Dancing in his footsteps: Birju Maharaj says many torchbearers carrying art forms forward

02:15 PM Dec 01, 2021 | PTI |

New Delhi: Classical dance is not for everyone given the years of rigorous ‘riyaz’ and dedication it needs but Kathak maestro Birju Maharaj is not despondent and says many young people are carrying traditions forward, notwithstanding the many distractions in this world of “instant gratification”.


Fondly called Pandit-ji or Maharaj-ji by his disciples and legions of followers, the 83-year-old, one of India’s best-known artistes, said the younger generation has many more opportunities to learn than in his time. “But there are also far more distractions and it’s a world of instant gratification which is one of the biggest challenges today,” he told PTI.

“Artistes who passionately work towards carrying the tradition forward are the right torchbearers of an art form and its legacy. It takes a lot of work and dedication to stay true to a mighty tradition such as classical dance.” But the future is bright. The Padma Vibhushan awardee added that even though classical dance is not everyone’s cup of tea, there are enough bright artistes carrying the tradition forward.

Like his granddaughter Ragini, among his many disciples dancing in his footsteps. “Dance is something that was there in my blood, it is said in my family that before saying ‘ma baba’, we learned to say ‘ta thai thai tat’. The sound of the ghungroo, music, and dance is a language in our family, we can communicate with each other through these sounds. That’s how our journeys began,” she said. “And yet, there is so much more to learn,” Ragini Maharaj told PTI.

On one afternoon last week, successors of the Kalka-Bindadin Gharana performed at the “Three Generations of Lucknow Gharana – A Masterclass by Kathak Legend”, organized by Routes2Roots, a non-profit NGO that is engaged in exchange cultural programmes In India and abroad.


Ragini, along with her father Deepak Maharaj, uncle Jai Kishan Maharaj and aunt Mamta Maharaj, performed under the watchful eyes of the master. Starting at the young age of three, Ragini has been under training for more than 20 years. And not for a minute did she feel she was destined for anything better.

The family had left it to her to choose her profession and she had made up her mind by the time she entered her teens.

“I don’t think I could do anything better than this in my life,” the 25-year-old classical dancer said.

In her view, it is not necessary to come from a musical family or background to learn the art with dedication. “I know a lot of people, friends who belong to different traditions, even from a non-music background. They are doing it so beautifully. And they have taken up classical dance and music seriously. It’s not necessary that only the people from music families can take it forward,” she added.

As for herself, even though he was never a strict teacher, training under Pandit ji was not always easy.

”Before the lockdown, he was always traveling. It was difficult to get hold of him for lessons. We did not have a routine, but whenever he was available we would train,” she said.

“I took lessons at 2 in the morning. There were times when I had school at 8 in the morning and dada would call me to his room at 1 and say, ‘I have a new composition’ and then we would practice for the next two-three hours,” she remembered.

Just some memories she will cherish forever, she added.


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