Birju Maharaj Biography: Birth, Age, Family, Career, Awards, Death, and More

Kathak maestro Birju Maharaj breathed his last in the early hours of January 17, 2022. During his last moments, he was surrounded by his family and disciples and was playing antakshari after dinner. He probably died of a cardiac arrest. At this tragic moment, let's take a look at the life of legendary Kathak dancer, prolific singer and composer.
Created On: Jan 17, 2022 14:21 IST
Modified On: Jan 17, 2022 14:21 IST
Birju Maharaj Biography: Birth, Age, Family, Career, Awards, Death, and More
Birju Maharaj Biography: Birth, Age, Family, Career, Awards, Death, and More

Birju Maharaj Biography: Legendary Kathak dancer Birju Maharaj breathed his last in the early hours of January 17 at his home. He was surrounded by his family and disciples who were playing 'antakshari' after dinner and probably died of a cardiac arrest, according to her granddaughter, Ragini Maharaj. 

"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 breath became uneven. We think it was a cardiac arrest as he was a heart patient," said Ragini Maharaj.

She further added, "This happened between 12:15 and 12:30 a.m. We rushed him to the hospital but unfortunately couldn't save him. He died before reaching the hospital."

Birju Maharaj, who was suffering from a kidney ailment, was under dialysis due to high diabetes. He is survived by five children, three daughters and two sons, and five grandchildren. 

As the death news of Kathak maestro spread, condolences poured in from across the world. At this tragic and unfortunate moment, let's take a look at the life of Birju Maharaj. 

Birju Maharaj Biography

Birth  4 February 1938
Age 83 years
Death 17 January 2022
Profession

Poet

Singer

Composer

Kathak Dancer

Choreographer

Family

Jagannath Maharaj (popularly known as Acchan Maharaj)

 Lachhu Maharaj and Shambhu Maharaj (uncles)

Three daughters and two sons

Five grandchildren

Awards

Padma Vibhushan

National Film Award for Best Choreography

Filmfare Award for Best Choreography

Birju Maharaj Biography: Birth and Family

Birju Maharaj was born on 4 February 1938 in Handia, United Provinces, British India to  Acchan Maharaj of Lucknow Gharana (Jagannath Maharaj). He was trained by his father and uncles, Lachhu Maharaj and Shambhu Maharaj. His father who served as a court dancer in Raigarh princely state died on 20 May 1947, when Birju Maharaj was nine years old. 

Birju Maharaj Career

Birju Maharaj as a Dancer

Birju Maharaj started accompanying his father for musical conferences across India at the age of seven. His first major solo performance at Manmath Nath Ghosh celebrations in Bengal earned him the recognition of a young dancer with great potential. 

At the age of 28, he received the coveted Sangeet Natak Academy award besides other prestigious awards during his life including Kalidas Samman, Nritya Choodamani, Andhra Ratna, Nritya Vilas, Adharshila Shikhar Samman, Soviet Land Nehru Award, Shiromani Samman, Rajiv Gandhi Peace Award.

Over time, his solo dance performances became an integral part of almost all the musical conferences held across the world.  

In his initial years, he represented India at various festivals worldwide. He extensively toured several countries for performances as well as lecture-demonstrations including Russia, the US, Japan, UAE, the UK, France, Germany, Italy, Austria, the Czech Republic, Burma, and Sri Lanka. 

On several occasions, he has performed at the Rashtrapati Bhavan in honour of foreign dignitaries. 

Padma Vibhushan, India's second-highest civilian award, was conferred on him by the Government of India. BHU and Khairagarh University conferred Honorary Doctorate on him.

Birju Maharaj as Singer, Composer and Instrument Player

Birju Maharaj was also an outstanding drummer, prolific singer and composer. He was fond of playing Tabla and Naal, and without any formal training, he played the Sitar, Sarod, Violin, Sarangi with ease. He was also a singer, having command over Thumri, Dadra, Bhajan and Ghazl. 

As he had an in-depth understanding of beats, he used to compose music for all his dance performances. He was fond of creating tihais, especially Ginti Ki Tihai. 

A master storyteller, he interlaced his performances with incidents from his life which were narrated to captivate the audience and kept people around him entertained with realistic imitations and vivid descriptions.

Birju Maharaj as a Guru

Birju Maharaj was a dedicated teacher who with the help of similes and metaphors explained the techniques in detail. He trained hundreds of disciples who are actively pursuing Kathak all over the world. His four Gandaband Shaagird are Pratap Pawar, Munnalal Shukla, Prabha Marathe and Saswati Sen.

Gandabhandhan is a ceremony wherein a disciple is tied a sacred thread by the Guru to carry forward the mantle of the Gharana, Guru and the Style. Earlier, the tradition was restricted to family members, but now Gurus can choose a few disciples who are expected to devote their lives to the pursuit of art.

Birju Maharaj as a Choreographer

Birju Maharaj gave a new dimension to Kathak and has choreographed numerous pieces including Makhan Chori, Phaag Bahar, Katha Raghunath Ki, Krishnayan, Roopmati Baajbahadur, Darbar-e-Salaami, Shaahi Mehfil, Laya Parikrama, Naad Gunjan, Ghunghru Sangeet, Samachar Darpan, File Katha, and Anamya. 

He has also directed composed music and sang songs in Bollywood movies. He sang two classical dance sequences in the film ‘Shatranj Ke Khiladi’, directed and composed a music piece for the film ‘Dil To Paagal Hai'

He has also choreographed a group dance based on the song 'Aan Milo Sajana' in Gadar, choreographed, composed music and was the male lead singer for the song ‘Kahe Chhed Mohe’ in the film Devdas. 

Birju Maharaj as a Poet 

Birju Maharaj was also a poet who wrote under the pen name Brijshayam, a synonym of his name Brijmohan. His poems were on diverse subjects ranging from Krishna Bhakti to modern poetry and satire. His poetic works are published in Brijshyam Kahe, Anubhuti, and Anubhuti- 2. 

Birju Maharaj Awards

Birju Maharaj won several awards and accolades. These are mentioned below.

1- Sangeet Natak Akademi Award

2- Padma Vibhushan

3- Nritya Choodamani Award by Sri Krishna Gana Sabha

4- Kalidas Samman

5- Lata Mangeshkar Puraskar

6- Honorary doctorate from Indira Kala Sangeet Vishwavidyalaya

7- Honorary doctorate from Banaras Hindu University

8- Sangam Kala Award

9- Bharat Muni Sammaan

10- Andhra Ratna

11- Nritya Vilas Award

12- Adharshila Shikhar Samman

13- Soviet Land Nehru Award

14- National Nritya Shiromani Award

15- Rajiv Gandhi National Sadbhavana Award

16- National Film Award for Best Choreography

17- Filmfare Award for Best Choreography

Birju Maharaj Death 

Birju Maharaj died at the age of 83 due to a cardiac arrest on 17 January 2022. At the time of his death, he was surrounded by his family and disciples at his residence in Delhi.

The only solace for the family is that he did not suffer too much in his last moments. He was laughing and smiling during his last moments, according to her granddaughter Ragini Maharaj. 

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FAQ

Is Birju Maharaj alive?

Pt. Birju Maharaj breathed his last in the early hours of 17 January 2022 probably due to a cardiac arrest. He was 83 years old.

What is Pandit Birju Maharaj famous for?

Pandit Birju Maharaj was a famous Kathak dancer, prolific singer and composer.
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