Colombo, February 21 (newsin.asia): Perhaps because Bengalis are known for their painters, poets and singers, the Bangladesh High Commission in Sri Lanka has established a rather unique way of celebrating the “International Mother Language Day” every February 21. In collaboration with the Si Lankan Ministry of Education, the mission organizes painting, music and essay writing competitions for school kids, instead of holding seminars for the erudite or creating a platform for airing contentious political issues relating to language.
On the International Mother Language Day on Friday, the verdant Independence Square in the center of Colombo came alive with songs in Sinhalese, Russian, Bengali, Hindi, Vietnamese and Dihevi (Maldivian), sung by native speakers of those languages as well as Sri Lankans.
The mellifluous singing by the young artistes was enhanced by good pre-recorded background music. As the music reached far and wide around the historic monument, tourists made a beeline for the venue of the function, clicked pictures and went around seeing paintings on display.
The Muslim Choral Ensemble, directed Haadia Galely, presented a full-throated rendition of a Bengali song closely associated with the 1952 language movement in what was then East Pakistan. The ensemble, with the singers colorfully attired in the traditional Sri Lankan Muslim dress complete with the fez, also sang a Lankan patriotic song in Sinhalese made famous by the maestro Pandit Amaradeva.
Surprise was sprung on the audience when an India-trained Sri Lankan Hindustani classical singer Palinda Udawela Aracchchi sang Rabindranath Tagore’s Ekla Chalo Re in an unusual and very innovative way. He combined the original Bengali melody with Hindustani classical embellishments, thus raising the inspirational song to an altogether new level.
The lady Ambassador of Vietnam, Phan Kieu Thu, surprised everybody by singing a song in Vietnamese and another in Russian. Two Lankan students from the Russian Cultural Center sang typical Russian folk melodies with gusto. A young Lankan girl played a plaintive Chinese tune on the Chinese oboe called Hulusu flawlessly. Maldivian students presented two melodious songs in Dihevi.
Lankan Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa was the chief guest. Others in the dais were Minister of Media and Higher Education, Bandula Gunawardene, former Minister of Constitutional and Foreign Affairs, Prof.G.L.Peiris, and a representative of the UN in Colombo. The Sri Lankan Ministry of Education, which co-organized the function, had arranged to bring students from a number of schools to see the function.
The Bangladesh High Commissioner in Sri Lanka, Riaz Hamidullah, explained the reasons for opting to observe International Language Day in an artistic way, in the open, and not through a dry seminar held in air-conditioned room. Language is a thing to be celebrated, therefore one should go out and hold pleasant and enjoyable events in the open air, he said.
Language should be deemed a uniting agent and not divisive one and that is why the theme for this year’s observance is “Language for Unity”, he said. The International Language Day is observed to foster respect and regard for one’s own language as well as others’ languages (although the idea of having an International Language Day was created in the crucible of the struggle to gain respect for and recognition of the Bengali language in Pakistan).
The International Mother Language Day is also meant to preserve and foster languages some of which are disappearing due to non-use and globalization.
Hamidullah said that the best way to promote one’s mother language and other languages will be to go out into the open and celebrate it through art, painting, poetry, essay writing and through song and dance. The arts bring out the best and noblest in man and are therefore the best medium to express the theme of the 2020 International Mother Language Day, which is ‘Language for Unity.”
The High Commissioner said that the response to his idea of celebrating the International Mother Language Day in this way was tremendous. The competitions announced attracted over 2000 entries. Three renowned Sri Lankan artistes carefully went through the paintings entered and chose 19 winners in various categories. The prizes were given away by Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa.
Media and Higher Education Minister Bandula Gunawardena said that mother languages should be fostered because one’s deepest thoughts and culture are best expressed through one’s mother tongue. He pointed out the urgency of preserving languages, as globalization is leading to the relegation or even obliteration of several languages.
Prf.G.l.Peries commended the Bangladesh High Commissioner for reaching out to the people of Sri Lanka through cultural diplomacy rather than political diplomacy. Referring to linguistic conflicts which divide many countries, including Sri Lanka, Peiris said that these divisions are due to the existence of pernicious stratification in education right from the earliest stages. Therefore it is necessary to tackle linguistic issues by re-orienting people when they are in a young and formative stage of their lives.