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Most acclaimed Indian American photojournalist Rajan Devadas passes away

Devadas was 93 years old.

(Updated on December 27, 2014)

By The American Bazaar Staff

WASHINGTON, DC: Rajan Devadas, whose lenses chronicled US-India relations from Washington, DC, for more than half a century, passed away on Friday, December 26, according to his family. He was 93.

Rajan Devadas
Rajan Devadas (1921-2014). Photo by Mathew Karmel.

Devadas died of cardiac arrest at the Hebrew Home of Greater Washington, in Rockville, Maryland, where he had been rehabilitating after suffering a stroke more than a year ago.

The photojournalist, who received Padma Shri, one of India’s highest civilian honors, in 2002 for Arts, is survived by his wife, Kimiko, and eight children.

Beginning in the late 1950s, the legendary photographer documented the US visits of every Indian prime minister from Jawaharlal Nehru to Dr. Manmohan Singh. He also photographed every US president from John F. Kennedy to George W. Bush.

Other world leaders he photographed include Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher of Britain, President J.R. Jayewardene of Sri Lanka, and President Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and spiritual leaders such as Pope John Paul, Dalai Lama and Mother Teresa.

His photos were carried by dozens of news organizations worldwide, including India Abroad, the Press Trust of India, The Times of India, Illustrated Weekly of India, The Hindu, The Hindustan Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post, UPI, Reuters and Al Ahram.

In this undated photo taken by Rajan Devadas, then-Indian Ambassador to the United States Ronen Sen with President George W. Bush and former presidents Bill Clinton and George HW Bush. Also seen are First Lady Laura Bush and Kalpana Sen.
In this undated photo taken by Rajan Devadas, then-Indian Ambassador to the United States Ronen Sen, with President George W. Bush and former presidents Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush. Also seen are First Lady Laura Bush and Kalpana Sen.

For a number of years, Devadas worked as the official photographer of the Embassy of India in Washington, during which he developed close friendships with a number of Indian ambassadors to the United States, including Braj Kumar Nehru — whom he considered a mentor —K.R. Narayanan, Abid Hussein, Lalit Mansingh, Ronan Sen and Nirupama Rao.

Rao, who is a visiting fellow at Brown University, had attended his 93rd birthday celebrations earlier this summer. In her brief remarks, she praised Devadas’ great contributions of to “the life, progress, pride and progress of the Indian community” in the United States.

Over the decades, the photojournalist was such a permanent presence in Washington at every India-related event that a former Indian ambassador is said to have remarked, “We ambassadors come and go; Rajan Devadas is an ambassador of India forever.”

When the Government of India announced the Padma Shri for him in 2002, Devadas could not travel to Delhi to receive the award because of poor health. Then-Ambassad Mansingh presented the award to him at a convention of the Federation of Kerala Association in North America in Chicago that summer.

Born in Trivandrum in 1921, Devadas spent much of his childhood in Varanasi. He studied at Banaras Hindu University and also worked there as an administrative assistant for a while.

Devadas came to the United States in 1955 to attend a one-year program at the Pendle Hill Quaker Center for Study and Contemplation. After finishing the program, he enrolled at University of Pennsylvania for two semesters and at Temple University for another year.

Then he moved to New York to attend New School for Social Research, where he took two courses in journalism and public relations that sparked his interest in photography.


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