Kanaka Raju, a senior citizen from Marlavai village of Telangana's Komaram Bheem Asifabad district, has been awarded Padma Shri, the fourth-highest civilian award, for saving the dying tribal Gussadi dance of his Gondi community.
The 70-year-old expressed his gratitude for the recognition. However, he said he would be happier if the government provided for his shelter and food for the rest of his life, and will be grateful if the award could help lead a better livelihood.
"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 some shelter and food for the rest of my life. I will be grateful if this award can help me lead a happy life," Hindustan Times quoted Raju as saying.
The 70-year-old works as a cook on daily wages at a tribal welfare hostel in the village. He has been awarded for his efforts to popularise Gussadi, the ethnic dance form of Raj Gonds inhabiting in areas along the Telangana-Maharashtra border.
It is performed during the harvesting season when the community members wear a Gussadi Topi, a large headgear made of around 1,500 peacock feathers locally known as 'Mal boora', and animal skin around their waists.
Raju has also worked with the first Gond Indian Administrative Service officer in the early 1980s, Madari Tukaram, to promote the dance form. "Long ago, I had performed in front of late former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and presented Gussadi to her," he spoke to the media.
He took part in the Republic Day parade in 1981. He had also performed in the presence of the then President of India, APJ Abdul Kalam.