The living legend of Kathak, Birju Maharaj, who had been diagnosed with kidney disease a few days ago and put on dialysis, died at his home here late on Sunday. He was 83.
Maharaj ji, as he was popularly known, was said to be playing with his grandsons when his health unexpectedly deteriorated, requiring him to be rushed to the hospital, where he died of a heart attack.
A recipient of the country’s second highest civilian honour, Padma Vibhushan, Maharaj ji was also a lifelong Kathak guru as well as a talented Hindustani classical singer and percussionist.
He will be remembered by cinema buffs for the two period dance sequences in Satyajit Ray’s historical drama ‘Shatranj Ke Khiladi’ (for which he sang as well) and for the ‘Kaahe Chhed Mohe’ track picturised on Madhuri Dixit in the 2002 version of ‘Devdas’.
Maharaj ji won the National Award for choreographing ‘Unnai Kaanadhu Naan’ in the Kamal Haasan multi-lingual megahit ‘Vishwaroopam’ and the Filmfare Awards for the Bajirao Mastani number ‘Mohe Rang Do Laal’.
Adnan Sami, one of the first artistes to pay his tributes to the doyen of Kathak, said in a tweet: “Extremely saddened by the news about the passing away of Legendary Kathak Dancer Pandit Birju Maharaj ji. We have lost an unparalleled institution in the field of the performing arts. He has influenced many generations through his genius. May he rest in peace.”
Another early tribute came from Union Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, who tweeted: “Pandit Birju ji Maharaj was a doyen of India’s art and culture. He popularised the Lucknow gharana of Kathak dance form around the world. His passing away is a monumental loss to the world of performing arts.”
Birju Maharaj was the son of the exponent of the Lucknow gharana, Jagannath Maharaj, better known as Acchan Maharaj, whom he lost when he was just nine. His uncles were the renowned Shambhu Maharaj and Lacchu Maharaj.
He taught at the Shriram Bharatiya Kala Kendra and the Sangeet Natak Akademi Kathak Kendra, both in Delhi, from where he retired as director in 1998.
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Apart from dancing, he has shown his talents as a superb musician, percussionist, composer, teacher, director, choreographer and a poet. He has a special flair for playing percussion instruments like Tabla, Pakhawaj, Dholak, Naal and string instruments like Israj, Violin, Swar-Mandal, Sitar etc. He has performed in thousands of concerts in India and abroad.