(Excerpted from Compilation of Viewpoints Presented by Kamanthi Wickramasinghe in the “Daily Mirror” under the Heading “Singing National Anthem in Sinhala only Tug of war continues over ‘Matha’ and ‘Thaaye’)
“When Sri Lanka became an independent state in 1948 there was a competition to select a national anthem,” recalled veteran lyricist Prof. Sunil Ariyaratne . “Hence the first national anthem was titled ‘Sri Lanka Matha Pala Yasa Mahima’ which was selected by the Lanka Gandharva Sabha. However by then Ananda Samarakoon’s ‘Namo Namo Matha’ was sung in school choirs and gained much popularity. But it wasn’t even shortlisted for the competition. Therefore, the Cabinet approved it to be the official national anthem on November 22, 1951.
But Samarakoon didn’t receive the Rs. 2500 which the Government was supposed to pay for its author because by that time this song was already published in a book titled ‘Geetha Kumudini.’ Therefore the cash prize was given to the editor of this book,” said Prof. Ariyaratne.
However, according to Prof. Ariyaratne, many groups claimed that the National Anthem brought bad luck to the nation. “This was because it started from the ‘Na’ sound and many claimed that it’s gana is malefic. Incidents such as the death of D. S Senanayake, the downfall of the Dudley Senanayake Government and the assassination of S.W.R.D Bandaranaike proved this claim. Thereafter, during the Sirimavo Government its lyrics were changed to ‘Sri Lanka Matha’. But even after that it didn’t bring much luck to the country.
My personal view is that it is a song that could be sung by people of all ethnicities and religions. There is no nationalist or racist element in this song and therefore this song won’t hurt anybody’s feelings and perfectly suits the description of a National Anthem,” the professor said.