Under the banyan’s shade

Prof Janardhanan  

When Rukmini Devi Arundale planted a banyan sapling on the Kalakshetra campus, she perhaps envisaged the institution growing as big as the tree. And like the tree’s many aerial prop roots that have over the years grown into strong trunks, many distinguished dancers have emerged from Kalakshetra. One such is Prof. Arayambath Janardhanan.

Honoured recently with the title of Natya Kalanidhi by ABHAI (Association of Bharatanatyam Dancers of India), Janardhan says it was destiny that brought him to Kalakshetra. A school annual day performance of Katha Prasangam impressed his principal so much that he wrote a letter of recommendation to Rukmini Devi, asking her to take the little boy under her care. Kalakshetra soon became a second home to Janardhanan — his father, the much-revered Kathakali master Asan Chandu Panikkar was already a teacher there.

Janardhanan with his father Asan Chandu Panikkar

Janardhanan with his father Asan Chandu Panikkar  

At Kalakshetra, besides the intensive training in music and dance, Janardhanan assimilated a lot by observing his guru and mentor, including aspects of stage craft, light design, choreography and costume.

After receiving a government scholarship, Janardhanan trained in Kathakali under Kalamandalam Krishnan Nair. His clear lines and emotional depth landed him the many roles, from Rama to Ravana, Buddha and Ajamila, that he played in various Kalakshetra productions.

Recalling his student days, Janardhanan says, “Much of the learning happened outside the classroom, when we were interacting with teachers, visiting artistes and peers.”

The old dance dramas

It is this training that has helped him revive many of Rukmini Devi’s productions. “We were encouraged to adopt an holistic approach to dance that included story, music, choreography, costume, colours, props and lights. While reviving the plays, I just followed Rukmini Devi’s vision,” says Janardhanan. In fact, the dancer actually “recreated the entire process” just as it had been done under Rukmini Devi, including recalling the entries and exits and even her choice of material and colours.

“But it has also not been easy,” says Janardhanan. “Unlike the gurukula system, the semester system with its limited hours of learning and new batches of students every academic term makes it challenging to stage the mega natya-natakams.”

Another difficulty that Janardhanan points to is the inability to train dancers for multiple roles. “In our training days, dancers sometimes had to take on a new role at short notice. Or during a tour, if there was a shortage of actors, dancers doubled up to play other roles. This is difficult today,” he says.

Janardhanan choreographed two dance dramas, ‘Karna Sapatam’ (Malayalam) andSri Purandara’ (Kannada) for the Kalakshetra repertory, and ‘Sri Krishna Jananam’ (for the Dhananjayans’ Bharata Kalanjali).

Though early recognition eluded him, he later received several titles and awards, including Kerala Kalasree (Kerala Sangeet Natak Akademi), the Acharya Choodamani, and the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award.

From student to teacher to principal of Kalakshetra, and today as emeritus professor, Janardhanan’s life and artistic journey is clearly umbilically linked to the institute.

The author is a Chennai-based freelance writer.

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Printable version | May 6, 2021 11:46:28 AM |

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