Rabindranath Tagore wrote the national anthems of two countries, India and Bangladesh. But he deeply influenced the words and music of a third, the Lankan national anthem, 'Sri Lanka Matha'.
The anthem was written and composed by Ananda Samarakoon, most probably in 1939-40, while he was Tagore’s disciple at Visva-Bharathi University. Samarakoon’s first Shantiniketan stint ended after six months but it was inspiring enough for him to return and begin the first traditions of a unique Sinhalese music.
"There’s a close relation between the Indian and the Sri Lankan national anthems. It is original but styled on Rabindrasangeet (the poet’s body of songs); it could be called a sister song," KMA Bandara of the Tagore Society of Sri Lanka, formed in the late 1940s, said.
Tagore’s last of three visits to Sri Lanka was in 1934 when he came with his troupe and staged the dance drama `Sapmochon’ in Colombo’. In the audience was SWRD Bandaranaike – later to be prime minister – who wrote a critique of the performance for the Ceylon Daily News.
Tagore’s play was "indeed memorable" Bandaranaike wrote, adding "If any movement is started to send some pupils to study music and dancing at Shantiniketan, I for one will be ready to contribute my mite."
During the visit, besides giving lectures, Tagore laid the foundation stone of the Sripalee College in a place called Horana. "It was modeled on the university in Shantiniketan and focused on the fine arts. It has now changed into a normal college. But the University of Aesthetic Studies was inspired out of it," Bandara said.
Under "Gurudev’s" influence, society secretary, Dr Leel Gunasekera said, many leading artists of the day – drama artist Sarathchandra, music maestros Samarakoon and Amaradeva and the great dancer Chitrasena just to name a few -- dropped their Portuguese-influenced names and adopted Sinhalese ones. Many went to Shantiniketan to fine-tune their artistic talents.
The Society got together last week to modestly observe Tagore’s birth anniversary with Rabindrasangeet, skits and a lecture on the "cultural message Tagore gave us". Clearly, it went beyond dropping names.