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Birju Maharaj (The Master Through My Eyes)
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Birju Maharaj (The Master Through My Eyes)
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About the Book

 

Pandit Birju Maharaj is not only an unmatched Kathak dancer but also a superb vocalist, a generous teacher, and an imaginative painter. The book reveals how this icon of Indian dance, who is a mentor for thousands and an inspiration for countless people across the globe, is actually an unassuming, simple person outside his artistic world.

 

Accompanied by rare photographs, this is a heartfelt tribute to a man who, among his many achievements, has spread awareness about the classical dance form of Kathak, not only in India, but abroad while touching innumerable lives along the way.

 

This memoir of the legendary Kathak maestro Pandit Birju Maharaj presents layers of his personality- his simplicity, modesty, generosity- as witnessed by one of his foremost disciples, Saswati Sen, who has known him for over forty-five years.

 

About the Author

 

Saswati Sen, regarded as one of the best exponents of the famous Lucknow gharana of Kathak, is the driving force behind Kalashram, Pandit Birju Maharaja dream institution. She has received the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award, the Sanskriti Award, the Shringar Mani Award and the Critic's Recommendation Award. She has performed at the RIMPA (Ravi Shankar Institute for Music and Performing Arts) festival in Varanasi, the Kathak Prasang in Bhopal and Jaipur and the prestigious Khajuraho Festival of dance, among others.

 

After her initial training under Reba Chatterjee Vidyarthi at the Bharatiya Kala Kendra in New Delhi, she was awarded the National Scholarship in 1969 by the Ministry of Culture. She then graduated to become one of the foremost disciples of Pandit Birju Maharaj.

 

Foreword

 

Perhaps this would be the first book on me that is written with a deep insight into every aspect of my life and work. After many decades of study and observation, Saswati has been able to capture my innermost thoughts and feelings. She has taken these experiences and penned them into this heartfelt memoir.

 

Even as a child when she was under the tutelage of Reba Didi I could see a commitment in her towards art. Her total dedication and surrender gave me the opportunity to mould her the way a potter moulds clay into a beautiful pot. Taal, ang, abhinaya, in all these facets of dance, she has seen and absorbed my training with thorough and complete understanding. She has trained with me as a performer, a teacher, a choreographer and an adept stage presenter. Her hard work and efforts are now the driving force behind my institute, Kalashram.

 

I am very happy to extend my blessings for the success of this book and its author, my loving disciple, Saswati Sen.

 

Preface

 

Bharatiya Kala Kendra, Mata Sundari Road, New Delhi. A young dance student, dedicated to her learning, hurries through the sprawling lawns to reach her dance class on time. She gets a strange feeling as several eyes move with her and whispers get loud, though not discernible. She is aware that they are talking about her. A quick glance over her shoulder, and she rushes into the classroom.

 

My first dance teacher, Reba Chatterjee Vidyarthy, or Didi, as we called her, was probably the most caring and hard working teacher for beginners and young aspirants. I was one of her most sincere students. Learning dance gave me great joy. However, the unsettling episode with the 'whispering group' kept repeating itself and soon I began finding ways to avoid class or change my timings or even my route.

 

In 1969, I was awarded the National Scholarship by the Ministry of Culture and this led me to seriously think about dance as a secondary profession (though my family dreamt of my becoming a doctor). Didi delivered me under the tutelage of a senior guru from the gharana (school of music or dance), and suddenly, there I was, in front of the person who I had dreaded confronting the most-the same person who seemed to be the leader of the 'whispering group' who used to talk about me while I was on my way to class!

 

Maharajji (later I came to know him as Pandit Birju Maharaj) welcomed me warmly and spoke highly about my seemingly bright future career. He told Didi how he and the others such as Pradeep Bhai and Pratap Bhai always appreciated my commitment towards learning and the humble appearance that I bore. None of this really moved me to shed a sense of wariness. My friends envied me for this great opportunity but I remained passive in class. I made it very clear within the first few days that I was unhappy to be in his class and would be happier if sent back to Didi. However, that would probably have meant forgoing my scholarship. Painstakingly, Maharajji tried to pull me out of my shell for some time. Finally, one day, he let me go, saying: 'Man kare toh aana, par nakhre mat dikhao' (Come if your heart is in it, but don't expect me to bear your tantrums).

 

I kept going to class and watched him teach Surama Gandharias, a Uruguayan student, and other seniors, for almost six months. Craving to learn and dance, I realised what I would lose - Maharajji's teaching was wonderful, with minute attention to detail for every movement, body line and expression.

 

Finally, one day I gained the courage to apologise for my behaviour and stood up to learn. Since that day, there has been no looking back. Maharajji's teaching was so perfect, so analytical, so interesting, that anyone could almost immediately experience the aesthetic beauty that it holds. We spent days learning and correcting each piece (tukral tihailaamad) that he taught. Hearing a word of appreciation from him (with which he was miserly in those days!) was like an achievement. Our training moved gradually with no hurry or immediate targets to meet. Both Surama and I enjoyed learning the challenging patterns of technique and the subtlety in execution. Our passions were similar towards dance and our goal was humble - a satisfying smile on our mentor's face.

 

Analysing the present day scenario of learning, it surprises me how drastically it has changed with one generation. The most interesting method about Maharajji's teaching is the way he co-relates every rhythmic phrase and its corresponding movement or footwork with a simile or a known action. This easy method of teaching students has also helped in reaching the uninitiated audience.

 

As a child I had witnessed a few Kathak performances, most of which left an impression in my mind about the dance being full of fast footwork, pirouettes and undefined brisk movements, quite obviously different from the three other main forms-Kathakali, Bharatnatyam and Manipuri-all of which had clear, graceful lines and stances. Maharajji was working on giving the form an elegant, picturesque look. While teaching and correcting, he humorously referred to the plight of the poor photographer who only wanted to make some quick money by taking a few pictures of the dancer performing, which he never really could, as there was no point of freeze. I remember how excited we were, nearly three decades ago, when for the first time we saw some beautiful poses photographed while in action. I developed a deep admiration towards his training methods (a process which continues till this day).

 

As I compile memories of the last fifty years in this book, I see the aura of a great man-my guru-even through my closed eyes. An icon of Indian dance, a living legend, a mentor for thousands, an inspiration for countless people across the globe, Pandit Birju Maharaj is an unassuming, simple person outside his artistic world. Though I know him well, I am unsure whether I can do justice in describing this divine personality. Birju Maharaj: The Master Through My Eyes is my tribute to a great man who, among his many stellar accomplishments, spread awareness of the classical dance form that is Kathak, not only in India, but abroad, while changing innumerable lives along the way.

 

Contents

 

Foreword

7

Preface

9

The Great Heritage

13

Early Days

37

Developing the Dance Mould

57

Spreading Wings

85

Beyond Kathak

117

The Dancer Divine

139

Many Achievements

165

Different Stages

185

Testimonials

203

Index

212

 

Sample Pages











Birju Maharaj (The Master Through My Eyes)

Item Code:
NAJ662
Cover:
Hardcover
Edition:
2013
Publisher:
Niyogi Books
ISBN:
9789381523827
Language:
English
Size:
10.0 inch x 8.5 inch
Pages:
216 (Throughout Color Illustrations)
Other Details:
Weight of the Book: 1.0 kg
Price:
$50.00   Shipping Free - 4 to 6 days
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About the Book

 

Pandit Birju Maharaj is not only an unmatched Kathak dancer but also a superb vocalist, a generous teacher, and an imaginative painter. The book reveals how this icon of Indian dance, who is a mentor for thousands and an inspiration for countless people across the globe, is actually an unassuming, simple person outside his artistic world.

 

Accompanied by rare photographs, this is a heartfelt tribute to a man who, among his many achievements, has spread awareness about the classical dance form of Kathak, not only in India, but abroad while touching innumerable lives along the way.

 

This memoir of the legendary Kathak maestro Pandit Birju Maharaj presents layers of his personality- his simplicity, modesty, generosity- as witnessed by one of his foremost disciples, Saswati Sen, who has known him for over forty-five years.

 

About the Author

 

Saswati Sen, regarded as one of the best exponents of the famous Lucknow gharana of Kathak, is the driving force behind Kalashram, Pandit Birju Maharaja dream institution. She has received the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award, the Sanskriti Award, the Shringar Mani Award and the Critic's Recommendation Award. She has performed at the RIMPA (Ravi Shankar Institute for Music and Performing Arts) festival in Varanasi, the Kathak Prasang in Bhopal and Jaipur and the prestigious Khajuraho Festival of dance, among others.

 

After her initial training under Reba Chatterjee Vidyarthi at the Bharatiya Kala Kendra in New Delhi, she was awarded the National Scholarship in 1969 by the Ministry of Culture. She then graduated to become one of the foremost disciples of Pandit Birju Maharaj.

 

Foreword

 

Perhaps this would be the first book on me that is written with a deep insight into every aspect of my life and work. After many decades of study and observation, Saswati has been able to capture my innermost thoughts and feelings. She has taken these experiences and penned them into this heartfelt memoir.

 

Even as a child when she was under the tutelage of Reba Didi I could see a commitment in her towards art. Her total dedication and surrender gave me the opportunity to mould her the way a potter moulds clay into a beautiful pot. Taal, ang, abhinaya, in all these facets of dance, she has seen and absorbed my training with thorough and complete understanding. She has trained with me as a performer, a teacher, a choreographer and an adept stage presenter. Her hard work and efforts are now the driving force behind my institute, Kalashram.

 

I am very happy to extend my blessings for the success of this book and its author, my loving disciple, Saswati Sen.

 

Preface

 

Bharatiya Kala Kendra, Mata Sundari Road, New Delhi. A young dance student, dedicated to her learning, hurries through the sprawling lawns to reach her dance class on time. She gets a strange feeling as several eyes move with her and whispers get loud, though not discernible. She is aware that they are talking about her. A quick glance over her shoulder, and she rushes into the classroom.

 

My first dance teacher, Reba Chatterjee Vidyarthy, or Didi, as we called her, was probably the most caring and hard working teacher for beginners and young aspirants. I was one of her most sincere students. Learning dance gave me great joy. However, the unsettling episode with the 'whispering group' kept repeating itself and soon I began finding ways to avoid class or change my timings or even my route.

 

In 1969, I was awarded the National Scholarship by the Ministry of Culture and this led me to seriously think about dance as a secondary profession (though my family dreamt of my becoming a doctor). Didi delivered me under the tutelage of a senior guru from the gharana (school of music or dance), and suddenly, there I was, in front of the person who I had dreaded confronting the most-the same person who seemed to be the leader of the 'whispering group' who used to talk about me while I was on my way to class!

 

Maharajji (later I came to know him as Pandit Birju Maharaj) welcomed me warmly and spoke highly about my seemingly bright future career. He told Didi how he and the others such as Pradeep Bhai and Pratap Bhai always appreciated my commitment towards learning and the humble appearance that I bore. None of this really moved me to shed a sense of wariness. My friends envied me for this great opportunity but I remained passive in class. I made it very clear within the first few days that I was unhappy to be in his class and would be happier if sent back to Didi. However, that would probably have meant forgoing my scholarship. Painstakingly, Maharajji tried to pull me out of my shell for some time. Finally, one day, he let me go, saying: 'Man kare toh aana, par nakhre mat dikhao' (Come if your heart is in it, but don't expect me to bear your tantrums).

 

I kept going to class and watched him teach Surama Gandharias, a Uruguayan student, and other seniors, for almost six months. Craving to learn and dance, I realised what I would lose - Maharajji's teaching was wonderful, with minute attention to detail for every movement, body line and expression.

 

Finally, one day I gained the courage to apologise for my behaviour and stood up to learn. Since that day, there has been no looking back. Maharajji's teaching was so perfect, so analytical, so interesting, that anyone could almost immediately experience the aesthetic beauty that it holds. We spent days learning and correcting each piece (tukral tihailaamad) that he taught. Hearing a word of appreciation from him (with which he was miserly in those days!) was like an achievement. Our training moved gradually with no hurry or immediate targets to meet. Both Surama and I enjoyed learning the challenging patterns of technique and the subtlety in execution. Our passions were similar towards dance and our goal was humble - a satisfying smile on our mentor's face.

 

Analysing the present day scenario of learning, it surprises me how drastically it has changed with one generation. The most interesting method about Maharajji's teaching is the way he co-relates every rhythmic phrase and its corresponding movement or footwork with a simile or a known action. This easy method of teaching students has also helped in reaching the uninitiated audience.

 

As a child I had witnessed a few Kathak performances, most of which left an impression in my mind about the dance being full of fast footwork, pirouettes and undefined brisk movements, quite obviously different from the three other main forms-Kathakali, Bharatnatyam and Manipuri-all of which had clear, graceful lines and stances. Maharajji was working on giving the form an elegant, picturesque look. While teaching and correcting, he humorously referred to the plight of the poor photographer who only wanted to make some quick money by taking a few pictures of the dancer performing, which he never really could, as there was no point of freeze. I remember how excited we were, nearly three decades ago, when for the first time we saw some beautiful poses photographed while in action. I developed a deep admiration towards his training methods (a process which continues till this day).

 

As I compile memories of the last fifty years in this book, I see the aura of a great man-my guru-even through my closed eyes. An icon of Indian dance, a living legend, a mentor for thousands, an inspiration for countless people across the globe, Pandit Birju Maharaj is an unassuming, simple person outside his artistic world. Though I know him well, I am unsure whether I can do justice in describing this divine personality. Birju Maharaj: The Master Through My Eyes is my tribute to a great man who, among his many stellar accomplishments, spread awareness of the classical dance form that is Kathak, not only in India, but abroad, while changing innumerable lives along the way.

 

Contents

 

Foreword

7

Preface

9

The Great Heritage

13

Early Days

37

Developing the Dance Mould

57

Spreading Wings

85

Beyond Kathak

117

The Dancer Divine

139

Many Achievements

165

Different Stages

185

Testimonials

203

Index

212

 

Sample Pages











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