We are bang into the New Year. The new session of Parliament has been opened by the President. Parliamentary politics could move to a new swing, with a government not having a formal majority in the House. There is also another political tune at play – that of the National Anthem.
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa acknowledged his victory with the votes of the Sinhala Buddhist majority in the country as he was sworn in at Anuradhapura, and did say he would act for the unity of the country. Not many weeks after this declaration of a commitment to unity we are again in the midst of yet another National Anthem debate.
The Minister handling the subject of Independence Day celebrations, Janaka Bandara Tennekoon, said it had been decided to ban the singing of the National Anthem in Tamil at the Independence celebrations this year. There is a strange twist to his thinking when he states to BBC that if the national anthem is sung in two languages, it would imply there were two races in Sri Lanka. He also states the decision to sing the anthem in Sinhala only is because the Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim people constituted one single race in Sri Lanka. He seems to be confused with nation and race, but that is the stuff of politics today. He adds that singing the national anthem twice would affect reconciliation, and also that in India the anthem is sung only in one language.
Let’s get rid of the drawing in of India into this. We do have a long history of association with India, and plenty of political understanding and interests too. There are many Indian traditions we follow. As to the national anthem, yes ‘Jana, Gana, Mana’ is sung in one language. But it is not the official language of India – Hindi. It is in the Bengali language and it was written by Rabindranath Tagore, which happens to be one more minority language among India’s hundreds of languages.
Will Minister Tennekoon accept that singing the national anthem in a minority language, and not the main official language would build reconciliation and help achieve national unity?
One is glad to know there is a ministerial debate within the government on the National Anthem. While Cabinet Minister Tennekoon is for one language Sinhala Only rendition, State Minister Vasudeva Nanayakkara has stated it is best to be sung in both Sinhala and Tamil. He was appreciative of the decision to sing it in Sinhala and Tamil in the recent Independence Day celebrations, and also gave another reminder on the banning of the Tamil singing of it by none other than Prabhakaran!
It is interesting to know whether those who do not wish to hear the national anthem in Tamil, also agree with the Prabhakaran thinking of a separate Tamil nation and State, having its own anthem, and not a translation of the Sinhala state’s anthem.
Let the debate go on and a clearer decision be taken on this in terms of genuine national unity, which will pay due attention to the constitutional acceptance of the Tamil version of the anthem, its acceptance by the Cabinet headed by the Father of the Nation D. S. Senanayake, as far back as 1951, it singing in the North and East for many years until the separatist war broke out, and its singing on Independence Day celebrations in both languages since 2015.
The twists and turns on the National Anthem also bring to light another situation of mockery of modern and rationalist thinking that is fast expanding in Sri Lanka. It is the soaring belief in astrology and spread of Zodiac thinking. The composer of our national anthem, to original “Namo, Namo Matha” Ananda Samarakoon was led to suicide by the astrological thinking that led to the change of the anthem from ‘Namo, Namo, Matha’ to ‘Sri Lanka Matha” as it is sung today.
How many know today that the change was due to the hugely promoted belief that the first words “namo namo’ had a wrong or bad ‘gana’ or astrological calculation, which brought great misfortune to the country. The debate soared after the 1956 ‘Sanga-Veda-Guru-Govi-Kamkaru- Five Power victory that brought SWRD Bandaranaike and the SLFP – MEP to power. The huge strikes, communal violence, and many natural disasters such as floods, landslides and fires that took place gave a rising call to change the inauspicious first words of the anthem. The call gained more strength with the assassination of Prime Minister Bandaranaike in 1959. After the SLFP’s election victory in 1960, with Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike in office as PM, the national anthem was changed to “Sri Lanka Matha’ in March 1961, giving official endorsement to the superstition of the ‘gana karayas’, whose power continues to rise as we enter 2020.
One wonders why there is no call for a further change of the ‘ Sri Lanka Matha” national anthem on such astrological, ‘gana’ and Zodiac and irrational claims, considering the huge loss the nation suffered in the 30 years of separatist war, and the many other floods and natural disasters, as well as huge economic failures we have faced since then. That remains the stuff of future political hoodwinking!
Ananda Samarakoon, was born to Christian parents, and grew up a Christian as Egodahage George Wilfred Alwis Samarakoon, who studied at Christian College, Kotte, and was later a teacher of Art and Music at the same school. With his interest in music and art he went to Tagor’s School ‘Shantiniketan’ in Bengal, where he studied both art and music under renowned teachers, returned without completing his studies and joined the staff of Mahinda College, Galle as Ananada Samarakoon.
The composer of the National Anthem could not receive the Rs. 2,500 the government paid for its copyright, as he had transferred the copyright to the publisher of the song book that first published it, being unable to make payment to the printer.
Ananda Samarakoon was found dead on April 5, 1962. He had died of an overdose of sleeping pills. A letter on his desk to the then opposition leader Dudley Senanayake complained of how his anthem had been mutilated.
A few days before his death, Samarakoon wrote a letter to the ‘Timesman’ column on the “Times of Ceylon” newspaper. He wrote, “The anthem has been beheaded. It has not only destroyed the song, but also destroyed the life of the composer. I am frustrated and broken-hearted. It is a misfortune to live in a country where such things happen to a humble composer. Death would be preferable.”
As the debate whether the anthem should be sung in one or two recognised and constitutionally accepted languages at national celebrations goes on, the country continues to move to the lower depths of thinking on social progress, with the rising strength of the purveyors of astrological and zodiac power. The wrists of political leaders and key officials are wrapped with white, yellow, red and other coloured threads having the blessings of ‘pirith noola’ and power of deities; the rings on the fingers of powerful politicians are loaded with gems that draw the blessings or strength of deities, while offerings to demons as various shrines go ahead with plenty of coconut smashing and many other demonic rituals.
Where is Sri Lanka heading with even the necessity of a debate on the National Anthem, and the huge mockery on intelligent Buddhist thinking that comes with every minister and key official assuming duties; linked to the farce of blessings and photo-shot signing of documents? Ananda Samarakoon said that death was preferable in a country where such misfortune happened to a humble composer. A composer whose words said nothing divisive of the country, but made us all sing about is strength of unity.
The debate of political alignments on the National Anthem shows little promise of a national given the inspiration and education to rise in the strength of truth and honesty, and away from the sorcery and cheating of political bigwigs trapped in astronomy and cheating of the intellect with bigotry.
(I am grateful to writer D. B. S. Jeyaraj for his research on the trail of the National Anthem).