Among the Padma Shri award recipients this year are two women from Sri Lanka for their pioneering contributions in their individual fields and for strengthening India-Sri Lanka ties. The awards have been conferred on Deshabandu Dr. Vajira Chitrasena for her contribution to dance and Late Prof. Indra Dassanayake for her contribution to Hindi literature.
Dr. Vajira Chitrasena is considered a living legend of Sri Lankan dance and at the age of 87, she heads the Chitrasena-Vajira Dance foundation and has been adorned with one of Sri Lanka’s highest national awards Deshabandhu among many other awards. She 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 husband Chitrasena, together with the Chitrasena Dance Company undertook various visits to India between 1959 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. Their joint production ‘Samhara’ combined the highly masculine and earthy Kandyan dance with the distinctly sensual and restrained Odissi with the production drawing critical acclaim and rave reviews.
The other Padma Shri recipient late Professor Indra Dassanayake 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. Due to her efforts , Hindi is taught in more than 80 institutions and schools of Sri Lanka apart from six major universities at present. Recognizing 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 in 2007. She breathed her last at Colombo in September last year.
Previously, in 2002, Government of India had honoured the legendary Sri Lankan musician and Magsaysay award winner WD Amaradeva with Padma Shri for his contribution to strengthening India-Sri Lanka musical ties.