Different Dialogues : Dr Janaki Rangarajan - Co-founder of Kalashraya, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to the promotion and protection of Indian Classical arts.

Educational Background:  PhD in Molecular Genetics.


Professional Background:  Bharatanatyam exponent, dancer, choreographer.


Awards / Accolades

  • Nadanamamani - Shriram Award of Excellence awarded by Kartik Fine Arts, Chennai, India.
  • Yagnaraman Award of Excellence awarded by Sri Krishna Gana Sabha, Chennai, India.
  • Vasanthalakshmi-Narasimhachari Award awarded by Narada Gana Sabha, Chennai, India.
  • Rohini Krishnan Endowment Prize (Guru KJ Sarasa Memorial Award) awarded by Sri Krishna Gana Sabha, Chennai, India.
  • NCA Excellence Award awarded by Nungambakkam Cultural Academy Trust, Chennai, India.
  • Sathya Nrithya Sundaram awarded by Bharatanjali Trust, Chennai, India.
  • Nritya Shiromani awarded by Utkal Yuva Sanskrutik Sangh, Cuttack, India.
  • Singar Mani awarded by Sur Singar Samsad, Mumbai, India.

How I met Dr Janaki Rangarajan was purely through BHAWA in Dubai-UAE – where under the canopy of Natyanjali, the classical dance Bharatanatyam, was being performed showcasing the theme of ‘shishyas’ and ‘gurus’ – disciples and the masters.


When I was invited by the organizers of BHAWA to come for Natyanjali evening, I had no doubt that the general level of the whole program would be solid and enjoyable. A good event establishes itself through the people who organize the show. I, from my experience, knew some of the BHAWA ladies who are doing wonderful work in bonding the community in Dubai by getting children and their families to be a distinct group which is art-performance-minded. And a further reason for my praise for them is their selection in bringing a celebrated Bharatanatyam exponent, Dr Janaki Rangaranjan on their eloquent stage.

I was clear about the influence of Dr Janaki Rangarajan’s performance on the evening of 22nd January 2016 in Dubai.  I cannot forget the impact she had on her audience.  I know, there are enough people who must have written about the talented performer, and she is on the high-list of being placed on the international level.  This is so because her talent seems unlimited.  For instance, take her recent performance in Dubai – where the whole atmosphere in the auditorium was a mixture of praise and awe. 


Janaki’s style, her dances had captured something within me.  I think it also came about because my interest in how talented people carry themselves and speak respecting tradition – is a very important thing for me.  Ultimately, all other points don’t matter.  What I mean is that my experience lives on – first with the ‘nature’ of the person.  If that experience gets rolling, the exchange of other ideas will follow in an organized system.  This is exactly how the pattern of communication between Janaki and me evolved. 


The next afternoon, when Janaki and I decided to meet, our meeting exceeded what we had imagined it to be.  I am quite sure that this is not an exaggerated statement.  So, here we were in a coffee café – sipping our beverages and giving a lot of thought on how we would exchange some of our futuristic ideas. 


Janaki’s introduction to the world of Bharatanatyam began when she was only four years of age.  Her earliest tutelage was under Shrimati Madhavi Chandra Sekhar in Trichy, India.  By the time Janaki was seven, Dr Padma Subrahmanyam in Chennai began to give her the dance training.  Since Janaki’s father’s job demanded frequent transfers, she was put in the care of her dadi – paternal grandmother.   Janaki speaks of her dadi with warmth and admiration.  ‘I had a strict upbringing.  My grandmother raised me with her iron-willed nature.  She wanted my growth.  It was she who took me for the dance classes.  In my time, there was no technology to lean on, and so one had to pay extra attention and get ahead with the studies.’


‘How do you conduct your programs, what are the characteristics?’  I asked Janaki.  She replied, ‘It varies where I am performing.  In Chennai-India, I do not have to give much of an introduction because people are aware of the ‘piece’ I am about to perform.  In Europe, I have to give a proper explanation.  In India also, you have to do so – it depends, so that the audience is in a comfortable zone.  You just have to figure it out.’


Janaki’s performances have taken her across the world.  She is based in Virginia-USA but spends half of the time travelling to Europe or India or wherever she is asked to perform.  She is not only an accomplished dancer, she is a choreographer with a dazzling imagination.  She tells me, ‘I need to research on the audience, too.  I have to understand the culture of the people who come to watch me.  In Europe, they want traditional.  I place a list of choice to the organizers.’  She smiles softly and says, ‘In France, they will not stop clapping.  It is a very suggestive way to say – please dance more!  The claps are their words.’ 


I can tell that I am hearing someone whose heart is filled with devotion… a ceaseless devotion pervading her whole life… to pursue Bharatanatyam… that reveals the spiritual through the physical and emotional body.  Bharatanatyam is a classical dance form originating in Tamil Nadu-India.  It follows the rules of Natyashastra, which is an ancient Indian treatise on the performing arts, capturing theatre, dance and music written between 200 B.C. and 200 A.D.  The classical dance is known for its grace, expression, elegance and purity.  Lord Krishna, Rama, Shiva are depicted in the dances, and so are the Indian female goddesses.  To watch Janaki doing her solo performance, her sculpturesque movements seemed as if they possess the beauty originating from divinity!


I am not surprised that Janaki is creating waves, and I can imagine with ease that her reputation will keep touching new peaks of pride.  With great fondness she tells me, ‘I don’t know any other dance.  Bharatanatyam is in my breath – hands down.’  Her words sound like a sacred confession.  ‘For me, the norm has always been to go on learning.  During my school years, with my Gurus and the group, I was always on the learning curve.  This helped me later.’  Janaki pauses for a moment and says, ‘The final nuances of life can only be experienced through good art.  Don’t you think so?’ She puts the question to me, and explains further her expression of thought.  ‘Take a piece of poetry, or, see a canvas, or watch a good film.  All of these can make us value our lives – even more.’  Hearing the talented lady, I held my breath, thinking, the soul of artists is truly special.  Their freedom of feelings is freer than all freedoms.  Poets, actors, dancers, they are the tallest – because they have fire of passion in them to ignite realms of creativity in them.


As we sipped our coffee and hot chocolate, I asked about her typical routine in Virginia.  Janaki reflects and then says, ‘As I said earlier, I’m out on tours for 6 to 8 months in a year.  It is not continuous.  I go up and down’.  I learn that Janaki has a lovely daughter – who is 8 years old.  Her husband, Aneal and she organize their schedules in such a way that one parent is always with the child.  Janaki tells me, ‘My husband understands that I am not the run-of-the-mill-type.  My husband understands the kind of space I need for my dance.’


The precision of Janaki’s ambition matches her burning devotion for her career.  Critics have given her bouquets of compliments.  I agree with the critics.  Janaki is “an absolutely brilliant performer”, “one of the best today”, “stunning and exemplary”.  Among others:  The New York Times hails her performance as a “spellbinder”


Janaki is the co-founder of Kalashraya, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to the promotion and protection of Indian Classical Arts.


Actually, Janaki’s doctorate comes from her PhD in Molecular Genetics which is why she came to USA.  Through all her years of studying, she was also pursuing dancing.  Finally, she realized her “passion” would be her profession.


It was in 2004 that Janaki took the bold leap to switch her profession to pursue Bharatanatyam.  She cannot forget that time of change. She says, ‘I had decided to give my 100% to dance.  Art is such a profession that it cannot give you financial stability, all at once.’  She continues, ‘In my case, the Cosmic Power was very kind to me.’


Janaki reflects on her childhood days as I am keen to know more of her dadi who brought her to this position.  She says, ‘No one can take her place.  She moulded my life, she made me strong.  I can’t tell you in words. Now the grand lady is well for her age of ninety. I go to see her in Chennai.’ 


What is a typical day in Virginia for Janaki?  A typical day will carry hard work of training.  The day will dictate to Janaki to do various things to keep up the agility of her mind, body and soul.  Apart from vigorous dance-practice, the dancer must read and research to put new elements into being for a production.  Music compositions have to be thought of, designing of her costumes, planning the effective way to add light and shadow – and all the rest of the aesthetic features have to be strung together to give the required radiance for Janaki’s performance.  Sometimes there are language barriers which have to be cleared to understand the script of the theme which Janaki is going to adopt for her musical production.  In order to complete the canvas, Janaki has to work with a team of consultants. 


Janaki says, ‘Poetry moves me the most.  It depends on the kind of poetry I want to bring into my production.  I love Sufi poetry’.


Reinforced by the tone of our afternoon meeting, the persuasiveness of time was also compelling us to match the pressing schedule of Janaki.  She had a flight to catch by late mid-night, but before that she had work to do – people to meet. 


However, the vision I had shared with the accomplished artist was unlikely to get erased from my mind.  I was thinking: if we are meant to accomplish what we have shared, the vitality of our mental movements will translate in the future – into a concrete shape.  The seeds of my faith had been sown, and in my own manner of beliefs – I understood that if we were meant to accomplish what we had discussed… the Cosmic Power will make it happen! As mortals, we must do our best with the best of intentions. 


I remember reading many times that poets, singers, dancers, film-makers and those people who are into the creative art forms are extremely close to God.  With their performing acts they have already entered the sanctum of divinity which is regally structured around them to enhance their expressions.  I like to believe this!


Therefore, for me, the dialogue with Janaki did not end as we left the coffee café.  I think for both of us the opportunity of using our common base with poetry and dance is inviting us to newer pastures.  Through poetry and dance, we might succeed in imparting important social messages for social causes within our societies.

Q 1. What has been the turning point of your life?
A. To be able to take the decision to pursue my passion, my dance as a profession and go ahead with it no matter what!

Q 2. If you could go back in time, what would you want to do?
A. I do not want to go back in time. There are many mistakes I have made and sometimes I wish I had better guidance but these mistakes have made me strong and who I am today. It has been a good life so far and I am grateful for it.

Q 3. What are your future dreams?
A. To be able to devote myself completely in the service of under-privileged and challenged children.

For further information on Dr Janaki Rangarajan, check website: www.janakirangarajan.com

Geeta Chhabra

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