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

(1939-04-17) April 17, 1939
(1943-08-12) August 12, 1943
Payyanur, Kerala, India
Website bharatakalaanjali.org

Vannadil Pudiyaveettil Dhananjayan (born 17 April 1939) and Shanta Dhananjayan (born 12 August 1943), also known as the Dhananjayans, are regarded as the legendary dancing couple of India. They also featured in the widely popular Vodafone campaign as Asha & Bala.

Personal life

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, when a chance meeting with Kathakali Master Guru Chandu Panicker of Kalakshetra made his father decide purely on instinct to send his son and V.Balagopalan to Kalakshetra under his tutelage. Dhananjayan joined Kalakshetra on 5 October 1953 and was a leading 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, and also holds a B.A in Economics and Politics.

Shanta Dhananjayan was born on 12 August 1943 into a well-to-do Malayali Nair family in Malaysia and traces her ancestry back to Kerala from where her family migrated to Malaysia. She was a child prodigy and 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 leading female dancer at Kalakshetra from 1955–1968.

The couple have two sons. The elder, Sanjay, lives with his wife in the USA and their younger son, Satyajit,[1] is an accomplished automobile photographer and dancer who lives with his wife and son in Chennai, India. [2]

In Kalakshetra

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

While at Kalakshetra, it was love at first sight for Dhananjayan. Shanta was the first girl he met as he was being escorted into the portals of Kalakshetra by Guru Panicker. Though Shanta was a serious student completely devoted to her dance and music, she had secretly made up her mind, at the age of 12, to partner Dhananjayan in life. Dhananjayan expressed his desire to marry Shanta when she was 18, but she left for Malaysia after graduation and did not let him know of her consent till after returning to India 4 years later. They married in 1966 at the Guruvayoor Temple in Kerala.

Career – Dancing Duo

The Dhananjayans left Kalakshetra in the late 1960s to build a career on their own. During that time, only the wealthy and aristocrats who could spend to have their own children perform, dominated the dance scene in Chennai. However, the calibre of the Dhananjayans was such that they stole the thunder with their novel ideas that they brought to their presentations through a unique repertoire that they developed. The vitality of dance, their costumes, the attraction of merging of the male and female dance principles in specially conceived duets were all part of the charisma of their performances. They started to receive invitations from both within the country and from abroad. They have travelled all over the world to major cultural centres to present their art.

Some of their major performances/productions include:[3]

  • Pandit Ravi Shankar's Magnum Opus "GHANASHYAM" 1989/90
  • National Dance Institute, New York "CHAKRA", with a cast of 1,000 multinational children
  • A joint venture of Ohio Ballet Co., Cuyahoga Community College and Cleveland Cultural Alliance – Jungle Book Ballet
  • Choreographer for International Art Festival of Government of Singapore, "Sita Rama Katha" 1986 In the same festival, choreographed dance drama "Sanghamitra" with Singapore Artistes 1994
  • Mahaabhaaratham dance drama jointly produced by French Theatre Fluerry & Association Vaani in Reunion French Island 1998, 1999


The Dhananjayans place particular emphasis on imparting Indian tradition and culture to their bharata natyam students. Some details about which they are particular are:

  • Wearing a large bindi
  • Using the term "Samskrutam" instead of "Sanskrit"
  • Using the term "Natyam" instead of "Dance" to describe the art they teach
  • Using the name "Bharat" instead of "India" in reference to their nation of origin

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.


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.


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:

  • Padma Bhushan, Government of India, 2009[4]
  • Nritya Rathnakara, Cleveland Aradhana, USA, 2009
  • A doctarte from Vaels university, 2009
  • Live Magazine Achievement Award (Ohio State Academy Award) 1997 (for the best Theatrical Production of the year '96–97 for jungle book dance choreography for Ohio Ballet Company)
  • Plaque of Honour awarded by the Governor of Ohio State for excellent Community Service and International Understanding through Art 1996
  • Sangeet Natak Academy Award, Government of India, 1994
  • Kerala Sangeet Natak Academy Fellowship, 1993
  • Kalaimamani Award, Tamil Nadu Government, 1990
  • Haridas Sangeet Sammelan Sursingar Sansad Mumbai "Nrityavillas" Award 1989
  • Munshi Centenary Commemorative Award, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, London UK 1988
  • UNESCO Paris, Medallion De Merit 1984
  • Nritya Choodamani, Krishna Gana Sabha, Chennai, 1983
  • Scroll of Honour Arts and Crafts Magazine, New Delhi awarded by then Vice-President Hon, K.R.Narayanan

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, talks about various social and political issues concerning present day India or Bhaaratam, the way he urges everyone to call the country.[5]


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

  • 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.
  • Dhananjayan on Indian Classical Dance, V.P Dhananjayan, B.R Rhythms, 2004, 3rd revised edition, ISBN 81-88827-04-5


  1. Studio Satyajit official Website
  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 November 2014. Retrieved July 21, 2015.
  5. 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
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