SINGING THE NATIONAL ANTHEM IN TAMIL – Part 1

When Sri Lanka, then Ceylon was getting ready for independence, it had to find a national anthem, since all modern states were expected to have one. National anthems rose to prominence in Europe during the 19th century. D.B.S. Jeyaraj says that when the national anthem was discussed in the late 1940s, D.S Senanayake had proposed that a suitable Tamil translation also be formally adopted.

A committee headed by E.A.P Wijeratne had accepted in principle that there be a Tamil version of the national anthem.  Pundit M. Nallathamby had provided a ‘neat transliteration’, said Jeyaraj. Prof K. Sivathamby had   confirmed that Nallathamby had prepared a Tamil version.

Jeyaraj says when a record was made of the national anthem, a disc was also cut for the Tamil version of the National Anthem.  The melody and music was the same as that of the Sinhala version. The Nallathamby version was sung by two women singers, Sangari and Meena.

Oliver Goonetilleke, then Minister in-charge of Home Affairs   had submitted a cabinet memorandum dated 22.11.1951  on the National anthem,  where he said that‘Namo namo matha’ had been sung in Sinhala and Tamil at the independence celebrations of 1948.

A printed programme for the 1949 independence celebrations, which Haris de Silva   had seen,  had said that at the inauguration at Torrington Square, the National Song would be sung in Tamil at 4 p.m on the arrival of the Prime Minister, and in Sinhala at 5 p.m. immediately after the Drill Display. At the evening event at the Havelock Race Course, celebrations commenced with the singing of the National Anthem in Tamil, and concluded with the anthem sung in Sinhala, said Haris de Silva.  Lankadipa reporting on 5th February 1949 said that when the anthem was sung in Tamil, some stood but others remained seated.

The Tamil version that was used at Independence was the translation by K. Kanagaratnam, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Education. In 1952, Cabinet wanted a ‘competent authority’ to revise the Tamil translation. This, we are told, was also done by K. Kanagaratnam. Cabinet had wanted Sir Oliver to consult G.G. Ponnambalam, who had nothing to say on the matter.

The Cabinet gave its approval to the anthem on 11th March 1952.  A Press Communique was issued on 12th March 1952, saying that the Cabinet had approved the song ‘Namo Namo Matha’ as the National Anthem, with copies of the approved Sinhala version, and its Tamil and English translations, together with the musical scores. The Tamil translation was the one by Kanagaratnam, said Haris de Silva.

D.B.S Jeyaraj says on March 12, 1952, the Government published huge advertisements in the Sinhala, Tamil, and English newspapers announcing that Namo Namo Matha” was the National Anthem. While words in Sinhala and Tamil were published in the Sinhala and Tamil newspapers respectively, the English newspapers had Sinhala words written in English.

Satyajit Andradi has examined the Sinhala and Tamil versions. The lyrics of the national anthem of Sri Lanka are composed in highly Sanskritised Sinhala, he said. In that sense, it closely resembles the Indian national anthem, which is written in highly Sanskritised Bengali.

Namo namo matha has numerous words taken from Sanskrit. Most of these loan words are used in their original Sanskrit form, whilst a few are adopted with minor modifications. The former category includes words such as Shri (prosperity), Matha (mother), Namo (salutation), Sundara (beauty ) Ati (beyond), Dhanya (grain ), Dhanaya (wealth), Jaya (victory), Ramya (beauty) Bhakti (devotion), Puja (worship ), Vidya (knowledge, science), Sathya (truth), Shakti (strength), Aloke (light), Anuprana (breath, after breath), Jeevana (life), Mukthi (salvation, release, freedom ), Nava (new), Jnana (wisdom), Virya (diligence, energy), Bhumi (land), Prema (affection), and Bheda (division, disputes), whilst the latter includes Sobamana (beauteous) and Siribarini (sustenance of prosperity). Interestingly, most of these Sanskrit loan words are also found in the Tamil language and are quite familiar to Tamil native speakers.

In the Tamil version, the lyrics, apart from the first stanza, have undergone a thorough translation, so much so that the numerous Sanskrit loan words found in the Sinhala original, which are also in the Tamil lexicon, are nowhere to be found in the Tamil version. The lines of the Tamil version are through and through Tamil, except in the few instances where a couple of new Sanskrit loan words such as ‘Siromani’ (crest jewel) are introduced. However, what is wonderful about the Tamil translation is its preservation of the spirit of the Sinhala original, said Satyajit.

According to D.B.S. Jeyaraj, the Tamil version Namo Namo Thaaye” was   sung in 1952 at Independence Day functions at Jaffna, Vavuniya, Mannar, Trincomalee and Batticaloa kachcheries. I remember, as a grade four student in a leading school in Colombo, I was witness to the National Anthem in the Tamil language sung at the school commemoration of Independence, way back in 1952,” recalled an anonymous writer.

The Tamil version was also sung when Sir John Kotelawela visited Jaffna in 1954. The Tamil version was first broadcast officially on Radio Ceylon” on February 4, 1955.  The Tamil version came into use thereafter and was extensively used in official functions in the predominantly Tamil speaking Northern and Eastern Provinces,   said Jeyaraj

There was a sharp difference of opinion regarding singing the national anthem in Tamil. Sinhala hardliners do not want the National Anthem to be sung in Tamil while Tamil hardliners do not want Tamils to sing the National Anthem in Sinhala, observed D.B.S. Jeyaraj. Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike had walked out of a function in the north where the national anthem was played in Tamil.  The date is not given. This would have been either in 1960-65 or 1970-77, her two terms of office.

While the Sinhala version was sung in most official functions in Colombo and Sinhala majority provinces, the Tamil version was sung in Tamil majority areas and Tamil medium schools, said Jeyaraj. Ananda Wanasinghe says, A close friend of mine from Nelliyadi Central College tells me that they sang the anthem in Tamil at the beginning of assembly and at all other school functions. He adds that it was sung with emotion and honor.”

The National anthem was not included in the Constitution of 1972. But it was included in   the Constitution of 1978. Article 7 of  1978 Constitution  states: “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.

The text of the 1978 Constitution was issued in Sinhala, English and Tamil. The Sinhala version had Namo, namo in Sinhala.  The English” version was a    repeat of the Sinhala one,   written in Roman script. The Tamil translation was a translation of the Sinhala words into Tamil. The Tamil version was included, said one source, following an appeal by K.W.Devanayagam. Devanayagam had pointed out that Muslims and Tamils living in the north and east who spoke mostly Tamil wanted that version for use in schools and occasions.

The Tamil version had been played at functions attended by Tamils in Jaffna, Vavuniya, Trincomalee, and Batticaloa. The Sinhala version was played at functions attended by the Sinhala community, However when both parties attended, they avoided the national anthem and only played the tune. (Sunday Times 19.12.2010 p 10.)

The national anthem was sung in Sinhala and Tamil at the 50th anniversary independence celebrations in Trincomalee in 1998. Is this legal asked critics. (Daily News 10.2.1998 p 5) On Sinhala New Year day 1999 at a ceremony in Kantalai they had sung it simultaneously in Sinhala and Tamil. This was scoffed at. Where in the world do we hear national anthems being sung in different languages asked one reader.

In December 2010 the Cabinet decided that Sri Lanka’s national anthem would only be in Sinhala. President Rajapaksa said there could not be two national anthems in a country. He said, “We must think of Sri Lanka as one country.” The Tamil version would no longer be played at any official or state functions. A directive to use only the Sinhala version was to be sent out by the Ministry of Public Administration. All government establishments including district secretariats were to adhere to this decision.

According to Jeyaraj, this ban on singing the national anthem in Tamil was thereafter shelved”. There was no official decree. But there was officially sanctioned unofficial instructions.” Orders went out quietly to government.  Officials and officers of the armed forces  were told that the national anthem should not be sung in Tamil. This resulted in the silencing the Tamil National Anthem, said Jeyaraj.

This unofficial diktat was strictly enforced. Schools and government institutions were discouraged” from singing the national anthem in Tamil. The armed forces in the North and East were tasked with the duty of preventing the National Anthem being sung in Tamil. The Tamil people soon got the message and gave up attempts to sing the National Anthem in Tamil. School children were compelled to sing the Sinhala words, scripted in Tamil, said Jeyaraj

At three different functions at Kilinochchi, in 2010 army had stopped the singing of Tamil version. They ordered that the recorded Sinhala version be played and it was. They had also distributed the Sinhala version of the national anthem to schools and told them that in future they should play the Sinhala version, reported the media.

The  Yahapalana government of 2015 changed this. President Sirisena withdrew the prohibition on singing the national anthem in Tamil.   In March 2015 President Sirisena      announced that there would be no bar to singing the national anthem in Tamil.

Soon after, on March 23.  2015  at  a function  in Valalai in the Jaffna peninsula to return land taken over by the Sri Lankan armed forces for a high security zone, the national anthem was first sung in Tamil and then in Sinhala. The music was played on tape while a choir from the staff of the Jaffna District Secretariat sang in both languages. This was in the presence of President Maitripala Sirisena, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, and former President Chandrika  Kumaratunga.

For the first time, since 1949, the national anthem was sung in Tamil at the Independence Day proceedings in Colombo in 2016. This was repeated in 2017, 2018 and 2019. But  it was sung at the end of the proceedings.

The singing of the national anthem in Tamil at the Independence celebration of 2016 surprised many people . In Hambantota they did not like it. Some did not even know that Tamil was a national language. It came as a shock them, reported Jehan Perera.  Critics said now Sri Lanka has joined South Africa, Canada, Switzerland, New Zealand and Fiji as a country having two national anthems.

Tamil Separatists were not thrilled either. ‘If Tamils thought that they had gained a status on par with the majority race they are wrong. Their relegation to second class was shown by the fact that the Tamil anthem was sung later at the ceremony, said one analyst.

But others were pleased. After 67 years, the National Anthem was sung in Tamil in 2016, said Mano Ganesan.   It was a very significant act of the government to make the Tamils feel equal, said the National Peace Council of Sri Lanka.

I can still remember that the faces of the bevy of young girls who sang the Tamil version of the National Anthem on Independence Day 2016. That day  they were glowed with pride and self-respect. In addition to these young girls, most of the Tamil people would have felt some sort of complacency and self-respect at the feeling that they had been treated equally said one commentator.

The students whose mother tongue is Tamil enjoyed participating in the singing at the official commemoration of our independence, and was well received by the masses whose mother tongue is Tamil, said another commentator. Each year, a new set of students participated in the singing and I am certain that the younger ones were eagerly awaiting with much expectation, when their turn would come for them to participate in the singing, at the big event.

The singing of the national anthem In Tamil was challenged in Supreme Court as a violation of the constitution. A fundament rights petition challenging the government decision to sing the national anthem in Tamil was filed in 2016. It should be sung only in Sinhala.

The Supreme Court  dismissed the petition. They accepted the reply given by the  government.  Government  pointed out that Tamil is also a national and official language . The words and music of the National Anthem in the Tamil language is constitutionally recognized by Article 7 read with the Third Schedule of the Tamil version of the Constitution of Sri Lanka. The National Anthem that was sung in the Tamil language at the Independence Day celebrations on February 4, 2016 contained the same words and melody as entrenched in the constitution in terms of Article 7 read with the Third Schedule of the Tamil version of the constitution of Sri Lanka.

The legal profession did not agree. Permitting the national anthem to be sung in Sinhala and Tamil, as President Sirisena had done may be a violation of the constitution, said Ladduwahetty. According to Article 7 of the 1978 Constitution the national anthem cannot deviate from the words and music given in the schedule, and the words are the Sinhala words. The national anthem must be sung in Sinhala at state and national functions. Article 7 is a fundamental article which cannot be amended, repealed or tampered with, said Vernon Botejue. Also,  it could be added, there is the rule that where the  texts differ, the Sinhala version shall prevail.

Sri Lanka got a new President in 2019. The new administration  said that according to the Constitution, the national anthem is to be sung  in SInhala. Therefore the national anthem would not be sung in Tamil at the Independence celebration of 2020.A spate of comments arose. Friday Forum urged the government to ensure that the national anthem is sung in both Sinhala and Tamil at the forthcoming Independence celebrations and on similar future occasions. The National Peace Council  urged the government not to stop the Yahapalana practice of singing the national anthem in Tamil at the Feb 04 Independence Day celebrations.

But the administration stood firm. On Feb 4 ,2020, at the Independence celebrations in Colombo,  the national anthem was sung in Sinhala only.  But it was sung in both Sinhala and Tamil at a parallel   function held at Jaffna District Secretariat. ( Continued)

Kamalika Pieris

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