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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 823

Vasu - Do not kill Ananda Samarakoon again

JBy inadasa Bamunuarachchi

In December 2010, it was reported that the Cabinet of Sri Lanka headed by President Mahinda Rajapaksa had taken a decision to scrap the Tamil translation of Sri Lanka Matha at official and state functions, as "in no other country was the national anthem used in more than one language" - even though the national anthems of Canada, South Africa and those of several other countries have more than one language version.

The Cabinet's decision had followed a paper on the national flag and national anthem presented by the Minister of Home Affairs W. D. J. Senewiratne. The paper had drawn on the Singaporean model where the national anthem is sung in the official lyrics and not any translation of the lyrics.

Based on this principle, the paper recommended that the Sri Lankan national anthem only be sung in Sinhala and the Tamil translation be abolished. This was exactly the right thing to do and it has been done in keeping with the constitutional status of the National Anthem of Sri Lanka.

Media reported last week that Vasudewa Nanayakkara has sought presidential sanction to sing the national anthem of Sri Lanka in the Tamil language or to do a Tamil version of it in view of the 65th Independence Day celebrations to be held in the Eastern Province. (I really do not know what he is trying to do).

May be Vasudewa has no useful job to do and is trying to score a point by creating an unwanted and unwarranted issue at this point of time when the unified Country is making headway to stand on its feet. Furthermore he may be trying to make it look like an attractive proposition which may not harmful per se but when taken with other factors and empirical evidence his proposition is suicidal as we are passing a critical moment in our country’s history.

Minister Wimal Weerawansa once taking part at a talk show programme on a private Channel described the Tamil version a “mistake” and had cited India as an analogy. Some critics were critical that it was wrong of Weerawansa to cite India as an analogy because according to them the Indian national anthem was not in Hindi, which is the most widely spoken language of India, but in Bengali, a minority language. This is wrong and Weerawansa is correct. Indeed, according to official Government of India website, the Indian National anthem was not adopted in its Hindi version. The proceedings of the Constituent Assembly of India on 24 January 1950 do not mention that the National Anthem was "adopted", nor does it mention that it was done so in its Hindi version. It is a fact that Indian national Anthem whose lyrics are vastly Sanskritized going by the great Indian tradition of writing epics in Sanskrit language.

As is known to everybody, National Anthem of Sri Lanka was written and composed by Ananda Samarakoon in 1940, and was later adopted as the National Anthem of Sri Lanka. The song became famous after a 50 member choir from Museus College,Colombo sang it on a public occasion. It was also broadcast on Radio frequently. “Namo Namo Matha” though without official recognition was now becoming popular as a “de-facto” national anthem.

It was written when Sri Lanka was still a British colony and was initially written as a tribute to Sri Lanka, expressing sentiments of freedom, unity and independence, and not for the purpose of serving as a national anthem. The song however became very popular throughout the 1940s and when Sri Lanka gained independence in 1948 it was chosen to be the national anthem, 3 years later. It was sung, at the Independence Day in 1952. Ananda Samarakoon was Rabindranath Tagore's student and the tune is influenced by Tagore's genre of music.

The song was officially adopted as the national anthem of Ceylon on November 22, 1951, by a committee headed by Sir Edwin Wijeyeratne. The anthem was translated into the Tamil language by M. Nallathamby.

In 1950 the then Finance minister JR Jayewardene presented a Cabinet Memorandum that the widely popular “Namo Namo Matha” be formally acknowledged as the official anthem. Prime Minister D.S. Senanayake set
up a select committee under the Home Affairs and Rural Development Minister Sir E.A.P. Wijeratne to finalise the issue.

The committee headed by Wijeratne considered “Namo Namo Matha” and some other lyrics and decided that Samarakoon’s namo namo matha should be the national anthem.

There was however a minor hitch. The committee wanted a minor change in the words. Samarakoon was then in India and after he returned home in mid 1951, Ananda Samarakoon was invited to discuss the matter with Sir Edwin AP Wijeratne.

The song had originally been composed when the country was under the British. Now it was independent.It was therefore felt that the 10th line in the song was inappropriate and had to be changed. Samarakoon
agreed to change the line. He amended the lines as follows.

“Nawa jeewana Damine” was changed to “Nawa Jeewana Demine Nithina Apa pupudu Karan Matha” with the wholehearted consent and approval of Ananda Samarakoon who was prone to reality.

Sir EAP Wijeratne then presented a cabinet paper in August 1951 recommending “Namo Namo Matha” as the national anthem of Ceylon. It was unanimously approved by cabinet and formally adopted on November 22nd 1951.

There were two Tamil ministers in the DS Senanayake cabinet then. They were GG Ponnambalam and C.Sittambalam. They concurred with the need and their consent and approval was readily given.

While Namo Namo Matha was now being sung as the official anthem there was no uniformity in the melody or manner of singing. Different choirs and singers were rendering it in different ways.

Government therefore appointed an eleven member committee in 1953 to ensure that uniformity was ensured in rendering the national anthem. Among its members were Ananda Samarakoon himself.

This committee set out guidelines as to how the anthem should be sung and also defined the exact tune for it. The melody was a refined version of the original tune composed by Samarakoon.The Cargills then agents for HMV records was given the order to make vinyl.

On June 24th 1954 the cabinet of Sir John Kotelawela formally endorsed the tune and singing of the National Anthem. The copyright ownership of “Namo Namo Matha” was formally acquired by the Government after
payment of Rupees 2500 on that day. The money however did not go to Ananda Samarakoon as he had already transferred copyright to Siriwardena the printing press owner who had first published the song
in a book of poems.

Ananda Samarakoon did not care about money. His song was officially recognized as the National Anthem of a nation whose history dates back to 2500 years. He accomplished a mission for the nation, no other person had done.

During the latter part of 1958 there emerged a notion that the notations in “Namo Namo Matha” were not suitable in line with the ‘gana.’ The letter “Na” at the beginning was described as a malefix.The inauspicious “Gana” at the beginning of the national anthem was said to be unacceptable.

A ‘gana’ is the placing of the first three syllables – how the long and short syllables occur. The opening words of the anthem ‘na-mo-na’ short-long-short constituted an unacceptable ‘gana’, it was alleged.

As criticism mounted Ananda Samarakoon was constrained to defend himself against the charges. He engaged in many newspaper debates and also spoke at public meetings in defence of “Namo Namo Matha”.

Mrs. Bandaranike came to power in 1960 and her Government decided to amend the National Anthem and a committee was appointed to examine the issue and determine whether the national anthem should be amended as her advisers claimed.

The committee recommended that the words “Namo Namo Matha” be changed to “Sri Lanka Matha”. Ananda Samarakoon protested strongly and opposed the proposed change. The Government however went ahead and unilaterally amended the national anthem from “Namo Namo Matha” to “Sri Lanka Matha” in February 1961.

Ananda Samarakoon’s consent was not obtained. Since copyright was now vested with the Government. There was no legal remedy available to the poet to prevent this arbitrary action. This caused immense distress and had a debilitating effect on the poet who was side-lined for unknown reason. His views should have been consulted. But this did not happen in this case.

On April 5th 1962 Ananda Samarakoon was found dead.. His door was broken open as he was not answering knocks on his door. The inquest revealed that he had died of an overdose of sleeping tablets. There was a letter on his desk to then opposition leader Dudley Senanayake complaining of how his anthem had been mutilated. There was also a serene painting on his easel of Lord Buddha meditating and a deer looking on.

The remarkable nature and attribute of Sri Lanka’s national anthem is that it sings paeans of patriotic praise to the country alone and not to any race or religion, It is not parochial. It unifies the nation. It does not need any Tamil or English treatment. Leave it alone. Do not kill the great poet for the second time.

I remember in 2003 when I was working at ANCL, (Lake House) an attempt was made to orchestrate the National Anthem in a more cogent manner by a very competent band of singers. This idea was mooted by Bandula Padmakumara who was a director of ANCL at the time. The reason for suggesting this was this. The current official version of national anthem has been very old and sung with oriental music only. The Idea was to render the national anthem in a more advanced technological environment. This programme was titled ‘jathika geeyata anuprane’ by Tilakaratna Kuruvitabandara, Editor of Silumina at the time. There was absolutely no change. The proposal was only orchestrating more prudently using professional choir and issue an official version. This programme had to be abandoned due to objections from various quarters.

National anthem belongs to the nation and it has a national character. Each race in the country cannot have separate lyrics in their language. Vasu’s attempt in this backdrop appears to be very much counterproductive. There are many forces nationally and internationally that are unhappy about crushing the tigers militarily to end the war. One would only encourage such forces by making attempts of this nature. Undoubtedly this proposition if any has been made without careful judgement of the pros and cons that would flow from this decision.

There are much more important pressing problems currently affecting our country than messing up the national anthem. Pristine glory of nawa vamansika is gone in the wind my dear comrade. This proposal of Vasu does not mean to serve the national interest of our country but would help serve the expectations of the LTTE rump.

- Asian Tribune -

Vasu -  Do not kill Ananda Samarakoon again
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