Bhopal: ‘He lent a new direction to kathak, was a great Guru’

City artistes reminiscence about Pt Birju Maharaj

SmitaUpdated: Monday, January 17, 2022, 10:59 PM IST
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Pt. Birju Maharaj's last performance at Karunadham Ashram in Nehru Nagar on December 15, 2015. |

Bhopal (Madhya Pradesh): The artistes here were shocked by the sudden demise of kathak maestro Pandit Birju Maharaj. The 84-year-old Padma Vibhushan awardee had a long association with Bhopal. He had visited city many times as a kathak dancer and as a guru and gave performances at Bharat Bhavan. He was also the trustee of Bhavan from 1986 to 1990.

The state government in 1987 had conferred Kalidas Samman on him. His last performance in Bhopal was at Karunadham Ashram in Nehru Nagar in 2015.

Kathak exponent of Raigarh Gharana, Alpana Vajpeyi, 59, said she learned kathak at Chakradhar Nritya Kendra in Bhopal, which Maharaji used to visit. He took a seven-day workshop in 1985. “We’ve seen him very closely and learned a lot of from him, especially Ang Bhav. I was in touch with Maharaj ji even after training,” she added.

“Tum bahot aage tak jaogi,’ Pt Birju Maharaj had told her after seeing her first performance on Bhimsen Joshi’s thumri, Piya to manat nahi, at Kathak Kendra in New Delhi in 1987. At that time, she was 22.

She said Maharaji used to love Bhopal’s peaceful atmosphere. He liked ‘rabari’ a lot, which she had made it for him when he came to Bhopal last time. “He had command over all elements of kathak. He gave new direction to kathak and introduced ballet in dance form. “It is a great loss. None can fill the void of such exceptional talent,” Alpana Vajpeyi remarked.

Another kathak danseuse of the same Gharana V Anuradha Singh said she had applied for kathak scholarship from Ustad Alauddin Khan Sangeet and Kala Akademi in 1987. Birju Maharaj was then associated with Delhi Kathak Centre. Akademi had called 10 people including him to interview the applicants.

“During the interview, I said I am preparing for pre medical test also. Then, Maharajji said that if you get selected in PMT, you will leave kathak scholarship and seat will become vacant. Then, I promised him that it won't be so,” Anuradha recalled. She cleared PMT and was selected for kathak scholarship but she chose the latter. “It is because of his blessings that I am an established kathak dancer,” Singh said.

Art critic Vinay Upadhyay said he first got a chance to interview Birju Maharaj in 1993. He came to perform at a Spic Macay event at MACT (now MANIT). Upadhyay conducted the concert too. He also got a chance to conduct the function in Bhopal at Karunadham Temple where he performed for the last time in the city. He used to say Bhopal is the city of ‘kala parkhi’. People have a good understanding of art and literature. “He was a versatile artiste and a very good ghazal singer. Aise birle logon ka jana kala jagat ke bade adhyay ka samapt hona hai,” Upadhyay said.

Bharatnatyam dancer Lata Singh Munshi said she got a chance to meet Pt Birju Maharaj when she was learning Bharatnatyam. “Though I didn’t take training from him, I learnt from him how to remain humble and down-to-earth even after reaching such a height,” Munshi added.

Kathak dancer and counsellor Sindhu Dholpure said she participated in two dance workshops of Birju Maharaj in Mumbai in 2017 and 2018. And she learned nazakat (beauty) of Lucknow Gharana from him. “The news of his demise has saddened me. I couldn’t go to meet him due to Covid-19,” Dholpure said.

Condolence meet

A condolence meet was held at Bharat Bhavan on Monday. Director, culture, Aditi Kumar Tripathi, chief administrative officer Prem Shankar Shukla and other officials and staff paid tributes to Pt Birju Maharaj. Culture minister Usha Thakur condoled his demise.

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