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Krishnaveni - my stage partner for almost two decades
- V P Dhananjayan, Chennai

September 30, 2004

Krishnaveni is one of the finest Bharatanaatyam artistes ever to come out of Kalakshetra. Though she has not been given the due recognition either by Government or other cultural organizations in India, no one can deny the fact that she deserved all high pedestals for her merit in the Bharatanaatyam field. Probably she is one of the very few real artistes- in the true sense of the word 'artiste' -with all required qualities for a real Bharatanaatyam dancer: music, literature, theoretical knowledge, choreographic skills, excellence in teaching and above all, super memory power. No wonder Rukmini Devi kept her as her close lieutenant. Her passing away is a great loss for the art world.

Shanta and Krishnaveni had their Arangetram together in Kalakshetra on 13th January 1960. Both of them celebrated their 40th anniversary of Arangetram on 13th Jan 2000 in the Besant Nagar Pillayar koil. A literally a jam-packed connoisseur audience watched them awe struck, the same vintage items they performed 40 years ago with the same co-ordination and vigor. I can boldly proclaim that no one today in the field could match Krishnaveni's sensitive Abhinaya - whether it be any Abhinaya Saraswathi by name or title- and her spontaneous actions and reactions on the stage. I have played her hero on stage from 1955 onwards and people still talk of our Raama and Sita combination, which made the Ramayana series of Kalakshetra an immortal production. In Ushaa Parinayam, she was my Usha (later on Krishnaveni was renamed as Usha, and her husband Lakshman always called her Usha only), in Andal Charitam I was her foster father Periyalwar, till Sabari Moksham (Ramayana series) where both of us played Raama & Sita. When I left Kalakshetra in 1967, Janardanan took over from me.

Once we portrayed Krishna & Raadha. Actually Balagopal is the eternal Sri Krishna and it suited his nature too. That is why Rukmini Devi amma (Athai) chose him to do the role always. But there came an emergency when Balagopal fell sick just a day before the show in Hyderabad (1963). I took the challenge and performed the role of Sri Krishna in Geeta Govindam to the utter surprise of all. But the credit for my performing the role with an overnight rehearsal goes to Krishnaveni who spent almost a night going through the sequence of songs and steps with me. After the performance was over in Hyderabad, Athai walked up to me and said, "I did not know that a Krishna is hidden in you, I thought you are a Sri Raama. I was very apprehensive of you doing it without any rehearsal or learning the role properly, how did you do it so well, even better than Balagopal? " And with out a wink she answered her own question, " Krishnaveni would have helped you". That was the confidence Athai had in Krishnaveni. She also knew that we were very close to each other.

We kept our relationship alive even after leaving Kalakshetra and we had an occasional performance together under the aegis of IDA, Abhai and Dharani (Kochi).

Just before we left for the US on June 4th, a few of us classmates had a sudden get-together (Savitri Rao, Kala Rao, Ambika Buch, Krishnaveni, Shanta & Dhananjayan) and went to Mayajaal Game Park; we spent an hour in the Varaheswarar temple near Uthandi and talked about our days in Kalakshetra. Krishnaveni expressed her feelings of how she enjoyed playing the role of Sita against my Raama. "Even though I continued to play the role of Sita after Dhananjayan left Kalakshetra, I have never felt the same as he was with me as Raama. Each time we changed our actions and reactions spontaneously on stage, knowing so well each other's moods and movements. I wish Dhananjayan and I could bring the old Ramayana back on the Kalakshetra stage." I said, "Krishnaveni, we are too old to do those romantic roles again, and who will watch us now doing those roles?" She replied, "I bet there are still people wanting us to get back to those roles. It is not the age, our Kalakshetra audience rightly think of the excellence in performance, immaterial of the withering age."

When Athai was composing Sriraama Vanagamanam, both Shanta and Krishnaveni were cast as Sita and until the day of the performance, Athai could not decide who would go on stage as Sita. Finally, in the evening, Athai decided in favour of Krishnaveni doing the role of Sita on that day - probably Athai was swayed by her advisors because both Shanta and I were in love with each other and Shanta playing the role of Sita against me might look like Athai was encouraging our relationship. There was a brief period when Krishnaveni could not play the role of Sita, and one of our colleagues, Kala (Kala Ramesh Rao) was given the role of Sita in Sabari Moksham.

For Shanta and me, Krishnaveni was the binding factor, our true Sakhi - a go between Shanta and me. During our courtship days, there was a time when I was not sure of Shanta's love for me, and Shanta left to join her parents in Malaysia in 1962, without any commitments to me. People around me in Kalakshetra concluded that Shanta had ditched me and gone back to Malaysia. At that time, it was Krishnaveni who consoled me and very confidently assured me that Shanta would surely return to marry me. Yes, Krishnaveni was right and that is the best thing that happened in my life.

Her daughter Gayatri Balagurunathan was telling me that Krishnaveni wanted the cover photo of both us as Sri Raama and Sita in "Vanagamanam" that appeared in the Illustrated Weekly of India, to be enlarged and kept in the dance class. I believe this was her wish during the last few weeks when she was critically ill.

We were planning to celebrate Krishnaveni and Shanta's 50th Arangetram Anniversary on a grand scale and when we last met her, this was the subject of discussion. She was so confident of living longer in spite of her ailment.

We have still not came out of this shock which awaited our arrival on 29th Aug. Our bondage was much beyond just being colleagues.

V P Dhananjayan and Shanta Dhananjayan are the artistic directors of Bharata Kalanjali, Chennai.

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