New Delhi: VannadilPudiyaveettilDhananjayanand ShantaDhananjayan , also known as the Dhananjayans, are regarded as the legendary dancing couple of India.
V.P Dhananjayan was born into a Malayali Poduval family on 17 April 1939 in Payyanur, Kannur District, Kerala, India. He was born into a family with eight children struggling to make ends meet while ShantaDhananjayan was born on into a well-to-do Malayali Nair family in Malaysia.
They came from opposite worlds, but Bharatanatyam brought them together and forged an unbreakable bond.
Today, VP Dhananjayan and ShantaDhananjayan are recognised as one of the most legendary ‘natya’ couples in India, with a long, illustrious career spanning more than five decades.
They were also awarded the Padma Bhushan in 2009 for “development, preservation and propagation of the best of Kalakshetra tradition of Bharatanatyam through their dance academy BharataKalanjali.”
The Dhananjayans founded BharataKalanjali in 1968 and have been training students in classical dance forms ever since. Among the numerous places the duo has performed is RashtrapatiBhavan (1988), the Khajuraho dance festival (1980). They also delivered a special performance for the German president back in 1981.
The Dhananjayans have also collaborated with international artists and choreographers for various productions. This includes world renowned sitaristPandit Ravi Shankar, New York dancer Jacques D'Amboise, the Ohio Ballet Co. as well as performances at the India Festival in the Soviet Union and at the Birmingham Touring Opera House of England.
How they met?
VP Dhananjayan’s father was a schoolteacher, who staged amateur plays, and he grew up watching his father travel from village to village. A chance encounter with Guru ChanduPanicker, who was assigned the task of finding a male dancer by Rukmini Devi Arundale, the co-founder of Kalakshetra, led to Dhananjayan being initiated into the school in 1953 at the age of 14, on a scholarship.
This was where he met Shanta, the woman who would play an important role in his life. ShantaDhananjayan had been raised in Malaysia, where she grew up dancing and singing. A child prodigy, her parents, recognized her potential, and at the age of eight, enrolled her in Kalakshetra in 1952, where she studied Bharatanatyam, Kathakali, and Carnatic music
They were frequently paired together for Kalakshetra’s productions, under the tutelage of Guru ChanduPanicker and Rukmini Devi. Whether it was Rama and Sita, or Aniruddha and Chitralekha, the couple proved to be impeccable on stage.
The couple left Kalakshetra in the late 1960s, wanting to carve a career for themselves, in a dance scene that was dominated by the wealthy. For dancers who had not yet been established, this proved to be one of their biggest challenges.
Dhananjayan, who happened to have a degree in Economics, got a clerical job so that he could support both his wife and his family back home in Kerala. In the evenings he would return home to teach dance, in a humble room with a thatched roof.
This was the beginning of their institution, BharataKalanjali, now internationally recognized as a premier institution for Bharatanatyam.
What the Dhananjayans brought to Bharatanatyam were innovative ideas, and unique productions, combining male and female dance principles in specially conceived duets, known for their perfection, and attention to detail.
They referred to their art only as “natya,” stating that dance could be anything, but natya had a specific meaning to India’s culture.
They created new pieces, apart from the standard; Dhananjayan’sNatyaanjali replaced the traditional Alarippu, and the couple’s Nrutyopahahaaram, danced to music composed by a contemporary musician, became an item which they were known for. These were just some of the many original ideas that are part of their vast repertoire.
Gradually, they started gaining a following, and more students began to join them, wanting to be trained under their expert guidance.
They managed to make a name for themselves, and together, became a force to be reckoned with.
Today, in over 50 years of dancing together, the couple has performed all over India.
Very recently the couple was also starred in the series of ads on the theme, ‘Make the most of now,’ which featured an old couple going to Goa for their ‘second honeymoon’.
The couple featured is quite adorable, and their natural, non-dramatic chemistry gives you something to smile about.
Their partnership is one of rare understanding, and they dance with vitality and charisma born of years of training and passion for the arts, one of the main reasons they received international acclaim and have performed on hundreds of stages across the world!