Dhananjayans – The legendary dancing couple of India
Vannadil Pudiyaveettil Dhananjayan (V P Dhananjayan) and Shanta Dhananjayan, popularly known as the Dhananjayans are regarded as the legendary dancing couple of India. An Economics graduate, Dhananjayan’s passion for dancing is something exceptional. Shanta Dhananjayan holds a Post-Graduate Diploma with distinction in Bharatanatyam and has also learned Kathakali and Carnatic music.
Dhananjayan always had a flair for poetry and Sanskrit dramas. The place he was born, Payyanur, was rich in culture and heritage such as Kalaripayattu (Martial arts), Kathakali (the classical dance theatre), and Theyyam (a ritualistic folk art form).
The charisma Dhananjayans carried was such that they presented a unique repertoire with their novel ideas.
A dancing couple of India, Shanta and Dhananjayan are both alumni of the famous ‘Kalakshetra‘ founded by the legendary Smt. Rukminidevi. Dhananjayan had the scholarship to learn Bharatanatyam, Kathakali, Mridangam, and music at Kalakshetra and Shanta studied Bharatanatyam and music apart from other subjects for nearly a decade.
The Dhananjayans spent almost 2 decades in Kalakshetra as students, performing artists, and teachers. They both came out and established the Bharata Kalanjali Natya school. During that time, only the wealthy and aristocrats who could afford to have their own children perform dominated the dance scene in Chennai.
The charisma Dhananjayans carried was such that they presented a unique repertoire with their novel ideas. The vitality of dance, their costumes, the attraction of merging of the male and female dance principles in specially conceived duets was all part of the creativity and uniqueness of their performances. Gradually, they started receiving invitations from abroad to perform.
They have travelled all over the world to major cultural centers to present their art. They have set a trend and raised the bar of professionalism and standards with their lecture demonstrations and workshops for various foreign universities and Indian organizations.
The Dhananjayans emphasize imparting Indian tradition and culture to their Bharatanatyam students.
Bharata Kalanjali is now one of the most well-known dance institutions in the country as well as internationally. They call the Bharata Kalanjali the temple of learning, where ‘Natya’ is inseparably fused with culture, discipline, and social well-being shaping the students not just for the performance but for life. The Dhananjayans have helped shape the trajectory of Bharatanatyam across the globe through their relentless efforts for decades.
Bharata Kalanjali is a silver-tongued testimony to cultural integrity, preservation, and popularization of art and culture. They have founded a new art integrated educational center in Kerala known as the Bhaarateeya Saamskaarika Kalaa Rangam (in short Bhaaskara). Bhaaskara emphasis value-based education and revives the lost values in society.
The couple is also working on a residential art integrated academic educational center which will focus on cultural awakening.
The Dhananjayans emphasize imparting Indian tradition and culture to their Bharatanatyam students. Some details about which they are particular are using the term “Samskrutam” instead of “Sanskrit“, using the term “Natyam” instead of “Dance” to describe the art they teach, and using the name “Bharat” instead of “India” in reference to their nation of origin.
An inimitable couple of Indian art and culture – the Dhananjayans, has been serving the classical dance arena as the most sought-after Bharatanatyam dancers in India for the past four and half decades. It is widely accepted among the connoisseurs of performing art and artists that what Pt. Ravi Shankar has done to Indian music in the western world, the Dhananjayans have done to Indian dance in the recent past.
The couple has choreographed and produced traditional, contemporary, socially relevant themes in dance and brought in trend setting innovative techniques in Bharatanatyam and the contemporary dance scene in India. There are 25 major theatrical productions and 10 short thematic dance features, apart from several solo and group Bharatanatyam items to their credit.
The Jungle Book (both in UK and USA), Return of Spring (UK), Chakra (NY) Satyam-Sivam-Sundaram (an ecumenical theme USA) are some of the collaborative works the Dhananjayans have done abroad. A close associate of Bharat Ratna Pt. Ravi Shankar, the Dhananjayans gave the visual form to his pet project, a musical theatre “Ghanashyam: A Broken Branch“.
The legendary dance gurus have been honoured with a Padma Bhushan in recognition of their work along with many international awards along with a doctorate from Vels University. This trendsetter couple has given a new dimension to classical traditions and to choreography in Indian dance theatre. As teachers par excellence, they are held in high esteem in the realm of Indian classical dances.
Book writers like ‘Garland‘ N Rajagopalan (IAS Retd) compared The Dhananjayans contributions to the popularisation and preservation of Indian art & culture throughout the globe to Bharat Ratna Pt. Ravi Shankar. In the recent publication of a book titled “The Melodic Garland” authored by Sri. N Rajagopalan paid a glowing tribute to the Dhananjayans: “If the Dhananjayans have established themselves as top Bharatanatyam artistes of wondrous repute, it is no small tribute to their magnificent perseverance, personality, matchless artistry, innovative acumen, musical and dancing expertise, and specialization in choreography and other vital fields…”
The Dhananjayans truly deserve a Bharat Ratna for their relentless contribution in spreading the Indian culture globally and also for their determination towards the Indian art form – Bharatnatyam.
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