Born In: Varanasi
Indian dancer Birju Maharaj was a master of the Kalka-Bindadin gharana of Kathak dance, a leading exponent of the dance form. Born in the house of a prominent Kathak dancer, Jagannath Maharaj, the young Briju Maharaj was destined to follow in his father’s footsteps and make a name for himself as one of the foremost dancers in the genre, in India. Brilliant from a young age, he began reciting complex tihais and tukras as a toddler. Recognizing his son’s potential, his father began training him. Birju Maharaj proved to be an enthusiastic learner who decided early on to dedicate his life to the development of the Kathak dance form. The untimely death of his father came as a massive blow to the boy. However, he continued to receive training from his equally talented uncles and began teaching dance at the Sangeet Bharti in New Delhi when he was just 13. He soon gained a reputation as a notable dance teacher and eventually became the Head of Faculty and director at the Kathak Kendra (a unit of the Sangeet Natak Akademi) from where he retired, in 1998. Following his retirement he opened his own dance school, Kalashram. He also choreographed Kathak dance sequences in some Bollywood movies.
Also Known As: Brijmohan Mishra, Pandit Birju Maharaj
Died At Age: 83
father: Acchan Maharaj
mother: Amma ji Maharaj
children: Deepak Maharaj, Jaikishan Maharaj, Mamta Maharaj
Born Country: India
place of death: Delhi
City: Varanasi, India
awards: 2013 - National Film Award for Best Choreography - Vishwaroopam - Filmfare Award for Best Choreography
2016 - Bajirao Mastani
1964 - Sangeet Natak Akademi Award for Dance - Kathak
Birju Maharaj started teaching dance at the tender age of 13, at the Sangeet Bharti in New Delhi. Eventually he moved to the Bharatiya Kala Kendra in Delhi. After a few years, he began teaching at the Kathak Kendra (a unit of the Sangeet Natak Akademi) where he was Head of Faculty and director.
He retired from the Kathak Kendra in 1998 and proceeded to open his own dance school, Kalashram. As a dance teacher, he believed in continually learning new things. For him, classical dance was one of the ways to connect with the divine. Hence it is called a sadhana.
He was of the view that a dancer who knows singing and has an adequate knowledge of musical instruments will greatly enrich his art. Meditation and yoga are also important for a dancer. The Kathak dance form especially needs a lot of breath control, strength and stamina.
A renowned choreographer, he also worked in Bollywood films. He composed the music, and sang, for two dance sequences in the Satyajit Ray's ‘Shatranj ke Khilari’ and has also choreographed Kathak dance sequences in ‘Dedh Ishqiya’ as well as ‘Umrao Jaan’, and ‘Bajirao Mastani’ directed by Sanjay Leela Bhansali.
In addition to being a dancer and a choreographer, he was also an accomplished singer well-known for his renditions of thumris and dadras (forms of classical vocal music). He was also talented at playing the tabla, and the violin.
Birju Maharaj was the leading exponent of the Lucknow Kalka-Bindadin gharana of Kathak dance, and was the founder of the dance school Kalashram in Delhi which focuses on imparting training in the field of Kathak and associated disciplines. At the school, he used the traditional parameters to choreograph new presentations as he aspired to convey to the audience that even classical style can be very appealing, interesting and dignified.
Birju Maharaj was honored with Padma Vibhushan in 1986.
He was also the recipient of Sangeet Natak Akademi Award and the Kalidas Samman.
In 2002, he received the Lata Mangeshkar Puraskaar.
Birju Maharaj had five children: three daughters and two sons. Three of his children, Mamta Maharaj, Deepak Maharaj and Jai Kishan Maharaj are also noted Kathak dancers in their own rights.
Birju Maharaj died of a heart attack on on 17 January 2022, at the age of 83, at his residence in Delhi.
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