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V. P. Dhananjayan & Shanta Dhananjayan
The Dhananjayans performing at a concert in 2009
Vannadil Pudiyaveettil Dhananjayan,
Shantha Dhananjayan

(1939-04-17) 17 April 1939 (age 84)
(1943-08-12) 12 August 1943 (age 80)
Payyanur, Kerala, India

Vannadil Pudiyaveettil Dhananjayan (born 17 April 1939) and Shanta Dhananjayan (born 12 August 1943), together known as the Dhananjayans, are an Indian dancing couple who were awarded the Padma Bhushan in 2009.

Personal life

V.P Dhananjayan was born into a Malayali Poduval family on 17 April 1939 in Payyanur, Kannur District, Kerala, India.[citation needed] He was born into a family with eight children, which struggled to make ends meet. A chance meeting with Kathakali Master Guru Chandu Panicker of Kalakshetra made his father decide to send his son and V.Balagopalan to Kalakshetra under his tutelage. Dhananjayan joined Kalakshetra on 5 October 1953 and was a male dance under Rukmini Devi (founder of Kalakshetra) from 1955–1967. He graduated from Kalakshetra with a Post Graduate Diploma in Dance (Bharatanatyam and Kathakali) with distinction. He also holds a B.A in Economics and Politics.[citation needed]

Shanta Dhananjayan was born on 12 August 1943 into a Malayali Nair family in Malaysia and traces her ancestry back to Kerala from where her family migrated to Malaysia.[citation needed] She was a child prodigy. By the time she was 3, her parents were convinced that Shanta would be a dancer. They found in her an inborn response to dance and joy of movement and decided to send her to India for her education. They sent her at age eight to Kalakshetra in June 1952, a year before Dhananjayan, where she later graduated with a Post-Graduate Diploma with distinction in Bharatanatyam and also learned Kathakali and Carnatic music. She was a female dancer at Kalakshetra from 1955–1968.[citation needed]

The couple has two sons. The elder, Sanjay, lives in the USA and the younger, Satyajit,[1] lives with his wife and son in Chennai, India and is a dancer, choreographer, dance instructor, and automobile photographer.[2]

In Kalakshetra

Were it not for providence in the form of Guru Chandu Panicker, Dhananjayan would have been working in some mundane job in Kerala.[citation needed] Dhananjayan received a scholarship at Kalakshetra to study Bharatanatyam, Kathakali, Mridangam and music. Shanta trained in Bharatanatyam and music, in addition to other subjects for nearly a decade. They believe that whatever they have been able to achieve is due to the painstaking mentoring of their Gurus Rukmini Devi Arundale and Chandu Panicker as well as various other faculty members of Kalakshetra such as NS Jayalakshmi and Sarada Hoffman.[citation needed]

While at Kalakshetra, it was love at first sight for Dhananjayan.[citation needed] Shanta was the first girl he met as he was being escorted into the portals of Kalakshetra by Guru Panicker. Though Shanta was a student completely devoted to her dance and music, she had secretly made up her mind, at the age of twelve, to partner Dhananjayan in life. Dhananjayan expressed his desire to marry Shanta when she was eighteen years old, but she left for Malaysia after graduation and did not let him know of her consent till after returning to India four years later. They married in 1966 at the Guruvayoor Temple in Kerala.[citation needed]

Career – Dancing Duo

The Dhananjayans left Kalakshetra in the late 1960s to build a career on their own.[citation needed] During that time, the rich people and aristocrats who could pay to have their own children perform dominated the dance scene in Chennai.[citation needed]

Their performances/productions include:[3]

Bharata Kalanjali

The Dhananjayans started their own dance school Bharata Kalanjali in 1968 in Adyar, Chennai. It began with a handful of students, and is today a premier academy of dance and music with several hundreds of students and a repertory fashioned out of its own students and graduates.[citation needed]


The couple has established an academy of arts at Dhananjayan's birthplace Payyanur in Kerala. They conducted an annual summer Naatya Gurukulam camp which is no longer in operation.[citation needed]


The Dhananjayans have been conducting an annual summer gurukulam camp at the Satchidananda Ashram, Yogaville, Virginia, USA, since 1988. Developed by the Natya Adyayana Gurukulam, the camp is an intensive, full-time residential course devoted entirely to the fine arts. Situated in the Virginia countryside, it is attended by Indian-American and international students. The teachers endeavour through it to spread awareness to their students of Indian culture, values, and explicate the philosophy underlying Hinduism.


Some of the major awards and accolades conferred on the Dhananjayans:

Social issues and politics

Dhananjayan has the reputation of voicing his views and is very forthright in speaking out about social and political issues. His recent publication Beyond performing art and culture, discusses various social and political issues concerning present day India or Bhaaratam, the way he urges everyone to call the country.[6]


V. P. Dhananjayan played a pivotal role in Gautham Menon's 2024 film Dhruva Natchathiram: Chapter One – Yuddha Kaandam, while Shanta played a martial art guru in the 2024 Malayalam period film Malaikottai Vaaliban.[7]


V.P Dhananjayan is a prolific writer and writes not only on dance but also on social and political issues. His publications include:


  1. ^ "Studio Satyajit official Website". Archived from the original on 8 February 2011. Retrieved 24 July 2019.
  2. ^ Bharata Kalanjali Website – Biography
  3. ^ Dancer on Dance, V.P Dhananjayan, Bharata Kalanjali
  4. ^ "Padma Awards" (PDF). Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India. 2015. Archived from the original (PDF) on 15 October 2015. Retrieved 21 July 2015.
  5. ^ "Dance". Department of Cultural Affairs, Government of Kerala. Retrieved 25 February 2023.
  6. ^ Beyond Performing Art and Culture: Politico-Socio Aspects, V.P. Dhananjayan. New Delhi, B.R. Rhythms, 2007, xviii, 314 p., ills, ISBN 81-88827-08-8
  7. ^ Ramnath, Ambili (31 October 2023). "Bharatanatyam artists Dhananjayan and Shanta Dhananjayan make their presence felt in cinema". The Hindu. Retrieved 21 January 2024.