The kathak legend died at the age of 83 on January 17. While Birju Maharaj had danced his way into people's hearts and been widely feted, he was a man of many parts and had varied interests.
Birju Maharaj, the Kathak legend and one of the most popular performing artistes in the country, died at his home in the early hours of January 17. He was 83.
The artiste was suffering from a kidney disorder and had been under dialysis treatment for the last month, his granddaughter Ragini Maharaj told news agency PTI, adding that he probably died of a cardiac arrest.
The Padma Vibhushan recipient is survived by three daughters, two sons an five grandchildren.
Birju Maharaj was born Brij Mohan Nath Mishra on February 4, 1937 into Lucknow’s renowned family of Kathak dancers. Apart from him, all other babies born in that hospital on that day were girls. He was, therefore, named Brij Mohan, which is also another name for Lord Krishna. Birju Maharaj comes from a family of Kathak artistes. His ancestors were residents of Handia in Allahabad. In the year 1800, there were 989 families of Kathak artistes living in Handia region, which even now is said to have a Kathak pond, BBC reported.
Birju Maharaj trained under his father, Acchan Maharaj, and his uncles, Shambhu and Lacchu Maharaj, from the age of four and gave his first performance at the age of seven in ‘Nawaabaon Ka Shahar’ (Lucknow). His father and guru passed away when he was nine years old. By age 14, Birju Maharaj had started working at Sangeet Bharati Vidyalaya in Delhi for a salary of Rs 150 a month. He later moved to Kathak Kendra (Delhi) where he made great dance ballets. Birju Maharaj is also the torchbearer of the Kalka-Bindadin Gharana of Lucknow.
Awards and recognition
Birju Maharaj was a recipient of the Padma Vibhushan (1986), the second-highest civilian award in India. He has also received the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award, Soviet Land Nehru Award, the Kalidas Samman and Bharat Muni Samman. The Banaras Hindu University and Khairagarh University conferred him honorary doctorates. For his contribution to the film industry, Birju Maharaj was honoured with the National Film Award for best choreography for Vishwaroopam (2012) and the Filmfare Award for best choreography for Bajirao Mastani (2016).
If not a dancer…
Talking to ANI about her grandfather, Ragini said the maestro loved gadgets. “He always said, if not a dancer, he'd have been a mechanic,” she said.
Apart from being a legendary dancer, Birju Maharaj was also a classical singer and had lent his voice to several Hindi movies. Thumri, bhajan, dadra and ghazals were his strength, The Times of India reported. Birju Maharaj also choreographed, composed music and sang in Satyajit Ray’s Shatranj ke Khiladi (1977).
He loved to play musical instruments like tabla, dholak, pakhawak and sitar, BBC reported. He was a painter and wrote poetry as well.
Chaat-golgappa and films
According to disciple Bhaswati Mishra, in his last days Birju Maharaj did a lot of painting and wrote poems.
She said the guru enjoyed eating chaat-golgappa and was also very fond of betel nut.
Apart from his love for Hindi movies, Birju Maharaj enjoyed watching Hollywood flicks. Jackie Chan and Sylvester Stallone were reportedly his favourite Hollywood actors, The Times of India said.
By his own admission, actor Madhuri Dixit was Birju Maharaj’s favourite from the Hindi film industry. He had worked with the actor in the movies Dil Toh Pagal Hai, Devdas and Dedh Ishqiya.
(Edited by : Shoma Bhattacharjee)
First Published: IST