22 October, 2021


The Baila Of Independence

By Malinda Seneviratne

Malinda Seneviratne

Malinda Seneviratne

‘Baila’ is a form of music.  Some who consider themselves connoisseurs would rate it as a lesser creature in the musical firmament.  This is perhaps why it has often been used as a metaphor for things of lesser worth.  This is why a song by Nanda Malini that was popular among rebelling and rebellion-cheering youth of the late eighties, penned by Sunil Ariyaratne and titled ‘Master Baila’ was spoken of and remembered as ‘Nidahas Baila’, or ‘Freedom Baila’. In other words, it was seen as an excellent, pithy and catchy deconstruction of everything associated with ‘freedom’ or rather, ‘independence’ (The correct translation of ‘independence’ is ‘svaadheenathvaya’ and not ‘nidahasa’ which means ‘freedom’ – we got a lot of things wrong, one notes, although not all of them are important).

A little over 25 years after her (at the time) celebrated ‘Pawana’ show was taken around by the JVP or its adjunct organizations, it is good to get back to those lyrics and the politics therein, especially as we get ready to celebrate the 66th anniversary of Independence.

Not all the lines are required to be dissected of course.  Translating is not easy for reasons of rhyme, but we can certainly lay down the meaning in transliteration.

නිදහස ලැබුනා මල්ලි, නිදහස ලැබුනා

තළුමරන්ට මිහිරි අකුරු හතරක් ලැබුනා

ගීයක් ලැබුනා ජාතික කොඩියක් ලැබුනා

එලිවෙනකොට නිදහස අහසෙන් ගෙට වැටුනා……

We got freedom, brother; we got some syllables to roll around the tongue; got ourselves a national flag and even a national anthem; the night ended and, lo and behold, freedom had fallen at our feet, straight from the sky it seemed.

කොඩිය සුද්දගේ මල්ලි, සිංහයා අපේ

ලනුව සුද්දගේ වුනත් කොඩිගහ අපගේ

නෑ බැට කෑවේ නේරු පාතෙල් වාගේ

නෑ දිවි දුන්නේ මහත්ම ගාන්ධි වාගේ……

Let’s start with the last two lines of the stanza.  ‘We did not get beaten like Nehru or Patel and didn’t lay down our lives as Mahatma Gandhi did’.

At the time it was all sexy, but in this song the lyricist has been careless and even mischievous.  He has reduced the entire 133 years between 1815 and 1948 to the moment of ‘granting’.  He has forgotten the 1818 rebellion, the genocide perpetrated in the Uva-Wellassa, the violent and genocidal putting down of rebellions in various parts of the country in 1848, the many acts of defiance, the struggles in legislative bodies, the tireless work of the leftists, and the resilience of ordinary people and especially bikkhus, is ensuring that the foundational element of civilization were preserved (which, by the way, still sustain us).   It is a crass negation of all that.  No wonder that the lyricist thought or want us to believe that nidahasa fell from the sky with absolutely no agency on the part of the subjugated.  One notes, that even today, when the freedom struggle is talked of, those who are privileged in the narrative are the Anglicized elite on the early nineteenth century with even D.B. Jayatilleke not warranting at least a footnote.  There’s ethnic politics and religious politics there, but that’s another story.  Or perhaps not.

Let’s move on to the other lines.  The lion is ours, brother, but the flag belongs to the white man; it is our flag post, although the rope belongs to them.  In the late eighties, first of all, we had neither flag nor lion.  That was Indian-hegemony time a la the IPKF and the Indo-Lanka Accord.  That was JRJ time with a blank check for the robber barons.  That was ‘free economy’ time with policy written by the World Bank and the restructuring of economy to ensure the sustained development of ‘other’ economies.  That was the beginning of structural adjustment, which swiftly moved to structural adjustment with a human face and structural adjustment with poverty alleviation; the impact is written right there in the process and slogans.

At the end of the circus we still didn’t have the flag or the flag pole. Someone else continued to hold and pull the strings.  We had the symbols, ‘they’ had the substance.  We recovered something, somewhere down the line, this is true.  And those who recovered that ‘something’ were vilified no end and continue to be called all kinds of derogatory names.  And yet, that was but a small victory.  We got some measure of pride and self-respect back, more meaning accrued to symbols (however jaundiced, historically speaking, these symbols were) and got a bit of spring to ours stride.  We can brag about self-sufficiency in rice, we can claim we are the only country to successfully rid itself of the terrorist menace etc., etc.

Let’s put aside all the machinations against Sri Lanka that we’ve seen in the past four years.  Even if all that didn’t happen and was not happening, and even if we didn’t have the debt burden we currently suffer, we are still fettered by ideologies of development that are patently anti-people and, this is important, policies that are absolutely antithetical to the core elements of ‘Mahinda Chinthana’ which even the most ardent critics of this government would admit is a solid, people-friendly, policy document.

Where is all this coming from?  Partly from without, but mainly from within; our minds are closed when it comes to critiquing the rubbish that is sugarcoated as panaceas for all our ills and they are fully opened to servility.  In that sense, those lines about flag and lion, string and flag pole, are apt; except that we are cheering the owners of flag and string while we brag about what we don’t have as though we’ve had it all for the last 66 years.

It is in this context that the words of another lyricist/poet, Parakrama Kodituwakku, warrant mention.  This was a song written for the 1978 film based on the life of Puran Appu, voiced by Sunil Edirisinghe.

බත කා ඉවරයි බලමින් උන්නොත්

ටික කලකින් සිංහල හාලේ

ඉංග්‍රිසි හරකා උඩරට ඉඩමෙන්

පන්නන්නට සැරසෙව් රාලේ.

There’s more.  What it means is this: If we continue to be complacent, we will lose all our paddy fields (read, ‘compromise food security’); it is therefore high time we (got together and) evict the English bull from our highlands.

We would have to play a little with the metaphors of course.  We have compromised food security with the subversion of seed security, not to mention the poisoning of soils and people with dangerous chemicals.  It is not the Kande Udarata that has been invaded.  All sectors of the economy, in the name of development and progress, have been fettered by ideologies happily embraced by policy makers and protected by officials and even academics, notwithstanding promise, pledge and rhetoric of the President.  We are better in some ways than we were, but that’s ‘crumbs’ compared with the goodies being ferretted out legally with the full knowledge of the grandmasters of economic policy.   It would take some eviction, let’s put it that way.

A word about the ‘Sinhala’ here.  It should be taken, as I believe the lyricist probably meant it, in the fuller meaning of the name as composite of the 4 Helas, Yaksha, Naga, Deva and Raksha, making the Siv-Hela and certainly not the restrictive, chauvinism-feeding ‘Sinhala’ of the lion, the Vijaya legend etc.  It is an identity of embrace which make the collective that Kodituwakku wants readied (or let’s say Puran Appu called out to) that has to do the relevant eviction.

Until then, what unfurling of national flag, what gusty singing of national anthem, perhaps we should ask ourselves.  This is why the word ‘baila’, with no insult intended, is apt as we think of nidahasa or svadheenathvaya, even though that song and the relevant politics are eminently ‘rubbishable’.

*Malinda Seneviratne is the Chief Editor of ‘The Nation’ and his articles can be found at www.malindawords.blogspot.com

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Latest comments

  • 1

    What Malinda is trying to say here?
    Trying to give economic policy, foreign policy advices by analyzing baila ? -:)

  • 1

    Should we also talk about the colonial bottom-lickers here? There was a person, the forefather of a certain family, who sided with the British Raj and dobbed in the leaders of the Saltern Uprising in Hambantota? The family deiced now who the patriots are! Ironic, isn’t it?

    • 1

      Malinda is one confused and convoluted dude! Baila is an African music and dance form, brought to Lanka and the Sinhalaya Modayas by African Slaves during Portugese and Dutch colonial period.

      POINT 1. All good things in Lanka come from somewhere else!

      Point 2. On Independence day in Lanka, there is NO RIGHT TO INFORMATION and web sites including this one (CT) are blocked to the reader, but the flag of the SInhalaya Modayas is flying high over an island of mass graves..

      Point 3. Malinda, stop tilting at windmills and blaming the Brits who civilized the Sinhalaya Modayas! Today we have INTERNAL COLONIALISM of SInhalaya modayas against Tamil Modayas, Machan. The Tamils have and will continue to resist this corrupt Moday Sinhala colonialism.

      Point 4. Enjoy the Feb 4 CHINA DEPENDENCE DAY party! Jarapassa brothers and cronies are economic HIT MEN and the killing of Mel may well turn out be another of their crimes to silence, harass and intimidate Business reporters who uncover the stinking corruption and crimes of the regime. This website is blocked in Sri Lanka today – so called Independence day – because paranoid Mahinda Rajapaksa wants to keep the Sinhalaya Modayas, modayas forever!

  • 1

    VADDHA’S EAT KURAKKAN, not haal.

    The improvisation in Wada Baila is what is ‘criticised’ as ‘Baila’
    Yet that is lacking in the recent Hidustani styles now worshiped as Sinhala semi-classical.

    India’s indipendence did have a knock-on effect on us, yes
    (There were local greats like Leslie (& Vivian) Goonawardane who played a role in India too)
    Yet, Hitler’s escapades also had an effect on India gaining independence.

    The Brits were ruthless, they killed protestors
    Protestore are yet killed, asking for clean water

  • 2

    QUOTE: “A word about the ‘Sinhala’ here. It should be taken, as I believe the lyricist probably meant it, in the fuller meaning of the name as composite of the 4 Helas, Yaksha, Naga, Deva and Raksha, making the Siv-Hela and certainly not the restrictive, chauvinism-feeding ‘Sinhala’ of the lion, the Vijaya legend etc. “ UNQUOTE

    There is a group of Sinhala-Buddhists by the name Hela Havula (Sinhalese literary organization founded by Munidasa Cumaratunga) that has created a new theory (Siv + Hela = Sinhala) linking Ravana to the Sinhalas and totally contradicting the Mahavamsa to say that the Sinhalas are the original natives of Sri Lanka from the four tribes known as Siv-hela (Deva, Naga, Yaksha, & Rakshasa) and not migrants from India as mentioned in the Mahavamsa. Their theory is purely based on the Indian epics Ramayana and Mahabaratha. Some of them even want to add the Mahayana Buddhist text Lankavatara Sutta which is based on Ramayana to Sinhala-Buddhism. The terms Lanka, Sinhala, Deva, Naga, Yaksha, & Rakshasa are mentioned for the very first time only in the Indian Mythology Ramayana and Mahabaratha. Later, the Mahavamsa has also adopted it but with a different (Lion) story.

    The above story has NO archeological/epigraphic evidence in Sri Lanka or India and the present day historians do not accept any of the above as true.

  • 0


    “….‘Mahinda Chinthana’ which even the most ardent critics of this government would admit is a solid, people-friendly, policy document.” authored by Ajith Nivard Cabraal.

    Has your boss the President ever read it?

  • 0

    UDHR Article 19.

    Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

    Baila of independence is therefore a right and critiquing is also a right.

  • 2

    66 years of independence. We Sri Lankans have successfully defended our country from external and internal threats. The two internal threats had the deadly potential to destroy our freedom: the Pol Potist JVP, and the ethno-fascist LTTE. By totally wiping them out we have indeed come of age.

    • 1

      Marxism is a threat to the rich and powerful,
      That we have defended, at the cost of 50 000 youth.

      Even Mahinda Rajapaksa was in agreement with that, along with his friends; Gadaffi, Maoist Chinese,……..

      If the Brits & the racist elites of the era did not collude, Phillip Gunawardena would have been our first PM.
      None of this racist BS would have happened and we would have had greater economic freedom and genuine peace & equality.

      SL has and remains a country with state-terrorism.

      • 0

        Ado Gaalbanis, how can you say “Phillip Gunawardena would have been our first PM. None of this racist BS would have happened” when that was the guy who was not only a racist (remember the “Gundas” of the 1958 anti-Tamil riots?) but never forgave his niece, Vivienne, for marrying the Karawa Leslie Goonewardene!
        Stop trying to re-write history and take a look at Philip’s son who is one of racist pandankarayas in MR’s cabinet if you have the brains to do so.

      • 1


        I don’t think the JVP was Marxist.

        How many thousands did the JVP kill? And how many of them were the rich and powerful? Except for a handful, the JVP killed people of their own lower middle class background – policemen, army soldiers, farmers, and other working people. JVP had an anti-city, anti-intellectual streak. That is why I called them Pol Potist. There was a world of difference between them and people like Philip Gunawardena. Comparing JVP to Marxism is like comparing Galbanis to Butter Cake.

    • 0

      “The two internal threats had the deadly potential to destroy our freedom: the Pol Potist JVP, and the ethno-fascist LTTE.
      By totally wiping them out we have indeed come of age. “

      Not sure if the current regime will agree with your choice of words “…totally wiping them out…”

      I read LTTE is still live and kicking….
      when ever it suits the regime they bring the LTTE to life in their specches and writtings and the Sinhala racist comments here.

      and then they will wipe them out again in thier speeches and writings and psotings here as you have just done to suit them…

      • 1


        I stand corrected. The LTTE was only wiped out militarily in Sri Lanka. There are some Tamils in the north who still support the LTTE ideology (probably mahaveerayo families). And of course you have the rump of the tiger in the diaspora.

        Anyway my mistake should prove to you I don’t work for the regime.

  • 0

    ‘Baila’ is actually a dance.

  • 0

    Ingirisi haraka udarata idamen pannala, Sinhala haale bath kaka, api gahanne CRICKET,andinne TIE-COAT,kaivaruwa KADUWEN!@!

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