Rabindranath Tagore: Scripting National Anthem for Countries

Rabindra Nath Tagore penned National Anthems

The pat answer will come- Why! two; India and Bangladesh –  India’s Jana Gana Mono Adhinayaka… (= O lord of the populace) & Bangladesh’s Amar Sonar Bangla ..(=O, my golden Bengal) respectively to Tagore as their national anthems. But, according to the following translated letter to the Editor of ‘Bartaman’, a Bengali daily (published on 12th May 2011), it is three.

“The rank and file readers like us knew for many years that National Anthems of two countries were composed by Rabindranath Thakur (=Tagore). Few erudite readers, researchers and historians know the real history. But, after hearing the National Anthems of India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka in the arena of the World Cup of 2011, everybody knew that the National Anthems of these three countries were creation of Rabindranath. That history of Sri Lanka is elaborated below.

Some student from Sri Lanka named Anand Samarkun came to Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore to study in the Art & Music Dept. Till 1940 he took lesson in Visva Bharati (University of Tagore). In 1938 Anand made an earnest request to Gurudev to write a National Anthem for Sri Lanka. Rabindranath did not disappoint his student and wrote one in Bengali the first line of which is – “Sri Lanka Mata…” (=Mother SriLanka). Anand translated the Anthem into Sinhalese language in 1953 and gave it to the then President of Sri Lanka. The President was charmed and approved of the song as his country’s National Anthem. Anand Samarkun had translated a good many essays, poems, short stories and novels by the Poet into Sinhalese language and had become famous for that. It is needless to mention that Rabindranath had set tune to both the National Anthems of India and Bangladesh. Similarly, the Sinhalese National Anthem is sung in the tune set by the Poet in the original Bengali version composed by him.

No song other than Rabindranath’s was accepted by Sri Lanka as their national anthem. The Poet had visited Sri Lanka several times. It is known that Sri Lankans are mostly Buddhists. From the time of Emperor Ashoka they adopted Buddhism and generations down they had their ablutions in this religion. The students of history know, along with other religious priests the sons and daughters of Emperor Ashoka also visited Ceylon to preach Buddhism. At the time of visiting Ceylon Rabindranath had dissertated elaborately on Buddhist theology and spirituality in various gatherings with eager participation of numerous people there. As in India and Bangladesh the World Poet is equally revered in Sri Lanka. At the Poet’s 150th Birth Anniversary also he is hailed in that country as elsewhere in the world with undiminished reverence. Paeans are still sung with deep respect and inquisitiveness. Daily he is researched in many countries.

Yours etc.

Satyaranjan Das
Retd. Head Master
Bharatpur Higher Secondary School
Raigunj, North Dinajpur.

I get the following English translation of the Sri Lankan National Anthem from Wikipedia:

Mother Lanka we salute Thee!
Plenteous in prosperity, Thou,
Beauteous in grace and love,
Laden with grain and luscious fruit,
And fragrant flowers of radiant hue,
Giver of life and all good things,
Our land of joy and victory,
Receive our grateful praise sublime,
Lanka! we worship Thee.
Thou gavest us Knowledge and Truth,
Thou art our strength and inward faith,
Our light divine and sentient being,
Breath of life and liberation.
Grant us, bondage free, inspiration.
Inspire us for ever.
In wisdom and strength renewed,
Ill-will, hatred, strife all ended,
In love enfolded, a mighty nation
Marching onward, all as one,
Lead us, Mother, to fullest freedom

But, nowhere I get the name of Tagore as the original composer (in Bengali) of the anthem. However, Ananda Samarakoon is named in Wikipedia as the original composer & musician (in 1940) of the anthem in Sinhala language. The song was officially adopted as the national anthem of Ceylon on November 22, 1951, by a committee headed by Sir Edwin Wijeyeratne.

The first line of the anthem originally read: Namo Namo Matha, Apa Sri Lanka. There was some controversy over these words in the 1950s, and in 1961 they were changed to their present form, Sri Lanka Matha, Apa Sri Lanka, without Samarakoon’s consent. Samarakoon committed suicide in 1962 apparently due to the change in words.

The anthem was translated into the Tamil language by M. Nallathamby. But in 2010 Sri Lanka Govt. took the decision to scrap the Tamil translation of Sri Lanka Matha at official and state functions which caused much furor in Sri Lanka. Sri Lankan government subsequently denied allegations that the Tamil translation of the anthem was to be abolished. The Presidential Secretariat went on record stating that that there was no basis to the media report and follow up reports which intimated the same. But this strife is a different dimension to this anthem and for more details, the reader may refer to Wikipedia.