Reflections Dance

Open up the mind space: Pt. Birju Maharaj

Pt. Birju Maharaj   | Photo Credit: Bhagya Prakash K (The Hindu Archive)

“After many years, I wake up not to ear-shattering honking, but to the sound of birds. In their chirping, I hear the rhythm of ghungroos. I am delighted by their sudden presence in my backyard. Having turned our living spaces into a concrete jungle, we have got alienated from Mother Nature. It’s time to rebuild that bond,” says Pt. Birju Maharaj.


In the silence of the lockdown, the Kathak maestro suggests that we think about those beautiful and forgotten aspects of life. “In the absence of regular classes, workshops and performances, my mind constantly travels back to the time spent with my father Acchan Maharaj and uncles Shambhu Maharaj and Lachhu Maharaj. With their amazing understanding of laya, sur, taal and poetry, they redefined the technique and aesthetics of the art form. Sitting by the window of my room, I recall the spontaneity with which they would create magnificent footwork patterns — energetic spins and delicate moves seamlessly woven into them. During these inspired moments, I add to my own movement vocabulary. These days, I often feel like a student engrossed in his homework,” says the renowned guru and performer.

Art is an escape, a much-needed one to remain calm, especially during such a crisis. “Over the past few days, I have gone back to playing the sarod, sitar and the tabla. My gurus inculcated in me as much passion for music as for dance. Growing up, I had just ghungroos and instruments for company. And I consider myself fortunate. Art strengthens the mind. I have experienced it. I was nine when my father passed away. It wasn’t easy to pursue my dreams, yet I never gave up. Sing, dance, draw or write. You will realise how it heals you from within,” he recommends.

Open up the mind space: Pt. Birju Maharaj

Explaining how every emotion finds expression in art, the 82-year-old maestro begins to sing one of his favourite thumris, ‘Jaago ho kahin raain re haan re, alsaane naina ratnare, chaal latpati, aaye ho hoth bhor…’ “Radha is angry with Krishna for being away from her. The play of words conveys her irritation even while cloaking her deep love for Him. The song is not just about their relationship; it conveys the strong connect with the Supreme. Our culture gives us the spiritual energy to cope with every kind of situation in life,” says the veteran.

Pt. Birju Maharaj playing the tabla

Pt. Birju Maharaj playing the tabla  

Once the lockdown is lifted, he plans to resume work on a 300-page book of his compositions. He writes under the pen name ‘Brijshyam’. Like his earlier works, Brijshyam Kahe and Anubhuti, this book will also feature thumris, dadras, padhs, kavitas and bhajans. “These books are an attempt to tell the next generation of artistes that they need not look elsewhere for inspiration, our history, literature and the art are the best source,” he points out.

Moving on to another thumri, ‘Main na manu, main na manungi tori bara-jori mori pakari kalayi, panghat jaat gagriya phodi, sari bhijoyi gayi choodiyan karkayi…,’ he explains how the piece talks about the close rapport between Krishna and the gopis. “He keeps playing pranks on them but they all know He is their sole protector. This is the kind of trust one needs to develop for a positive approach,” he says.

Dance is not only about performance. When the auditoriums are closed, it is time to open up the mind space. “Think of ways to reach out to the self and the world. Kathak practitioners are basically kathakars (storytellers). Tales that you can listen to when happy or sad. Mime and movement have a purpose. They communicate, connect and help deal with emotional and physical conflicts,” sums up Pt. Birju Maharaj

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Printable version | Jan 26, 2021 9:42:37 AM |

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