A tribute to the Kathak Samrat
- Padmaja Suresh
January 19, 2022
"Veenā vādana tattvagnyaḥ śruti, jāti, viśaradaḥ
tālagnyaścāprayāsena mokśa mārgaṃ niyacchati"
Yajnavalkya in his 'smriti' (literature on music) says - The one who is well versed in veena, who has the knowledge of musical tones and adept in rhythm - would attain salvation effortlessly.
Self - realization cannot be reduced to a biological function. A Sādhaka [an aspirant who puts efforts], may fail in arriving at this highest goal, using merely the intellect. Whereas, putting on the dancing bells - the Ghungroos or Salangai, the efforts get beautifully simplified. The music starts, the movement gathers momentum, accelerates and one cannot hold on to any gnawing desire any further as one merges like the wave would do, with the ocean. The feet act instinctively, spontaneously, the tinkling bells ring loud on their divine journey, like the bells at the altar.
The biological heart no longer belonged to the dancer as he became someone else, felt the character within the role-playing, to perform myriad emotions. As he kept fleeting across the entire being, he swung his arms delicately, turned to strike a pose, swirled, stretched and stamped his feet swiftly in perfect rhythm, enacting the moods and stories. Being flushed out of egoistic tendencies, the 'Anand' landed spontaneously into him and all around him. Panditji...Birju Maharaj-ji.. now continues to dance in the world of stars and plays in the astral realm. His whole being has become the final Shanta Rasa for this life. When this happens anytime anywhere, it remains the only truth of absorption; that which is passionately performed as the dance of creation on stage. The infinite constantly encircles all the finite contained in the world drama that is danced.
Guru Kalyanasundaram & Pt Birju Maharaj
This legendary dancer would make us all awed with goosebumps from the very instant he took to the stage. I remember meeting him at an event where late Dr.Sunil Kothari introduced me as disciple of Guru Kalyanasundaram. Panditji immediately recollected doing a jugalbandhi with veteran Gurus wherein Masterji had also performed for a change. They had a great rapport. Thereafter, I recollect when Saswati Sen informed her Guru about the topic of my research when I was interviewing stalwarts on the relevance of Tantra in Natya. It seems he remarked that the topic nailed the deeper meaning of dance. Panditji was also a wonderful singer with a strong grip over Thumri, Dadra, Bhajan and Ghazals. He was a sensitive poet too and a captivating orator. His constant attempt to take Kathak to a whole new level fructified when he managed to make people take note of this dance. His uncles, Lachhu Maharaj and Shambhu Maharaj, also guided him in learning Kathak. At the age of thirteen, he was invited to Delhi to teach at Sangeet Bharati. As I pray to the Almighty for blessings on the last journey of one of the greatest artistes the world has ever seen, I share the feelings of a few others herewith.
"Today I am shocked that Maharaj-ji is no more with us. I couldn't believe that the person who was so close to me has left... I have no words that can express how desolate I am feeling because it's hard to say goodbye to him. I shall always miss him. I am lucky that I was his student and am proud of it because he was a legend. I don't believe that he is gone; rather he will always be in our hearts forever. May his soul rest in peace."
- Disciple Susmita Chatterjee
"My salutes to the doyen of Kathak who was the torchbearer of the Lucknow Gharana. A complete artist who excelled in dancing, composing, singing and percussion. He has trained numerous students across the globe and won their hearts. Maharaj-ji transported his audience to another realm. He interacted with them and held their attention by narrating stories and anecdotes. I had the great fortune of learning from the maestro himself at a Kathak workshop. His spirit and legacy will continue to live for eternity"
- Dancer Nandini Mehta
"Pt Brijmohan Nath Mishra fondly called as Birju Maharaj was indeed a true legend who has no parallel. He had a charismatic aura around him which I find very hard to describe. I have had the opportunity of meeting him on several occasions in Delhi, over the past almost four decades. With all his accomplishments as a genius he continued to remain the same down-to- earth person that he was, having started as a young prodigy. Maharaj-ji as we all called him, had grown popular amongst children, youth, art lovers and connoisseurs all alike. Be it a large proscenium or a small Baithak, he mesmerised all. I met him for the first time in Kathak Kendra in 1984, as a researcher working on ' rhythm and music in Mohiniattam.' I vividly remember him playing the pakhawaj and singing while his disciples practised. Keeping a child-like smile, he appeared to be simply lost, mindless of who was around him. Other than conversations when he was attentive, one could feel him drifting away into another space often; perhaps a tune or choreography in his mind. It was from him I understood how a rhythmic pattern could be moulded for attracting the attention of all. Dance and music was his world and innovating through this medium was the breath of his life."
- Dr Deepti Omchery Bhalla, Mohiniattam dancer and scholar
Gurus Kalyanasundaram, Vempati Chinna Satyam, Birju Maharaj, Kelucharan Mohapatra
from the first ever National Integration through Dance in 1986 held in Hyderabad
Pandit Birju Maharaj's demise proclaims undoubtedly, the end of an era when he pervaded the field for over 7 decades. It is an inimitable legacy that he leaves. When Kathak was influenced by the Muslim invasion and transformed into an erotic form of dance for about 5 centuries, it was the Nawab of Lucknow, Wajid Ali Shah, who resurrected its pristine glory under the tutelage of Gurus Durga Prasad and Thakore Prasad. They were the ancestors of Birju Maharaj. Their family tree begins with Guru Eshwara Prasad, Birju Maharaj belonging to the seventh generation. He has redefined Kathak with a new direction and purpose. He has created a pedagogy for posterity. He has also enriched the dance of Bollywood and has expanded the repertoire of Kathak.
It was time to finally rest his powerful feet at the altar of the Lord of Dance..., the resonance continues forever!
Bharatanatyam dancer Dr. Padmaja Suresh is the director of Aatmalaya academy of art and culture trust, Bangalore.
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