Language of the national anthem

Thursday, 9 January 2020 00:11 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

The Dominion of Ceylon was formed on 4 February 1948 with the singing of Britain’s national anthem “God Save the King” and it continued to be the anthem for another four years


 

I was studying in Grade Seven when I joined the Scout Association at my school. Scouts have a list of tasks to complete. When you complete them successively, you are given various badges and promotions. One of the very first tasks was to sing the national anthem by yourself. The seniors told us we could do it on the first day. Before I cover them with brown paper every year, I had read the national anthem printed on the back cover of textbooks that had that right-off-the-press scent. I had also sung it many times loudly with fellow schoolmates to the music played by our school band. “How hard can it be?” I thought. So I signed up to perform it along with a few other novices. 

Standing at attention inside an empty classroom after school, I had to sing the anthem in front of two senior scouts. I had not sung any song alone in front of outsiders, let alone the national anthem.

It was my turn. “Sri Lanka matha… apa Sri… Lanka...,” I quickly realised that it was difficult to keep to the tune. You don’t have the same confidence when singing with a group and music. 

“Sundara siri barini...,” I managed to complete the first verse. More than singing, my mind was now desperately trying to recall the next words. One forgets the words one actually remembers in these moments. “This song is way too long,” I thought.

“Oba ve apa vidya...,” halfway through the second verse, like an unplanned power cut on a midsummer night, my mind just stopped. Everything went silent. I felt all the blood from my lower body gushing to my face. “Oba… oba... apa… apa...,” the words weren’t coming. I could see the sarcastic faces of the seniors through my hazy eyes. 

“Try again next week.” My head turned down in shame.

That night at home I sang the national anthem over and over, ever so loudly, until I learned it by heart, mind and soul. I wonder how many ladies and gentleman who brag about the national anthem these days could actually sing it by themselves without the music. 

 

Namo Namo Matha

The national anthem used today was written by the eminent musician Ananda Samarakoon

(1911-62). However, it is believed that the song was originally composed by his master, the great

Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941). Whichever it may be, there is no doubt that the “Gurudev” must have had some creative influence on his favourite Ceylonese student in composing the song.

The national anthems of India and Bangladesh were also composed by Tagore. It is fascinating that Sri Lanka’s national anthem is connected with the modern West Bengal, the area from which the historical Aryan Sinhalese people is said to have originated, and that it is connected with Bengali and Sinhala, two Indo-Aryan languages that evolved in parallel.

The patriotic song was then called “Namo Namo Matha” and first sung by the students of

Mahinda College where Samarakoon taught music. It had become a popular song by the late 1940s thanks to radio. As Ceylon was getting ready to change from a colony of the British Empire into a dominion of the Empire (not a free state) there came the need for a national anthem. 

The ‘Lanka Gandharva Sabha’ had held a contest to select a national anthem for the Dominion. Although Samarakoon’s “Namo Namo Matha” was also an entry, the winning song was “Sri Lanka Matha – Pala Yasa Mahima”. But soon the decision was challenged because P. B. Illangasinghe and Lionel Edirisinghe, the co-writers of the song, were also members of the jury.

As our good fellows were going at each other, the Dominion Ceylon was formed on 4 February 1948 with the singing of Britain’s national anthem “God Save the King” and it continued to be the anthem for another four years. People were fighting for songs even back then as they do today. The only difference is that back then both songs were written in Sinhala.

Nevertheless, both the above songs and their Tamil translations were sung as national “songs” in 1949 at the first Independence Commemoration.(Note that the Sinhala word used for Independence was “nidahas”. But the correct word should be “svadheenathva”. Nidahasa means “freedom”. We became a free, sovereign, independent republic only on 22 May 1972. Even the use of the word “independence” is debatable as no such status was granted by the British. This is one of the biggest historical scams created by the UNP.)

 

The long con of JR

J.R. Jayawardane (1906-96) cleverly continued the British strategy of separating the Sinhala and Tamil people, and escalated it into a full-blown bloody war which would run for another 25 years ignited by the infamous 1983 Black July. A complete book can be written on his Machiavellian strategies. But it scares me to even think about JR’s unscrupulous long cons and diabolical tactics.

In 1950, as the then-Finance Minister, JR proposed to pick one official song as the national anthem. 

 

In 1950, as the then-Finance Minister, JR proposed to pick one official song as the national anthem.

He was also the man behind the making of the national flag, which led to yet another conflict. JR had been meticulously working to make his future political enemy, which he thought would be necessary for when he finally took the throne. A committee was appointed again to select an anthem. Out of several songs, Samarakoon’s “Namo Namo Matha” was chosen with JR’s influence. The Tamil translation of the song was previously done by an award-winning Tamil poet M. Nallathambi (1896-1951) who had worked at Zahira College as a teacher. Both Samarakoon and Nallathambi being teachers, Samarakoon being a baptised Christian who later converted to Buddhism and Nallathambi being a teacher at a Muslim school, are all humbling coincidences.

 

He was also the man behind the making of the national flag, which led to yet another conflict. JR had been meticulously working to make his future political enemy, which he thought would be necessary for when he finally took the throne.A committee was appointed again to select an anthem. Out of several songs, Samarakoon’s “Namo Namo Matha” was chosen with JR’s influence. The Tamil translation of the song was previously done by an award-winning Tamil poet M. Nallathambi (1896-1951) who had worked at Zahira College as a teacher.

Both Samarakoon and Nallathambi being teachers, Samarakoon being a baptised Christian who later converted to Buddhism and Nallathambi being a teacher at a Muslim school, are all humbling coincidences.

Thus “Namo Namo Matha” was sung as the official national anthem of the Dominion of Ceylon for the first time in 1952. I could not find any information whether the Tamil translation was also sung at the State ceremony. If JR’s scheme was in motion, they would not have sung it.  



Sri Lanka Matha

That same year, the then-Prime Minister D.S. Senanayake died after falling from his horse at the

Galle Face Green. From the beginning, S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike was the scapegoat used by DS and JR in their political power play. Bandaranaike was the “snowball” to JR’s “Napoleon”. After branding him an icon of Sinhala nationalism, driving him to bring about the 1956 Official Language Act (for which the UNP voted), and then violently objecting to Bandaranaike’s attempt to rectify his mistake through the Bandaranaike-Chelvanayakam Pact, JR and R. Premadasa successfully created the catalyst for the first Sinhala-Tamil riots.

As a young boy, Velupillai Prabhakaran, who would go onto become the leader of one of the world’s deadliest terrorist organisations, had experienced the 1958 riots against Tamils that would shape his future political ideology. The repercussions of our actions can only be seen in the future, when they return a million times stronger. Like today, there were loud-mouthed bozos whose stupid actions led to the destruction of an entire generation of the Republic.

In 1959, a monk named Talduve Somarama assassinated Prime Minister Bandaranaike by shooting him point blank repeatedly with a revolver, screaming “Country, Nation, Religion!” As the Dominion Ceylon was failing miserably, some pundits claimed that the cause for this misfortune was the unlucky composition of the national anthem. And so the first words of the opening lyric “Namo Namo Matha” was officially changed to “Sri Lanka Matha” in 1961. Ananda Samarakoon protested against the mutilation of his beloved creation, but he had no authority because all rights of the song had already been bought for Rs. 2,500 by the Government.

As a result Samarakoon killed himself in 1962 by overdosing on sleeping pills. Such is the tragic history of our current national anthem. It is really one of the political power tools created by the United National Party. Any rational human being who has an understanding of these facts would never support the UNP nor continue to fall prey to the national anthem’s divisive purpose.

 

The first birth of the Republic

After 24 years of failed experiments of nation-building since the making of the Dominion, Sirimavo Bandaranaike, along with the only true progressive leftists of this land, finally created the Republic of Sri Lanka on 22 May 1972, by constitutionally conferring and equally sharing the sovereignty of the State among the citizens of all nationalities, amid protests by JR and his UNP. But it was 25 years too late.

If only they had constitutionalised both Sinhala and Tamil languages as official languages at the same time, the history of Sri Lanka would be written very differently. I don’t know why they passed on that wonderful opportunity.  Then when the Republic had only started to crawl on its knees, the citizens wanted to eat “moon rice” and gave a five-sixth dictatorial power to JR and kicked Sirimavo out. The Republic was overtaken by the JR’s ‘National State’.

 

JR’s ‘National State’

JR constitutionalised the national anthem in his 1978 Constitution. It is etched in Article 7 (Schedule 3) – a brilliant tactic, because Articles one through to 11 (except the fourth and fifth) can only be changed via a two-thirds majority vote in Parliament and a referendum, as restricted by Article 83. (Article 4 defines the basic structure of State through the Legislature, the Executive and the

Judiciary, while Article 5 defines the geographical territory of the Republic. Both of which do not need a referendum to change! JR was a dangerous genius.)

Both Sinhala and Tamil languages were constitutionalised as “national languages” by JR. But he cleverly kept Sinhala as the “official language”. His ploy was constitutionally establishing the Sinhala and Tamil nationalities based on language, and raising the Sinhala nationality higher than the Tamil. This outrageous action constitutionalised the racism (or nationalism) which was until then unwritten. It was JR who systematically and deliberately pushed Tamil citizens towards separatism. 

 

Both Sinhala and Tamil languages were constitutionalised as “national languages” by JR. But he cleverly kept Sinhala as the “official language”. His ploy was constitutionally establishing the Sinhala and Tamil nationalities based on language, and raising the Sinhala nationality higher than the Tamil. This outrageous action constitutionalised the racism (or nationalism) which was until then unwritten. It was JR who systematically and deliberately pushed Tamil citizens towards separatism.

JR finally received his much-needed political enemy in 1983 with his Black July operation. The poison he had fermented for decades finally overflowed from the cauldron. It spilled over the Republic, burning everything it touched. JR and the UNP destroyed the childhood and youth of the millennials born in the 80s and 90s, including mine.

JR finally received his much-needed political enemy in 1983 with his Black July operation. The poison he had fermented for decades finally overflowed from the cauldron. It spilled over the Republic, burning everything it touched. JR and the UNP destroyed the childhood and youth of the millennials born in the 80s and 90s, including mine. Since we are speaking of songs, the famous lyrics by Daughtry “be careful what you wish for, ‘cos you just might get it all, and then some you don’t want” comes to mind. JR’s war became unmanageable. In a desperate attempt to damage control in 1987 he brought in the 13th Amendment under the instructions of Rajiv Gandhi. The Republic was divided into nine quasi-federal states. Ironically, it was now JR who finally brought the inevitable solution to the root cause of the issue. He made Tamil an official language in Sri Lanka, although surely he must have done it with reservations. 

But with that single move, he yet again managed to emerge as the good guy. It should have been done in 1948, it should have been done in 1956, it should have been done in 1958, it should have been done in 1972, it should have been done in 1978. It is a cruel sport of destiny that it had to be JR, the man who vehemently opposed it, who finally had to do it. But still it was 38 years too late. JR’s war burned for another 25 years. One must think a thousand times before starting something evil. Those who are shouting these days to win the racist (aka nationalist) votes just to get into Parliament are no different from JR.

 

Anthems in the Constitution

In the Sinhala version of the seventh Constitution, it is written, “The national anthem of the Republic of Sri Lanka shall be ‘Sri Lanka Matha’, the words and music of which are set out in the third schedule.” In the third schedule you find its handwritten musical composition along with the Sinhala version of the anthem.

In the Tamil version of the seventh Constitution, it is written, “The national anthem of the Republic of Sri Lanka shall be ‘Sri Lanka Thaye’, the words and music of which are set out in the third schedule.” And in the third schedule you find the same musical composition along with the Tamil translation of the anthem.

Since Sinhala and Tamil languages are both constitutionally ‘national’ languages, are both constitutionally ‘official’ languages, synonymous in lyrical meaning, and sung in identical musical composition, there is absolutely no rational reason to not sing the Tamil translation of the anthem at official events of the State. And because the anthem is only meaningful when the singer understands the words, it should be allowed to be sung in their preferred language. But then you have the racists (aka nationalists) who cannot stand the Tamil-speaking citizens of the Republic singing the constitutional national anthem in the Tamil language. Although they conveniently call themselves “nationalists”, they are more like JR’s kids. They make various arguments to cover their bigotry. I will debunk their main arguments below.

 

India’s national anthem

JR’s kids argue that although Indians speak many languages, they all sing only one national anthem. That is a half-truth. In modern times, India has an official national anthem and an official national song. The anthem “Jana Gana Mana” was written by Tagore in Sanskrit-Bengali. Their national song is the more popular “Vande Matharam”. It too was originally written in Bengali but is now sung in Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam, Urdu etc.

But more importantly, the comparison to India is a false equivalence. Sri Lanka should be compared to Bharatha before it was separated into India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

Bharatha, after its surgical separation from the British Empire, did not remain a unitary state as Sri Lanka did. The Muslims who spoke Urdu separated through a river of blood and created Pakistan. If that had not happened, Indians too would be singing the national anthem in both Bengali and Urdu.

Besides this, different states of India have their own official songs. For example “Thamil Thaye

Valudu” is the song of the State of Tamil Nadu. They sing it at the start of every State function and end with the “Jana Gana Mana” anthem.

Are JR’s kids agreeable to singing different official songs in each of our provinces? Are they happy to make a national song which will be sung in Tamil as well? The Indian anthem recognises their historical kingdoms “Panjab, Sindh, Gujarat, Marat, Dravida, Uthkal, Bengal” in the lyrics itself. They celebrate their diversity. That is why India is able to sing one national anthem.

 

Language of the majority

JR’s kids also argue that the anthem should be sung in the language spoken by the majority of citizens. But then, to use their Indian example, the Bengali language in which “Jana Gana Mana” is written and sung is spoken only by 8% of the Indians. The Malay language in which the anthem of Singapore is sung is spoken only by 10% of Singaporeans. JR’s kids contradict themselves. Thus their argument fails to stand. It is really a majoritarian attempt to subjugate others. If we accept their claim then in the near future, if not already, the language spoken by a majority of citizens will be English. Because Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim children are all increasingly learning English. If so should we then sing the anthem in the English language?

 

Anthems of other states

No state (country) can be compared with another state. Each state has been built by their unique history.  Their status quo and future aspirations vastly differ from each other. New Zealand and Denmark have dual national anthems. Finland, Switzerland and many other states sing their anthem in more than one language. The Canadian anthem has two languages in one. South Africans sing verses of five different languages in their anthem. Spain’s anthem has no words at all but only the music. Sri Lanka should decide our national anthem and how we sing it based on Sri Lanka’s history, status quo and future aspirations, not based on what some other country is doing or not doing. Sri Lanka is a state where two nationalities are having a centuries-old conflict. That is a fact. The only people who want to take that conflict into the future are the arrogant JR’s kids and the separatists they spawn.

 

Singing in Arabic

JR’s kids then argue that if we allow (notice the superiority complex) the singing of the anthem in

Tamil, soon we will have to allow it to be sung in Arabic because of the Muslim minority. This is a ‘slippery slope’ fallacy and mostly driven by their Islamophobia. In the Republic there is no official or national language other than Sinhala and Tamil. If the State actually come to the stage where the anthem will have to be sung in Arabic, we will have far worse political issues to worry about than the anthem. Therefore it is fallacious to prohibit the singing of the Constitutional national anthem in Tamil based on hypothetical scenarios.

Calling for the singing of the anthem only in Sinhala is fodder to the Sampanthans, the Sumanthirans, the Wigneswarans and Sivajilingams. It is a proof for them to claim that Sinhala people are subjugating Tamil people in Sri Lanka. This is why they actually like the UNP and JR’s kids. They need those big-mouthed racists (aka nationalists) for their survival.

This is why the Tamil political elites still crawl back to the UNP’s lap after every time the party betrays the Tamil people.

 

The Scout

A few years back, I was invited to host a conference held in Colombo. There was a minister, some foreign delegates and many entrepreneurs in the audience. I called everyone to stand for the national anthem.

The usual practice is to wait for the recorded anthem to start playing, and almost always there is a technical delay. But this time the delay was unusually long. For close to one minute I could see the AV technicians desperately trying to play the song. The audience was getting anxious. The minister and the front row delegates were staring at me.

I could not bear it any longer. I got on to the podium and said, “The national anthem is supposed to be sung. So please join me everybody,” and started singing. There I was, 20 years later, once again in front of an audience singing the anthem without the music by myself. And that too with a microphone! But that day I did not forget the lyrics. The words which I learned by heart two decades ago flowed so proudly. The audience sang the entire anthem with me.

 

Language of the National Anthem

My mother language is Sinhala. I love the Sinhala language. Sinhala is the language I use to understand the world, and to make the world understand me. I think in Sinhala. I cry in Sinhala, I love in Sinhala. The Sinhala language forms the social-cultural national identity which I have acquired from birth. Similarly, the Tamil language is special to the Tamil person. It forms their social-cultural national identity which they have acquired from their birth. This is why they are called “national” languages.

I don’t sing the anthem merely because it is the “national” anthem. I am anyway indifferent to the non-existent, unreasonable, artificial “Nation(al) State”. I sing the anthem because its words have beautiful meaning. When those meaningful words are sung loudly my heart is filled with pride. I don’t sing it for others. I sing it for myself. The deep inspiration I gain by singing it is very personal to me.

But if I don’t know the meaning of the words, then I will not gain any of the above. It is like how some devotees chant Pali sutras without knowing the meaning of the words – empty. Forcing Tamil or Muslim citizens who do not understand Sinhala to sing in Sinhala is the same – empty. When they sing it in the language they understand, they will gain everything I gain. They will gain the same pride. They will gain the same inspiration. Thus the purpose of the anthem will be fulfilled. 

Factually, there are no two national anthems anyway. It’s only one song. It was probably originally written in Sanskrit-Bengali, then translated into Sinhala and then into Tamil. “The Mother” by Gorkey is still “The Mother” irrespective of the language you read it in. The colour “red” is still the same in any language. The message in the Bible is still the same no matter which translation you read. 

An anthem is meant to be sung. Not to just listen and move your lips as another group sings or while a recorded version is played. Therefore, let us all actually “sing” the anthem. Play the music only and let the citizens sing their anthem in their preferred language. Then you will realise if you actually know the words. And if you don’t, then you will at least make an effort to learn it, so you will understand the meaning of the words. And perhaps then, at least some of you will realise that there is no language to any song.

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