Bhakthi Maargam - a farewell recital  
- Suman Murali, Boston 

November 26, 2008 
2008 is a milestone year for the Dhananjayans. Their dance school, Bharata Kalanjali, turns 40 and it's the 70th birth year of Naatyaachaarya Dhananjayan. To celebrate the milestones, the legendary couple, along with their senior disciple Padmarani Rasiah Cantu were on their "farewell tour" presenting 'Bhakthi Maargam,' which was promoted as a presentation consisting of "a traditional Maargam repertoire featuring the best of their fifty years of artistic excellence in choreography." The musicians consisted of Babu Parameswaran (vocal), Nellai D Kannan (mridangam) and Eswar Ramakrishnan (violin).   

The tour included an evening in the Boston area on November 1st. I pounced at the first opportunity to reserve tickets and couldn't wait for the evening to arrive. And what an evening it was! In Boston, the troupe was joined by another senior disciple of the Dhananjayans, Sangeetha Vijaya Sarathy.  The program began with the invocatory item, Natyaanjali, a nritta piece that was performed to perfection by all four dancers of the evening. This was one of the first items that was introduced when the dance school was founded in 1968.  

The second item was "Sri Rama Pattabhiska Bhangam," which depicted the central piece of the Ramayana, wherein Kuni connives with Kaikeyi to crown Bharatha as the king of Ayodhya and send Rama to the forest for 14 years. Padmarani Rasiah was superb in her role as Kuni, maintaining that hunchback all through the dance while enthralling the audience with her abhinaya. I have heard Ramayana a gazillion times before, but for the first time through Shantha Dhananjayan’s performance, I was able to feel the overflowing affection that Kaikeyi had for Lord Rama, her sense of insecurity as Kuni explains why she should feel anger and not affection, and her determination to stick to her plot even as Dasaratha falls down on his knees. Naatyaachaarya Dhananjayan's performance as Dasaratha only made the story complete as he beautifully portrayed Dasaratha's emotional turmoil as he is torn between keeping up his promises to Kaikeyi and the love for his first-born. The dance was followed by a brief intermission.  

The second half of the program began with "Mayilvaahana Mohanam" by Padmarani Rasiah. Every mudra, every jathi, every eye movement was delivered immaculately, something that comes from rigorous practice and unwillingness to compromise. Guru Dhananjayan was clearly the star of the evening with his performance of "Varugalaamo Ayya" from Nandanaar. In this padam, he enacted a whole gamut of emotions; joy, pain, anger, helplessness, but most of all ardent devotion for Lord Shiva. I am not exaggerating when I say that the performance left some members of the audience brimming with tears.   

The second last dance was for a bhajan performed by Shantha Dhananjayan. The program concluded with a well choreographed thillana executed by guru Dhananjayan and his disciples.  

It was a delight to witness the legendary dancers and their disciples perform with such passion and pure devotion for the art form, defying the limitations of their age. I thought to myself that the next time I huff and puff after a 10 minute Swarajathi, I should know better than blaming it on my age. As I left the auditorium, my heart was filled with gratification and my mind ignited with inspiration.