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Sunday, 14 February 2016





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Government Gazette

Jinxed and Gana challenged

Sri Lanka's National Anthem from inception to interpretation :

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claim the government lifted an unofficial ban on the Tamil version of the National Anthem, which, when analysed via historical documents (based on the newspaper articles found at the Lake House Archives) is proved correct until 1977 when the constitution commanded otherwise The National Anthem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 unofficially.

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 pills.

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.

Indian Influence

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.

Constitutional Issues

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.



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