A short note on Brij Mohan Nath Mishra AKA Birju Maharaj's Bio

Shambhu Maharaj at Bhartiya Kala Kendra, later the Kathak Kendra, New Delhi, remained head of the latter, for several years, till his retirement in 1998 when he opened his own dance school, Kalashram, also in Delhi.

A short note on Brij Mohan Nath Mishra AKA Birju Maharaj's Bio

Brij Mohan Nath Mishra, (4 February 1938 – 17 January 2022), popularly known as Pandit Birju Maharaj, was an exponent of the Lucknow Kalka-Bindadin Gharana of Kathak dance in India.

He was a descendant of the Maharaj family of Kathak dancers, which includes his two uncles, Shambhu Maharaj and Lachhu Maharaj, and his father and guru, Acchan Maharaj. He also practised Hindustani classical music and was a vocalist.

After working along with his uncle, Shambhu Maharaj at Bhartiya Kala Kendra, later the Kathak Kendra, New Delhi, he remained head of the latter, for several years, till his retirement in 1998 when he opened his own dance school, Kalashram, also in Delhi.

Early life and background Birju Maharaj was born in the house of Kathak exponent, Jagannath Maharaj, popularly known as Acchan Maharaj of Lucknow Gharana, who served as court dancer in Raigarh princely state.

Awards and honours - Brij Mohan Nath Mishra

  • 1964 - Sangeet Natak Akademi Award
  • 1986 - Padma Vibhushan
  • 1986 - Nritya Choodamani Award by Sri Krishna Gana Sabha
  • 1987 - Kalidas Samman
  • 2002 - Lata Mangeshkar Puraskar
  • Honorary doctorate from Indira Kala Sangeet Vishwavidyalaya
  • Honorary doctorate from Banaras Hindu University
  • Sangam Kala Award
  • Bharat Muni Sammaan
  • Andhra Ratna
  • Nritya Vilas Award
  • Adharshila Shikhar Samman
  • Soviet Land Nehru Award
  • National Nritya Shiromani Award
  • Rajiv Gandhi National Sadbhavana Award

Film Awards - Brij Mohan Nath Mishra

  • 2012 - National Film Award for Best Choreography for Unnai Kaanaathu (Vishwaroopam)
  • 2016 - Filmfare Award for Best Choreography for Mohe Rang Do Laal (Bajirao Mastani)

Birju was trained by his uncles, Lachhu Maharaj and Shambhu Maharaj and his father, and he gave his first recital at the age of seven. On 20 May 1947, his father died when he was nine. Maharaj started teaching the dance form at the age of thirteen, at the Sangeet Bharti in New Delhi.

He then taught at the Bharatiya Kala Kendra in Delhi, and at the Kathak Kendra (a unit of the Sangeet Natak Akademi) where he was Head of Faculty, and director, retiring in 1998 after which he opened his own dance school, Kalashram, also in Delhi.

He composed the music, and sang, for two dance sequences in the Satyajit Ray's Shatranj ke Khilari, and choreographed the song Kaahe Chhed Mohe from the 2002 film version of novella Devdas. Birju Maharaj passed away due to a heart attack on 17 January 2022 at the age of 83 at his residence in Delhi.

THE DANCER: Acchan Maharaj performed at musical conferences all over India and by the age of seven, Birju Maharaj had accompanied him to Kanpur, Allahabad, Gorakhpur, Jaunpur, Dehradun, and even far off places like Madhubani, Kolkata and Mumbai sharing the stage with him.

Birju Maharaj’s first major solo performance was at Manmath Nath Ghosh celebrations in Bengal in the presence of stalwarts of music. He received recognition as a young dancer with great potential. He never looked back after that, his career graph rising steadily.

His solo dances became an integral part of any musical conference of repute and no musical conference was complete without a performance by Pt. Birju Maharaj. Not only in India, he is also known abroad, nearly all over the world.

Even in the early part of his career, he was part of cultural troupes sent abroad by the Government of India to represent India at various festivals. He has extensively toured all over the world i.e.

  • Russia,
  • U.S.A,
  • Japan,
  • U.A.E.,
  • U.K.,
  • France,
  • Germany,
  • Italy,
  • Austria,
  • the Czech Republic,
  • Burma,
  • Sri Lanka, etc.

for performances as well as lecture demonstrations.

He is often called upon to perform at the Rashtrapati Bhavan at special functions and in honour of foreign dignitaries.

A recipient of the country’s second-highest civilian award – Padma Vibhushan - Pt. Birju Maharaj is a living legend and an institution himself.

A measure of his genius is the fact that at the young age of 28 years, he received the Sangeet Natak Academy Award,

besides several other prestigious awards like –

  • Kalidas Samman,
  • Nritya Choodamani,
  • Andhra Ratna,
  • Nritya Vilas,
  • Adharshila Shikhar Samman,
  • Soviet Land Nehru Award,
  • Shiromani Samman,
  • Rajiv Gandhi Peace Award.

He has been conferred with Honorary Doctorate degrees from Banares Hindu University and Khairagarh University.

THE ARTISTE:

Pt. Birju Maharaj is a superb drummer, playing nearly all drums with ease and precision; he is especially fond of playing the Tabla and Naal. He can play all string instruments, Sitar, Sarod, Violin, Sarangi with ease, though he never underwent any formal training.

​He is also a singer par excellence, having command over Thumri, Dadra, Bhajan and Ghazl. He sings from the heart, words flowing out effortlessly.

His deep resonating voice brings out the feeling and emotion behind every word. He possesses the unique quality of an in-depth understanding of Laya (beat) so finds it easy to compose new pieces. He is fond of creating tihais especially Ginti Ki Tihai.

He composes music for all his dance items and students go to him whenever they have something new to present. A master storyteller, he interlaces his performances with incidents from his life, narrated to captivate the audience.

Also being keenly observant, he always has something to say about day-to-day incidents, keeping people around him entertained with realistic imitations and vivid descriptions.

THE CHOREOGRAPHER

Pt. Birju Maharaj has given a new dimension to Kathak, by experimenting with his technique in the application of dance dramas, which has today become a very successful medium for mass propagation. As a choreographer, he is the finest in the country today. His bold and intellectual compositions in traditional themes are brilliant, whereas his contemporary works are also refreshing in concept, crisp and entertaining. Since the early days when he choreographed pieces like Makhan Chori, Phaag Bahar, etc., his work has been appreciated by the audience and the choreographer never stopped bringing out new themes, each a masterpiece in itself. In the seventies, full length mythological and historical dance dramas were the norm. Some of them were Katha Raghunath Ki, Krishnayan, Roopmati Baajbahadur.

Mughal themes depicted were Darbar-e-Salaami, Shaahi Mehfil, etc. In the 1980’s some excellent abstract and purely rhythmic compositions were made –Laya Parikrama, Naad Gunjan, Ghunghru Sangeet, etc. The trend has continued. Humorous ones like Samachar Darpan, File Katha and sensitive ones like Anamya were appreciated for their unusual ideas. The list is endless as he spends every day in creating something new and giving shape to another new idea.

Contributions to the Film Industry

Pt. Birju Maharaj has directed, composed music and sung for two classical dance sequences in the film ‘Shatranj Ke Khiladi’ (The Chess Players) directed by Satyajit Ray. One was a group dance picturised on Wajid Ali Shah (Amjad Khan) shown dancing along with his queens.

The other was a solo dance forming the backdrop of a crucial sequence of the story. He directed and composed a music piece for the film ‘Dil To Paagal Hai’, as a jugalbandi. Madhuri Dixit performed the dance on this piece in the Kathak style, with a contemporary touch.

In the film ‘Gadar’, he choreographed a group dance based on the song 'Aan Milo Sajana', forming a backdrop to show Ameesha Patel’s turmoil. He choreographed composed music and was the male lead singer for the song ‘Kahe Chhed Mohe’ in the film Devdas.

This dance represents a true portrayal of bhaav as performed by Madhuri Dixit, in the classical style (www.devdasthefilm.com). His disciples have performed as the accompanying artistes for these dance sequences, along with the film personalities.

THE GURU: 

A genuinely dedicated teacher, Birju Maharaj explains the technique in detail with the help of similes and metaphors until the student gets the nuance right. The result is the uniformity of style in his disciples.

Time is never a constraint, with the classes going on well past the stipulated time limit in order to achieve excellence. He has hundreds of disciples who are actively pursuing Kathak all over the world. He has four Gandaband Shaagird and their names are Shri Pratap Pawar, Shri Munnalal Shukla, Sushri Prabha Marathe & Sushri Saswati Sen.

Gandabhandhan is a ceremony in which a devoted and dedicated disciple is tied a sacred thread by the Guru, with the blessings to carry forward the mantle of the Gharana, Guru and the style. In earlier times, usually this tradition was restricted to family members only, but now the Guru chooses a few selected disciples as the ones expected to devote their life to the pursuit of the art. Pt. Birju Maharaj is fond of relating stories and anecdotes from his life.

He has an inimitable style and narrates some favourite ones even on the stage during lecture-demonstrations. Many are stories from his childhood, about how he went miles on foot for his first tuition, he used to trouble his father by putting ice on his stomach, how the two uncles analyzed his dancing style, etc.

One is about a performance in Jhansi where he had to make up compositions on the Rani of Jhansi galloping on a horse, in order to keep the audience interested. On one instance, he played the tabla and harmonium during a Radio programme. Another one is about his brush with the supernatural and many about the spirits in old Lucknow.

His description is so vivid that it makes the spine tingle. Some are humorous while others have a message to convey.

Brijshyam Kahe: This is my maiden effort of bringing to the readers a small collection of my poems titled ‘Brijshyam Kahe’. My grandfather Shri Bindadin Maharaj wrote 5000 compositions consisting of Thumri, Dadra, Pad, Kavitta, Bhajan, etc.

It is with his inspiration and blessings that I have made the effort of writing these compositions. The present book is a collection of mixed compositions. Even in the future, I wish to publish my work for the benefit of the readers.

Anubhuti: It is necessary for everybody to laugh, be happy in life. Keeping this in mind, I have expressed through the medium of poetry, many of the experiences that I have had. I hope readers will feel happy reading it.

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