A sure-footed dancing genius

The exponent of Ghusadi dance is the sole Padma Shri recipient from Telangana

Kanaka Raju is a short wispy thin man, with a pencil moustache, a mischievous smile and a pair of feet meant for dancing.

The man from Marlavai village in Asifabad district is the sole winner of Padma Shri from Telangana and he basks in the limelight that comes with the recognition. Friends, relatives and officials pass their cellphones to him as he patiently repeats his story about how he captured the attention of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and the nation in early 80s.

Tryst with Indira Gandhi

“I was a fearless young man. When Indira Gandhi entered the place where we were performing, I took the peacock feathers headgear and placed it on her head. I tied ghungroo to her feet and she danced with us for a few minutes,” says Raju.

For the guru of Ghusadi-Dandari folk dance, who is known by his moniker Ghusadi Raju, it has been a long journey from the time he caught the eye of an Utnoor Integrated Tribal Development Authority official, Madavi Tukaram.

The Ghusadi dance with the men decked with peacock feathers began as a courtship ritual in a matriarchal society. “Every year after Deepavali, batches of young men travel from village to village with invitations where they do puja and dance in the evening. Young girls choose their husbands from among them after finding details of their family,” says Mr. Raju. Dandari appears like dandiya where men dance with sticks.

Ironically, for a man who has created a buzz about the courtship ritual, he got married when his father chose the girl for him. In the course of time as the tribal society moved away from nature, it was Kanaka Raju who trained young men in the dance form that mimics horses, cows, snakes, tribals, dandari and their divinity. “They should dance just like me without thinking. The feet should tap at the same time. I learnt on my own when I was eight. I began watching others and learning. People started talking about me and inviting me to their villages to train young men,” says Mr. Raju, who lives with his family of three sons and eight daughters.

“I do farming and rest of the year, I go for work wherever it is available,” says Mr. Raju, who is set to get cash reward and a plot of land for farming from the Telangana government.

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