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Sunday, 30 January 2011

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The origin of our National Anthem

The one day in the year when both the national flag and national anthem are given a very prominent and important place is Independence Day. Today I write some little known facts about our national anthem and the man who composed it.Most of you readers must be aware as to who composed our national anthem. It was Ananda Samarakoon.

On his return from Shantinikethan, Rabindranath Tagore's School of Music and Dance, he set a new style both in the composition of songs and in singing which were very different to the Tower Hall style then in vogue in Ceylon. The songs were in simple every-day Sinhala and the tunes appealing to the masses. Ananda Samarakoon has admitted that he was greatly influenced by the Tagore school of music this was in the late 1930s.


Ananda Samarakoon.

It is on record that Namo Namo Matha - now Sri Lanka Matha - was composed while he was a teacher at Mahinda Colege, Galle. T.D. Jayasuriya then Chief Inspector of Schools for the Southern Province had suggested to Samarakoon to compose a song that would inspire a feeling of patriotism in the listeners. Namo Namo Matha was his response to Jayasuriya's suggestion. He called it a Jatika Geeya national song. Samarakoon has made a note in one of his books that he composed it in October 1940.

This fact was stated in an article in the tabloid Nava Yugaya of Nov. 5, 1984. It was first sung in public before W. Dahanayaka, then Mayor of Galle. He was accompanied by Elain de Silva with whom he had earlier sung the duet Endada Menike. Two years later in 1942 he sang Namo Namo Matha in a 'Sarala Gee' programme on Radio Ceylon. This time he was accompanied by a pupil of his, Swarna de Silva who was then his partner in singing duets. The song first appeared in print in 1943 in a book of songs titled Kumudini with a foreword by T.D. Jayasuriya. Namo Namo Matha and some other songs that Samarakoon sang with Swarna de Silva were recorded by H.M.V. the gramaphone record company.

When was Namo Namo Matha officially adopted as our national anthem?When we got independence in 1948 we did not have a national anthem. Until then 'God Save the King', the national anthem of Britain was played on ceremonial occasions, as we were a colony of the British Empire. The need for a national anthem was felt strongly by the Minister.At the end of 1948 a competition was held to select a national anthem of our own. Many singers and musicians competed. Ananda Samarakoon was away in India and knew nothing of the contest. His pupil and singing partner, Swarna de Silva who was then an undergraduate in the Colombo University, got together a few girls who could sing and got them and herself trained by a professional, to sing Namo Namo Matha.

They entered the contest and sang Namo Namo Matha accompanied by professional musicians like Tennyson Rodrigo, Patrick Rodrigo, and Sarathsena (Chitrasena's brother). The judges selected this song as the most appropriate song for a national anthem.The following year a group of Musaeus College girls and Swarna de Silva sang Namo Namo Matha at the Independence Day celebrations and it has been sung ever since on Independence Day and at all ceremonial occasions.

Our national anthem too had been a popular song since the day it first came over the air.Around the end of the 1950s various criticism were levelled against the national anthem. Learned people both laymen and Buddhist monks pointed out that the 'Gana', the combination of letters in the opening words was inauspicious and should be changed. After much debate Namo Namo Matha was changed to Sri Lanka Matha, in 1962.

This was a blow to the composer. He was depressed for days and weeks, so depressed that he took an overdose of sleeping pills on the night of April 2. He died on April 5.

This year 2011 marks the centenary of Ananda Samarakoon's birth. He was born in January 1911 in Padukka in the Colombo district. His parents were Christians, who registered the son as Egodege George William Alwis Samarakoon, and sent him to Christian College, Kotte (now Jayewardenepura Vidyalaya) for his education. In the mid 1930s he like many young men in Ceylon, went to Shantinekethan, Tagore's School of Music and dance. At the end of his training it was not George Wilfred who returned to his homeland. It was Ananda Samarakoon.

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