Jinxed and Gana challenged
Sri Lanka's National Anthem from inception to
This year's Independence Day celebrations marked what's being
described as a stepping stone towards reconciliation; singing the
National Anthem in Sinhala and Tamil for the first time since 1949. This
gave rise to much-heated debates, based on long-festered issues on the
language policy and the community representation in Sri Lanka.
Tamil language was given official language status in the Constitution
singing the National Anthem in Tamil was a symbolical acknowledgement
that the language policy was being implemented beyond the administrative
and education spectrums, allowing the Tamil speaking community to salute
the country with pride, gratitude and commitment, in a language they
were familiar with and in a tune the whole country is familiar with.
The acceptance of the Tamil version of the National Anthem was seen
as giving parity to the language, years after granting it the official
and national language status.
In this context, some claim the government lifted an unofficial ban
on the Tamil version of the National Anthem, which, when analysed via
historical documents (based on the newspaper articles found at the Lake
House Archives) is proved correct until 1977 when the constitution
commanded otherwise The National Anthem was sung in Sinhala and Tamil
until the 1970s, even though the focus was more on the Sinhala version
due to multiple debates that surrounded it.
Historically, the National Anthem has been a topic of debate on
multiple occasions, since it's recognition in 1951 officially and 1942
The first main debate regarding the Anthem was in 1959 when the then
Minister for Education W. Dahanayake, requested an amendment to it due
to astrological and prosodial aspects, based on auspicious and
inauspicious 'ganas'. The Minister claimed that in Namo Namo Matha, the
gana fall along in such a way, with two short gana on either side and a
long gana in the middle, would warrant the composer a confirmed invalid.
A change in the said line from Namo Namo Matha into Sri Lanka Matha
would make the composer prosperous.
As protocol demanded, in 1960, the Minister for Industries and Home
Affairs, Maitripala Senanayake, instructed the Department of Cultural
Affairs to investigate the matter and assured that a committee would be
set up, and the composer of the National Anthem, Ananda Samarakoon would
be in the committee to recommend changes.
The suggested and amended version of the National Anthem was sung at
the Independence Day celebrations on February 4, 1962. The Minister for
Industrial, Home and Cultural Affairs issued a press communique that
stated "The government had altered the opening bars in view of
representations made about it for several years by the clergy and laity
of the island. This change has been approved by competent men who were
consulted, but the change would, however, not alter the 'meaning or
tune' or the original National Anthem."
After years of requests so as not to change the National Anthem and
then two months of requests to revoke the decision to change the anthem,
Ananda Samarakoon committed suicide by taking an overdose of sleeping
As a development of the reasons given by Dahanayake's initial request
to alter the National Anthem, a parallel debate was developed on the
reasoning that none of the Prime Ministers in Sri Lanka were able to
complete their five year term as the Anthem was 'jinxed'. The first PM
of Sri Lanka, D.S. Senanayake died in 1952, PM Dudley Senanayake reigned
for one and half years afterwards and both Sir John Kotelawala and
S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike were Prime Ministers for 3-year periods
separately. W. Danahanaye ruled for six months before. Dudley Senanayake
took over again for a period of three months. Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike
ruled for 4 years and 4 months coming closer to completing the tenure of
five years, before losing the General Election. PM Dudley Senanayake is
said to be the first PM in Sri Lanka who, as some claim, broke the jinx
of the National Anthem, and ruled his full tenure.
Throughout 1960s and 1970s, newspapers carried many articles written
by staff correspondents as well as by civilians in the form of 'Letters
to the Editor', arguing on the proper application of the National
Anthem, for example, singing it at the cinemas. There are many civilian
who wrote on National Anthem being played at cinemas, even in Jaffna,
even though it is not mentioned whether the anthem was sung in Sinhala
or Tamil. However, senior journalist D.B.S. Jeyaraj writes that the
National Anthem was sung in Tamil at Jaffna College in Vadukkoddai
during late 1960 to early 1970s period.
The idea of a pure Sinhala National Anthem was discussed in 1971,
when musicians pointed out that the tune of the National Anthem was
borrowed from a composition by Rabindranath Tagore that is linked to the
Indian National Anthem. However, students of Ananda Samarakoon argued
against this opinion defending Samarakoon's creation.
Irrespective of whether, Samarakoon was inspired by Hindustani music
or whether he borrowed another's creation, Sri Lankan musicians such as
Amaradeva claimed that a tune separate from the influence of Hindustani
music, that is originally Sri Lankan, is not a possibility given the
cultural history between the two countries, which concluded the demand
for a pure Sinhala National Anthem.
But in 1972, with Sri Lanka shedding political dominion to a British
colony, a discussion was initiated whether there was a need for a new
National Anthem for the republic state, drawing parallels to India, even
though both countries did not continue on this pursuit.
Article 7 of the Constitution deals with the National Anthem, which
states that the lyrics and music of the National Anthem will be as set
out in the Third Schedule and that "the National Anthem of the Republic
of Sri Lanka shall be 'Sri Lanka Matha'". The Third Schedule contains
the lyrics 'Sri Lanka Maatha'; the official version of the Anthem.
Article 7 of the Constitution which is protected by Article 83 of the
Constitution which states that any amendment to Article 7 should be done
by a referendum.