Pandit Birju Maharaj Wiki, Age, Death, Wife, Children, Family, Biography & More

Pandit Birju Maharaj

Brijmohan Nath Mishra (1938-2022), better known by his stage name ‘Pandit Birju Maharaj’ was an Indian Kathak dancer, composer, singer, and poet. He was the son of the legendary Kathak dancer, Jagannath Maharaj, better known as Pandit Acchan Maharaj. Pandit Birju Maharaj was a part of the Lucknow “Kalka-Bindadin” Gharana of Kathak dance in India. Pandit Birju Maharaj passed away at the age of 83 on 16 January 2022 at his home in Delhi after suffering from a heart attack.

Wiki/Biography

Pandit Birju Maharaj was born as Brijmohan Nath Mishra (age 83 years; at the time of death) on Friday, 4 February 1938 in Handia, district Allahabad (now Prayagraj), Uttar Pradesh, India. His zodiac sign is Aquarius. Pandit Birju Maharaj started learning Kathak at the age of 4 from his uncles, Pandit Bajinath Prasad (also known as Pandit Lachhu Maharaj), and Pandit Shambhu Maharaj, who were both renowned Kathak dancers. Pandit Birju Maharaj was the disciple of his father, Pandit Acchan Maharaj.

 

Pandit Birju Maharaj's childhood picture

Pandit Birju Maharaj’s childhood picture

Physical Appearance

Height (approx.): 5′ 5″

Hair Colour: Salt & Pepper

Eye Colour: Dark Brown

Pandit Birju Maharaj Photo

Family

Parents & Siblings

Pandit Birju Maharaj’s father, Jagannath Maharaj, popularly known as Pandit Acchan Maharaj, was the court dancer of the royal family of Raigarh. His father passed away when Pandit Birju Maharaj was just nine years old. Pandit Birju Maharaj’s mother’s name was Mahadai, and she was also known as Amma Ji Maharaj.

Father of Pandit Birju Maharaj, Jagannath Maharaj, popularly known as Pandit Acchan Maharaj

Father of Pandit Birju Maharaj, Jagannath Maharaj, popularly known as Pandit Acchan Maharaj

Pandit Birju Maharaj had a brother, Rammohan Maharaj, who is also a professional Kathak dancer.

Pandit Birju Maharaj's brother, Rammohan Maharaj

Pandit Birju Maharaj’s brother, Rammohan Maharaj

Wife & Children

Pandit Birju Maharaj got married to Annapurna Devi in 1956. She passed away in 2008.

Pandit Birju Maharaj's wife, Annapurna Devi

Pandit Birju Maharaj’s wife, Annapurna Devi

The couple was blessed with three daughters, Kavita Maharaj, Anita Maharaj, and Mamta Maharaj, and two sons, Jai Kishan Maharaj, and Deepak Maharaj. His sons, Jaikishan Maharaj, and Deepak Maharaj, and daughter, Mamta Maharaj, are leading Kathak dancers. Pandit Birju Maharaj’s wife passed away in 2008.

Pandit Birju Maharaj's son, Deepak Maharaj

Pandit Birju Maharaj’s son, Deepak Maharaj

Pandit Birju Maharaj with his daughter, Mamta Maharaj

Pandit Birju Maharaj with his daughter, Mamta Maharaj

Pandit Birju Maharaj (right) with his son, Jai Kishan Maharaj

Pandit Birju Maharaj (right) with his son, Jai Kishan Maharaj

Other Relatives

Kathak maestro Kalika Prasad was the paternal grandfather of Pandit Birju Maharaj. He was the court dancer of Mirza Wajid Ali Shah, the last King of Awadh.

 

The paternal grandfather of Pandit Birju Maharaj, Kalika Prasad

The paternal grandfather of Pandit Birju Maharaj, Kalika Prasad

Bindadin Maharaj, the founder of Lucknow Gharana of Kathak dance, was Pandit Birju Maharaj’s grandfather’s brother.

Bindadin Maharaj, the founder of Lucknow Gharana of Kathak dance

Bindadin Maharaj, the founder of Lucknow Gharana of Kathak dance

Pandit Birju Maharaj’s uncles Pandit Bajinath Prasad, famously known as Pandit Lachhu Maharaj and Pandit Shambhu Maharaj, were both famous Kathak dancers. After Pandit Birju Maharaj’s father, Pandit Acchan Maharaj, passed away when Birju Maharaj was just nine years old, his uncles took responsibility for teaching Pandit Birju Maharaj Kathak.

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Pandit Birju Maharaj (left) with his uncle, Pandit Bajinath Prasad, famously known as Pandit Lachhu Maharaj

Pandit Birju Maharaj (left) with his uncle, Pandit Bajinath Prasad, famously known as Pandit Lachhu Maharaj

Pandit Birju Maharaj's uncle, Pandit Shambhu Maharaj

Pandit Birju Maharaj’s uncle, Pandit Shambhu Maharaj

Pandit Krishna Mohan Maharaj (son of Pandit Shambhu Maharaj) is the cousin of Pandit Birju Maharaj. Famous Kathak dancers, Tribhuwan Maharaj (son of Jai Kishan Maharaj) Ragini Maharaj (daughter of Deepak Maharaj), Yashaswani Maharaj (second daughter of Deepak Maharaj) and Shinjini Kulkarni (daughter of Anita Maharaj), are the grandchildren of Pandit Birju Maharaj. Music director and composer, Swaransh Mishra (son of Kavita Maharaj), is the grandson of Pandit Birju Maharaj.

Pandit Birju Maharaj with granddaughter, Ragini Maharaj

Pandit Birju Maharaj with granddaughter, Ragini Maharaj

Pandit Birju Maharaj (right) with his grandson, Tribhuwan Maharaj

Pandit Birju Maharaj (right) with his grandson, Tribhuwan Maharaj

Pandit Birju Maharaj (right) with his granddaughter, Shinjini Kulkarni

Pandit Birju Maharaj (right) with his granddaughter, Shinjini Kulkarni

Pandit Birju Maharaj (right) with granddaughter, Yashaswani Maharaj

Pandit Birju Maharaj (right) with granddaughter, Yashaswani Maharaj

Religion

Pandit Birju Maharaj followed Hinduism.

Career

Kathak Dancer & Choreographer

At the tender age of seven, Pandit Birju Maharaj started accompanying his father, Pandit Acchan Maharaj, on his shows across India. Throughout his career, Pandit Birju Maharaj has performed at many festivals in India. He has performed multiple times at the Art Theatre of Rashtrapati Bhavan for global dignitaries. He also performed at the Old Fort Dance Festival at Purana Qila in 2015.

16 April, 2004: President Dr APJ Abdul Kalam witnessed a Kathak performance by legendary Pandit Birju Maharaj in the Art Theatre of Rashtrapati Bhavan. pic.twitter.com/e7ZuY4tq34

— Rashtrapati Bhavan Archives (@RBArchive) January 17, 2022

Pandit Birju Maharaj has also represented India internationally in places like Europe, Russia, Japan, UAE, France, Germany, Italy, Burma, and the United States of America. He has performed at the Royal Albert Hall in London and the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. (2014). Pandit Birju Maharaj has choreographed many famous actors in Bollywood songs like Madhuri Dixit in Devdas (2002), Kamal Haasan in Vishwaroopam (2012), Deepika Padukone in Bajirao Mastani (2015), and Alia Bhat in Kalank (2019).

Pandit Birju Maharaj with Kamal Haasan (right) during the shoot of 'Vishwaroopam'

Pandit Birju Maharaj with Kamal Haasan (right) during the shoot of ‘Vishwaroopam’

[PIC] Deepika Padukone and Birju Maharaj while shooting Mohe Rang Do Laal for #BajiraoMastani. (Tfs @TeamDeepikaMY) pic.twitter.com/JWSO6keKsn

— Deepika FC Official (@OurLoveyDeepu) March 26, 2016

Singer & Musician

Pandit Birju Maharaj has lent his voice to many famous Bollywood songs like ‘Kanha Main Tose Haari’ (Shatranj Ke Khilari-1977), ‘Kahe Chhed Mohe’ (Devdas-2002), ‘Jagaave Saari Raina’ (Dedh Ishqiya-2014), and ‘Mohe Rang Do Laal’ (Bajirao Mastani-2015). Pandit Birju Maharaj was noted to have knowledge of Tabla and Dholak playing. He also collaborated with renowned musicians like Zakir Hussain, Yogesh Samsi, Anindo Chatterjee, Pandit Shivkumar Sharma, and Ajoy Chakrabarty.

Zakir Hussain with Pandit Birju Maharaj (right)

Zakir Hussain with Pandit Birju Maharaj (right)

Yogesh Samsi with legendary Indian Dancer, Pandit Birju Maharaj (left)

Yogesh Samsi with legendary Indian Dancer, Pandit Birju Maharaj (left)

Poet

Pandit Birju Maharaj wrote poetry under the pen name ‘Brijshayam.’ In 2013, Narendra Modi released Pandit Birju Maharaj’s poetry collection ‘Anubhuti.’ The event was held on the occasion of the 75th birthday of the Kathak maestro.

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Felicitated renowned Kathak dancer Birju Maharaj as a part of his 75th birth year celebrations. Released his poetry collection ‘Anubhuti’

— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) December 30, 2013

In 2020, Pandit Birju Maharaj published his famous collection of poetry ‘Brij Shyam Kahe.’

Kathak Teacher

After his father’s passing, in 1948, Pandit Birju Maharaj moved to Delhi with his uncles. Pandit Birju Maharaj started teaching Kathak at Sangeet Bharti, Delhi when he was just 13 years old. After working under his uncle Pandit Shambhu Maharaj at Bhartiya Kala Kendra (later Kathak Kendra) in New Delhi, Pandit Birju Maharaj was the head of the academy until his retirement in 1998. After his retirement, Pandit Birju Maharaj founded Kalashram Kathak School in New Delhi in the same year. The school has its second branch in the U.S. Apart from Kathak, the school also provides training in disciplines like vocal and instrumental music, yoga, painting, Sanskrit, dramatics, and stagecraft.

Pandit Birju Maharaj (in white) at Kalashram, U.S.A

Pandit Birju Maharaj (in white) at Kalashram, U.S.A

Controversy

Sexual Harassment Allegations Against Pandit Birju Maharaj

In 2022, after the passing away of Pandit Birju Maharaj, many Kathak dancers raised their voices in the #MeToo social movement about how they faced sexual harassment from the legendary Kathak dancer, Pandit Birju Maharaj. Naina Roychowdhury Green, a Kathak dancer wrote on Instagram about how Saswati Sen, a famous Kathak dancer suffered from sexual assault and harassment from Pandit Birju Maharaj. The Instagram post went viral and many other Kathak dancers came forward to share their experiences with Pandit Birju Maharaj. Apart from Instagram, a series of tweets were circulated where many students of Pandit Birju Maharaj shared their experiences while learning from him.

Serial sexual harasser Birju Maharaj, whose unchecked predations drove away so many students from Kathak, dies at 83 without being punished or even formally called out by the Indian classical dance communityhttps://t.co/1WU5ErG9im

— Amba Azaad (@AmbaAzaad) January 17, 2022

Awards, Honours, Achievements

  • In 1964, Pandit Birju Maharaj was awarded the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award for his contribution to performing arts.
  • In 1986, Pandit Birju Maharaj received the Padma Vibhushan, the second-highest civilian award in India, for his contribution to performing arts.
  • In 1986, the Kathak maestro received the Nrithya Choodamani Award, instituted by Sri Krishna Gana Sabha.
  • In 1987, he was honoured with the Kalidas Samman for his contribution to the field of Indian classical dance.
  • Pandit Birju Maharaj received the Sangam Kala Award, Bharat Muni Samman, Nritya Choodamani, Andhra Ratna, Nritya Vilas, Adharshila Shikhar Samman, Soviet Land Nehru Award, and Shiromani Samma.
  • In 2012, he won the National Film Award for Best Choreography for the song ‘Unnai Kaanadhu Naan’ from the film ‘Vishwaroopam.’
    Pandit Birju Maharaj receiving the National Film Award for Best Choreography for 'Vishwaroopam' in 2012

    Pandit Birju Maharaj receiving the National Film Award for Best Choreography for ‘Vishwaroopam’ in 2012

  • In 2015, he received the Wajid Ali Shah Award (by Lucknow Literary Festival) for his contribution to keeping the art alive.
    Pandit Birju Maharaj receiving the Wajid Ali Shah Award

    Pandit Birju Maharaj receiving the Wajid Ali Shah Award

  • In 2016, Pandit Birju Maharaj received the Filmfare Award For Best Choreography for the song ‘Mohe Rang Do Laal’ from the film ‘Bajirao Mastaani.’
  • In 2018, he received the Banga Bibhushan Award for his contribution to the field of Indian classical dance0- Kathak.
    Pandit Birju Maharaj with his Banga Bibhushan Award (2018)

    Pandit Birju Maharaj with his Banga Bibhushan Award (2018)

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Death

Pandit Birju Maharaj passed away at the age of age of 83 on 16 January 2022 at his home in Delhi. The Kathak maestro was suffering from a kidney ailment and high diabetes, due to which he was undergoing dialysis treatment for the same. In the early morning hours of 16 January 2022, Pandit Birju Maharaj was playing ‘antakshari’ with his family and disciples by his side when he complained about difficulty breathing. He was then rushed to the hospital but passed away before reaching the hospital.

Favourites

  • Food: Kachori and Biryani
  • Actor(s): Jackie Chan and Sylvester Stallone

Facts/Trivia

  • Pandit Birju Maharaj has been ranked as the Number 1 Kathak dancer in the world.
  • Pandit Birju Maharaj always danced to the narrations of stories based on the mythological stories of Krishna-Radha and Shiva-Parvati. He also danced and communicated messages on contemporary elements based on daily life and social issues.
  • His ‘ginti ki tihais’ (a percussive phrase where the syllables of dance are replaced by counts) were and are still studied by Kathak students.
  • Pandit Birju Maharaj was known to sing Thumri (a vocal genre of Indian classical music) while dancing to it. He also performed Thumris live in various festivals like Saptak Annual Festival (2019), and Anubhav Festival at Vrindaban Gurukul.
  • He has choreographed many Kathak pieces like Makhan Chori, Phaag Bahar, Krishnayan, Roopmati Baajbahadur, Darbar-e-Salaami, Shaahi Mehfil, Naad Gunjan, Ghunghru Sangeet, Samachar Darpan, and Anamya.
  • The Kathak maestro was also a songwriter and wrote the song ‘Bhari Bhari,’ which was sung by Shreya Ghoshal and Rajeev Mahavir.
  • In the late 1970s, 2 Chinese women came to India to learn professional Kathak from Pandit Birju Maharaj. Not knowing the language, he found it difficult to teach them the syllables of Kathak; however, he used words such as ‘pum-pum or ‘chin-chin’ while showing the hand and foot movements in order to teach the basics of Kathak dancing.
  • Pandit Birju Maharaj used to practice in a dark room without light while looking at his shadow that was created by the sunlight from behind. The reason behind this according to him was that the darker room improves the quality of sound whereas the human shadow showcases a clear movement of the human body as compared to that of a mirror reflection.
  • He received an Honorary Doctorate from the Indira Kala Sangeet Vishwavidyalaya (now Indira Kala Sangeet University) and Banaras Hindu University.

Categories: Biography
Source: HIS Education

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