Much has been said about the life and art of Pt. Birju Maharaj, the doyen of the Lucknow Gharana of Kathak, but there still remains a lot to be explored. The recently launched book, Nritya Samrat Pt. Birju Maharaj, is an effort in this direction. It is a compilation of 96 (22 in English and 70 in Hindi) short essays written by his disciples, associates, admirers and senior artistes, associates, and well-wishers from around the world. It has been put together by Nandkishore Kapote, a senior disciple of Birju Maharaj.
In his foreword, the veteran dancer-guru has said that the book is a delightful read since it contains many interesting anecdotes from his long journey in dance, along with rare photographs.
The book reveals the extraordinary personality of Pt. Birju Maharaj. Prime disciple Saswati Sen speaks about his teaching style, while Janaki Patrik talks about how Maharaj not only gives attention to postures and movements but every little detail.
The chapter, ‘The Kathak workshop,’ by Dr. Sunil Sunkara, throws light on how he transcends the barriers of language and culture to teach the dance form across the world. In her essay, Dr. Shovana Narayan writes about the beauty of the guru-shishya tradition of yore. Dr. Uma Sharma shares the story of casting for his ballets. “He instantly knows which character will suit which dancer. He cast me as Yashoda in ‘Krishnayan’ and it remains my most memorable role,” she writes.
Through various essays, the book also gives insights into how Birju Maharaj gained mastery over the dance form. His elder son, Jaikishan Maharaj, says that it is not just his father’s stage presentations but the thought behind each movement that has made him what he is. His thought process is a combination of the mind of a dancer, poet, painter, sculptor, and musician.
Mamta Maharaj, the first female dancer from the ‘Kalka-Bindadin’ family shares that he created productions that have enabled female performers to receive the same recognition as their male counterparts.
The book also contains a curated list of his contemporary choreographies, books authored by him, the books written on him, his film choreographies, and his awards.