The style spin

Saswati Sen on how Birju Maharaj has added to the beauty of the Lucknow Kalka-Bindadin gharana

Published - January 18, 2018 04:29 pm IST

Birju Maharaj

Birju Maharaj

He is the king of style — Birju Maharaj. A style that has restored the traditional glory of Kathak, yet making it establish a strong connect with the contemporary world. A style that is being followed by dancers across gharanas. A style that has put Kathak on the global map.

Any wonder that well-known poet Ashok Vajpayi referred to Kathak’s evolving style as — before BM and after BM (Birju Maharaj). “I have never come across a more apt description,” says Saswati Sen, Maharaj’s seniormost disciple and a performer in her own right.

Birju Maharaj, the torchbearer of the Lucknow Kalka-Bindadin gharana that boasts of legends such as Acchan Maharaj, Shambu Maharaj and Lachchu Maharaj, has worked hard to retain the values and essence of this tradition. Despite his penchant, since childhood, to do things his way, he has preserved the sanctity of the grammar. “But he never talks about his gharana when he goes up on stage,” says Saswati, who follows the same, having been with her Guru for 50 years.

Today when artistes are establishing their identities through an individual approach, independent line of thinking and drawing diverse influences, Saswati feels you cannot be bound by a gharana. “It is the base on which you build your imagination. A good training in the gharana means a strong hold on the technique. Without the backing of technique, no artiste can push the creative limits. Kumudini Lakhia is a fine exmaple in this context. In the current times, Aditi Mangaldas has been doing some amazingly innovative work that finds its roots in Kathak’s hoary past,” says Saswati.

Maharaj, who has danced in the courts of Awadh, has composed many thumris, hori and bhajans. Besides inheriting the Lucknowi ada and tehzeeb (grace and culture), he belongs to a lineage that includes Kalka Maharaj and Bindadin Maharaj, hailed as the founders of modern Kathak. His dance underlines the Lucknow Kalka-Bindadin gharana features — ang (physical beauty), layakari (lyrical melody) and abhinaya (mime).

Complex rhythmic structures, lightning-fast spins and poetic expressions, Maharaj has won over the world with just these three weapons.

Bol and bhaav

Not just dance, like the many stalwarts of this gharana, Maharaj sings and emotes simultaneously. His mastery over bhaav batana transforms him into a bashful maiden, the prankster Krishna or a sulking Radha. With his large, expressive eyes, hand gestures and minimal body movements, he creates an imagery of the song. And not just verses, even his bols are filled with bhaav. “It is the khasiyat ( speciality) of the gharana he belongs to,” says Saswati. “Even rhythms convey emotions. Once you master these aspects, you can be both an exemplary traditionalist such as Roshan Kumari, who can bring out the beauty of the form or a bold experimenter, who does not like to be restricted by the repertoire. Maharaj is a rare combination of both and has always encouraged his sishyas to have an inventive mind.”

Gharana is not an archiac word that stands for formulaic art, explains Saswati.

“It has not lost its resonance in the modern times; it is up to the artistes to imbibe and present its inherent characteristics in a way they choose to. Conforming to norms does not mean turning away from new possibilities. The spirit of enquiry and the need to reach out has always been there. Gharana, she laughs, does not mean being under house arrest. It is a house with many you a clear view of the world.”

0 / 0
Sign in to unlock member-only benefits!
  • Access 10 free stories every month
  • Save stories to read later
  • Access to comment on every story
  • Sign-up/manage your newsletter subscriptions with a single click
  • Get notified by email for early access to discounts & offers on our products
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide by our community guidelines for posting your comments.

We have migrated to a new commenting platform. If you are already a registered user of The Hindu and logged in, you may continue to engage with our articles. If you do not have an account please register and login to post comments. Users can access their older comments by logging into their accounts on Vuukle.