BIRJU MAHARAJ - Kathak colossus
The Lucknow gharana of Kathak is Pandit Birju Maharaj’s birthright. He is the grandson of Kalka Maharaj – who, with his brother Bindadin Maharaj, became a rare Kathak jewel in the court of Nawab Wajid Ali Shah. He is the only son of Achhan Maharaj, the eldest of three geniuses born to Kalka Maharaj, and the nephew of the legendary Lachhu Maharaj and his younger brother Shambhu Maharaj. He represents the seventh generation of Kathak luminaries in a lineage traced from Ishwari Prasad, the founder of the tradition.
Birju Maharaj was born in 1938. It was a watershed year when Kathak, like other dances, was facing vanishing royal patronage. Performers like tawaifs and bais were on their last legs, and the fervour of nationalism was triggering a new generation of aspirants on a journey of rediscovering their lost Indian identity, eager to know about and learn traditional dance forms.
By a quirk of destiny, Birju Maharaj came to be the right man at the right place in 1953, when Kapila Vatsyayan (then Kapila Malik) brought him from Lucknow to Delhi to teach at the Hindustani School of Music and Dance (later named Sangeet Bharati). Much water had flowed under the bridge by then. Young Birju, not a stranger to Delhi, had as a seven year-old accompanied his father Achhan Maharaj, when Nirmala Joshi invited him to teach at the same school. Kapila Malik, Leela Kripalani, G.R.Gupta and Usha Bhatia were among those who enrolled as students.
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