By S. Janaki
The Padma Awards, announced on the occasion of Republic Day every year, invoke interest and controversy alike. Conferred in three categories, namely, Padma Vibhushan, Padma Bhushan and Padma Shri, the awards are given to personalities in various fields of activities, like art, social work, public affairs, science and engineering, trade and industry, medicine, literature and education, spiritualism, sports, and civil service. Padma Vibhushan is awarded for exceptional and distinguished service; Padma Bhushan for distinguished service of a high order and Padma Shri for distinguished service in any field.
This year the President of India has approved conferment of Padma Awards to 89 persons—the list comprises seven Padma Vibhushan, seven Padma Bhushan and 75 Padma Shri awardees. The number of women awardees is 19 and the list also includes five persons from the category of foreigners, NRIs, PIOs and six posthumous awardees. What is heartening this time is that the government has identified several “unsung heroes”, including folk and tribal artists, to receive the Padma awards.
Earlier, the selection process involved a close group comprising the Union or state governments, some powerful organisations, former awardees, and politicians. To cut down influence, political clout and lobbying, this year the government has opened up the nomination process for public scrutiny to make it transparent. Any Indian can now recommend an achiever for the Padma awards, which was the prerogative of a select few.
However, the number of arts personalities selected to receive the Padma awards this year is only 17, which includes in its small sweep a wide range of classical vocalists and instrumentalists (Carnatic and Hindustani), dancers, scholars, devotional singers, folk and theatre artists. K.J. Yesudass, a musician who straddles the genres of Carnatic, devotional and playback singing with ease, is the only Padma Vibhushan awardee. Hindustani classical musician Vishwa Mohan Bhatt—Grammy award winner and inventor of the Mohan-veena—is the sole artist to receive the Padma Bhushan. If we include the late theatre personality Cho Ramaswamy (selected to receive the award for his contribution to literature and education - journalism) the number of artists receiving the Padma Bhushan becomes two. It is quite disappointing that only 15 out of the 75 Padma Shri awardees are involved in the performing arts. Here too there are veterans like centenarian Chemenchery Kunhiraman Nair (Kathakali), 97-year old scholar and folk researcher Laishram Birendrakumar, nonagenarian vidwans T.K. Murthy (C-mridangam) and Parassala Ponnammal (C-vocal) who deserve to be honoured with awards higher than the Padma Shri. In fact octogenarian surbahar and sitar artist, US-based Imrat Khan, is said to have turned down the award as being “too little” that “came a little too late”. Is their distinguished service not “exceptional” enough or of “a high order”? It is also surprising that only two dancers—Kathakali artist Chemenchery Kunhiraman Nair and Odissi exponent Aruna Mohanty—have made it to the privileged list this time, that too for the Padma Shri! According to reports on social media, senior Bharatanatyam dancer Lakshmi Viswanathan figured in the names shortlisted for the Padma awards, though she is not among the final awardees this year.
More transparency in the nomination and selection procedures will go a long way in adding more credibility to the Padma awards.
K.J. Yesudass (C-music, devotional and film - Kerala)
Vishwa Mohan Bhatt (H-Mohanveena - Rajasthan)
Cho Ramaswamy (posthumous, theatre - Tamil Nadu)
Basanti Bisht (folk music - Uttarakhand)
Chemanchery Kunhiraman Nair (Kathakali - Kerala)
Aruna Mohanty (Odissi - Odisha)
T.K. Murthy (C-mridangam - Tamil Nadu)
Laishram Birendrakumar Singh (folk music scholar - Manipur)
Krishna Ram Chaudhary (H-shehnai - Uttar Pradesh)
Jitendra Haripal (Sambalpuri folk - Odisha)
Kailash Kher (Sufi, folk and film music - Maharashtra)
Parassala B. Ponnammal (C-music - Kerala)
Sukri Bommagowda (Tribal music - Karnataka)
Mukund Nayak (folk music - Jharkhand)
Purushottam Upadhyay (theatre music, harmonium, composer - Gujarat)
Anuradha Paudwal (devotional and film music - Maharashtra)
Wareppa Naba Nil (theatre - Manipur)
Imrat Khan (H-surbahar and sitar, U.S.A.) (NRI/PIO)