The Sangeet Natak Akademi was established by the then Ministry of Education, Government of India by a Resolution dated the 31st of May, 1952 as the National Academy of Music, Dance and Drama, and was inaugurated by the first President of India, Dr Rajendra Prasad on the 28th of January, 1953. It was created as the apex body in the country for carrying out the task of preservation and promotion of the performing arts of India. One of the important activities of the Akademi has been to give recognition and honours to artists as it would help in setting standards in these arts, and restore the art and artists to their rightful place in Independent India.

The institution of Sangeet Natak Akademi Awards is now more than fifty years old and the large body of practitioners, gurus and scholars in the performing arts honoured by the Akademi represent the nation’s highest achievement in music, dance and drama. The Awards in Hindustani and Carnatic music were instituted as early as 1951, even before the Akademi was set up and these were known as Presidential Awards. With the formation of the Akademi, the Awards came to be known as Sangeet Natak Akademi Awards, and the investiture became the responsibility of the Akademi. The Presidential Awards for 1952 and 1953 were subsequently incorporated in the list of Sangeet Natak Akademi Awards.

The most prestigious and rare honour of Sangeet Natak Akademi Fellowship (Akademi Ratna Sadasyata) was restricted to 30 eminent persons at any given time till last year. However, consequent upon the amendment of the Rules and Regulations in the meeting of the General Council on the 29th of January, 2010, ten more seats of Akademi Fellows have been increased to be filled up in a phased manner over five years – two seats per year. Hence, at present, there are only 32 living Fellows. The first Fellow of the Akademi was elected in 1954, and till date, the Akademi has honoured 123 eminent personalities as Akademi Fellows (Akademi Ratna).

The General Council of Sangeet Natak Akademi at its meeting held in New Delhi on the 29th of January and 12th of February, 2010 elected Shri Lalgudi G Jayaraman, eminent Carnatic Violinist from Chennai, Shri Shreeram Lagoo, eminent theatre actor from Pune, Ms Yamini Krishnamurti, eminent Bharatanatyam exponent from New Delhi, Shri Kamlesh Dutt Tripathi, eminent scholar of Sanskrit Theatre from Allahabad, Pandit Jasraj and Smt. Kishori Amonkar, both eminent Hindustani vocalists from Mumbai as Fellows of the Akademi. The Akademi Fellowship carries purse money of Rs 3.00 lakh in cash, a Tamrapatra and an Angavastram.

As regards the Sangeet Natak Akademi Awards, the number of awards to be given annually is 33 at present and, till date, over 1000 artists have been honoured. The Akademi Awards carries purse money of Rs 1.00 lakh in cash, a Tamrapatra and an Angavastram.

It is a matter of gratification that the Akademi Fellowship and Akademi Awards are recognized as the highest national honour conferred on practicing artistes, gurus and scholars, and have come to stay as the most coveted honours to which the artistes aspire. What makes these Akademi honours unique is perhaps the fact that they are conferred by a body consisting of specialists in different fields of performing arts and representatives from different States and Union Territories of the country. These honours in recognition of sustained and meritorious achievement and service to the performing arts have been receiving wide public attention. They also give an idea of the growth and development of the performing arts and our understanding of the same in the post-independent India.

Yet, in a democratic nation formed by a union of States and Territories having multiple cultural steams, the task of selecting artistes for recognition, representing the acme and essence of the nations’s creativity, is a difficult one. The task becomes all the more humbling when it is realized that, on one hand, we have inherited such a rich mass of tradition in this country of sub-continental dimensions the depth of which we are still trying to fathom, and, on the other hand, considerable creative energies were unleashed during the last six decades that interacted with the tradition as also with the influence from outside. In such a scenario, the Sangeet Natak Akademi is striving to ensure that its various schemes and programmes, particularly the prestigious honours that it confers, address themselves adequately to the tradition as well as its changing manifestations, and suitable strategies are adopted from time to time to withstand the juggernaut of globalization so that the variegated expressions of India’s cultural identity continue to flower and flourish.