(COLOMBO, LANKAPUVATH) –On the eve of the 71st Republic Day of India, the Government of India has decided to confer the Padma Shri Award to Deshabandu Dr. Vajira Chitrasena and Late Prof. Indra Dassanayake, two women from Sri Lanka for their pioneering contributions to the dance and the propagation of Hindi in Sri Lanka.
“It’s an honour to have two daughters of Lanka, pioneers in their fields, being awarded one of the highest civilian awards in India. Congratulations Dr.Vajira Chitrasena and the Late Prof.Indra Dissanatake for being awarded the Padma Shri on the 71 st Republic Day of India,” tweeted the Sri Lankan Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa.
Padma Shri Awards are one of the highest civilian awards in India, and are conferred every year on the recommendation of a committee constituted by the Prime Minister of India. The awards seek to recognize achievements in all fields and disciplines where an element of public service is involved, an Indian High Commission release said.
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 Kandyan dancing her full-time occupation. 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 a dance School.
But 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 USA and Europe. A multi-faceted personality, Vajira excelled in choreography, direction, production and teaching.
Adorned with one of Sri Lanka’s highest national awards Deshabandhu, among many others, 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 several visits to India between 1959 and 1998. The connection established by Chitrasena and Vajira with India has continued to flourish and has culminated in a remarkable recent collaboration between the Chitrasena Dance Company and Nrityagram, an Indian dance ensemble of Odissi. The joint production ‘Samhara’ received rave reviews in India, Sri Lanka, the USA 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. Critics praised it for retaining the essential vocabulary of both forms
Prof. Indra Dassanayake
The Late Hindi language Professor 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 in introducing and promoting 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.
Recognizing her contribution, Prof. Dassanayake was honored with the prestigious Dr. George Grierson Hindi Sevi Samman by the then Indian President Pratibha Patil. Sadly, she breathed her last at Colombo in September 2019.
Previously, in 2002, Government of India had honored 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.