The joy of Meenakshi Gurukkal knew no bounds when a government officer called her up to inform that she was selected for this year’s Padma Shri Award under the ‘unsung heroes’ category. The 74-year Meenakshi, India’s oldest woman Kalaripayattu exponent, said the honour was quite unexpected. “I was surprised when the officers passed the news,” she said. “My family and students are happy to hear the news.
They have already begun to celebrate,” she added. Meenakshi started learning Kalaripayattu from the age of six under Raghavan Master for 10 years and at the age of 17 she married him. After marriage, she joined the ‘Kadathanadan Kalari Sangam’ at Vadakara, which was started by her husband in 1949 as a teacher. The sangam has been imparting free training to Kalaripayattu enthusiasts since then. Now, around 150 students are learning the martial art at the sangam. “We receive only ‘gurudakshina’ (offering for teacher at the completion of training) from the students,”she told Express. “Nowadays, apart from teaching, I practise prior to performances,” she said.
K J Yesudas, Padma Vibhushan
Kerala’s ‘celestial singer’ K J Yesudas has recorded over 50,000 songs in a number of Indian and foreign languages. He was honoured with Padma Shri in 1975 and Padma Bhushan in 2002. He won the national award for best male playback singer seven times and state awards 43 times - by the governments of Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and West Bengal. Yesudas was born to the late couple Augustine Joseph and Elizabeth Joseph in 1940. His father was a well-known Malayalam classical musician and actor. His first film song was ‘Attention penne attention’ which he sung with Santha P Nair. On special occasions, the musician renders his first song ‘Jaathi bhedam matha dwesham,’ the famous lyrics of social reformer Sree Narayana Guru. Yesudas is the youngest person to head the Kerala Sangeetha Nataka Akademi in 1970.
Nonagenarian Akkitham Achuthan Namboothiri could not initially believe that he was named a recipient of Padma Shri, India’s fourth highest civilian award. “I now feel it was God that made it possible. All awards, whether small or big, give me immense happiness. If the younger generation works hard, accolades will surely come their way,” said the Malayalam poet, popularly known as Akkitham. Although Union Government officials from New Delhi relayed the news to his family in the morning itself, it was only by 5.20pm that an official announcement was made.
Born on March 18, 1926, Akkitham has written around 50 books and has several poems, short stories and essays to his credit. One of his prominent works is ‘Dharmasooryan’ based on the life and works of Gandhiji. His anthologies include ‘Idinja Polinja Lokam’, ‘Oru Kulla Munthirinja’ and ‘Oru Kudunna Nilavu’.
He worked as an activist of Yogakshema Sabha to reform the Namboothiri community and also with V T Bhattathiripaad against the ill practices in the society. A recipient of Kendra Sahithya Academy award, Odakuzhal award, Ashan award, Vallathol award and Jnanapana awards, he has served as vice-president of Kerala Sahitya academy and Changampuzha Memorial Academy and as director of Kottayam Sahithya Pravarthaka Sahakarna Sangham.
Akkitham, Padma Shri
Chemancheri Kunhiraman Nair, Padma Shri
Though the national recognition has come a little late to Chemancheri Kunhiraman Nair, the 103-year-old Kathakali maestro seemed overwhelmed with joy on Wednesday. “I am honoured. I am grateful for this acknowledgement. It’s equally a recognition to the field of dance and Kerala’s own art form Kathakali,” the elated maestro said. People from all walks of life flocked into his house at Chemancheri near Koyilandy to congratulate him after the declaration of Padma Shri awardees of the year.
At the age of 15, Chemancheri left home to join a Kathakali troupe run by Guru Karunakara Menon. Later, he founded Bharatiya Natyakalalayam in 1945, the first school of dance in North Kerala. Determined to revive the dying art from, he opened several other dance schools down the line. In 1983, he established Cheliya Kathakali Vidyalayam in his native Cheliya village, about 30 km from Kozhikode. Even at 103, Chemancheri is full of energy and has a unassailable zest towards the classical art form.
P R Sreejesh, Padma Shri
Wednesday turned out to be a day to remember for national hockey team skipper P R Sreejesh, 30. For, he became the first male sportsperson from Kerala to be bestowed with Padma Shri, India’s fourth highest civilian honour, and was also nominated in the ‘Goalkeeper of the Year’ category of the International Hockey Federation’s (FIH) annual award. In 2016, Sreejesh - who is now playing for Uttar Pradesh Wizard in the Hockey India League - led the country to the quarterfinals of the Rio Olympics and helped it bag a silver medal in the Champions Trophy.
He was also part of the team that overcame Pakistan 3-2 in the final to lift the Asian Champions Trophy in October. Anju Bobby George, who, along with K M Beenamol, received the honour in 2004, congratulated the Indian goalkeeper and said, “It is a proud moment not just for Kerala, but for the entire country. Over a decade passed since a Kerala sportsperson won the award. It will boost the state and inspire our youngsters. As for Sreejesh, the honour will help him perform even better and achieve greater things for the country.” Previous Padma Shri awardees from Kerala include M D Valsamma (1983), P T Usha (1985) and Shiny Wilson (1998).
Carnatic musician Parassala B Ponnammal on Wednesday expressed her happiness at being selected for the Padma Shri award. ‘’I was resting when the call came from Delhi. By then, TV channels too began showing the news,’’ seated at her home in Valiyasala, she said. ‘’It’s all due to the blessings of Sree Padmanabha Swami, Chembai and Semmangudi,’’ she said. She recalled how she had started her musical journey 76 years ago. ‘’I was part of the first batch at the Swathi Thirunal College of Music.
And I got a teaching job before I was 18,’’ she said. After the news of her selection broke out on Wednesday, friends, relatives, political leaders and the media thronged the residence, where she lives with her elder son Mahadevan and family. Ponnammal, born in 1924, has several firsts to her name; the first girl to study music in a professional institute, the first woman faculty of the Swathi Thirunal College of Music and the first woman head of the RLV Music College in Tripunithura (she joined in 1952 and retired in 1980), among others.