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Legendary Kathak Dancer Pandit Birju Maharaj Passes Away at 83 in Delhi

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Guwahati: Legendary Kathak dancer Birju Maharaj died at his home here in the early hours of January 17, his granddaughter said. He would have been 84 next month.

The legendary dancer died surrounded by his family and disciples. They were playing ‘antakshari’ after dinner when he suddenly took ill, Ragini Maharaj told PTI.

Birju Maharaj, one of India’s best known and most loved artistes, was from Lucknow’s Kalka-Bindadin Gharana. He is survived by five children, three daughters and two sons, and five grandchildren.

He had been suffering from a kidney ailment and was under dialysis treatment for the last month due to high diabetes. He probably died of a cardiac arrest, his granddaughter said.

“He was with us when this happened. He had his dinner and we were playing ‘antakshari’ because he loved old music. He was lying down… and suddenly his breathing became uneven. We think it was cardiac arrest as he was also a heart patient.

“This happened between 12.15 and 12.30 a.m. It must have been just a minute or so. We rushed to the hospital but unfortunately, we could not save him. He died before reaching the hospital,” Ragini Maharaj said. Ragini Maharaj, a Kathak dancer herself, said the only solace for the family is that he did not suffer too much in his last moments.

“Two of his disciples and his two granddaughters, my younger sister Yasyashashwini and me, were with him when this happened. He was laughing and smiling in his last moments,” she said.

Condolences poured in as news of the death of the Kathak maestro, who would have been 84 on February 4, came in.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi said his death is an “irreparable loss”  to the entire art world.

Fondly called Pandit-ji or Maharaj-ji by his disciples and legions of followers, he had said the younger generation has many more opportunities to learn than in his time.

In his last interview with PTI in December, Birju Maharaj had said the future of Kathak, one of the most graceful classical dance forms, was bright in India with the new generation taking the tradition forward.

A recipient of the country’s second-highest civilian award, Padma Vibhushan, he was born Brij Mohan Nath Mishra on February 4, 1937, in a well-known Kathak dancing family. The news comes just days after his nephew and disciple Pt Munna Shukla passed away following a brief illness at 78.

Last year, a book on his life, titled Nritya Samrat Pt. Birju Maharaj, was launched. The book is a compilation of 96 (22 in English and 70 in Hindi) short essays written by his disciples, associates, admirers and senior artistes, associates, and well-wishers from around the world. It has been put together by Nandkishore Kapote, a senior disciple of Birju Maharaj.

In his foreword, the veteran dancer-guru had said that the book is a delightful read since it contains many interesting anecdotes from his long journey in dance, along with rare photographs. The book reveals the extraordinary personality of Pt. Birju Maharaj. Prime disciple Saswati Sen speaks about his teaching style, while Janaki Patrik talks about how Maharaj not only gives attention to postures and movements but every little detail.

Mamta Maharaj, the first female dancer from the ‘Kalka-Bindadin’ family shares that he created productions that have enabled female performers to receive the same recognition as their male counterparts.

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