Prof. Janardanan, matchless dancer and teacher, upholds the ideals of Rukmini Devi and the standard of Kalakshetra.
“Of time, you would make a stream upon whose bank you would sit and watch its flowing. Yet the timeless in you is aware of life’s timelessness, And knows that yesterday is but today’s memory and tomorrow is today’s dream.” – Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet.
There is something timeless about Prof. Janardanan as he recalls his yesterday, when he first met his Amma, Rukmini Devi seated cross-legged on a chair, resplendent in a yellow silk sari. To the little boy who had travelled all the way from remote Kunjumangalam, she was Devi incarnate.
Janardanan is the son of the legendary Chandu Panikkar of the famous Trinity, the other two being, Ambu Panikkar and Chinda Panikkar. The famous Kalamandalam Kathakali artist, Krishnan Nair, was spotted and nurtured by Asan Chandu.
When Ambu Panikkar retired, he was invited to teach at Kalakshetra. Soon, Shankara Menon asked Asan to handpick and groom young boys who could be trained in Kathakali.
Asan enthusiastically set off on his quest and returned with two gems, Dhananjeyan and Balagopal, who were nurtured by him personally.
Asan’s wife pleaded with her husband to take with him at least one of his two sons, but the upright Asan insisted that he had been asked to choose children, but not his own and walked away without a backward glance.
But destiny had other things mapped out for young Janardanan. When he was in Class 8, he was asked to perform at the annual day celebrations of his school and Janardanan held the audience spellbound with an electric performance of Katha Prasangam. So happy was his principal, Gopal Nambiar, that he not only visited Janardanan’s home to meet the family, but also wrote a letter of recommendation to Rukmini Devi! Blessing the young boy, he said, “Thande yatra inni Madrasil aanu.” And soon, the boy was on a train to meet his father and his new abode.
The tearful lad was terrified of his disciplinarian father and so hid in the shadows even when he was brought to meet Rukmini Devi. Once he looked at her, he was transfixed. She was the Mother Goddess, his Amma. He had not seen anyone quite like her. This image of her never changed in all the years that he stayed at Kalakshetra.
It was a Karmic meeting. On her part, Rukmini looked upon him as the son she never had. “My dearest son,” was how she addressed him in the several letters that she wrote to him, and these are his most treasured wealth.
Playing the lead
His first role was a small one– of enacting the part of Brahma. And his father played Durvasa. When Durvasa prostrates before Brahma, Janardanan forgot that it was just acting and immediately stood up! Naturally, he got an earful from the Asan, who told him to immerse himself in the character he had to play, which Janardanan did.
Janardanan soon began to play the lead in various productions and many roles were specially tailored for him. He was Rama, Buddha, Jayadeva and Vajrasen too!
He travelled widely on various cultural tours in India and abroad and was the only dancer from Kalakshetra to have assisted Rukmini Devi at the International Ballet competition in Moscow in 1981, where she was the judge.
Known for his inimitable performing ability, he constantly strove to maintain the high standards and ideals that Kalakshetra stands for. It was this stellar quality which prompted the institution to invite him to revive and recreate their natya natakam, Meenakshi Vijayam and Geeta Govindam.
So vivid is his memory, that he was able to relive every dance movement and nuance, without having access to any documented visual details.
His sense of fulfilment came when his colleagues and seniors, who had enacted the lead roles in the productions, acknowledged his expertise and recalled the same scenes that they had played in a bygone era.
Because of his devotion to his amma, he did not dare modify or deviate from the original track just to accommodate today’s audiences.
Forty seven years is a large slice of a man’s life and Janardanan has given his undivided attention to his alma mater.
He rose from the position of a student to become a fine Principal. But fame and recognition eluded him. Yet, undeterred he walks tall and remains rooted like the great banyan on the grounds even as Time stands still.