Kathak maestro and a legend, Pandit Birju Maharaj, 83, passed away at his home late Sunday night. Popularly known as Maharaj Ji, he was reportedly playing with his grandchildren at home when his health suddenly deteriorated.
He was soon rushed to the hospital where he died of a heart attack.
Apart from being a Padham Vibhushan recipient, Maharaj Ji also won the National Award for choreographing ‘Unnai Kaanadhu Naan’ in the Kamal Haasan multi-lingual megahit ‘Vishwaroopam’ and the Filmfare Awards for the Bajirao Mastani number ‘Mohe Rang Do Laal’.
The legendary dancer inspired the entire nation with his Lucknow Kalka-Bindadin Gharana.
Reportedly, the Kathak exponent had been suffering from a kidney ailment and was under treatment for the past month.
Born in 1938 to a family of Kathak devotees and performers, Birju Maharaj belonged to the iconic Kalka-Bindadin Gharana of Lucknow. He learned Kathak under the influence of his three gurus — his two uncles and his father.
He will be remembered by cinema buffs for the two-period dance sequences in Satyajit Ray’s historical drama ‘Shatranj Ke Khiladi’ (for which he sang as well) and for the ‘Kaahe Chhed Mohe’ track picturized on Madhuri Dixit in the 2002 version of ‘Devdas’.
As the news broke, Adnan Sami was one of the first artists to pay his tributes through a tweet: “Extremely saddened by the news about the passing away of Legendary Kathak Dancer Pandit Birju Maharaj ji. We have lost an unparalleled institution in the field of the performing arts. He has influenced many generations through his genius. May he rest in peace,” he tweeted.
Another early tribute came from Union Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, who tweeted: “Pandit Birju ji Maharaj was a doyen of India’s art and culture. He popularised the Lucknow Gharana of Kathak dance form around the world. … His passing away is a monumental loss to the world of performing arts.”
Besides, Prime Minister Narendra Modi also expressed his deep sense of grief over the passing away of a legendary Kathak dancer.
In a tweet, the Prime Minister termed the passing away of the renowned Kathak dancers ‘an irreparable loss to the entire art world ‘.
The Prime Minister said he was very pained to learn about the death of Pandit Birju Maharaj who gave the Indian form of dance (Kathak) a special identity at the global stage.
“My sympathies are with his near and dear ones and admirers in this hour of grief. Om Shanti,” the Prime Minister tweeted.
President Ramnath Kovind tweeted, “The demise of legendary Pandit Birju Maharaj marks the end of an era. It leaves a deep void in the Indian music and cultural space. He became an icon, making unparalleled contribution to popularise Kathak globally. Condolences to his family and admirers.”
Famous actor Kamal Haasan paid a heart-warming tribute. Taking to Twitter, the actor posted a picture of Maharaj ji training him and actress Andrea for ‘Unnai Kaanaadhu…’, the famous song from ‘Vishwaroopam’, the first line of which when translated, reads, “I am not myself today as a result of being unable to see you.”
The actor concluded his tweet with the lines of the song for which he trained under Maharaj ji, saying: “A legend who dedicated his life to music and dance, ‘I am not myself today as a result of being unable to see you’.”
On a personal note, Madhuri Dixit remembered the lighter side of Maharaj ji, whose hallmark was his infectious smile. The actress tweeted: “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 abhinaya but never failed to make me laugh at his funny anecdotes.”
Birju Maharaj’s mastery of the dance form had also won him the coveted Sangeet Natak Akademi Award, Sangam Kala Award, Andra Ratna, Soviet Land Nehru Award, and Rajiv Gandhi Sadbhavana Award.
He had also opened up his own Kathak academy, named ‘Kalashram School of Dance & Music’, based in New Delhi. Kalashram focuses on imparting training in the field of Kathak and associated disciplines.