National Anthem in Sinhala and Tamil
December 16, 2010, 7:52 pm
At a time when the priority for the Cabinet should be to heal ethnic divisions in the country and bring about reconciliation among the different communities, the decision of the cabinet to do away with the Tamil version of the National Anthem is indeed regrettable. The Tamil version of the National Anthem (with the same music and words which are a translation of Ananda Samarakoon’s Sinhala version) has been used throughout the country since 1952, when it was first adopted as the National Anthem. So it makes no sense for a cabinet to take such a decision at this stage without any public discussion or consultation.
The reason given by President Mahinda Rajapakse for this cabinet decision that no country has two language versions of her National Anthem is incorrect. A bilingual country like Canada has her National Anthem in both English and French and both are in use. In fact, the Canadian National Anthem has its origin in a French Canadian patriotic poem. There are also other countries which have their official National Anthem in more than one language.
It may also be of interest to note that India and Singapore, both multi-lingual countries, have their official National Anthem in one of the languages spoken by a minority. The Indian National Anthem is in Bengali, a language spoken by less than 9% of the population. The National Anthem is based on a Bengali patriotic song composed by Rabindranath Tagore. India’s enlightened founding fathers thought that adopting that Bengali song ‘Jana Gana Mana’ would forge reconciliation and unity. Similarly, Singapore has its National Anthem in Malay, a language spoken by less than 14% of her population. Again, national unity was the overriding factor in adopting this as the National Anthem based on a Malay patriotic song ‘Majulah Singapura’ composed by Zubir Said.
The case of South Africa is perhaps unique and may lend itself to adoption by countries like Sri Lanka if we are seeking genuine reconciliation. The National Anthem of South Africa which was adopted in 1997 by the Nelson Mandela Government is a fusion of two old patriotic songs – the Xhosa language Nkosi sikelel’ Afrika and Afrikaaner language Die Stem van Suid-Afrika. But the official version of the National Anthem is in five of the official languages of South Africa. In the four stanza anthem, the first two lines of the first stanza are in Zhosa, the next two lines in Zulu, the second stanza in Sesotho, the third stanza in Afrikaaner and the fourth stanza in English.
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