वीणा वादन तत्वज्ञः, श्रुति जाति विशारदः।
तालज्ञश्चाप्रयासेन, मोक्ष मार्गं नियच्छति।।
“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.
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
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 Selangai, 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 Maharajji.. 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.
This legendary dancer would make us all awed with goosebumps from the very instant he took to stage. I remember meeting him at an event where late Sunil Kothariji introduced me as disciple of Guru Kalayanasundaram. Panditji immediately recollected doing a Juagalbandhi with veteran Gurus wherein Masterji had also performed for a change. They had a great rapport. Thereafter, I recollect when Shashwatiji informed her Guru, the great Maharajji 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 Maharajji 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 and dancer Susmita Chatterjee
“My salutes to the doyen of Kathak, Padma Vibhushan Pandit Birju Maharaj who was the torch bearer of 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 Brij mohan 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 occasion of meeting him on several occasions in Delhi, over 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 be 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.
“Birju Maharaj is a doyen, a legend and with his demise an era comes to an end. A great Guru who pervaded the field of classical dance forms for over 7 decades, he leaves behind an inimitable legacy. Katha means story and kathakar is a storyteller. The tradition of story- telling is as old as humanity and pervades all ancient cultures all over the world. Kathak dance started as delivering devotional stories through the medium of dance until 12-13 centuries. Later it was influenced by the Muslim invasion and transformed into a romantic and erotic form of dance for about 5 centuries. Nawab of Lucknow Vajid Alisha (1822-1877) renovated and resurrected it to its original pristine glory under the tutelage of Gurus Durga prasad and Thakore Prasad who were ancestors of Birju Maharaj. Their family tree begins with Guru Eswara Prasad ji of 1700 with Birju Maharaj belonging to the seventh generation of this great legacy. Birju Maharaj ji’s contribution may be listed as below.
- He refined and redefined Kathak and gave it a new direction and purpose.
- He created a pedagogy for the teachers for all times to come
- He has enriched the field of Bollywood dance and gave it an indelible classical touch working along with great legends like Satyajit Roy to Madhuri Dixit.
- He has expanded the repertoire of kathak and included many lyrics hither to unknown to this form of dance
- He groomed a galaxy of disciples to carry on his legacy as a choreographer, teacher and musician par excellence.
- He paved the way for Jugalbandis and interaction between different classical dances.
- His demise leaves a vacuum. I used to fondly address him as Pandit ji”- Dr. Pappuvenugopala Rao, SNA awardee