Pioneers and Firsts to Receive Bharat Ratna, India’s Highest Civilian Honor

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Hi everyone! Get ready to learn about some amazing people who made a huge impact on India!

The Bharat Ratna is India’s top award for civilians, like a super special gold medal for incredible achievements. We’re going to meet the very first people who ever got this award, way back in 1954. These early winners were like superheroes who paved the way for others and deserve a big round of applause!

Get ready to be amazed by their stories – from scientists to politicians, singers to activists, there’s something for everyone. We’ll discover who they were, what they did, and why they were chosen for this prestigious honor. ✨

So buckle up and join us on this exciting adventure! We’re about to celebrate some true Indian heroes and learn all about the Bharat Ratna award. Let’s go!

First Bharat Ratna

  • The “First Bharat Ratna” refers to the inaugural recipient of the Bharat Ratna award.
  • The award was instituted on January 2, 1954, and the first awardees were announced on January 26, 1954.
  • The three recipients of the first Bharat Ratna were Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan (philosopher and statesman), Dr. C. V. Raman (physicist), and Chakravarti Rajagopalachari (politician and freedom fighter).

1st Bharat Ratna award

  • The term “1st Bharat Ratna award” specifically denotes the initiation of the Bharat Ratna honor. As mentioned earlier, the first Bharat Ratna awards were conferred in 1954 on Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, Dr. C. V. Raman, and Chakravarti Rajagopalachari for their exceptional contributions to their respective fields.

First woman or Female Prime Minister to receive Bharat Ratna

Indira Gandhi

Indira Gandhi, the sole female Prime Minister of India to date, was honored with the Bharat Ratna in 1972, marking her as the first woman to receive this prestigious award.

Key Points

  • First and only female Prime Minister of India.
  • Conferred the Bharat Ratna in 1972.
  • Born into the Nehru family, familiar with politics from a young age.
  • Elected President of the Congress party in 1959.
  • Key advisor to her father, Jawaharlal Nehru.
  • Elected Prime Minister of India in 1966.
  • Prime Minister of India during 1966–77 and 1980–84.
  • Served as Prime Minister during the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971
  • Notable achievement: Aiding Bangladesh in its liberation as a separate nation in 1971.
  • Received the Bharat Ratna in recognition of her contributions and leadership.
  • Known as the “Iron Lady of India”.
Indira Gandhi
Indira Gandhi (Photo: clamorworld.com)

First non-Indian or foreigner to receive Bharat Ratna

Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan

Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan recognized as the first non-Indian recipient of the Bharat Ratna, played a crucial role in the Indian freedom movement.

Key Facts

  • As a prominent political figure and leader of the Pashtuns, a Muslim ethnic group, he earned the title ‘Frontier Gandhi.’ Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, also known as ‘Badshah Khan,’ staunchly advocated Mahatma Gandhi’s principles of non-violence.
  • Actively engaged in the struggle against the Rowlatt Act, he ardently participated in the Khilafat movement to safeguard the rights of Muslims.
  • His commitment to non-violence led him to initiate the “Khudai Khidmatgar movement” or the “Red Shirt Movement,” a non-violent opposition to British rule in colonial India.
  • Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan’s legacy remains a testament to his unwavering dedication to the ideals of peace and freedom.

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First Prime Minister to Receive Bharat Ratna

Jawaharlal Nehru

The first Prime Minister to receive the Bharat Ratna, India’s highest civilian award, was Jawaharlal Nehru. He was bestowed with the honor in 1955.

Nehru served as the first Prime Minister of independent India from 1947 to 1964. He played a pivotal role in shaping the nation’s identity and development in its formative years.

First Posthumous Receiver of Bharat Ratna

Lal Bahadur Shastri

Lal Bahadur Shastri, the former Prime Minister, made history as the inaugural recipient to be posthumously honored with the Bharat Ratna.

Kay Facts about Lal Bahadur Shastri

  • Lal Bahadur Shastri, the second Prime Minister of India, was the first posthumous recipient of the Bharat Ratna.
  • Awarded the honor in 1966, recognizing his exceptional leadership and service to the nation.
  • Served as Prime Minister from 1964 to 1966, facing challenges such as the Indo-Pakistani War of 1965 and the food crisis of 1966.
  • Remembered for resilience, determination, and leadership during a tumultuous period in India.
  • Famous slogan: “Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan” (Victory to the Soldier, Victory to the Farmer).
  • Played a key role in initiating the Green Revolution, transforming India into a self-sufficient food producer.
  • Tragically passed away in office in 1966, leaving behind a legacy of selfless service and dedication.
  • Posthumously awarded the Bharat Ratna, a fitting tribute to his remarkable contributions to the nation.

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First Chief Minister to Receive Bharat Ratna

Chakravarti Rajagopalachari

Chakravarti Rajagopalachari was the first recipient of the Bharat Ratna award in 1954 while serving as the Premier of the Madras Presidency. Additionally, he served as the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu for over two years, between 1952 and 1954.

Key Facts

  • Full Name: Chakravarti Rajagopalachari (Rajaji or C.R.)
  • Nicknamed: Mootharignar Rajaji (Rajaji, the Scholar Emeritus), ‘Mango of Salem’
  • Last Governor-General of India: Served until 1950 when the office was abolished upon India becoming a republic.
  • Governor-General Distinction: Only Indian-born Governor-General; previous holders were British nationals.
  • Founding Swatantra Party: Advocated for cooperation over Britain’s war effort, and opposed the Quit India Movement.
  • C. R. Formula: Proposed talks with Muhammad Ali Jinnah and the Muslim League.
  • Founding Swatantra Party: Resigned from the Indian National Congress in 1959.
  • Later Political Contributions: Instrumental in setting up a united Anti-Congress front in Madras state.

Political Roles

  • Leader of the Indian National Congress
  • Premier of the Madras Presidency
  • Governor of West Bengal
  • Minister for Home Affairs of the Indian Union
  • Chief Minister of Madras state

Contributions to Movements

  • Participated in agitations against the Rowlatt Act.
  • Joined the Non-Cooperation movement, Vaikom Satyagraha, and Civil Disobedience movement.
  • Led the Vedaranyam Salt Satyagraha in 1930.

Post-Independence Roles

  • Minister of Industry, Supply, Education, and Finance in the Interim Government of India
  • Governor of West Bengal (1947-1948)
  • Governor-General of India (1948-1950)
  • Union Home Minister (1951-1952)
  • Chief Minister of Madras state (1952-1954)

Contributions Beyond Politics

  • Accomplished writer, with significant contributions to Indian English literature
  • Composer of the song “Kurai Onrum Illai” set to Carnatic music
  • Pioneered temperance and temple entry movements in India
  • Advocated Dalit upliftment

First Governor to Received Bharat Ratna

Chakravarti Rajagopalachari

Chakravarti Rajagopalachari was the first recipient of the Bharat Ratna award in 1954 while serving as the Governor of West Bengal from 1947 to 1948.

First Vice-President to Received Bharat Ratna

Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan

Philosopher Radhakrishnan was honored with the Bharat Ratna in 1954 while serving as India’s first Vice-President (1952–62) and later as the second President (1962–67).

Key Facts

Roles in Indian Politics

  • Second President of India (1962-1967)
  • First Vice President of India (1952-1962)
  • Second Ambassador of India to the Soviet Union (1949-1952)
  • Fourth Vice-Chancellor of Banaras Hindu University (1939-1948)
  • Second Vice-Chancellor of Andhra University (1931-1936)

Philosophical Grounding

  • Grounded in Advaita Vedanta
  • Reinterpreted traditional philosophy for a contemporary understanding

Honors and Awards

  • Knighthood in 1931
  • Bharat Ratna (1954), the highest civilian award in India
  • Honorary membership of the British Royal Order of Merit (1963)

Teachers’ Day Celebration:

  • Since 1962, his birthday has been celebrated in India as Teachers’ Day on September 5 every year.

First Singer to Received Bharat Ratna

M. S. Subbulakshmi

The first singer to receive the prestigious Bharat Ratna award was the legendary M. S. Subbulakshmi!

Key Facts

  • Born in Madurai, Tamil Nadu, in 1916.
  • Renowned Carnatic vocalist.
  • Known for her divine voice and dedication to her art.
  • Captivated audiences with soulful renditions of devotional songs and kritis.
  • Contributions transcended cultural and geographical boundaries.
  • Awarded the Bharat Ratna in 1998 at the age of 82.
  • Recognition for lifetime achievements in music and impact on Indian culture.
  • The first woman to receive the Ramon Magsaysay Award in 1974, considered Asia’s equivalent of the Nobel Prize.
  • Awarded the Padma Bhushan in 1954, one of India’s highest civilian awards.
  • Given the title of Sangita Kalanidhi by the Madras Music Academy, one of the most prestigious titles in Carnatic music.
  • Honored with the Sangeetha Natak Akademi Award in 1966, another prestigious award recognizing excellence in performing arts.

First Actor to Received Bharat Ratna 

M. G. Ramachandran

The first actor to receive the prestigious Bharat Ratna award was Marudur Gopalan Ramachandran (M.G.R.), fondly known as Puratchi Thalaivar (Revolutionary Leader).

M. G. Ramachandran
M. G. Ramachandran (Photo: thefamouspeople.com)

Key Points

  • Name: Marudur Gopalan Ramachandran (M.G.R.)
  • Nickname: Puratchi Thalaivar (Revolutionary Leader)
  • Birthplace: Kandanur, Tamil Nadu, 1917
  • Career Transition: Started as a stuntman, later became a legendary actor in Tamil cinema and a prominent political figure.
  • Screen Presence: Charismatic and captivating, known for championing the downtrodden in his roles.
  • Political Career: Founded Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (ADMK) party in 1972, and served as Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu for three terms.
  • Social Welfare Programs: Implemented various initiatives focused on poverty alleviation and education during his tenure.
  • Bharat Ratna: Posthumously awarded in 1988 for exceptional contributions to the film industry and dedication to public service.

Legacy Highlights

  • Film Career: Acted in over 130 films, with many becoming critically acclaimed blockbusters.
  • Cinematic Contributions: Introduced revolutionary cinema, addressing social issues and advocating for equality.
  • Educational Impact: Established MGR Educational and Research Institute, providing affordable education to underprivileged communities.
  • Social Programs: Instituted the “nutritious meal scheme,” offering subsidized meals to school children.
  • People’s Chief Minister: Maintained a deep connection with his fans, earning the title “People’s Chief Minister.”

First Sportsperson to Receive Bharat Ratna

Sachin Tendulkar

The first sportsperson to receive the Bharat Ratna award was the iconic cricketer, Sachin Tendulkar.

Sachin Tendulkar
Sachin Tendulkar

Kay Points

  • He received the prestigious honor in 2014 at the age of 40, making him the youngest recipient at the time.
  • Tendulkar, often referred to as the “God of Cricket,” enjoyed a glorious career spanning over two decades.
  • He holds numerous records, including being the highest run-scorer in both Test and One-Day International cricket.
  • His dedication, talent, and exceptional performance on the field brought immense pride and joy to millions of Indians worldwide.
  • Scored over 34,357 runs in Test cricket and 18,426 runs in One-Day Internationals.
  • Hit 100 international centuries, a record unmatched in cricket history.
  • Won the Cricket World Cup with the Indian team in 2011.
  • Received numerous other accolades throughout his career, including the Padma Shri, Padma Bhushan, and Arjuna Award.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q1. Who is the first Indian woman to get Bharat Ratna?

The first Indian woman to be awarded the Bharat Ratna, India’s highest civilian award, was Indira Gandhi.

Q2. Who is the first Non-Indian to receive the Bharat Ratna?

The first foreigner to receive Bharat Ratna was Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan.


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As a professional blogger and passionate educator, I am driven by a deep-seated desire to share knowledge and empower others. With years of experience in the field, I am committed to providing valuable insights and guidance to aspiring learners. My passion lies in helping individuals discover their potential and achieve their goals. I am also a firm believer in the power of motivation and strive to inspire others to pursue their dreams with unwavering determination.

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