India abounds in heroes and legends from every field. To recognise their invaluable contribution to their respective fields, Bharat Ratna, the highest civilian award of the country, was introduced by the then President of India Rajendra Prasad on 2nd January, 1954.
The Bharat Ratna is awarded in recognition of exceptional service or performance of the highest order in any field of human endeavour, be it towards advancement of art, literature and science, or in recognition of public service.
Any person without distinction of race, occupation, position or sex is eligible for these awards, the recommendations for which are made by the Prime Minister himself to the President. No formal recommendations are necessary for Bharat Ratna.
It is not mandatory that the Bharat Ratna be awarded every year though in a particular year, the award can be given for a maximum of three times. The first Bharat Ratna was awarded to Sarvapalli Radhakrishnan, Sir C.V. Raman, and Chakravarti Rajagopalachari in 1954.
On conferment of the award, the recipient receives a sanad (certificate) signed by the President and a medallion. The award does not carry any monetary grant. As per Article 18 (1) of the Constitution, the award cannot be used as a prefix or suffix to the recipient’s name.
The first recipients of the Bharat Ratna were Sarvapalli Radhakrishnan, Chakravarti Rajagopalachari and Sir C.V. Raman. They received the honour in 1954.
The most recent awards were in 2015, when Madan Mohan Malviya and Atal Bihari Vajpayee were honoured with the Bharat Ratna.
There is no written provision that the Bharat Ratna should be awarded to Indian citizens only. The award has been awarded to a naturalized Indian citizen, Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu, better known as Mother Teresa (1980) and to two non-Indians, Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan and Nelson Mandela (1990).
So far, 45 people have conferred with the Bharat Ratna, Sachin Tendulkar being the first and only sportsperson to have received the prestigious honour.
The concept of awarding the Bharat Ratna posthumously was not part of the original statute declared in January 1954, the reason why Mahatma Gandhi could not be conferred with this award notwithstanding his exceptional role in nation building. The provision was finally added in the January 1966 statute of this prestigious award.
So far, 12 of these awards have been given posthumously, the first one being given to Lal Bahadur Shastri in 1966. In 1992, Subhash Chandra Bose was awarded the Bharat Ratna posthumously but due to the controversy surrounding his death, his family refused to accept the award. It is the only incident in the history of Bharat Ratna that an award was withdrawn.
The period from 13 July 1977 to 26 January 1980 also saw this award being suspended.
Originally, the specifications for the award called for a circular gold medal carrying the state emblem and motto, among other things. It is uncertain if a design in accordance with the original specifications was ever made. The actual award is designed in the shape of a Peepal leaf and carries with it the words Bharat Ratna, inscribed in Devanagari script. The reverse side of this bronze medallion carries the state emblem and motto. The award is attached to a two-inch wide ribbon, designed to be worn around the recipient’s neck.