Genesis of national anthem
In 1796, when Britain began its colonial rule over Ceylon, ‘God Save
the King’ also became our national anthem since the British sought local
allegiance to the King of England. Yet, when the national consciousness
was awakened in the struggle for independence, there was a flowering of
patriotic ‘national songs and poetry’.
Penned by Tibetan S Mahinda Thera, M G Perera and Deva Suriyasena
among others, they were sung at the close of formal occasions. By 1946,
Ananda Samarakoon’s Namo Namo Matha was out on the HMV gramophone label.
Yet another national song was his infusion of lyrics to the Indian
Reproving this, the then Education Minister C W W Kannangara brought
out another composition.
A debate heated up on the brink of independence to pick the most
appropriate song representative of the nation. The result was the
‘National Anthem Contest’ organized by the Lanka Gandharva Sabha and
judged by a Sinhala and Tamil panel of judges.
Although Samarakoon’s Namo Namo Matha was an entry to the contest,
the winning entry was Shri Lanka Matha Pala Yasa Mahima, a composition
by P B Illangasinghe and Lionel Edirisinghe. This was the anthem aired
over the national radio on the grand occasion of the newly-gained
independence on February 4, 1948.
But the choice led a public controversy as both composers came from
the selection panel. The following year independence ceremonies chose
Samarakoon’s anthem, which by then had gathered steady popularity, and
was sung by the students of Musaeus College, Colombo.
On February 13, 1950, the National Flag had State recognition but a
national anthem was yet to receive sanction. By 1953, the Ministry of
Internal Affairs decided that a standard melody for the song should be
created. At this recording, the singers came from the School for the
Blind in Seeduwa; Eastern musical arrangement from Ceylon Broadcasting
Corporation and the Western, from the Army Band.
And in 1961, the SLFP Government changed Namo Namo Matha to Shri
Lanka Matha without consulting Samarakoon who, appalled at the change,
warned that the act would result in his suicide, which act he did
commit, at the age of 51 on April 5, 1962.
- An excerpt from Ananda Samarakoon Adhyanaya by Prof Sunil
Ariyaratne. Translated by Jayanthi Liyanage.