It is in the white of light of truth and red light of emotion that I write about one of a legendary performing artist. My lessons as a shishya have surmounted to a realization that truth remains meaningless without emotion and emotion is in vain if it is not for the sake of truth. Thus, if I had to explain what Maharaj ji represents in one phrase, it would be with something I heard say in a moment of emotion once, “Khudrat ki meherbaani” or a gift of nature.
As the wonder of nature lies in its power to infinitely create and recreate itself, in turn, Maharaj ji is constantly composing landscapes of rhythm, movement, song, and poetry. As nature can only be complete onto itself, likewise, his approach to art expresses an internal aesthetic logic connecting culture, spirituality, and humanity. This is especially needed in a world that is becoming increasingly mechanized and commercial, impersonal, and ready-made. On the contrary, Maharaj ji makes an effort to connect his work to those around him.
Born at the perfect time in Indian history, at the perfect place in the artistic heart of Lucknow, and with the several personal qualities to imbibe such a family legacy, Pt. Birju Maharaj ji has done much to advance the art form of Kathak. I have often thought that even if colonialism took the Kohinoor away from India, no one would ever be able to take away India’s true cultural richness which is embodied by such artists as Maharaj ji.
Therefore as a student, I can say that from the first footwork I ever witnessed him dance…to the first tihai I ever learned at his Kalashram academy…to the first words of Hindi I ever spoke to him…to the first smiles I shared with his grandchildren…to the first paran or bhav he encouraged me to perform…to the first meal he had in my home… to the last time I bowed to offer him a Pranaam – today and always, this person will live as a symbol in his fans’ and his students’ reflections as a constant call to duty: to honor the legacy we have inherited.
Be this art or tradition, if called by any other name, remains our way of sharing and understanding that which matters most in life.