Pandit Birju Maharaj, The Maestro Indeed !


Pt Birju Maharaj the doyen of Kathak dancing treated the audience to an amazing and selective repertoire of his Kathak genius. It was indeed an inexplicable experience to watch the well defined rhythmic and graceful moves of the Maestro along with his explanations sprinkled with wit and humour. It was even more endearing as he humbly gave in to the many requests from the audience.

He demonstrated short dance compositions, Tukras.  He explained about rhythmic play with the time-cycle, splitting it into triplets or quintuplets marked by footwork, with the Taal  (beat)on the percussion instrument Tabla, along with beat on the hand using claps and open palms to denote the divisions in the cycle. He likened the Tabla to a male that follows the Ghunghuroo (anklets) the female….their jugalbandhi (duet) proving very significant.

He explained the beauty of nature and how the beautiful nature with its animals provides the basis for the rhythmic time cycles. He said there is ‘Rhythm’ in everything, be it the fluttering of the wings of a bird or the heart beat. He beautifully demonstrated with the beats and ghunghroo the waddling and quacking of a duck, feeding of her fledglings by a mother bird wherein their opening of their mouths to get the feed and the fluttering of the wings of the mother bird is in rhythmic time cycles.

His show of peacock dancing in the rain was impeccable. He even demonstrated a witty dialogue through footwork and action, a dialogue between a lazy person and an active person planning a horse ride.

He acceded to audience request by reciting his poems; also a Tumri of his creation with Abhinaya (facial gestures) and to the delight of the audience sang a Bengali song and a Ghazal.

Saswati Sen his reputed and foremost disciple and overseas dancers Paramita Maitra and Subrata Pandit from Kolkata gave short performances. The dancers were ably supported by musicians and vocalists.

The Singaporean local dancers who had participated in the workshop conducted earlier in the week by Birju Maharaj and Saswati Sen put up two performances Astonayika and Basobdutta based on Rabindrasangeeth.

Padma Vibhushan Birju Maharaj , 75 years, is the leading exponent of the Lucknow gharana of Kathak dance. He is the descendant of the legendary Maharaj family of Kathak dancers, including his two uncles, Shambhu Maharaj and Lachhu Maharaj, and his father and guru, Acchan Maharaj. At the age of 28 years, he received the Sangeet Natak Akademy Award, also several other prestigious awards. He has also been conferred with the Honorary Doctorate degrees from Banaras Hindu University and Khairagarh University. He also has an excellent command over Hindustani classical music and is an accomplished vocalist as well as superb percussionist. He directed and composed music and sung playback for two classical dance sequences in the film, Shatranj Ke Khiladi, 1977 directed by Satyajit Ray. He has done music compositions and dance choreography for movies like Dil To Pagal Hai, 1997, Gadar: Ek Prem Katha, 2001,Devdas, 2002,Vishwaroopam, 2013. He has taken Kathak to new heights by choreographing new Kathak dance dramas. He is also the founder of Kalashram (his dance school in Delhi). He has toured extensively across the globe, given thousands of performances and held hundreds of workshops for Kathak students.

Attendee of this workshop Bhupali Deshpande, a trained Kathak dancer herself said, “With their experience Maharajji and Saswati didi brought out the best in us. They taught the beautiful choreography in very short time. Even some songs were written and composed by Maharjji himself. Maharajji is a nature lover so while teaching he made difficult steps easy citing examples related to nature. Being a perfection oriented person by making every step clear and perfect he never went ahead.”

Ms Saswati Sen was all praise for the Singaporean dancers saying she found them dedicated and enthusiastic.

For Ms Dolly Davenport, organiser, it was a fulfilling experience working with a Maestro. She explained that it was a 9 day workshop with 50 students, with dancers from various genres as well as newcomers to Kathak and the Temple of Fine Arts gave good support. The event was titled ‘Tarana with Tagore’, and was presented by The Tagore Society on March 2nd at the Khoo Auditorium.