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Tagore’s influence on Lankan culture

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’.

world Updated: May 12, 2010 00:30 IST
Sutirtho Patranobis

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-Bharati University. Samarakoon’s first Santiniketan stint ended after six months but it was inspiring enough for him to return and begin the first traditions of a unique Sinhalese music.

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. The play was “indeed memorable’’ Bandaranaike wrote, adding “If any movement is started to send some pupils to study music and dancing at Santiniketan, 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 Santiniketan 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,’’ KMA Bandara of the Tagore Society of Sri Lanka, formed in the late 1940s, said.

Under “Gurudev’s’’ influence, society secretary, Dr Leel Gunasekera said, many leading artists of the day dropped their Portuguese-influenced names and adopted Sinhalese ones. Many went to Santiniketan to fine-tune their artistic talents.

The Society got together last week to observe Tagore’s birth anniversary with Rabindrasangeet, skits and a lecture on the “cultural message Tagore gave us’’. Clearly, it went beyond dropping names.