The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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A little too late in the day, but an award at last
- 82-year-old Chhau exponent honoured with Padma Shri for contribution to traditional dance form

Seraikela, Jan. 27: 'Bahut late ho gaya' (it is too late now) is how Kedar Nath Sahoo reacted to the news of being conferred with a 'Padma Shri' in the Republic Day honours list this year, his eyes brimming with tears. One of the greatest exponents of Seraikela Chhau is 82 years of age, partially paralysed and bed-ridden.

The belated recognition appears to have brought more pain than happiness to the dancing maestro as he struggled with his emotions. Words failed and tears ran down his eyes as he grappled with his response to the highest civilian award conferred on him by the union government.

One begins to understand his agony when informed that he had performed in Europe in 1937 at the tender age of 17. Born at Seraikela on March 21, 1921, Kedar Nath Sahoo recalls the first foreign trip vividly. He was accompanied by his Guru, Kumar Bijoy Pratap Singh Deo.

Since then, he has performed in almost every country of the world, including the US, erstwhile USSR, in Europe, South America and Asia in his illustrious career of about 65 years. Sahoo's last international performance was at a Natya Utsav in Bangladesh on January 14, 2002, which was sponsored by the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR).

Virtually bed-ridden for the past year, after a paralytic attack, this chhau exponent feels that had the recognition come earlier, it would have helped the art form and it would have enabled him to contribute more. 'The government should have done this at least two decades ago. This could have helped me take this rich art form to even greater heights,' the guru said.

This great Chhau dancer has been honoured with more than a dozen awards and fellowships, including the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award and Distinguished Leadership Award by American Biographical Institute.

'Better late than never; now that the government has recognised the art form, I will reciprocate by going in person at the award ceremony to collect it inspite of my bad health,' said he with a faint smile hovering on his lips, folding his hands in prayer.

The youngest of his five sons, Nilay, recalls that his father's name had been proposed on several occasions over the past 20 years for one of the 'Padma' awards by the district administration. 'I myself have submitted certificates and documents etc. at least on 10 different occasions to both Ranchi and New Delhi, whenever the government sought details,' he said with a wry smile.

Most of the exponents of Seraikela Chhau, said Nilay and his brother Malay, have lived and died in anonymity. Both of them earn their livelihood by dancing and run their organisation, 'Sri Kedar Art Centre'. Blaming the indifference of both the erstwhile Bihar government and the Jharkhand government, they felt it was time steps were taken to preserve and popularise the art form.

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