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Evolution from AM radio to Digital TV broadcasting



Parliamentary Acts on Broadcasting and Telecommunications


The Cabinet of Ministers (COM) has recently decided to update the Parliamentary Acts on Broadcasting, Rupavahini and Telecommunications and introduce a Bill on establishing a Broadcasting Regulatory Commission. Since, all these are interlinked, it is necessary to take a holistic view of them, taking into consideration new developments such as digital broadcasting. Before that, it would be pertinent to consider the historical development of these services.


The Electromagnetic (EM) Spectrum comprising EM waves, extends from high energetic gamma rays, X-Rays and ultra-violet rays on one extreme to low energetic visible, infra-red, microwaves and radio waves on the other extreme. All these are generated naturally by the sun, but almost all of the high energetic radiations get absorbed in the upper atmosphere and only the low energetic radiations are received at ground level. They are also generated by man for various applications like X-Rays, microwaves and radio waves. Out of these, microwaves and radio waves are used for telecommunication purposes, commonly referred to as wireless communication.

EM waves comprise oscillating electric and magnetic fields generated when electrons oscillate either in a plasma or in a conductor. These two fields have their directions perpendicular to each other. They cause radiation of energy in the form of a wave travelling in a direction perpendicular to directions of both electric and magnetic fields. They are characterized by the fact their frequency in Hertz (Hz) and wavelength in metres (m) are inversely proportional to each other with their product equal to the speed of light in vacuum which is 299.8 million m/s. It was James Maxwell who presented the theory of EM waves around 1865 while Gustav Hertz demonstrated their existence in 1887 which earned him the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1925.

Hertz’s discovery led to Guglielmo Marconi demonstrating in 1901 that high frequency (HF) waves could be used to send signals across the Atlantic. This caused the birth of the telecommunication industry, for which he received the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1909. Though HF radio waves were used for long distance communication, the mechanism of their propagation over several thousands of kilo-metres was not understood at that time. Theories of propagation available at that time considered only ground wave propagation which has limited range and line-of-sight propagation which also has limited range along the Earth’s surface. Hence, coverage across the Atlantic was a puzzle at that time.

It was left to Edward Appleton to explain this phenomenon when he discovered in 1927 the existence of the ionosphere, a layer of charged particles lying about 100 km above the ground, which bounces off these radio waves back to the Earth when they are incident on it. Appleton received the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1947 for this discovery. It was soon found that radio waves could be used not only for telecommunication purposes, but also for providing voice broadcasting services, known as radio, both within and across countries. HF radio waves remained the only means of long-distance telecommunication as well as broadcasting until the mid-sixties when satellite-based communication took over which came into being, thanks to the vision of Sir Arthur C. Clarke announced in 1945 in the Wireless World Magazine.



Public broadcasting in Sri Lanka commenced in 1925 as Radio Colombo with limited coverage around the city using only MF transmissions. It expanded to a wider coverage about 10 years later and continued till 1949 when its identity was changed to Radio Ceylon. The services were also extended to provide short wave transmissions to provide island-wide coverage though the service was of poor quality due to inherent ionospheric disturbances. Radio Ceylon had one advertisement-free service in each language for many years and added separate commercial services later. Though Radio Ceylon functioned for many years as a semi-government organization under different Ministries from time to time, it lacked a proper legal framework.

To remedy this situation, the Ceylon Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) Act No. 37 of 1966 was passed in Parliament and the CBC was established in 1967 which brought Radio Ceylon to function under it. The Act was amended thrice, to make SLBC both a regulator and a service provider. One amendment was to change its name to Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation (SLBC). Another was for the issue of licenses by the Minister to other persons for the establishment of private broadcasting stations. The amended Act also required an owner of a radio receiver to obtain a licence annually through the Post Office. The Act also requires any person selling, assembling, repairing or renting radio equipment to obtain an annual licence from SLBC to perform that function. Thus, the SLBC performed a dual role of being a service provider and a regulator.

The evolution of radio technology from vacuum tube-based home radio receivers available up to sixties to transistor and integrated circuit based portable radio receivers currently available in the market made it impossible to implement the licensing provision. Hence, this requirement was abolished subsequently, but the provision still remains in the Act. Today, every motor car has a built-in radio receiver and every smart mobile telephone has a built-in radio receiver. Hence, there is a need to amend the SLBC Act to remove this outdated provision.

From the inception, radio broadcasting in Sri Lanka was confined to transmission of amplitude modulated (AM) signals which had limited band-width causing high frequencies in the audio signal getting clipped. This affected the quality of musical programmes severely. These transmissions were in the medium frequency (MF) (or medium waves) for short range coverage and high frequencies (HF) (or short waves) for covering the entire island. The short waves reach the listener after getting reflected from the ionosphere which is a dynamical entity and hence the signals received were not steady and of poor quality. In the sixties, SLBC built several MF transmitters in outstations enabling outstation listeners to have the benefit of receiving quality programmes free of ionospheric disturbances.

In the seventies, the SLBC commenced limited transmissions of signals with frequency modulation (FM) on the very high frequency (VHF) band. These transmissions have higher bandwidth and hence the audio programmes received are of high quality, and also require much less power to transmit. They are also not affected by atmospheric or ionospheric disturbances. The only problem is that their coverage is limited to line-of-sight range. Later the service was extended to provide an island-wide coverage through the installation of several transmitters, most of which are installed on hill-tops to extend the coverage.

Up to the end of the 1980s, the SLBC had the monopoly of operating radio services, but in the nineties and twenties, several private parties, exceeding 20, were issued licences to operate radio services in the FM band. Each service was given two frequencies enabling them to cover the entire island. Most of them, except a few who offered religious programmes, came up with only low quality musical programmes providing requests on payment devoting a major share of air time on advertisements which brought the revenue for their survival. The lack of a suitable mechanism to monitor the quality and content of the programmes aired is a serious shortcoming in the present system.



Television (TV) service was introduced to Sri Lanka in 1979 when a private party launched a service voluntarily. Later, it was taken over by the Government. At that time, there was no policy or regulations on establishing TV services in the country. The Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation (SLRC) Act, No. 06 of 1982 was passed under which the SLRC was established with functions of the Corporation to carry on a television broadcasting service within Sri Lanka and to promote and develop that service and maintain high standards in programming in the public interest. The Rupavahini TV service was launched by SLRC using a package gifted by Japan, with the main antenna erected on Mt. Pidurutalagala.

The Act is required to register persons engaged in the production of television programmes for broadcasting; to register persons who carry on the business of importing, selling, manufacturing or assembling television receiving sets; to exercise supervision and control over television programmes broadcast by the Corporation; and to exercise supervision and control over foreign and other television crews, producing television programmes for export, among others.


Thus, the SLRC also has a dual role similar to that of SLBC, of being a service provider and a regulator. However, it lacked the powers to implement the provisions to exercise supervision and control on other TV services as described in the last two items given in the previous section. The SLRC Act has provision to issue licences to qualified parties to establish and operate TV stations. Accordingly, 54 private television licenses have been issued licences so far, whereas only 28 telecasting licensees are in operation at present (Cabinet Decision of 04.03.2020).

The Cabinet of Ministers (COM) at its meeting held on 04.01.2021 has decided to amend the SLRC Act to provide for the expansion of its Board of Directors to empower it to implement decisions taken with a view to face the competitive scenario prevailing in the field. No further amendments have been identified even though the Act is totally out of date considering the developments in the field during the last 19 years. There is a need to bring SLRC under the proposed Broadcasting Regulatory Commission to remove the regulatory functions from it and also to remove the provision to possess a licence by a user.




In early days, the telecommunication services were provided by the Posts and Telecommunication Department, which was later bifurcated into two departments. The government passed the Sri Lanka Telecommunication (SLT) Act No. 25 in 1991 which provided for the establishment of the Sri Lanka Telecommunication Authority (SLTA) which took over the functions of the Telecommunication Department. Among the objectives of the SLTA are to ensure the conservation and proper utilization of the radio frequency spectrum by operators and other organizations and individuals who need to use radio frequencies and to make and enforce compliance with rules to minimize electro-magnetic disturbances produced by electrical apparatus and all unauthorized radio frequency emissions, among others.

The SLT Act was amended by Act No. 27 of 1996 whereby the Telecommunications Regulatory Commission of Sri Lanka (TRCSL) was established in place of SLTA. The amended Act made provisions for receiving complaints from the public and holding public hearings on them and retained all the functions assigned to the SLTA. Its regulatory functions were limited to telecommunication service providers and did not cover the broadcasting of radio or TV services, other than assigning frequencies for them. This is unlike in India where the Telecommunication Authority covered regulation of Broadcasting of Radio and TV services both in terms of technical aspects and quality of programmes.




The COM at its meeting held on 04.03.2020 having considered the necessity of having a separate institution to regulate the activities of the broadcasting and telecasting media based on a Committee recommendation approved a draft for setting up a ”Broadcasting Regulatory Commission” (BRC), and decided to explore the possibility of amending the SLTRC Act, to enable it to perform the task of the process of issuing Broadcasting and Telecasting Licenses, which were hitherto issued by the SLBC and SLRC, respectively. The objective is to remove the regulatory functions from these two organizations and transfer them to the new Commission.

As early as 1997, a Broadcasting Authority Bill was presented to the Parliament for the same purpose but it was held unconstitutional by the Constitutional Court because it did not give adequate independence to the Authority. Thereafter, a Select Committee of Parliament with representation of all parties was appointed to consider the problem and met on multiple occasions but the matter was left in abeyance. Now, it has resurfaced under a new heading – Broadcasting Regulatory Commission. However, its contents are not available in the public domain, not even in the Govt Printer’s website.

Unlike in early days when broadcasted programmes whether radio or TV were available only as free-to-air services, today with advances in technology, particularly TV programmes, are brought to residences using either physical cables or UHF links or satellite links or through the internet. Since free-to-air services are not available island-wide with acceptable quality, people opt for these services upon payment of a monthly fee. But some satellite links do not provide a satisfactory service when it rains, though the service provider claims it provides tomorrow’s technology today.

There is also an urgent need to exercise some control on the utilizing of TV medium for advertising purposes. While there is a positive aspect whereby a viewer receives information on a new product or service, the repetitive display of the same commercial of well-known consumer products is nothing but an annoyance. The writer believes that during prime time, between almost 50% of air time is devoted for commercials and promotional clips. This is in contrast to India where only 10 min of commercials are allowed for every 60 min of air-time. Hence, there is a need to have a regulatory body to ensure that satisfactory services are provided to subscribers, both in terms of the quality of signal received and the quality of programmes aired.

A notable characteristic of Sri Lanka’s TV service providers is that they seem to be very prudish when it comes to airing cinematographic material intended for adult audience, but of high quality which have received accolades at international events. The operator loses no time in blanking even a momentary kissing scene in them. The proposed BRC could lay some guidelines on presenting quality adult programmes which have already been cleared by the National Censor Board enabling the adult audience to enjoy them without subjecting them to additional censorship by TV operators. Perhaps, such programmes could be limited for airing during late hours of the day when children have gone to bed.




There is a global trend to switch from analogue to digital system for television broadcasting as it offers many advantages among which are better spectrum utilization, higher picture and sound quality, accessibility via mobile devices and new business opportunities. Under the sponsorship of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), a Roadmap for Transition from Analogue to Digital Terrestrial Television Broadcasting (DTTB) in Sri Lanka was jointly developed in 2012 by a team of ITU experts from Korea and the National Roadmap Team (NRT) chaired by TRCSL.

Digital TV transmission, though will provide a high-quality service, will result in added expenditure both for the service provider and the viewer. In order to reduce the financial burden for the service provider, NRT proposed to establish a set of 8 common digital transmitters at sites already being used for TV transmission, for sharing by all service providers. They are expected to provide initially simultaneous transmissions both on analog and digital systems, so that a viewer will be able to receive programmes uninterruptedly when switching from analog to digital system.

As a follow up to the above proposal, the GoSL assigned a “Feasibility Study on Digital Terrestrial Television Broadcasting Network Project” in 2014, to Japan International Cooperation Agency. (). This study recommended setting up of 16 digital transmitters to be managed by a separate body, with the principal tower at Lotus Tower in Colombo. Individual TV services are expected to send their high definition programmes to Lotus Tower by microwave or other links who will in turn broadcast them from the common set of transmitters. By this means, all the TV channels will be received at the same signal strength anywhere in the country.

It was proposed to establish a body to be known as “Digital Broadcast Network Operator” (DBNO) to organize, manage and administer the new system. DBNO is expected to operate and maintain the entire system with the revenue from the operation fees collected from broadcasting stations. The transition to DTTB will result in incurring heavy expenditure by both DBNO and individual service providers, including installing new antenna systems, purchasing digital studio equipment such as cameras, animators, programme mixers etc. all of which could run into Billions of Rupees.

In addition, viewers will have to purchase either set-top-boxes for use with analog receivers or new digital receivers. It may be recalled that with the new development in TV technology, the earlier Cathode-Ray-Tube (CRT) type TV receivers were replaced by slim type LCD/LED TV receivers during the last couple of years. Today, CRT receivers are no longer available in the market. Hence, changing receivers will not be an issue for our viewers, as long as it carries benefits.

In the event the Government decides to adopt the DTTB system, it will be necessary to introduce new laws and regulations to regulate the new DTTB industry, and considering the complexities involved, it is best if a total new Parliament Act is passed, with appropriate amendments to both the SLRC Act and SLT Act. The COM has already decided to amend both these Acts as mentioned above. It is therefore appropriate if the Committee to be appointed for this purpose also be given the mandate to study the desirability of introducing DTTB in Sri Lanka considering costs and benefits as well as viewer preferences and service provider views.

Though the GoSL entered into an agreement with JICA to pursue the matter in 2014, with the change of Government in 2015, the matter was left in abeyance. Under the new Government, the matter is being considered, but no decision has been made as to when it will be implemented and which DTTB standard to adopt, as learned by the writer when he started writing this piece. However, according to a news item telecast in the evening of 19.01.2021, the Japanese Government has offered assistance to Sri Lanka to switch over to DTTB as described in JICA Report issued in 2014, and the Cabinet Spokesman Minister said that Sri Lanka would soon adopt the new system.




Sri Lanka will be completing 100 years of public radio broadcasting in four years hence, and has come a long way going through various stages of development. Initially, there were no separate laws to regulate the industry, and the state-owned service provider used to do that function. This position remains unchanged to date and only recently that the Government has considered establishing separate organizations to provide regulatory function. Only the amendment of SLRC Act and SLT Act are being considered along with setting up a new Commission for regulating broadcasting of radio and television services. Hence, there is a need to consider amending these two Acts together with amending the SLBC Act.

With the proposed introduction of digital television transmission in Sri Lanka as reported by the Cabinet spokesman, the Writer suggests that the amendment of the above three Acts should be taken up along with formulating a new Act to cover Digital Transmission Broadcasting since all four are interlinked, before the actual transition takes place. It is hoped that with the introduction of digital TV transmissions the quality of programme content will also improve concurrently.

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Strong on vocals



The group Mirage is very much alive, and kicking, as one would say!

Their lineup did undergo a few changes and now they have decided to present themselves as an all male group – operating without a female vocalist.

At the helm is Donald Pieries (drums and vocals), Trevin Joseph (percussion and vocals), Dilipa Deshan (bass and vocals), Toosha Rajarathna (keyboards and vocals), and Sudam Nanayakkara (lead guitar and vocals).

The plus factor, where the new lineup is concerned, is that all five members sing.

However, leader Donald did mention that if it’s a function, where a female vocalist is required, they would then feature a guest performer.

Mirage is a very experience outfit and they now do the Friday night scene at the Irish Pub, in Colombo, as well as private gigs.



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Dichotomy of an urban-suburban New Year



Ushered in by the ‘coo-ee’ of the Koel and the swaying of Erabadu bunches, the Sinhala and Tamil New Year will dawn in the wee hours of April 14. With houses to clean, preparation of sweetmeats and last-minute shopping, times are hectic…. and the streets congested.

It is believed that New Year traditions predated the advent of Buddhism in the 3rd century BC. But Buddhism resulted in a re-interpretation of the existing New Year activities in a Buddhist light. Hinduism has co-existed with Buddhism over millennia and no serious contradiction in New Year rituals are observed among Buddhists and Hindus.

The local New Year is a complex mix of Indigenous, Astrological, Hindu, and Buddhist traditions. Hindu literature provides the New Year with its mythological backdrop. The Prince of Peace called Indradeva is said to descend upon the earth to ensure peace and happiness, in a white carriage wearing on his head a white floral crown seven cubits high. He first plunges, into a sea of milk, breaking earth’s gravity.

The timing of the Sinhala New Year coincides with the New Year celebrations of many traditional calendars of South and Southeast Asia. Astrologically, the New Year begins when the sun moves from the House of Pisces (Meena Rashiya) to the House of Aries (Mesha Rashiya) in the celestial sphere.

The New Year marks the end of the harvest season and spring. Consequently, for farming communities, the traditional New Year doubles as a harvest as well. It also coincides with one of two instances when the sun is directly above Sri Lanka. The month of Bak, which coincides with April, according to the Gregorian calendar, represents prosperity. Astrologers decide the modern day rituals based on auspicious times, which coincides with the transit of the Sun between ‘House of Pisces’ and ‘House of Aries’.

Consequently, the ending of the old year, and the beginning of the new year occur several hours apart, during the time of transit. This period is considered Nonegathe, which roughly translates to ‘neutral period’ or a period in which there are no auspicious times. During the Nonegathe, traditionally, people are encouraged to engage themselves in meritorious and religious activities, refraining from material pursuits. This year the Nonegathe begin at 8.09 pm on Tuesday, April 13, and continues till 8.57 am on 14. New Year dawns at the halfway point of the transit, ushered in bythe sound of fire crackers, to the woe of many a dog and cat of the neighbourhood. Cracker related accidents are a common occurrence during new year celebrations. Environmental and safety concerns aside, lighting crackers remain an integral part of the celebrations throughout Sri Lanka.

This year the Sinhala and Tamil New Year dawns on Wednesday, April 14, at 2.33 am. But ‘spring cleaning’ starts days before the dawn of the new year. Before the new year the floor of houses are washed clean, polished, walls are lime-washed or painted, drapes are washed, dried and rehang. The well of the house is drained either manually or using an electric water pump and would not be used until such time the water is drawn for first transaction. Sweetmeats are prepared, often at homes, although commercialization of the new year has encouraged most urbanites to buy such food items. Shopping is a big part of the new year. Crowds throng to clothing retailers by the thousands. Relatives, specially the kids, are bought clothes as presents.

Bathing for the old year takes place before the dawn of the new year. This year this particular auspicious time falls on April 12, to bathe in the essence of wood apple leaves. Abiding by the relevant auspicious times the hearth and an oil lamp are lit and pot of milk is set to boil upon the hearth. Milk rice, the first meal of the year, is prepared separate. Entering into the first business transaction and partaking of the first meal are also observed according to the given auspicious times. This year, the auspicious time for preparing of meals, milk rice and sweets using mung beans, falls on Wednesday, April 14 at 6.17 am, and is to be carried out dressed in light green, while facing east. Commencement of work, transactions and consumption of the first meal falls on Wednesday, April 14 at 7.41 am, to be observed while wearing light green and facing east.

The first transaction was traditionally done with the well. The woman of the house would draw water from the well and in exchange drop a few pieces of charcoal, flowers, coins, salt and dried chillies into the well, in certain regions a handful of paddy or rice is also thrown in for good measure. But this ritual is also dying out as few urban homes have wells within their premises. This is not a mere ritual and was traditionally carried out with the purification properties of charcoal in mind. The first water is preferably collected into an airtight container, and kept till the dawn of the next new year. It is believed that if the water in the container does not go down it would be a prosperous year. The rituals vary slightly based on the region. However, the essence of the celebrations remains the same.

Anointing of oil is another major ritual of the New Year celebrations. It falls on Saturday, April 17 at 7.16 am, and is done wearing blue, facing south, with nuga leaves placed on the head and Karada leaves at the feet. Oil is to be applied mixed with extracts of Nuga leaves. The auspicious time for setting out for professional occupations falls on Monday, April 19 at 6.39 am, while dressed in white, by consuming a meal of milk rice mixed with ghee, while facing South.

Traditionally, women played Raban during this time, but such practices are slowly being weaned out by urbanization and commercialisation of the New Year. Neighbours are visited with platters of sweetmeats, bananas, Kevum (oil cake) and Kokis (a crispy sweetmeat) usually delivered by children. The dichotomy of the urban and village life is obvious here too, where in the suburbs and the village outdoor celebrations are preferred and the city opts for more private parties.



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New Year games: Integral part of New Year Celebrations



Food, games and rituals make a better part of New Year celebrations. One major perk of Avurudu is the festivals that are organised in each neighbourhood in its celebration. Observing all the rituals, like boiling milk, partaking of the first meal, anointing of oil, setting off to work, are, no doubt exciting, but much looked-forward-to is the local Avurudu Uthsawaya.

Avurudu Krida or New Year games are categorised as indoor and outdoor games. All indoor games are played on the floor and outdoor games played during the Avurudu Uthsava or New Year festival, with the whole neighbourhood taking part. Some of the indoor games are Pancha Dameema, Olinda Keliya and Cadju Dameema. Outdoor games include Kotta pora, Onchili pedeema, Raban geseema, Kana mutti bindeema, Placing the eye on the elephant, Coconut grating competition, Bun-eating competition, Lime-on-spoon race, Kamba adeema (Tug-o-War) and Lissana gaha nageema (climbing the greased pole). And what’s an Avurudhu Uthsava sans an Avurudu Kumari pageant, minus the usual drama that high profile beauty pageants of the day entail, of course.

A salient point of New Year games is that there are no age categories. Although there are games reserved for children such as blowing of balloons, races and soft drinks drinking contests, most other games are not age based.

Kotta pora aka pillow fights are not the kind the average teenagers fight out with their siblings, on plush beds. This is a serious game, wherein players have to balance themselves on a horizontal log in a seated position. With one hand tied behind their back and wielding the pillow with the other, players have to knock the opponent off balance. Whoever knocks the opponent off the log first, wins. The game is usually played over a muddy pit, so the loser goes home with a mud bath.

Climbing the greased pole is fun to watch, but cannot be fun to take part in. A flag is tied to the end of a timber pole-fixed to the ground and greased along the whole length. The objective of the players is to climb the pole, referred to as the ‘tree’, and bring down the flag. Retrieving the flag is never achieved on the first climb. It takes multiple climbers removing some of the grease at a time, so someone could finally retrieve the flag.

Who knew that scraping coconut could be made into an interesting game? During the Avurudu coconut scraping competition, women sit on coconut scraper stools and try to scrape a coconut as fast as possible. The one who finishes first wins. These maybe Avurudu games, but they are taken quite seriously. The grated coconut is inspected for clumps and those with ungrated clumps are disqualified.

Coconut palm weaving is another interesting contest that is exclusive to women. However men are by no means discouraged from entering such contests and, in fact, few men do. Participants are given equally measured coconut fronds and the one who finishes first wins.

Kana Mutti Bindima involves breaking one of many water filled clay pots hung overhead, using a long wooden beam. Placing the eye on the elephant is another game played while blindfolded. An elephant is drawn on a black or white board and the blindfolded person has to spot the eye of the elephant. Another competition involves feeding the partner yoghurt or curd while blindfolded.

The Banis-eating contest involves eating tea buns tied to a string. Contestants run to the buns with their hands tied behind their backs and have to eat buns hanging from a string, on their knees. The one who finishes his or her bun first, wins. Kamba adeema or Tug-o-War pits two teams against each other in a test of strength. Teams pull on opposite ends of a rope, with the goal being to bring the rope a certain distance in one direction against the force of the opposing team’s pull.

Participants of the lime-on-spoon race have to run a certain distance while balancing a lime on a spoon, with the handle in their mouths. The first person to cross the finish line without dropping the lime wins. The sack race and the three-legged race are equally fun to watch and to take part in. In the sack race, participants get into jute sacks and hop for the finish line. The first one over, wins. In the three-legged race one leg of each pair of participants are tied together and the duo must reach the finish line by synchronising their running, else they would trip over their own feet.

Pancha Dameema is an indoor game played in two groups, using five small shells, a coconut shell and a game board. Olinda is another indoor board game, normally played by two players. The board has nine holes, four beads each. The player who collects the most number of seeds win.

This is the verse sung while playing the game:

“Olinda thibenne koi koi dese,

Olinda thibenne bangali dese…

Genath hadanne koi koi dese,

Genath hadanne Sinhala dese…”

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