If someone has considered Pt Birju Maharaj only as a Kathak Guru, then stay for a while. Believe me, this understanding is going to be proved wrong as you continue to read and grow. Because he is certainly not just a Kathak guru, but a ‘complete artist’ in his own right. He has tried to touch almost every dimension of art within the radius of his age of 84 years. For example, the essential condition associated with dance is a complete understanding of song, music, rhythm and cadence. And Pandit Birju Maharaj assimilated these four organs from his childhood.
Father Achhan (Pandit Jagannath) Maharaj and uncles Shambhu Maharaj and Lachhan Maharaj, all were proficient in Kathak. Therefore, there was an atmosphere of singing and playing in the house beforehand. So, it is no wonder that Birju (Brijmohan Nath Mishra) became friends with the tabla and harmonium at an early age. That is, from both rhythm, cadence and music. Film songs started in that period. First of all, he sang film songs while playing with the children of the locality. But in such a direct and direct tone that people would have been happy and rewarded. Then the age of 7 years or more would be there, then the formal education of dance started from the father. Such that in his own words ‘lasting till the last breath of his life.’
Its next dimension is singing and instrumentalism. It is not considered mandatory for a dancer to be proficient in these two disciplines, usually. But when it comes to personalities like Birju Maharaj, then these disciplines become mandatory for them and they for these disciplines. So, Birju Maharaj also became proficient not only in Hindustani classical singing but also in instrumental music. He played many instruments like Tabla, Pakhawaj, Harmonium, as well as other artists.
And if you want to listen to his singing, then there is internet. After a little investigation, a video of ‘Bhairavi’ sung by him is found. This is someone 2 years old. If the eyes are not moist after watching and listening to that video, then what is the matter. He also sang Thumri, Dadra, Bhajan etc. with great gusto. and dance? Just like while sleeping, waking up, eating and drinking, while walking, he kept on walking all the time. Giving an interview to someone, with every gesture, his gestures would be as if the dance was going on. Even while singing, the dance continues by telling gestures with every gesture. There is no need to get up and tie the ghungroo. The dance continues even when someone is playing an instrument. Some are writing or drawing pictures, too. Yes, these are also included in the proven disciplines of ‘Maharaj ji’ (those who know him have given him this name).
Synthesis of ‘Literature and Painting’
Means dance, song, music even though they were inherited from generations. But what came in his hands after that was his earning. For example – painting or painting. As a child, he used to make pictures on the walls of houses and neighborhoods with coal. Would get killed. But this fear did not leave this mode. Rather, instead of coal, he again took the journey. Then as if trembling feet on the stage. In the same way, after coming home, he was waving on the canvas. If I wanted to, I would also write beautiful poems. For example, once I went to Vrindavan, I wrote some lines for Krishna’s flute.
‘I am the wood of the forest, not the crow,
The balance of Ghanshyam’s light, brother is very priceless.’
And the other…
‘Once upon a time, don’t bet and sleep,
Gopi Muskaat Bhain Nirkhat is amazing son.
Radha stood by Kanha’s loving breath,
Bansi Risian Gayi Bolat Hai Siam Son.
Because of not betting, the mind was lost,
Kanha kar jore Thane asks hai Murli son.
See, tell Kanha’s bansi is right,
Baji Re Baji, then Baji, then Siam Son.
Krishna’s Kathak, Krishna’s dance and his own audience
For Maharaj ji, dancing was not a way of doing anything, it was a way of being. After tying the Ghungroo on the feet, they would become so united with it that it would have been difficult to separate the two from each other. Kathak is said to be the dance of Shri Krishna. Perhaps that is why as soon as he was ready to dance, Maharaj would say, ‘Lord, you dance, we will see’. And then the people sitting in front of the stage would just keep watching.
File-tale-like experiments always, even in learning and teaching
Whoever fully assimilates any discipline, what should be the fear of anyone. What a hesitation That is why Pandit Birju Maharaj starts teaching dance from the age of just 13, without panic. He also served Sarkar as a dance guru in the Kathak center of Sangeet Natak Akademi. During that time an experiment was done in dance. Titled, ‘File Story’. Means the story of government files. Told ghungroos on the stage how government files are drafted. Typewriters were heard on the sound of tabla and slogans for strikes in the office. While teaching in the same way, no third or piece is being made from any disciple. If upset, then told him, ‘Think, in what rhythm the body is shaking while driving the boat. Do it again.’ And in just a few minutes that third of the disciple was ready.
Amjad Khan was also taught to dance in films
The thing is from 1977. Satyajit Ray made a film ‘Chess player’. Amjad Khan, who often played the role of a villain, became the Nawab of Awadh, Wajid Ali. It is to the credit of Nawab Wajid Ali that he brought Durga Prasad Thakur, the ancestor of Pandit Birju Maharaj, from Handia, Allahabad (now Prayagraj) to Lucknow during his time. He was given shelter as a dancer in the court. Therefore, Satyajit Ray thought it better to entrust the choreography of the film to Pt. Birju Maharaj. Maharaj ji also did not disappoint. In the film, not only did his disciple Shashwati dance, Amjad Khan was also taught to dance because Nawab Wajid Ali was also fond of dancing. Not only this, Maharaj ji showed his singing skills along with choreography for the first time in the film.
If the heroine wears full clothes, she will teach and Madhuri Dixit becomes her favorite.
Many film directors tried to associate Pt. Birju Maharaj with them for their films. But Maharaj ji was the Gharanadar (Kalka-Bindadin Gharana of Kathak). His first condition would have been, ‘Heroine will wear full clothes, talk with her eyes. Will act well Only then will you teach. And later on these parameters, Madhuri Dixit became his favorite actress. Because she also knows the nuances of Kathak. When Deepika Padukone came to learn dance from him for a song in ‘Bajirao Mastani’, Maharajji taught her on similar terms.
Antakshari for sports and also modern gadgets
The games of Pandit Birju Maharaj were also interesting. They kept playing like toys with all the gadgets like new coming mobiles, iPads in the market. Even while using them and de-coding them. Then if he got time, Antakshari remained his favorite sport. Don’t miss out on using it. He would often baffle the minds of his companions by singing a poem written by him to the tune of a film song. And I have heard that just after playing Antakshari, everyone’s mind has gone away, leaving them confused. The wood of the forest, attached to the lips of Ghanshyam, became priceless and got absorbed in them.