National Anthem

  • Be able to sing the National anthem alone

  • Know what should be done when singing the National Anthem

  • Know about the composer and the history of the National Anthem

  • Know the meaning of the National Anthem

The national anthem of a country is considered a national symbol, which is intended to unify a group of people. The language used in an anthem is meant to evoke emotions of belongingness, national identification, and group membership.

The psychological effect of the national anthem on its citizens cannot be undermined. This is why most countries in the world spend years constructing an anthem and why some countries keep changing the lyrics of the anthem to align with the country’s values. Russia is the best example for this, with numerous changes made to the anthem throughout the years.

Sri Lanka’s National Anthem: From past to present

Sri Lanka’s National Anthem was composed by Ananda Samarakoon, a renowned lyricist, music composer, singer and painter. Professor Sunil Ariyaratne, in his book ‘Ananda Samarakoon Adyanaya’ (Ananda Samarakoon – A Critical Study), describes the journey of Ananda Samarakoon and our National Anthem.

Samarakoon studied at the Visva-Bharati University at Shantiniketan, founded by the Nobel Laureate, Rabindranath Tagore, in West Bengal, India. The original version, Namo Matha, was composed by Samarakoon in the year 1940 and was a popular patriotic song at the time. It was performed at the first Independence Day celebrations of the country in 1949. It is interesting to note that the song was translated to Tamil by Pandit M. Nallathambi, which was also performed at the same occasion. However, these were referred to as “National Songs” and not as national anthems in the commemoration notice printed by the Ceylon Government Press. It was only in 1951 that the same song Namo Namo Matha was officially adopted as the National Anthem of our country.

The struggles of the National Anthem of our country starts here. Critiques of the anthem argued that the gana (the arrangement of the first three syllables) of the introductory words of the anthem were inauspicious and claimed that the tragedies faced by the country, including the deaths of two Prime Ministers: D.S. Senanayake and S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, were a result of the introductory words Namo Namo Matha.

Samarakoon desperately defended his composition but to no avail. In 1960, the Government of Sirimavo Bandaranaike made the decision to change the introductory words of the anthem, from Namo Namo Matha to Sri Lanka Matha and thus, the National Anthem of our country became Sri Lanka Matha. The new National Anthem was sung for the first time at the Independence Day celebrations in 1961.

The changing of words, without his consent, devastated Samarakoon. He conveyed his disappointment and disgust over the matter to the then opposition leader, Dudley Senanayake, in a letter dated 3 March 1962, which was found on his study desk. The distressed Ananda Samarakoon committed suicide by taking an overdose of sleeping tablets and on 5 April 1962, he died, at the age of 51. One may argue that the first true casualty of our National Anthem was the composer himself and that the anthem was cursed from the very beginning!

Questionaire proposed by the SLSA Work book

  1. Who is the composer of the National Anthem of Sri Lanka (Ananda Samarakoon)

  2. When was the Namo Namo Matha first National Anthem given state recognition by the Government of Sri Lanka. (1951)

  3. When was the first line of the National Anthem Namo Namo Matha changed to Sri Lanka Matha. (1961)

  4. When was the National Anthem of Sri Lanka and its melody were officially included as an appendix in the constitution of our country? (1978)

  5. What should be done when singing the National Anthem. (be in Alert/Attention position)

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