Pandit Birju Maharaj

Pandit Birju Maharaj
Pandit Birju Maharaj likes cities such as Lucknow, Delhi, Kolkata and Thiruvananthapuram, which still retain their old-world charm and built heritage, Photo Credit: Fotocorp

The legendary Kathak exponent enjoys Russian ballet and Arabian music

Kavita Devgan
April 01 , 2014
03 Min Read

OT: Where did you grow up? Did you travel as a child?

Pandit Birju Maharaj: I grew up in Lucknow and have fond memories of time spent with friends and family there. I loved flying kites, playing marbles and sneaking into cinema halls. And I used to travel almost all the time with my father until he passed away when I was about nine. Once, when I was travelling with my mother to a small town called Dalmau, we got off the train and discovered that there were no coolies. Amma had huge tin trunks and bedrolls, and I had to carry them on my head for quite some distance!


OT: Of the thousands of recitals over the years, which is the one show that stands out in your memory?

Pandit Birju Maharaj: There’s more than one memorable performance, really. But I’ll always remember my first concert at Mahajati Sadan in Kolkata — I was barely fourteen then. A turning point in my career, it made me famous overnight!

OT: And what about concerts by others?

Pandit Birju Maharaj: Apart from the concerts by my uncles, Shambhu and Lachhu Maharaj, I remember being in awe of a ballerina at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow in the 1960s. Her speed, precision and grace are still vivid in my mind.

OT: Do you identify with any particular country’s music and dance?

Pandit Birju Maharaj: I thoroughly enjoy, and am inspired by, Russian ballet. And I appreciate Arabian music a lot. Their use of Raga Bhairavi has always appealed to me.

OT: Where did you travel last for a holiday?

Pandit Birju Maharaj: I have almost forgotten my last holiday. It was at least thirty years ago. I travelled to Dehradun and Nainital with my children. But frankly, for me, work trips are just as enjoyable as holidays.

OT: Your favourite city in the world?

Pandit Birju Maharaj: I have two actually: London and Kuala Lumpur. Both the cities are home to some of my best students and to art lovers who understand my work.

OT: Where would you like to go next?

Pandit Birju Maharaj: I haven’t yet been to Mexico, South America and many parts of Australia. I will be happy to see all these places.

OT: What places would you recommend in India?

Pandit Birju Maharaj: Cities like Lucknow, Delhi, Kolkata and Thiruvananthapuram, which still retain some of their old-world charm and built heritage.

OT: What do you bring back from your trips?

Pandit Birju Maharaj: I am obsessed with electronic gadgets. I like to buy whatever is new in the market—small or big, cheap or expensive, it doesn’t matter.

OT: What do you usually read when you travel?

Pandit Birju Maharaj: I like to read a good suspense story. Or classics such as the works of poets like Surdas, Meerabai, Vidyapati and Rabindranath Tagore.

OT: Three things you always carry with you?

Pandit Birju Maharaj: A torchlight, water and a mug.

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