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An experience at a Kathak Workshop
by Prasanna Kasthuri, St. Louis, MO, USA

August 15, 2003
It was my senior colleague Satyanarayana Charka, based in New Jersey, who informed about the residential workshop to be conducted by Pundit Birju Maharaj.

Birju Maharaj with Prasanna

Birju Maharaj - lecture

It was a great opportunity to come close to the great master of the Kathak style of Indian dances. It was almost 650 miles driving distance for me from St. Louis to Minneapolis. Initially the long car journey frightened me. But as I went closer to the border of Canada, I became more relaxed. My good friend Bhagavan Doss was kind enough to provide me hospitality for my stay in Minneapolis. Rita Mustaphi, an eminent Kathak dancer and a senior disciple of Pundit Birju Maharaj, was the key organizer who hosted this workshop. The drive to Minneapolis was very comfortable and there were many beautiful spots of scenery on the I 90 and I 94 interstate highways.

Saswathi - lecture

Birju Maharaj on the drums

The residency workshops were divided into two categories - one, a 4-day lecture on Kathak; the second, more practicals, with Kathak dancing. On all the four days we had different topics dealing with the history of Kathak, which ranged from the kathakars of temples to Kathak in the movie industry.

It was very fascinating to listen to the many stories of Punditji's life experiences. There were a couple of light moments, which made the audience laugh.

One of them was his explanation of "tabla". It was a pakhawaj, which was broken into two pieces; even after breaking, the pakhawaj sounded good. Then the musician said "tab bhi bola," which later became "tabla". Maharajji was able supported by Saswathi Sen in every lecture, which added color to the topics.

During the practical session, mostly new tihais and a couple of amads were taught. But most remarkable was the creativity of Punditji on the spot. His expertise on rhythm was impeccable. His inspiration from Mother Nature was incredible. It was great to watch his two students showing graceful minor details of the wrist and edge of the hand movements. I was standing as usual in the corner, but still his eyes were observing me carefully. Saswathi didi was a great teacher. The ideas of Pundit Birju Maharaj were made easier to understand by Saswathi didi. It was a great demonstration of the Guru-Shishya parampara.

On the last day, Birju Maharaj gave a recital where he did some of his old and some new items. His impressive footwork and quick pirouettes excited the audience. His new creations such as LOHA, the story of iron, was proof of his acceptance of the new mindset of people. I had a very small role in it.

All the six days went so fast. I had to leave early. I met them and gave my Guru Poornima gifts to both Pandit Birju Maharaj and Saswathi Sen. I hope they liked what I gave them. Time flew very fast but the memory of this closeness with a great artist will be always green for me.

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