What’s in a song? Well, if you are Sri Lankan, everything – judging by the reaction to events during the recent Independence Day celebrations.
Views were being sought from every Tom, Dick, Harry, Wimal, Udaya and Mahinda. The latter were all saying what a treacherous act this would be and how the gains of the victory over terrorism would be diminished by singing the National Anthem in Tamil.
Udaya Gammanpila in particular became a self-proclaimed scholar on National Anthems. He noted that India, for all its ethnic diversity, sang its National Anthem in one language. What he was ignorant of – or perhaps worse, conveniently forgot to mention – was that language was not the majority Hindi language but in Bengali, a language spoken by less than ten per cent of its people.
Come Independence Day, the ceremonies began at Galle Face. At the beginning, the National Anthem was sung only in Sinhalese. Those manning the pro-‘patriot’ websites, the ‘Sinha-le’ types, heaved a collective sigh of relief. Ah, the nation had been saved. Sanity had prevailed. Terrorism had been wiped out once again.
But the sting was in the tail. At the very end of the ceremonies, a group of smartly clad girls and boys turned up near the main podium and rendered a sombre version of the National Anthem in Tamil. All those in the audience stood at attention. It lasted less than three minutes.
The reaction was as swift as it was divisive. The ‘patriots’ were up in arms once again. How dare they, they asked. Sri Lanka had been violated and would never be the same again.
Elsewhere though, there was a different reaction. There were plaudits pouring in from the North and South as well as internationally. C.V. Wigneswaran, Chief Minister of the Northern Province considered a renegade with somewhat radical views said that if the Sinhalese took one step towards reconciliation, the Tamils were prepared to take ten steps.
More importantly, most Tamils spoke of how they had tears in their eyes when they heard the National Anthem being sung in their language. It was just a short song, but it in many ways a giant leap forward for ethnic reconciliation in the country.
That same evening Independence Square saw the staging of a cultural show. There, the timeless classic, ‘Danno Budunge’ was rendered in an operatic version by internationally renowned soprano, Kishani Jayasinghe.
Again, the media exploded. How dare the ‘yahapaalanaya’ types violate the sanctity of Buddhism by rendering such a revered song in this style, they asked. They compared the performance to caterwauling by felines in heat and one announcer on a national television channel suggested that the singer should be stoned!
Jayasinghe attracted a plethora of abuse in social media and from the pro-‘patriot’ websites for her performance, some of them being rather degrading and vile in nature. While it was a stellar performance from the soprano, it was lost on the ‘patriots’ who, with their blinkered vision, saw in it an insult to Buddhism.
Somehow, these same patriots saw no insult to Buddhism when Galagoda Aththe Gnanasara thera was trying to storm a court house and was yelling out abuse at the judiciary, all the while wearing a saffron robe!
Obviously, these self-appointed saviours of Buddhism were not aware that ‘Danno Budunge’, in its original version, was sung in an operatic style by Hubert Rajapaksha or that its creator John De Silva had strong Christian roots. Of course, none are so blind as those who do not wish to see.
So, Sri Lankans take their songs seriously. The next time we sing something, we should get clearance from the ‘patriots’. Let us have a Sinhalese National Anthem, ban everything that is seemingly not in keeping with Sinhala Buddhist values and we will live happily ever after. If the ‘patriots’ have their way, that is how it will be!