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Efforts to make music a National Totem: a cultural reading on Sunil Santha's contribution to Sri Lankan Music

Author Affiliations

  • 1.
  • 2.

Res. J. Language and Literature Sci., Volume 9, Issue (2), Pages 1-10, May,19 (2022)


Totemism is the unification of the human community based on an object, practice, or animal. Tribal groups imitate the characteristics of an animal and become the tribe that bears that animal's name. The Emu tribe does not hunt that Emu deer. In this way, a human group can be united based on any animal. It can also be done based on certain objects. Objects such as the Tooth Relic and the Sri Maha Bodhi Treehave been used for uniting the Buddhist community in Sri Lanka. All the people who worship the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic are Buddhists. It creates a common denominator among all Buddhists. Communities can also be unified based on certain practices. Nelson Mandela used Rugby to strengthen unity and solidarity among the indigenous black people of South Africa and descendants of the French. He was able to create the identity of a South African who loves rugby. It erased the racial identities of French and Black. That is, the identity paradigm was changed to another value. Indigenous national movements have adopted this concept in an attempt to liberate Sri Lanka from colonialism and subject it to localization. They used the three concepts named country, nation and religion to create unity. Subsequently, the National Movement known as Hela Hawla, the objective of which was indigenization, removed the word 'religion' from it and added the word 'language' instead. Attempts have been made to unite the community through the three elements. The community that can be unified under ‘Sinhala language’ is larger than the ‘Sinhala Buddhist’ community. There is also Sinhala speaking Tamil and Muslim communities in the country. He sought to create national unity using the language. The most important issue facing the Nehru’s Government in Indiathat came to power in 1952 was national integration B.V. Keskar (1903-1984), the then Minister of Mass Media, tried to use Ragadhari music to create it. Music was taught in all schools and classical music was given place in radio. This created a national awakening among the middle class. About 10 years prior to the implementation of this in India, Sunil Santha had embarked on the same kind of project to create national unification through music in Sri Lanka. In 1942, he came up with the idea of teaching music to all students. In 1946, he composed a series of songs in accordance with the native simple rhythms. They were warmly welcomed by the people of all communities and religions in the country. Sunil’s Songs helped to unite the Sri Lankans with multiple ethnic and religious identities. Sunil Santha could influence the masses through his songs broadcast on the radio which was then popularly known as Ceylon Broadcasting Corporation. His fan club included members from all communities in spite of race, religion, ethnicity or caste and they were unified under the flag of Sunil’s melodious songs. This study observes how the racist political movement in Sri Lanka with immense political power worked with the intention of eliminating Sunil Santha's influence on all societies that were unified by his songs and subsequently giving rise to ethnic riots.


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