24 June, 2024


Singing The National Anthem In Sinhala & Tamil Harmonizes The Different Ethnicities In Sri Lanka

By Harsha Gunasena

Harsha Gunasena

Government announced recently that in the next Independence Day celebrations, the national anthem would be sung only in Sinhala.

This is a reversal of the practice introduced by the previous government from 2016 that the national anthem should be sung in Sinhala and Tamil at the Independence Day celebrations.

Legal perspective

Legal perspective is clear in this respect.

In the first constitution of independent Sri Lanka referred as Soulbury Constitution, there was no reference to the national anthem. However, at the Independence Day celebrations held on 4th February 1949 present national anthem was sung in both Sinhala and Tamil as national songs. At that time, it was slightly different. It was officially accepted by the Government in 1951 as the national anthem and was sung at the Independence Day celebrations in 1952. The Tamil version was widely used in the Tamil speaking areas.

In the constitution adopted in 1972 also there was no reference to the national anthem. It was incorporated into the constitution first time in 1978.

The Article 7 of the present constitution is as follows :“The National Anthem of the Republic of Sri Lanka shall be “Sri Lanka Matha”, the words and music of which are set out in the Third Schedule.”

The English translation of the Article 7 of the Tamil version of the constitution is as follows: “The National Anthem of the Republic of Ilangai shall be “Sri Lanka Thaaye”, the words and music of which are set out in the Third Schedule.”

Sri Lanka is referred as Ilangai in Tamil. The national anthem referred in the constitution in Tamil was Sri Lanka Thaaye, the Tamil translation of the Sinhala version Sri Lanka Matha.

In Third Schedule the national anthem begins as “Sri Lanka Thaaye”. This was intentional and reflected the thinking prevailed from the time of the independence.

The Constitution of Sri Lanka, unlike Acts of Parliament, contains no provision which stipulates that the Sinhala text shall prevail over the Tamil text.

In 2016 there was a Fundamental Rights application challenging the decision to sing Tamil version of the national Anthem at the Independence Day celebrations. (SC FR 67/2016) It was dismissed by the Supreme Court.

The government invitation card to mark the first anniversary of Sri Lanka’s independence in 1949

Political perspective

During the time of the war National Anthem was not sung in the LTTE controlled areas. It was banned by the LTTE. Soon after the end of the war, Tamils started singling National Anthem in Tamil. The Rajapaksa regime in 2010 decided that National Anthem can be sung only in Sinhala.

National Anthem was sung in Tamil at the 68th Independence Day celebrations on 4th February 2016. On the same day then Chief Minister of Northern Province, C.V. Wignasvaran, went to Naga Viharaya and participated religious ceremonies as a mark of reciprocal respect.  This shows that to what extent the Tamils appreciated the symbolic act of the Government.

In 1950’s the Government introduced the word ‘Sri’ to the vehicle number plates and the Tamils rejected it and continued to use old vehicles bearing English letters in the number plates. Now we have discontinued the use of Sri in the number plates.  In 1956 we made Sinhala the only official language of Sri Lanka. Subsequently in 1958 Tamil Special Provisions Act was passed. Tamil was not recognized as an official language even in the constitution of 1972 which was one of the reasons to the birth of Tamil militancy. However, in 1978 constitution Tamil also recognized as an official language.

This shows how stupid the successive Governments and their followers thought. They allowed things to aggravate facilitating lot of damages in the process rather than nipping the bud at the initial stages. We as a country have always paid a very high price for simple and basic things.

In India, national anthem is sung in Bengali not in Hindi which is spoken by the majority. In Singapore where the majority is Chinese, national anthem is sung in Malay. The Canadian national Anthem is sung in English and French. In New Zealand national anthem is sung in English and Maori. The usual practice when performed in public is to perform the first verse of the national anthem twice, first in Māori which is an indigenous language and then in English. In South Africa it is sung in five different languages. There are many other countries where the national anthems are sung in two or three languages.

Historical perspective

Sri Lanka at present is a divided country by the ethnicity and religion. The history of the country was not the same.

In the introduction of his great book, Ways of Thinking of Eastern Peoples, published in 1964, Hajime Nakamura stated as follows about Eastern thought vis-a-vis Western thought.

“Accordingly, when various thoughts are found opposed to one another, they are likely to recognize their rational force, and to compromise and synthesize, rather than to adopt one of them alternatively to the exclusion of others. Therefore, it is often contended that in contrast to Western thought the spirit of tolerance and mutual concession is a salient feature of Eastern thought. The religion of the West at times is harsh and even emphasizes struggle for the sake of keeping the faith and condemning unbelievers.”

Easterners are basically collectivists in contrast to western individualists. In Sri Lanka for millennia different ethnicities and different religions lived in harmony. Their collective included all the people living in the kingdom irrespective of their ethnicity or religion.

Over millennia, in Sri Lanka there were no clashes between Sinhalese and Tamils as ethnic groups. The clashes were among the kings and princes. They were concerned about their power and not the ethnicity. General perception is that Elara has done more damage to us in comparison to Magha, who ruined our civilization in 13th century. Magha was not a Tamil and Elara was respected even by Mahavamsa. Sinhala kings got support from the Pandyans to attack Chola invaders, both were South Indians.

In the 12th century on the orders of Vijayabahu the Great, the commander of the army erected a  slab inscription written in Tamil ordering Velaikkara regiment who were of Tamil origin to protect the Tooth Relic, control of which was considered essential to claim the authority to rule the kingdom.

This act shows that the State had given a very important task to the soldiers of Tamil origin and the State did not hesitate to communicate with them in their language. This was neglected by the post-independence rulers of Sri Lanka till 1978.

In the introduction of the landmark book, The Muslims of Sri Lanka- one thousand years of ethnic harmony 900-1915, Lorna Dewaraja stated as follows.

“It is clear from our evidence at our disposal that right through out from the Anuradhapura period to Kandyan times there was a Muslim lobby operating in the Sri Lanka court.”

In the body of the book she said,

“For instance, Muslims served as officials in the administration of the state as well as of the Buddhist monasteries. It is noteworthy that the Muslims were functionaries in the Temple of the Tooth and participated in the ritual of the Asala Maha Perahera, the greatest pageant of the Buddhist world. This process of structural assimilation which took place without any erosion of the cultural distinctiveness of the Muslims is perhaps unique in minority-majority relations.”

Referring to the Kandyan kingdom she said,

“…This is striking example of the policy of live and let live characteristic of Sinhala society at that time. Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists were voluntary participants in the festivities of the Embekke devala and none of those groups lost their cultural identity in the process”

This situation was changed during the British rule in late 19th century with the initiation Buddhist revival movement which was directed against the ruling British and their religion. However, it was taken a turn against the other ethnicities. Thus, the common collective of the country started cracking down and collective of different ethnicities and religions were established. Situation was gradually deteriorated by using different collective identities against one another in order to get political gains.


Singing the national anthem in Tamil is not unconstitutional and not against the common traditions followed by other countries. It is not against the historical traditions followed in Sri Lanka over millennia. It is in line with the initial actions taken by the State at the time of the country got independence. However, it is against the divisive political traditions introduced by the Sri Lankan political leaders subsequently. The Previous government, although coming to power with the political support of the Tamils and initiated processes such as creating a new constitution, has done very little to the Tamils. Singing the national anthem in Tamil was one of the symbolic acts they have initiated. It is a joyful act to sing it in both languages and it harmonizes the different ethnicities in Sri Lanka. President said that he will be the President of all including of those who did not vote for him. He can now turn his words to deeds. Therefore, it is the duty of the government to decide to sing the national anthem in both languages at the Independence Day celebrations if they place the objectives of the country ahead of their own political objectives.

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Latest comments

  • 10

    Wonder whether they sing God Save the Queen in Urdu and Thamil in East London?…

    Happy , Peaceful and Terrorist Free New Year to all ..

    • 12

      Do they sing it in Chingkallam too? The answer is no. Chingkalla kurangu Urdu Thamizh and Chingkallam do not belong to the UK , they are migrant languages, but Thamizh belongs to the island and has a far older history than Chingkallam. Chingkallam may now be spoken by the majority , thanks to lots of immigrant Thamizh low castes from South India , wh migrated to the island , during the Portuguese and Dutch era, taking on a Thamizh identity, but it only appeared around the 8AD and its vocabulary is 40% Thamizh , and everything else about it is 100% Thamizh. Trying to cunningly equate the indigenous native Thamizh language with immigrant languages in other lands to deflect criticism will not work Chingkalla kurangu.

      • 2

        Shaglet, if they are already singing the anthem in Thamizh what are you complaining about?

      • 1

        Sorry not Thamizh but Chingkalla Indentity. eg Karawa, Salagama, Durawa, Hunu are some of the so called Chingkalla service castes that are descended from these recent South Indian immigrants. Lots of so called upper caste Chingkallams and aristocracy , especially the Kandyan variety are descended from recent South Indian immigrants. The latter came to rule/work in the courts and the former came to serve.

    • 11

      KASmaalam K.A. Sumanasekera

      Here is something that should make your blood boil.
      Canadian National Anthem in Tamil by Toronto Tamil Singers

      Singapore National Anthem:

      Mari kita rakyat Singapura
      Sama-sama menuju bahagia
      Cita-cita kita yang mulia
      Berjaya Singapura

      Marilah kita bersatu
      Dengan semangat yang baru
      Semua kita berseru
      Majulah Singapura
      Majulah Singapura

      English version:

      Come, we (fellow) Singaporeans
      (Let us progress) towards happiness together
      (May) our noble aspiration (make)
      Singapore successful

      Come, let us unite
      With a new spirit
      (Together) we all proclaim
      Onward Singapore
      Onward Singapore

      Tamil Version:

      சிங்கப்பூர் மக்கள் நாம்
      செல்வோம் மகிழ்வை நோக்கியே
      சிங்கப்பூரின் வெற்றிதான்
      சிறந்த நம் நாட்டமே

      ஒன்றிணைவோம் அனைவரும்
      ஓங்கிடும் புத்துணர்வுடன்
      முழங்குவோம் ஒன்றித்தே
      முன்னேறட்டும் சிங்கப்பூர்
      முன்னேறட்டும் சிங்கப்பூர்

      “Wonder whether they sing God Save the Queen in Urdu and Thamil in East London?…”

      I wonder why the dumbass who raised the dumbass question didn’t know the answer to the above dumb ass question.

      • 1

        Dear Native,

        Pandi Kutti and Nosy Parker havercreated a Hornets Nest.

        Chingallam and Thamizah and Urdu are migrant languages in London.
        Although the Mayor there is Pakistani, they do not sing it even in the MC Hall let alone Boris’s Parliament Hall.
        That is what Pandi Kittu has implied…

        NP is on a more important Political dimension of singing Namo Namo in Thamizah in Kotte.

        Will the Muslims accept Thamizah Version in Batticolao , although they speak it there.
        Will they want an Arabic version after Federation?.

        Pandi Kittu has also raised a political point by indicating that our recent Immigrant Tamils from Hindia adopted Thamiza Dialect only after migration. to Lanka.
        I thought Thamil Language originated in Thamil Nad. Never mind, although I am confused.

        I thought all Tahmizahs are equal in Lanka after 2015, when Mano Ganeshan, Sivajilingam, Sampathar , Abraham, Chittambaran and even Thondaman all pulled together to give our suckers Yahapalanay for 5 years.

        Last week when Mano Ganeshan also pulled the plug alongside Thondaman from Abraham’s grand plan to contest the next Election in the South as well and score 40 plus Seats to in Kotte to unseat President Nandasena . I thought there must be a rat some where there in that UNP Coalition.

        Mano directly told Abraham that his agenda is not same as the TNA Agenda.

        I know the new Leader Nandasena wants 6 .5 % Growth every year even in the North and the East alongside the South.

        He also wants all youth to go to Unis in all three Parts.
        He wants the GDP to be USD 6.500 per Person across the Nation.
        Although most of Ganeshan Chittabbaran Thondamn supporters as well as most of the Rajapakasa supporters will be far from it even at the 2025 Election..

    • 3

      And whether they sing O’Canada in Tamil in Toronto, or the best would be singing la marseillaise in Tamil? And those second third generation Tamils do they sing the respective National Anthems in Tamil?

      • 5


        ” And those second third generation Tamils do they sing the respective National Anthems in Tamil?”

        Stop worrying about the second third generation Tamils singing their respective national anthems in Tamil, start worrying about when Sinhala language is going to extinct as thousands of languages have died in the two hundred or years. There is another existential threat, tsunami, and other natural catastrophe, in addition to man made disaster in this island.

        Start thinking about how and why those Kallathonie descendant from South India chose to convert themselves into Sinhala/Buddhism.

    • 3

      KASmaalam K.A. Sumanasekera

      Don’t you see vast similarity between Gota and
      Dr. Strangelove (or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb) with gray hair, tinted glasses, Aryan ideas, believers in mutually assured self destruction …. to match with squeaky voice, …………….. surrounded by generals such as Kamal (General Buck Turgidson), Windback Weerawansa (Jack D. Ripper) ordering carpet bombing on Vanni, ….

  • 5

    The national anthem in two languages is the legacy of the totally inept yahapalanaya regime that we have thankfully seen the back of . Had they continued for another term , there would have been an Arabic version in the not too distant future.

    • 11

      Another Sinhalese extremist trying to cunningly compare the native indigenous Tamil language with foreign Arabic. Listen racist the Tamil language is far more native and indigenous to the island than Sinhalese. The native language of the island was Elu , which was simple semi/Proto Tamil Dravidian dialect. The Sinhalese language only appeared around 8AD and is a mixture of Tamil , Pali and Sanskrit. , Out of these three only Tamil belongs to the region, The other two belong to the plains of Northern India, therefore if anything is foreign it is Sinhalese and not Tamil. Even now with all the deliberate Sanskritisation still around 35-40% of modern Sinhalese vocabulary is Tamil. Its grammar , syntax, lexicon and alphabet is purely derived from Tamil not from Pali nor Sanskrit. Muslims in the island use Arabic only for religious purposes but their mother tongue is Tamil . Only a very small percentage of nut cases amongst them , and some crafty power hungry politicians amongst them , were trying to introduce Arabic but it would have failed. Every time the issue of Tamil comes , these Sinhalese racists/extremists cunningly try to equate the native indigenous Tamil language , that is the mother tongue of 25% of the island’s population ( Tamils and Muslims ) with immigrant and other foreign languages in other countries.. forgetting the fact that it 60-65% of modern Sinhalese vocabulary that is imported from the plains of North India and is foreign.

  • 8

    The whole problem is that we cant view each other as fellow humans and instead seek to look at others thru the discriminating lens of race and religion! When will we Sinhalese, Tamil, Muslim, Burgher ppl ever learn! Each one trying to disprove/insult/ridicule the other. And we Sinhalese trying to disregard our Indian roots in some misguided fanciful dream. Dont the idiots who parrot this know that we were once geographically part of India? Listen to high flown ancient Hindi. Its like listening to Sinhala. And our names. Lets not try to give lie to Prince Vijayas story. Its like tdying to fool ourselves!

    • 9

      The so called high flown Hindi and present Sinhalese sound very similar , as now both have been deliberately and artificially Sanskritised. The former to distance it from its Islamic roots and the later to distance it from its Tamil/Dravidian roots. This is now even been done to other Dravidian languages, Malayalam, Telugu and Kannda. Deliberately Sanskritizing these languages to distance them from their actual Tamil/Dravidian roots , to prove some sort of point , as they suffer from an inferiority complex. Ultimately all these languages will be so Sanskritised, that they will be hardly any difference between them and will loose their uniqueness Listen to ordinary Bazar Hindustani. It is a completely different language. Full of Arabic. Persian, Turkish , Central Asian , Dravidian and Prakrit words. Hindi in the most un Indian of all the Indian languages.

    • 3

      Ranvir I couldn’t have said it any better. Thanks man!

  • 4

    Sing the anthem in sihaleses and read the meaning in Tami & English language to feel the bondnass said in the anthem that we are all one. All for one and one for all, united we stand divided we fall.

  • 3

    Demalu do not like to sing National Anthem in Sinhala because they have a problem in pronouncing Sinhala words properly but that should not be an excuse to sing in Demala. Look at the way Sumanthiran who live with Sinhalayo in Colombo speak Sinhala.

  • 6

    The Tamils in Lankan Island who had been advocated “Tamil version” on Nation anthem is against norms of World countries that an accepted values of modern globe chain of culture, ethics and their morals .
    Tamils separatist in Sri Lanka less than 10% is concern they believed race is Unique race above than others.
    There is only one thing that Tamil race above other is /was Ruthless Tamil Terrorist function and operated ONLY in Sri lanka…. last 70 odd years since period of 1950 tees . The proxies of TNA political road map of that LTTE was known famous of Tamil Terror outfit are never seconded Global Islam Terrorist.
    Indeed that Tamil Nadu those who living in Indian ever-never demand for that such Indian Nation anthem by Tamil version .
    Where is that TNA of Tamil politically anarchism of chauvinism except other nook and corner of Globe that demand by Tamil version of anthem in any other party of World ? No where !@
    NO such request been made by from Tamil communities of those countries their living nation anthem by In fact Tamils in USA, UK, Germany, France Swiss, Norway and other White regime in the Globe ever-never demands for Tamil version of those countries national anthem by Tamil language.
    In fact better having good resulted that Tamils in Tamil Nadu asked Republics of state of Indian that nation anthem by Tamil version?
    Because of that 85 Millions of Tamil living in Homeland of Tamil Nadu.I think that demand may be fair deal for Tamils to become super race .. !!! ?

    • 9

      Another Sinhalese racist of recent South Indian Tamil ancestry ( Banda denoting his Pandarar caste Tamil immigrant ancestry from Tamil Nadu or the illegitimate offshoot of the Tamil Nayakar kings and aristocracy) again playing the card Tamil is foreign and belongs to Tamil Nadu and Sinhalese in only truly indigenous. Listen racist garbage , Tamil is more indigenous to the island than Sinhalese or the Sinhalese people. It has a far more ancient history in the island as well in the Indian mainland , than any other Indian language and this includes Sanskrit. What is Sinhalese it only started to evolve after Buddhism arrived and is a mixture of Tamil Pali and Sanskrit. A Tamil base , structure and foundation on to which heaps of Pali and Sanskrit derived words have been heaped on due t the influence of Buddhism. Still 35-40% of its words are Tamil derived. It is the Sinhalese people like you now beating the anti Tamil drum , who are largely descended from immigrants from Tamil Nadu and then Tamil Kerala and not the Sri Lankan Tamils. SO go and get a life racist peddling lies and hatred. Go and visit all your Pandarar Tamil relatives in Tamil Nadu. One descendant of Tamil Pandarar immigrants started this racism in 1956 and this one is continuing it.

      • 0

        So Siva to summarise, all these problems are being caused by Tamils posing as ‘Sinhala’ people!

        • 3


          “all these problems are being caused by Tamils posing as ‘Sinhala’ people!”

          Actually the problem arises from descendants of Kallathonies from South India converting to Sinhala/Buddhism and then compelling the Sinhalese and Buddhists to follow suit.

  • 10

    I think Sinhalese should be happy that Tamils want to sing the national anthem in Tamil – it shows their willingness to be identified as Sri Lankans – putting aside ethnic animosity. We should encourage this, instead of squash it, if we want a united country in the duture.

  • 2

    I do not think that those who do not know the Sinhala lyrics of the national anthem is going to sing it or even say La La La la to keep up with the music like some school children do when they do not know the lyrics of their school song.

    What the ban means is that the national anthem will not be sung at occasions in Districts where there are none who know the Sinhala lyrics. I assume if there is a school band it would play the music arrangement of the notes -Do, Re, Me, Fa, So,La, Tee, Do.

    May be the President can purchase the Score of the Ceylom’s National Anthem Sir Malcolm Sargeant wrote and publicly performed by the London Philharmonic Orchestra in early 1962 at the Ratmalana Airport Hangar. Present were PM Srimavo and her children. The music imparted a sense of unity and pride more than the words.

  • 8

    Bloody Singhalese and bloody Tamils. Don’t divide this country on language and religious lines. Unite under One Sri Lanka. under one flag . Let’s enrich our land by singing the national anthem in both languages. Diversity enriches our nationality.

  • 7

    There should be only one National Anthem whether it’s sung in Sinhalese or Tamil! So lets sing it in Tamil!

  • 6

    Another political stunt unleashed by the present government by ordering National anthem to be sung only on Sinhalese language. This decision seemed to be a short sighted and a premature act that would mar the unity of the people. In the past we had witnessed many other political stunts such as ‘Sinhala Shri’ number plates for the automobiles etc. became a flop. In the past National anthem was played in every government departments at 9:00 AM which didn’t make improvement and efficiency in the respective departments. Therefore the decision to recite National anthem in Sinhalese only is not going to make significant change. The government should learn from the past and to be practical in every decision they take.

  • 3

    Yes unity for Tamil and Singalease living one country

  • 2

    In February CT reported that this brave Tamil lady had been fired because she stood up to interference from politicians. Well she has just been appointed Governor of the Northern Province, a great choice.


  • 3

    Read D B S Jeyarag article in the Daily Mirror website to avoid unnecessary heartburn and be enlightened. SriLankan as a whole will be made to suffer once again by power hungry corrupt politicians and arrogant religious leaders who expect to be honoured and served but not to serve.

  • 1

    Who is the author of the National Anthem? When Rabindranath Tagore visited Sri Lanka, he was enticed by the beauty Island he wrote this song, this was translated by Anandha Samarakone his pupil at Santiniketan subsequently accepted as National Anthem. Lanka comes from the Tamil word Illanku meaning resplendent. What is the word Lanka mean in Singhala? Incidentally Indian and Bangaladesh National Anthems were also written by Tagore

  • 1

    An excellent article by a gentleman and a real patriot, unlike the rabble rousing illiterate racists.
    It is a real shame that Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith does not come out and support such patriotic gestures.
    The problem with Malcolm Ranjith is that he sucks up to the you know who people.
    Take the case of the monk Ampitye Sumana thero, the Cardinal should report him to the relevant powers and put a stop to this abuse, instead of being silent and trying to be in the good books of you know who. The Catholic church is the past was know to champion justice and fairplay, sadly not so now,

  • 0

    Sadly from the actions of the new government of SL plus the responses here, the Sinhalese can feel better about themselves only when they put others down, only when they deny others. The inferiority complex lives on!

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