SINGING THE NATIONAL ANTHEM IN TAMIL – Part 2

There are two opposing sets of views on the matter of the Tamil version. One group firmly wishes to see the anthem sung only in Sinhala. It is imperative to sing the national anthem in one voice not two, they said. A national anthem is a symbol of unity.

When you talk about a National symbol, be it a flower, animal or flag there can only be one of them,” said Sandagomi Coperahewa. There can’t be two or three national symbols. There may be two official languages, but the national anthem is one symbol. If it is sung in a language other than Sinhala, there has to be a Constitutional Amendment as well,” he said.

‘The national anthem of Sri Lanka should be the original song sung in the language it was written in,’ said one commentator.’ That is Namo namo matha and it was written to be sung in Sinhala. Every citizen, whether Sinhalese, Tamil, Moor, Malay, Burgher, or Veddah should sing in one voice in the language the anthem was written in, in this case Sinhala’,  added another commentator, Stanley Gunaratne. A reader commented,’’ Yes, one national anthem in Sinhala only’.

This group dismisses the notion that Tamils cannot think of themselves as Sri Lankan when the national anthem is in a language that they cannot understand. Why can’t the Tamils learn to sing the national anthem in Sinhala, asked one critic. If they are able to learn other languages in the countries they live in now, why can’t they learn Sinhala? They do not askthat the national anthem of the countries they now live in be translated to Tamil so they can sing it with fervor and loyalty.

There is no need to sing the national anthem in Tamil as singing it in Sinhala is sufficient, said  Ravi Kumar , President of   Tamil Buddhist Association of Jaffna. There was no demand from any Tamil in Jaffna to sing the National anthem in Tamils. It was not an issue, said Rear admiral Sarath Weerasekera, speaking in 2016. When I was the commanding officer of the Karaingar naval base in 1993 Tamils sang it in Sinhala at various functions.  Today the north is all Tamil, and they have with all impunity sung the national anthem in Tamil, he concluded..

These critics point to India. India has Hindi and English as official languages but its National Anthem is highly Sanskritised Bengali. It’s not even Hindi, but all Indians sing it. In India the national anthem is sung in only one language. All Indians sing it regardless of whether they understand it or not. India stipulated that all schools in India have to start the day with the national anthem.

India’s national anthem was originally a patriotic song  written in Sanskritised Bengali, by Tagore, later adopted as the national anthem. Even before independence the Bengalis had sung ‘Jana gana mana’ at their rallies. The Bengalis played a significant role in the nationalist struggle, more than any other ethnic group. The Tamils did not play that kind of role in Sri Lanka.

The national anthem should be  multi lingual said  some. They suggested a  single  national anthem   with verses in Sinhala and Tamil. A single bi-lingual anthem, with verses in both Sinhala and Tamil.  Let there be at least a few lines in Tamil  incorporated into our national anthem, they said.

One suggestion is to sing one verse of the national anthem in Tamil, whilst the balance is sung in Sinhala. The first two verses can be sung in Sinhala and the last verse can be sung in Tamil. Then the entire anthem is sung by all Sri Lankans, where the Sinhala speaking population sing the Tamil verse in addition to the Sinhala verses, and the Tamil speaking population sing the Sinhala verses in addition to the Tamil verse.‘Including a Tamil verse in the national anthem will also help chauvinistic Sinhalese to remember that there are people other than the Sinhalese living in this country’, said one commentator.

There is also a request to sing the national anthem in three or four languages. The anthem should be  sung in at least 3 languages , English, Sinhala and Tamil said Mohamad Zaharan . I personally would prefer that the national anthem be sung in four languages , including Arabic he added.

This will be then even understood by the foreign dignitaries from other countries who will be attending this ceremony. The other advantage is that it may even kindle the interest of people to learn these languages. By singing it in three or four languages will give diversity and ensure that people of other faiths are also given due recognition, ours being a multi-religious, multi-racial and multi-ethnic country, Zaharan concluded.

A whole bouquet of examples have been given to justify singing the anthem in Tamil. In South Africa, the national anthem of four stanzas is in five languages, Xhosa, Zulu, Swasotho, Afrikaans, and English. First stanza is in Xhosa and Zulu, two lines each, next stanza in Sesotho, third in Afrikaner, fourth in ‘English.

Canada has English, French and a bilingual version. The lyrics in the English and French versions differ in the Canadian anthem. In the bilingual version beginning and end is in English middle verse is in French. Canada has an Inuit version too.  The national anthem in New Zealand, the first verse in Maori and the second in English.

Switzerland’s anthem has different lyrics in each of the country’s four official languages (French, German, English, and Romansh). Fiji’ has lyrics in English and Fijian which are not translations of each other.

There were other alternatives. Spain has no words at all in its national anthem. In Spain the national anthem has been played without words since 1978.  In Singapore, there are Tamil, English, Malay and Chinese people, but their National Anthem is sung in Malay. National anthem is in Malay, because Singapore was earlier linked to Malaysia. The Irish national anthem was written in English. An Irish translation although never formally adopted, is now almost always sung.

Those supporting  a Sinhala only national anthem have dismissed these examples. None of these have any relation to Sri Lanka ,they said. Sri Lanka need not take new nations such as Canada, New Zealand and South Africa as examples. Eight of the countries with multilingual national anthems are in Africa, where there is no record of land borders before colonization, they added.

They also pointed out that the United Nations comprises 193 member states. Less than 25 of these countries have multilingual national anthems. The countries with monolingual national anthems   also have minority communities. But the national anthems of such countries are invariably in the language of the majority community. Lastly, some countries, with bilingual national anthems, such as Canada ,are about to break up.

Those who support the singing of the national anthem in Tamil use strong language. It is injudicious and even the wicked decision to sing the National Anthem only in Sinhala, they said.

In an already fractured society, it is difficult to understand  this suggestion of departing from such a simple practice which could be so meaningful to substantial groups. On the contrary, departing from it may convey a message which does not augur well for our future progress as a united and peaceful society, they said.

But others decided to take a more conciliatory line. We have only one National Anthem, and that is in Sinhala. What is sung at the end of the official commemoration is only a Tamil language version of the Sinhala Anthem. A Tamil version of the National Anthem  has been created for this very purpose. This version  is now accepted andhas    been in use for some time.. ‘The Tamil version has been in use from 1951 or so, and the practice was  restored in 2015,’ they said.

This group decided to take an emotional approach, emphasizing music and song. The content of the national anthem is universally appealing and can create an emotional response in persons who differ in other respects. It is capable of being a unifying force, said Friday Forum.

Listening to the singing of the national anthem in either or both language is indeed a moving experience. It is most moving when it is sung in our mother tongue or both languages, said Devanesan Nesiah.

We must voluntarily learn the national anthem in each other’s language, so we can all sing it together, said Rev Duleep de Chickera. Far from banning the singing in one language, we must ensure  that it is sung with dignity, in both languages, on Freedom Day and all national occasions..

Satyajit Andradi has looked at the music aspect of the anthem. Music is, in fact, the language of emotions. It could break through language barriers as far as expression of emotions are concerned. It builds bridges and binds people together, he said.

A national anthem, like any other song, is a union of poetry and music. Hence, whilst the musical element is critically important, the linguistic component should not be under-rated. It is a widely accepted view that, a person is able to express her or his innermost emotions through the medium of her or his native language rather than through a different one. Hence, it is important that everyone be actively encouraged to use their native language. Needless to say, this applies in the case of singing one’s national anthem as well. Use of one’s native language will stimulate creativity, whilst learning other languages would enrich it further, continued Satyajit.

We celebrate the fact that Sri Lanka is a bio-diversity hot-spot of the world. Likewise, why cannot we celebrate its wonderful linguistic diversity? The Sinhala and Tamil versions of the national anthem of Sri Lanka epitomizes the immense linguistic diversity of the country. The native Sinhala speaker, who is not very conversant with the Tamil language, would find it extremely difficult to understand the Tamil lyrics. However, this is not a cause for disappointment or alarm. On the contrary, it is a fact to celebrate. It speaks volumes of the linguistic diversity of the country, continued Satyajit.

Singing our national anthem in Tamil as well as in Sinhala at the official Independence Day celebrations is a small but vital step in this journey. Let’s sing it with devotion and enthusiasm in the two main native languages of our land – Sinhala and Tamil. Let us also learn to sing it in the language of each other in the near future, said Satyajit.

Satyajit however, makes doubtful observations on the two languages. The Sinhala language, like Hindi, Bengali, Marathi, and Nepali, is considered to be an offspring of Sanskrit, the sacred language of ancient India. Sinhala is most probably the living eldest daughter of Sanskrit, said Satyajit. He  does not say  anything about the  considerable  Sinhala literature.

Tamil , on the other hand, says Satyajit, belongs to the Dravidian family of languages. Like Sanskrit, Tamil is an ancient classical language of India. It possesses a great literature. Sinhala and Tamil have been spoken in the country for more than two millennia, said Satyajit,  ending with a flourish, this brief sequence of incorrect statements.

All sort of woolly, sometimes incoherent,  emotional statements, including at least one howler were made by supporters of the Tamil national anthem. Here is a selection.

**to sing our national anthem in both national languages, does not undermine or desecrate either of them. To the contrary, when we venerate Mother Lanka as one people, in both Sinhala and Tamil, we demonstrate the magnanimity of our cultures in which our respective languages flourish.

**What will the Sinhalese majority stand to lose by allowing the Tamil version of the anthem also sung on the Independence Day celebrations following the Sinhala version? In my view this is a simplest gesture to show the Tamil brothers and sisters (who had suffered directly for decades due to the war) that the majority Sinhalese can respect the Tamils’ desire to use their mother tongue to express their sentiments.

**It is difficult to fathom why it has now become necessary to deny Tamil citizens the privilege of praising our motherland in song, in their mother tongue, especially when the convictions, aspirations, and devotion are identical.

** The Tamil community have been hurt so much on the language issue. Firstly in 1956 by not recognizing the Tamil language  The idea sown recently to sing the national anthem at Independence Day celebrations in Sinhala only, is one such sad and recurring wound.

** The constitution provides for singing the National anthem in Sinhala and Tamil, but this is not followed.  The anthem says ‘eka mawakage….’ If we truly believe that we are the children of one mother we must provide the opportune for the Tamil speaking people to sing our national anthem in their mother tongue.’  This is a howler. Children of one mother will not speak in different languages. ( Continued)

Kamalika Pieris



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