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Examining the International Practice of Countries Singing the National Anthem in More Than One Language


Dhammike Amarasinghe

I presume that many people consider the mere idea of singing a National Anthem in more than one language strange and an anomaly. In this context it would be best to examine what the international practice is. I invite readers to refer to the articles titled ‘ List of National Anthems’ and ‘National Anthem’ in Wikipedia, available on the Internet.

The following is an extract from the first mentioned article: ‘….States with multiple national languages may offer several versions of their anthem. For instance Switzerland’s National Anthem has different lyrics for each of the country’s four official languages, French, German, Italian and Romansh. One of New Zealand’s two national anthems is commonly sung with the first verse in Maori and the second in English. South Africa’s national anthem is unique in that it is two different songs put together with five of the country’s eleven official languages being used. in which each language comprises a stanza.

From these articles one learns that among other countries with more than one language version of their national anthems are: Canada and Finland. Finland’s case is particularly interesting because Swedish, one of the two language versions in which the anthem is sung (the other being Finnish) is spoken by only 6%of the population.

Although Singapore and India have only single language national anthems we might note the interesting fact that native speakers of Malay, the language of the Singaporean single language national anthem constitutes only 15% of the population whereas ethnic Chinese constitute 76.2 of the population. Native speakers of Bengali in which Tagore composed the well known Jana Gana Mana Adhinayaka Jayahe, the national anthem of India constitute only 8.03% of the Indian population. whereas Hindi speakers number over 39 %.

Whether anyone likes it or not Sinhala and Tamil are both, by fiat of the Constitution, Official Languages and National Languages of Sri Lanka (Articles 18 and 19). Therefore in terms of the international practice referred to above which indicates that several countries with multiple official/national languages ( but possibly not all) have adapted the practice of singing the national anthem in more than one language, it seems right and proper that our national anthem be sung in both Sinhala and Tamil.

It must also be noted that in the Tamil language version of the Constitution, officially gazetted by the Government in the Government Gazette and also printed separately by the Government Press, Article 7 which relates to the National Anthem reads (in Tamil) that the National Anthem shall be “ Sri Lanka Thayee” and not “ Sri Lanka Matha” as in the Sinhala version. The text of the lyrics along with the musical score which of course is the same as that of the Sinhala version (same tune) is given in Schedule III, However one should not make too much of this fact because the Sinhala language version of the Constitution takes precedence according to the general principle followed. Nevertheless this fact shows that the Tamil version of the national anthem has a certain official recognition and is not an ‘orphan’

We also need to recognize that a Tamil speaking citizen when he sings the national anthem in Tamil, sings in praise of Sri Lanka Thai and not Bharatha Thai or any other Thai. The way I see it any Sinhalese should be moved and feel elated that a compatriot belonging to another Sri Lankan community is singing the praise of his own mother Lanka, in the language he understands and therefore with feeling.

Symbols are important in community living. When a Tamil speaking citizen sees and hears the national anthem being sung in his own language also, at the premier national function he will feel his solidarity with this country and with all his fellow countrymen of different ethnic groups -“ Eka Mawakage Daruwo” . Why should we deny ourselves that much desired outcome?

I am sure that the President who appears to be a rational minded person will take a wise decision.