Tendulkar, who at 40 is the youngest-ever recipient, was congratulated by President Pranab Mukherjee during a brief ceremony that saw thunderous applause at the presidential palace.
The cricketer announced his retirement from the game in November, ending his 24-year career. during which he became the world’s leading scorer in both Test and one-day cricket.
In retirement, he has begun promoting social causes such as sanitation and has been named a member of the upper house of the Indian Parliament, leading to speculation he might one day enter active politics.
In 2008, he received the Padma Vibhushan, India’s second highest civilian award.
At the ceremony, he walked up to the dais with folded hands, greeted the president and accepted the award amid a din of camera flash-lights and applause from the audience, which included his family.