Telangana’s Padma Shri awardee can barely eke out a living as a cook
When the news of his Padma Shri award broke, Kanaka Raju, 70, a tribal from Telangana’s Kumaram Bheem Asifabad district, expressed his happiness but added he will be happier if the government could arrange for his shelter and food for the rest of his life. Raju, who works as a cook on daily wages at a tribal welfare hostel in Marlavai village, has been awarded the fourth-highest civilian award for saving the dying tribal Gussadi dance.
“I do not know what this award is, but I am extremely happy that my name was considered in Delhi. But I will be happier if they can arrange me some shelter and food through the rest of my life,” said Raju, who belongs to the Gond tribal community. “I will be grateful if this award can help me lead a happy life.”
Raju has won accolades for his efforts to popularise Gussadi, an ethnic dance form of Raj Gonds inhabiting areas along the Telangana-Maharashtra border.
The dance is performed during the harvesting season when the Gonds wear Gussadi Topi, a large headgear made of around 1,500 peacock feathers locally known as Mal boora, and animal skin around their waists.
Raju worked with Madari Tukaram, the first Gond Indian Administrative Service officer in the early 1980s to give a style and system to Gussadi dance. “Long ago, I performed in front of [late former Prime Minister] Indira Gandhi and presented her with the traditional headgear of Gussadi,” Raju said.
Raju also took part in the Republic Day parade as part of the state tableau in 1981. He also performed in presence of APJ Abdul Kalam when he was the President.
Jayadheer Tirumala Rao, a researcher on Telangana tribal art and dance forms, said when tribal dance forms were being corrupted with modern forms and cinema culture, Raju took it as a challenge and restored the traditional dance form of Gussadi by hundreds of performances across the state and the country. “...[he has] trained thousands of tribal youths in this dance form over the last four decades,” said Rao. “If any art form has to survive, the artiste has to survive first. It will happen only if more such artistes who are striving hard to sustain the dying art forms like Gussadi are honoured with such awards.”
Raju was felicitated at the Republic Day celebrations at Asifabad with a shawl and bouquet.