85th Birth Anniversary of Kathak Maestro Pandit Birju Maharaj: Remembering times he choreographed for Bollywood, his work and awards

Kathak Maestro Pandit Birju Maharaj: Pandit Birju Maharaj was the face and torchbearer of Lucknow’s Kalka Bindadin Gharana, the maestro of Kathak and one of India’s most revered and loved artists. Legendary Kathak dancer Birju Maharaj enthralled audiences for more than 60 years with his performances and choreography.

Pandit ji, a pioneer in Indian classical dance, received the Padma Vibhushan in 1986 for his achievements in the performing arts. It was only at the age of 13, that he began training as an Indian classical dancer.  On January 17, 2022, Birju Maharaj passed away at the age of 83. The nation celebrates his 85th birthday on February 4 this year.

Remembering Pandit Birju Maharaj through his work, awards and famous songs he choreographed.

Pandit Birju Maharaj’s work

Birju Maharaj belonged to the legendary Maharaj family of Kathak dancers, which includes his father, Acchan Maharaj, and two uncles, Shambhu Maharaj and Lachhu Maharaj. He choreographed several popular Bollywood songs and is acclaimed for his expertise in Indian classical dance. 

Pandit ji was awarded the Padma Vibhushan in 1986 in the field of performing arts. For his work in Vishwaroopam, he received numerous awards, including the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award, Master Deenanath Mangeshkar Award, Sangeet Kala Ratna, Bharat Ratna Bhimsen Joshi Classical Music Life Achievement Award and the National Film Award for Best Choreography in 2012.

Pandit ji won several national and international awards. He received honorary doctorates from Banaras Hindu University and Indira Kala Sangeet Vishwavidyalaya as well.

He was a gifted poet, Kathak dancer, and dynamic public speaker who was especially skilled in Thumri, Dadra, Bhajan, and Ghazals. His poetry encompasses a diverse range of subjects, including satire, modern poetry, and Krishna Bhakti. His writing is done under the pen name Brij Shyam.

Famous Bollywood songs choreographed by Pandit Birju Maharaj

In movies like Satyajit Ray’s Shatranj ke Khiladi in 1977, Dil To Pagal Hai (1997), Devdas (2002), Vishwaroopam (2012), Bajirao Mastani (2015), and Kalank, Birju Maharaj choreographed several notable dance scenes (2019).

One of his favourite students was Madhuri Dixit, with whom he collaborated on the films Dil Toh Pagal Hai, Devdas, and Dedh Ishqiya. He also designed the choreography for Mohe Rang Do Laal, which Deepika Padukone learned to dance Kathak for in the movie Bajirao Mastani. Alia Bhatt received training from Pandit Birju Maharaj before performing in the 2019 Bollywood song Ghar More Pardesiya.