National Anthem in Tamil:

A Buddhist perspective


Our National Anthem is a most evocative and inspiring song of praise to our beloved Sri Lanka. Its phraseology, melody, and music are almost overpowering; and to sing it together in a large group is an exhilarating and ennobling experience. Almost everyone sings it with passion.

I am from a generation that was educated in racially mixed schools and that "Dear Eternal Place" – The University of Ceylon, Peradeniya. A close friend of mine from Nelliyadi Central College tells me that they sang the anthem in Tamil at the beginning of assembly and at all other school functions. He adds that it was sung with emotion and honor. I have no reason to doubt it. 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 previous ban on singing the Anthem in Tamil was imposed in seeming anger after the Diaspora Tamils in the U.K. despicably prevented the then President Mahinda Rajapakse from addressing the Oxford Union by invitation.

In ‘kaalaama suthra’ the Buddha tells us of the vital necessity to examine, understand and thus be convinced of what he spoke and taught before following his Dhamma. The passion and emotion that our Anthem evokes in us is entirely because we understand it, and are in harmony with the sentiments contained in those elegant verses. That is also why the Tamils are inspired by the Anthem in Tamil and sing it with emotion.

What the opponents of singing it in Tamil advocates is to force Tamils to recite it without understanding it. What good will that do? It would become a drudgery and people could refrain from singing it altogether. Or worse; compose a song for themselves with different sentiments. In these divisive times, when there are clear indications of certain forces hell-bent on widening the rift, isn’t it a short-sighted and reckless move to exclude the National Anthem from being sung in Tamil – particularly after it had been sung in that language for a number of years? Magnanimity, logic, and the spirit of Dhamma demand that the majority community encourages the continuity of this practice at national events.

There is nothing in the constitution against the Anthem being accurately translated in word and spirit and set to the same music and sung in Tamil. Dr. Upul Wijayawardhana states that Ananda Samarakoon who composed the Anthem had no objections to the Tamil version translated by Mr. M. Nallathamby, and it being sung in Tamil. (The Island, 11 January 2020)

Tamil is an official language. The Anthem has been translated and sung in Tamil soon after it was adopted by the government. In the past five years it was sung in Tamil at the end of national celebrations. The majestic music is the same as in the Sinhala original. The voices of the choir were as sweet. The sentiments and invocations are identical. Most people found it a moving experience. How unjust and immoral is it, to now prevent singing it in Tamil? Is this reversal the way to reconciliation?

The ban on the Anthem in Tamil amounts to playing into the hands of the Tamil political leadership that does not want reconciliation. Only then can they continue to lord it over the ordinary un-empowered Tamils multitudes, segregated from the ranks of leadership by poverty and cast distinctions in the North and East. The same friend from Nelliyadi once remarked that the ethnic discord may not have arisen; if in the 30s and 40s monks learnt Tamil and preached the Buddha’s words in the North and East. We have to agree. They did not heed the Buddha’s command to the first missionary monks – ‘Travel forth, O bhikkus to spread the Dhamma for the welfare and wellbeing of the masses and compassion for the world.’

What is important are the ideals, sentiments, and hopes that are being sung and everyone’s resolve and commitment to achieve those – Not the language in which they are sung. We hope that sound reason and wisdom shall prevail and the national anthem will be sung in both Sinhala and Tamil at every important national ceremony in future.

Ananda Wanasinghe

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