In step with tradition…ahead of their times

V P Dhananjayan

Vannadil Pudiyaveettil Dhananjayan and his wife Shanta, popularly known as the Dhananjayans are among the most accomplished dancers and teachers of Bharatanaatyam, as well as one of the legendary dancing couples of India.

A Politics and Economics graduate (as a result of studying for a BA separately), Dhananjayan arrived in  Kalakshetra on October 16th and initiated into  Kathakali & Bharatanaatyam on 18th October on the Vijayadasami - Vidyaarambham day in 1953. He received training in Bharatanaatyam and Kathakali simultaneously with equal proficiency. He has a  diploma and  Post Graduate Diploma in Kathakali with distinction from Kalakshetra, Madras and was a leading male dancer under Rukmini Devi (Founder, Kalakshetra) from 1955 to 1967.

Dhananjayan was born on 30th April 1939 in Payyanur, Kerala, historically a very important village in Kerala. This village has a long standing cultural heritage of Ayurveda (Indian medicine), Kalarippayattu (Martial arts), Kathakali (the classical dance theatre) and Theiyyam (a ritualistic folk art form).
To know more about this village and it's importance, visit www.payyanur.com

One of eight children of a not well-to-do schoolmaster, he however had a flair for poetry and Sanskrit dramas. No one in Dhananjayan's family had ever danced professionally, but his father had staged amateur dramatic performances, based largely on mythological themes, with a makeshift troupe he had gathered primarily from among his relatives. Dhananjayan has acted in his father’s plays, and grew up seeing his father and other kin travel from village to village during school vacations, performing as they went. As a youth, Dhananjayan, watched but did not train with the two Kathakali troupes located in Payyanur- Kodoth Kathakali Sangam, a 150 year old organization sponsored by a big landlord, and Thazhakaatumana, a troupe owned by a big Kerala Namboodiri family.

While teaching in Kalakshetra in the 1950’s, Chandu Panicker was assigned by Rukmini Devi, the responsibility of finding young male dancers willing to come to Kalakshetra to learn Kathakali and Bharatanaatyam. In 1953, when Dhananjayan’s father happened to meet Chandu Panicker in a train compartment, he expressed the difficulty of feeding such a large family on his meager schoolteacher’s salary and offered one of his sons to Chandu Panicker. Dhananjayan had taken a particular interest in Sanskrit literature during his primary school days and had been writing poetry from the age of 8. Seeing a unique sparkle in Dhananjayan and a propensity for creative ideas, his father decided purely on instinct to choose him out of 4 sons to send to Kalakshetra.

Even though Chandu Panicker had already selected Balagopal from the same village, he called for Dhananjayan a couple of days later. A week later, Dhananjayan was on his way to Kalakshetra where he spent the next 15 years of his life. Dhananjayan’s father had requested that if his 14-year-old son did not meet with Rukmini Devi’s qualifications, to send him back. Fortunately, not only was he accepted, he was also given a scholarship to study at Kalakshetra where the rigors of his education and way of life prepared him to meet the challenges of life as a dancer later on. Initially, his dance training and education in Kalakshetra was the only contact with the outside world. Much of his inspirations, dedication and attitude to life were fashioned here.

“In many ways, I am the person I am because of that institution”

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