Kumram Bheem Asifabad: Gussadi dance teacher Kanaka Raju, who has been named for Padma Shri this year, says he still can’t believe that he has been selected for the prestigious award. “I realised the value of the recognition only when media persons approached me for interviews and others wanted to felicitate me on the very first day of the announcement,” he said.
Stating that it was his unflinching dedication and passion for the tribal dance form that fetched him the award, he said: “All I have been doing for the past four decades is teach Gussadi dance to enthusiastic learners. Nurturing the talent for Gussadi among tribals and keeping alive this dance form has been my objective, but I never imagined I would be conferred with the Padma Shri for this,” he said in a chat with Telangana Today.
The 81-year-old Raj Gond said he was drawn to Gussadi dance when he was barely eight years old. “I used to keenly observe the deft moves of Gussadi dance artistes performing during festivals and religious affairs in temples. I started imitating the moves and honed the skills on my own. However, it was my father Ramu who taught me the intricacies of the dance form,” he said in acknowledgment of his father’s contribution.
A native of Marlavai village in Jainoor mandal, Raju recalled how he faced several hardships due to abject poverty of his family during his childhood. “I used to go hungry and would often be forced to just eat jowar roti and some dish made with maize flour and Mahua flowers. I didn’t know about rice till I was a teenager,” he recalled.
Raju, as a young lad, assisted famous anthropologist Professor Christoph von Fürer-Haimendorf when he stayed in Marlavai to study the lifestyle, culture and traditions of Adivasis living in erstwhile Adilabad from 1945 to 56. “I used to be his assistant. I used to accompany him during his research tour, and his guidance left a profound impact on me,” he said.
Former IAS officer’s encouragement
The veteran dance master attributes his success in the field to the unwavering encouragement and support extended by the then IAS officer Madavi Tukaram, who was spellbound by his performance. “Tukaram appointed me as Gussadi dance trainer in the 1980s as part of his efforts to preserve the art form. He established a training centre where I taught Gussadi to hundreds of dance enthusiasts,” he recalled.
Stating that he is determined to teach the tribal dance to tribal youngsters as long as he is alive, he said: “The onus of preserving and carrying forward the dance form to future generations is on the shoulders of youngsters. The government too should take steps to preserve it,” he maintained.
Raju, who has enthralled audiences with his performances, had the opportunity to perform before late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi during Republic Day celebrations in New Delhi and won plaudits from late President Dr APJ Abdul Kalam for his expertise in the field.