Let’s Sing a 50:50 Tamil / Sinhala National Anthem

  • Eleven languages, all declared as official are spoken in South Africa
  • Rabindranath Tagore wrote India’s anthem in Bengali language
  • New Zealand has two; Maori and English National Anthems
  • Heads of state wrote Belgium, Colombian, Senegal, and Ecuador Anthems

National anthem is generally a patriotic musical composition - typically in the form of a song of honour - that evokes and praises highly, the history, customs, or struggles of its people. National anthems are either officially recognized by constitution or by an enactment or simply by practice. Every single citizen, by virtue of the constitution is entitled to equal rights irrespective of divisions created by humans. There is a demand for the National Anthem to be sung in Tamil. An alternative suggestion would be to adopt a half Tamil-half Sinhala National anthem.  

How they Sing their Anthems—France and Congo...

Located in Central Africa, Congo, by area, is the largest country in sub-Saharan Africa, and the second-largest in all of Africa, is also the fourth-most-populous country in Africa. The national anthem of the Democratic Republic of the Congo is “Debout Congolais” with French lyrics. Originally adopted in 1960 after gaining independence from Belgium—[but when its name was changed to Zaire in 1971, it was replaced by “La Zaïroise”]. Finally reinstated in 1997.
Blood-thirsty French imperialists of 18th Century sang, “May your dying enemies see your triumph and our glory!”, in their national anthem “La Marseillaise”. The oppressed indigenous people of Congo ‘replied’ with, “ …If we have to Die; Does it Really Matter?”The French anthem was written in 1792 by Rouget de Lisle after the declaration of war by France against Austria, hence the barbaric lyrics. Ironically, both were written in the French language!  

Multilingual National Anthems: South African Experience 

South Africa was governed by a policy or system of isolation or discrimination by grouping its people based on physical or social qualities called race. The system based on white supremacy prevailed for over five decades until 1990s was known as apartheid. It repressed the black majority, and was widely condemned as institutionalised racial discrimination that benefited only the politically and economically dominant minority whites. During this era, South Africa’s national anthem was “Die Stem”, lyrics written in Afrikaans language, and also known as “Die Stem van Suid-Afrika”,--it became the only national anthem until 1994. At the end of apartheid in the early 1990s, “Die Stem van Suid-Afrika” was ultimately retained as the national anthem. “Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika”, sung in Xhosa language which was used by the anti-apartheid movement, was also adopted as a second national anthem
of equal status. 
The present national anthem of South Africa composed and adopted in 1997 is a hybrid song that combined new English lyrics with the old hymn “Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika” [God Bless Africa] and the Afrikaans version “Die Stem van Suid-Afrika” [The Call of South Africa], which was earlier used as the South African anthem from 1930 to the mid-1990s. Eleven languages, all declared as Official are spoken in South Africa. South Africa adopted both songs as dual national anthems in 1994, which were sung at Nelson Mandela’s inauguration. Obviously, two national anthems proved to be a cumbersome job to perform. They rectified the mistake by merging the dual national anthems in abridged forms by early 1997 in forming the current national anthem. It was first sung at the opening of the parliament in February 1997, and was Gazzeted on October 10, 1997.Nelson Mandela, South African President ordered that the length be limited to 1 minute and 48 seconds.  

One anthem in five languages

The words employed in the anthem includes FIVE of the most widely spoken languages– the first stanza’s first two lines in Xhosa, first stanza’s last two lines in Zulu, the second stanza in Sesotho, the third stanza in Afrikaans, and finally the English stanza. The lyrics are sung in above languages by all regardless of their native language or race. In civilized Africa, no particular race claims supremacy over others.   

New Zealand 

New Zealand hosted 2011 Rugby World Cup; some of the players from NZ and their fans sang the national anthem in two languages. The two official anthems, “God defend New Zealand”with the first verse in the Maori language and the second verse in English [both are official languages] are sung at state functions of New Zealand. Their team is composed of both Maori and English players, and both are official languages; language of national anthem does not bother them, they sing one anthem in two languages and play to win. What matters is playing a good game and make the best effort at winning! The Kiwi’s passion for rugby has led to youth taking an energetic interest in learning the words to the anthem. Hundreds of thousands visit the website to learn the bilingual anthem. No language barriers, no racial discrimination.  
Countries with large numbers of official languages, the official anthem is in the language of majority. Bolivia with 36 official languages [highest in the world?] its National Anthem is sung mainly in Spanish. However, others are given the freedom to compose translated versions; in fact it is sung in more than 30 official languages by different racial groups.  

Japan, Greece, India, Bangladesh, Bolivia and Spain

The nation with the shortest (and one of the oldest) national anthems belongs to Japan. Titled “Kimigayo” [His Imperial Majesty’s Reign], this four-line anthem’s origin has been traced to a Japanese waka poem written by an anonymous author in the Heian period between eighth and 12th Centuries.   
‘Ode to Freedom’, originally written as a poem by Dionysios, became Greek national anthem in mid 19th century. The song has 158 stanzas is the longest of all. [the cut-down version generally used is much shorter]  
Rabindranath Tagore wrote both India’s and Bangladesh’s anthems in Bengali language. The 1.3 billion people in this multi-cultural society with more than two thousand ethnic groups including the majority Hindu speaking 41% has no problem in singing the lyrics written in Bengali, [only 8% spoke Bengali in India].   
Heads of state wrote Belgium, Colombian, Senegal, and Ecuador anthems. “Ukraine is not yet dead,” is the opening line of Ukraine’s anthem.Manuel Maria Gutierrez, the composer of Costa Rica’s anthem had to serve a prison term for his refusal to compose initially. However, he was freed when he came up with a suitable tune.  

Spanish and St. Helena Anthems

Spain is one of the few countries of [other four are - Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, and San Marino] with a lyric-less anthem. The competition held in 2007 to write words proved so unpopular. The “Marcha Real” meaning ‘Royal March’ is the title of national anthem. It had lyrics in the past, but are no longer in use.  
The lyrics of St. Helena’s national anthem called ‘My Saint Helena’ was written by David Mitchell, an American who had never seen St. Helena.  He was inspired by picture postcards from the island.   
There are many countries with more than one official language, hence more than one version of   
the anthem, and also quite a large number of minorities that sing the anthem in their language, though their language is not official. Flags and Anthems are symbols of a State, Constitution can only give guidelines to administer their use and operation. Sri Lankan Constitution’s Article 7 states “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”. This article is  
listed under Article 83, as one that require a 2/3 majority and a referendum if any of its provisions are to be amended.  
Before the chauvinist/extremists groups attempt to ‘nationalise’ this issue, the moderate level-headed majority must endeavor to find an answer acceptable to all; the government needs to focus on more important economic matters which are far more significant than symbolism. If there are serious flaws in interpretation of the provisions of Constitution, as a progressive step, amendments could be introduced to clear them.  

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