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Birju Maharaj dies while playing antakshari with grandchildren

Many from the entertainment fraternity paid glowing tribute, emphasising his warmth, humility and simplicity
Birju Maharaj.
Birju Maharaj.
File photo

Our Special Correspondent   |   New Delhi   |   Published 18.01.22, 12:51 AM

Kathak dancer Birju Maharaj, a Padma Vibhushan awardee who blurred gender norms, passed away while playing antakshari with his grandchildren here on Sunday night. He was 83.

Maharaj, an exponent of the Lucknow gharana, hailed from Handia near Allahabad.


Besides his achievements in dance, he composed the music and sang for two dance sequences in Satyajit Ray’s 1977 film Shatranj ke Khilari.

His death “leaves a deep void in the Indian music and cultural space”, President Ram Nath Kovind tweeted. “He became an icon, making unparalleled contribution to popularise Kathak globally.”

Many from the entertainment fraternity paid glowing tribute, emphasising his warmth, humility and simplicity.

Actor Aditi Rao Hydari wrote on Instagram: “We sat as children right under his nose watching him sing thumris and do Abhinaya. And quite often I fell asleep on my mother’s lap and the music still rings in my ears from that time!

“Chhedo na nand ke sunahoo… the thousand interpretations of that one line, shringaara in every pore of his being…. I realise how lucky I was as a child to have grown up around such greatness, so much humility, and at the core of it all a childlike playfulness.”

Maharaj, born as Dukh Haran in 1938, had his name changed to Brijmohan Nath Mishra. He began dancing at the age of seven. His father Jagannath Mishra, also known as Acchan Maharaj — a court dancer in the Raigarh princely state, now in Chhattisgarh — passed away in 1947.

At the age of 13, Brijmohan moved to Delhi to teach dance at Sangeet Bharati, by which time he had come to be known as Birju Maharaj. He was awarded the Sangeet Natak Akademi award in 1964 and the Padma Vibhushan in 1986.

Maharaj taught at the Bharatiya Kala Kendra and later the Kathak Kendra, which he headed for several years until his retirement in 1998.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted: “Deeply saddened by the demise of Pandit Birju Maharaj ji, who gave Indian dance art a special recognition across the world. His passing is an irreparable loss to the entire art world.”

Congress MP Rahul Gandhi wrote: “His contribution to the field of Indian classical dance is unparalleled and he will be remembered for it.”

Tamil film star and now politician Kamal Haasan tweeted: “For several years, I learned from him, from a distance, as Ekalavya did.. then I got to learn from him in person for the film Vishwaroopam. Without you(r) insight, I’m not who I am.”

Madhuri Dixit Nene, who danced to Maharaj’s choreographs in Kaahe chhed mohe from Devdas and Jagaave saari raina from Dedh Ishqiya, too paid homage.

“He was a legend but had a childlike innocence. He was my guru but also my friend. He taught me the intricacies of dance and Abhinay but never failed to make me laugh at his funny anecdotes,” she wrote on Twitter.

“He has left behind grieving fans and students but also left a legacy we will all carry forward. Thank you Maharajji for everything you taught me in dance along with humility, elegance and grace.”

Sarod maestro Amjad Ali Khan tweeted: “For me it’s been a personal loss. He was loved immensely by my family and his memories live in our hearts forever. The heavens will dance for him today and everyday!”

From the world of cricket, Sachin Tendulkar and Mithali Raj offered their condolences.

Tendulkar tweeted: “Pandit Birju Maharaj took Kathak from India to the world & inspired several people to take up the art…. He will continue to live through his art & artists inspired by him.”

Raj wrote: “A legendary artist and a gem in the Kathak World. The legacy of Pandit Birju Maharaj ji shall keep influencing many in the years to come. May his soul rest in peace. Folded hands.

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