The award was established on 2 January 1954 by the president of india. It is awarded to recognize distinguished service of a high order to the nation, in any field. As of December 2014, 1229 people have thus far received the award. In 2013 the veteran playback singer Mrs.S. Janaki rejected the award, stating that the honour came to her too late and that the artists of South India were not duly recognised.