Ranjani Ganesan Ramesh on finding her vocation.
Bharatanatyam dancer Ranjani Ganesan Ramesh gave a scintillating performance on a recent visit to Kolkata at the behest of Guru Thankamani Kutty’s institution, the Calcutta Kalamandalam. Ranjani combines a family heritage with sound training from Kalakshetra, Chennai. Offered a permanent staff position at the prestigious institution, she says she rejected it in favour of charting her own course. Here she talks about what how she has made Bharatanatyam her personal idiom.
What led you to learn dance?
I hail from a traditional family of Thanjavur-Mannargudi known as Mannar — in ancient times famous for the Rajagopalaswamy temple. Hence dance and music is very much inherited.
My aunts and uncles on both sides of the family were musicians. My mother is a musician and a dancer. My father is a Tamil poet and dramatist with a profound knowledge of music. So dance and music came naturally to me and my sister. I began my journey of dance under my mother’s guidance.
Were there other career options, and how did you take up dance as a career?
I wanted to do medicine, but my father always dreamt of seeing me as a full fledged vocalist, although dance was my first passion. It was my destiny that I was for dance. I took to assisting my mother in teaching at her dance school from the age of 15! I had a craving to be at Kalakshetra.
Is your family supportive?
My parents have always been my pillars of strength. They welcomed my decision to join Kalakshetra. To my extended family, dance was linked to becoming a devadasi. Today they are proud to acknowledge me.
Finding a groom for me was another hurdle my parents faced. Ramesh was sent by Providence. His immense support helped me continue my journey. I have been blessed with a daughter who is a child prodigy in dance! God willed that I work with and through her. My disciples help me to carry forward my legacy.
How many years did you spend at Kalakshetra as a student and as a teacher?
I spent four years and got two double promotions to complete post graduation. It was an honour for me to be awarded distinction in both under-and post graduation. My first guru who got this was late Krishnaveni Lakshmanan. I also got the award in music.
First I became a pupil- teacher and was later retained as a guest artist to perform in their productions for 2-3 years. I was also teaching during that time.
Thereafter I was offered the full fledged job of a resident teacher and performer which I had to reject as I had already started my take-off as a performer-teacher outside in the mega world of dance. Dance presentations had always been my forte, with my extensive training in martial art, Kathakali and Kuchipudi. I am also an adept nattuvanar. I use my own idiom, with the solid technical foundation of the Kalakshetra method.
What of contemporary and secular subjects?
I have choreographed “Sankhya” based on numbers; besides my work on the seasons; “Shakthi” on women and child empowerment, a dance drama on my spiritual guru Swamy Nithyananda and many secular subjects.
I have been trained in music too by legends like S. Rajaram, grandson of Mysore Vasudevacharya, and am a vocalist as well as a composer. Dance elevates a soul to attain bliss by awakening the kundalini faster, thereby facilitating the path for enlightenment! Nithyananda called me over to help him learn the 108 karana postures executed by Lord Nataraja when he did the tandava. I learnt that every karana has a certain healing power when done with guidance correctly.