The legendary Kathak dancer Pandit Birju Maharaj has sadly died at 83. Popularly known as “Maharaj-Ji,” the dancer passed away at his residence in the early hours of Monday, January 17, 2022. Sharing the unfortunate news, Ragini Maharaj, Birju Maharaj’s granddaughter, said that he was with his family at the time of his death. She added that he had had his dinner and played Antakshri with the family as he loved old music. Ragini further said that he was lying down, and suddenly, his breathing became uneven.
She said that the family thought it was a cardiac arrest, considering that he was a heart patient. Briefing the incident further, Ragini Maharaj said that this all happened between 12:15 to 12:30 AM. She further said that they immediately took him to the hospital, but it was too late as he had already died. She continued that the only solace for the family was that Pandit Birju Maharaj did not have to suffer too much in his last moments.
Ragini continued that her grandfather was smiling and laughing in his final moments. He was surrounded by his two disciples and her younger sister Yasyashahwini at the time of his demise. After the news was announced, social media flooded with tributes and emotional posts. India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi took to Twitter to pay the legendary dancer a sincere tribute. Mr Modi called Pandit Birju Maharaj’s death an “irreparable loss” to the art world.
The Prime Minister wrote that he is extremely saddened by the passing of the person who gave Indian dance a special recognition around the world and shared his deepest condolences to his family and loved ones in the hour of grief. Nirmala Sitharaman, Finance Minister, also mourned his death by addressing Maharaj Ji as the “legend of performing arts.” Bollywood celebrities like Hema Malini, Kamal Hassan, and many more also condoled his death.
Pandit Birju Maharaj had talked about Kathak, one of the most graceful classical dance forms, in one of his interviews where he had said that the future of Kathak is bright in India as the new generation is taking the tradition forward. However, the Kathak maestro had been told that it takes a lot of dedication and hard work to stay true to a tradition such as classical dance. Born on February 4, 1938, Birju Maharaj owned his own dance school called “Kalashram” which is located in Delhi. At the age of 13, he had begun teaching and went ahead to choreograph many Bollywood songs. In 1986, he was honoured with Padma Vibhushan.