When Pandit Birju Maharaj played the hero and the hero with equal ease – Henry’s Club

At a lecture performance by Delhi-based Odyssey exponent Sharon Lowen in 2019 as part of the Manodharma Festival in the capital, Pandit Birju Maharaj offered a tune Body Country. It is the creation of his grandfather Kalka Maharaj, who along with his brother Bindadin Maharaj is best known as the architect of the present form of Kathak of the Lucknow gharana. Pt Birju (New Brijmohan Mishra) is sitting cross legged and rhythmically on the poem – Jaane de maika o sajanwa (Let me go, darling). And in that single phrase, he incorporated many expressions, taking on male and female roles with inseparable ease. While his sensual Radha cried out and appealed, even becoming enraged, his Krishna was relentless and mischievous. Underneath the subtext of adoration and adoration, and demonstrating the softness of expression, she effortlessly blurs the gender divide.

“Maharaj ji could have played the role of a woman better than a woman, without being pious. To Krishna, he was delicate but masculine,” Shovana Narayan, a Kathak exponent and student of Birju, explains of his extraordinary ability. shringar ras (Representation of romance and sexuality in art). It was not only the will of tradition and lineage, but also the work of his formidable mind that took from tradition and transformed it.

Pt Birju passed away at the age of 83 Last week is a reminder of what can sometimes be over the limits of artwork, making us realize that gender roles are not rigid.

Kathak originated from the idea of ​​storytelling. In villages, when there were no schools, kathakars He used to narrate mythological stories from Ramayana and Mahabharata to educate the audience. These traveling musicians were also fixtures in temples and were important during the Bhakti movementth century. Kathak flourished upon entering the Mughal court and receiving patronage.

Related to shringar ras, it has been one of the mainstays of the Lucknow gharana. And the story was often from the female point of view. According to 82-year-old Puru Dadhich, a senior Kathak dancer from Indore and contemporary of Pt Birju, “Nayika-pradhan Lucknow has always been important in the gharana as it was given priority in the court of Awadh. nazakat (elegant) and Blessing’s (Cleverly) come from there in Kathak”.

it is well documented madnul music (‘Mine of Music’), an anthology of Hakim Mohammad Karam Imam, the courtier of Wajid Ali Shah, the last Nawab of Lucknow, that the Nawab was a major patron of the arts, and himself a poet. he liked it too shringar ras more than any other. He also saw himself as Krishna and asked to dance with his wives gopis for the evening. He wrote and composed many thumri – one of them, Babul mora, naihar chhooto hi jaaye (O Father.. My house is slipping from me), which he wrote in exile, is still sung in concerts today.

Not just Pt Birju, but many senior dancers such as Odissi maestro Pt Kelucharan Mohapatra and Kathak guru Pt Lachhu Maharaj immersed themselves in shringar, Lasya (gentle movement) and Rate (expression) For decades. But for many male Kathak dancers today, the dominant themes come from the world of Tandava, which represents the masculine energy. preoccupation with feather race (heroic) and raudra ras (anger) is greater because it is more acceptable to the public. The focus is on footwork – how fast, how innovative and how technologically good it can be. “But where is the expression on the face – one of the mainstays of dance? These people are talented and talented, but the focus is on virtue,” says Narayan, 71, from Delhi.


Pandit Birju Maharaj with his students. (Photo Credits: Express Archives)

Dadhich says that hardly any thumri were written from the point of view of men. “But that doesn’t mean that men will now be monkeys on stage, moving from one part of the stage to another, without understanding Chandari (Peace),” he says.

Narayan says this is due to a need for immediate gratification and a lack of a meditative approach to dance. “The pace has accelerated and grace and thehraav (fixture) is gone. This is because people are looking for instant applause,” says Narayan. And it seems that with technical prowess, you get instant applause. ,Abhinaya (Acting) Has to come from your heart. It’s something you have to feel and I guess now they don’t feel that much. They just want to throw their arms and legs. Do they read literature? Very few,” she says.

Kolkata-based Kathak dancer Saurav Roy says that this issue is also related to the attention span of the audience. “If there’s nothing catchy in the beginning, the audience gets bored. During the pandemic, with so many online concerts, how many dancers were there? RateIf they did, people would simply scroll past. if they weren’t pirates or tihaais Or by not showing virtue through footwork, not many ideas were going to happen,” says 37-year-old Roy. He revealed that the risk of being socially pretentious or making fun of him is also something young dancers avoid. shringar ras,

Pt Birju’s Technical Talent is obtained in terms of their footwork. Also, their abhinaya Resonates with immense energy and subtlety. Narayan says, “It was never one over the other. Pt Birju also never took too many turns in his performance. “When I was a student, he called me 27 pirates and 33 pirates (they belong to the time-cycle), but he used to say do it once and that’s it. Rate,” says Narayan.

When Roy was learning dance in Kolkata, he Teacher Malbika Mitra learned under the auspices of Lucknow and Jaipur Gharanaasked him to attend a workshop by a senior Rajendra Gangani Teacher of Jaipur Gharana, Gharana Known for excellent footwork, quick gait and virtuosity. “I was asked to see how a man dances with strong postures and bold moves,” says Roy, who had warriors in Jaipur and the courts liked the virtuosity, which you can see in his see at work. GharanaHe preferred to see the tawaifs for nazkat and not the men who offered them. Rate,” says Dadhich. But unlike the Mughals, they believed in the idea of ​​women dancing in the court until it actually happened. For a long time only men performed Kathak in it. Gharana,

But many people don’t understand that shringar ras It is not just about Krishna-Radha or lovers yearning for each other. It is deeper than that. Pt Shambhu Maharaj, uncle of Pt Birju and another big name from Lucknow Gharana was known to present shringar ras The style, which, apart from the more vigorous form of the repertoire, went beyond the physical. Then a dancer has her own interpretation of it. “It is Krishna and Radha but you also take them as symbols” aatma And parmatmais in pain shringarik (Romantic). But it needs to be understood that the concept of thumri Not on a worldly level. Through Jayadeva’s Geet Govind, we don’t portray it on a worldly level, but you are in dialogue with this God,” says Narayan.

After the death of his father, Achan Maharaj, a young Pt Birju was taken under the wing of his uncle Shambhu and taught vigorous movements and pieces. He then left for Mumbai for some time, where he trained under his other uncle, Pt. Lachhu Maharaj, who choreographed some of the most beautiful choreographies in Hindi cinema, including iconic pieces. Mughal-e-Azam (1960) and Pakeezah (1972). Lachhu asked his nephew,Kya sikhaya chhote ne(What did my younger brother teach you)?”. was stunned to see the elements of dance of furyshe asked him where abhinaya, and taught him the same piece delicately. When Pt Birju returned to Lucknow, Shambhu was unhappy with this “girly dancing”. Pt Birju was so confused that he decided to take the best of both worlds.

but lack of Rate There has been a change in the way the dance form exists in today’s generation. Roy doesn’t think so. “It’s a good time technically too. many likes Birju Maharaj left us with several performances and interviews explaining shringar For us, and for the younger generation to see. He has also given his art to many students who will further teach the form,” says Roy. There are some issues, says Narayan, “but the younger generation is talented, they just need to move in the right direction.” Dadhich wants mutual respect which will lead to better understanding. “Why is there still so much rivalry between Lucknow and Jaipur. students don’t grow Praise So far gurus from opposite sides. Once we tackle the basics, teach values ​​apart from art, the dance form will be fine,” he says.

Narayan Pandit remembers Birju saying that the stage lights were only external things to create the atmosphere. “If I was performing in winter and the piece was set in summer, the audience had to feel the hot and dry summer winds, he says. There has to be power of expression,” says Narayan.