Ed Haynes, 3 April 1996, 9 July 1996