In step with tradition…ahead of their times

Training in Kalakshetra

"Whatever we are today, it is because of Rukmini Devi and Guru Chandu Panicker."

Were it not for providence in the form of Guru Chandu Panicker, Dhananjayan would have been working in some monotonous job in Kerala. Chandu Panicker taught Kathakali and Sarada Hoffman and N S Jayalakshmi taught Bharatanaatyam. The training imparted at Kalakshetra was painstakingly precise and the dance dramas produced there taught the students set designing, discipline and administrative acumen. The Dhananjayans have served as performing artistes and teachers in the Dance and Academic Faculty in Kalakshetra.

As a scholarship student at Kalakshetra, Dhananjayan learnt Kathakali, Bharatanaatyam, mridangam and music. Shanta trained in Bharatanaatyam and music apart from other subjects for nearly a decade. Dhananjayan also displayed an interest in academics. Even as they evolved into world-renowned professional artists and then into teachers, Dhananjayan continued to shape his artistic experience with academic learning.

Shanta matured in dancing and outshone other girls. With Rukmini Devi as mentor and Chandu Panickar as Guru, Shanta and Dhananjayan blossomed into outstanding dancers. Shanta enacted the female lead opposite Dhananjayan in many Kalakshetra compositions. They were paired opposite each other as Rama and Sita or Chitralekha and Aniruddha etc. Dhananjayan played the role of Arjuna when 93-year-old Chandu Panickar played the role of the Brahmin in ‘Santhanagopalan’ in the premises of the Subramanya Temple in Payyanur.

Dhananjayan made his feelings clear to Shanta when he was 18, but she kept him in suspense. He thought his lower economic status was the hurdle, when Shanta left Kalakshetra after her post graduation in 1962 and taught dance in Malaysia. She started receiving proposals for marriage, which she turned down. When her parents were convinced that Shanta’s interest in marrying Dhananjayan was genuine, they gave their blessings and Shanta returned to India. They tied the knot in 1966 at the Guruvayoor temple in Kerala. Maybe each would have independently carved a niche in the dance world, but together they represented a force, which would take the world of dance by storm.