- Two pioneer women from Sri Lanka bestowed with Padma Shri Awards – one of the highest civilian awards in India
The Government of India has decided to confer Padma Shri Awards on Deshabandu Dr. Vajira Chitrasena and the late Prof. Indra Dassanayake, two women from Sri Lanka for their pioneering contributions in their individual fields of work and for strengthening India-Sri Lanka ties.
Padma Shri Awards are one of the highest civilian awards in India, and are conferred on the recommendations made by the Padma Awards Committee, which is constituted by the Prime Minister of India every year. The awards seek to recognise achievements in all fields of activities or disciplines where an element of public service is involved.
Dr. Vajira Chitrasena is a living legend of Sri Lankan dance, and is considered to be Sri Lanka’s prima ballerina. She is the first Sinhala woman who made dance in the Kandyan style her full-time profession. Her artistic journey spans over six decades and at the age of 87, she now heads the Chitrasena-Vajira Dance Foundation and is also the Principal of the Dance School.
Her life’s contribution reaches far beyond the sphere of professional dance. She is a pedagogue who has researched dance teaching methods in India, Russia, the US and Europe. A multifaceted personality, she excelled in choreography, direction, production and teaching.
Adorned with one of Sri Lanka’s highest national awards Deshabandhu among many other awards, Dr. Vajira has uniquely contributed to enriching India-Sri Lanka relations through the promotion of dance and blending the art forms of both countries especially the Kandyan and Odissi dance forms. She and her guru and husband Chitrasena, together with the Chitrasena Dance Company undertook various visits to India between1959 to 1998.
The connection established by Chitrasena and Vajira with India has continued to flourish and culminated in a remarkable recent collaboration between the Chitrasena Dance Company and Nrityagram, an Indian dance ensemble of Odissi following the duo’s visit in 2003 – the joint production ‘Samhara’ which received rave reviews in India, Sri Lanka, the US and other countries.
Combining the highly masculine and earthy Kandyan dance with the distinctly sensual and restrained Odissi, the production drew critical acclaim for its choreography that critics praised for retaining the essential vocabulary of both forms.
Late Prof. Indra Dassanayake is the other recipient of Padma Shri Award in 2020. She was a renowned Professor of Hindi at Kelaniya University. Born in India in 1943, she was an alumnus of University of Lucknow.
Prof. Dassanayake was one of the pioneers to introduce and promote Hindi language in educational institutions of Sri Lanka. Incidentally, she participated in the first World Hindi Conference at Nagpur in 1975.
Prof. Dassanayake spearheaded the re-establishment of the Hindi Department of the University of Kelaniya in 1995. Primarily due to her efforts, the Hindi Department of University of Kelaniya has today become the largest Centre of Hindi Studies in Sri Lanka Thanks to her, Hindi is taught in more than 80 institutions and schools of Sri Lanka apart from six major universities at present.
Recognising her contribution, Prof. Dassanayake was also honoured with the prestigious Dr. George Grierson Hindi Sevi Samman for 2005 at New Delhi in the World Hindi Conference on 18 December 2007. Sadly, she breathed her last at Colombo in September 2019. She is survived by her husband and one daughter.
Previously, in 2002, Government of India had honoured the legendary Sri Lankan musician and Magsaysay award winner W.D. Amaradeva with Padma Shri for his contribution to strengthening India-Sri Lanka musical ties.