Kathak legend Pandit Birju Maharaj died at his home in Delhi late Sunday after suffering a heart attack. He was 83.
A recipient of the country’s second-highest civilian award, Padma Vibhushan, he was fondly called Pandit-Ji or Maharaj-Ji by his disciples and legions of followers and was one of India’s best-known artists.
According to reports, Birju Maharaj was playing with his grandsons late on Sunday night when his health deteriorated and he became unconscious. He was taken to a hospital where the doctors declared him dead.
“He was with us when this happened. Pandit Birju Maharaj had his dinner and we were playing ‘antakshari’ because he loved old music. The person was lying down… and suddenly his breathing became uneven. We think it was cardiac arrest as he was also a heart patient.
“This happened between 12.15 and 12.30 am. It must have been just a minute or so. We rushed to the hospital but unfortunately, we could not save him. He died before reaching the hospital,” news agency PTI quoted Birju Maharaj’s granddaughter Ragini, a Kathak dancer herself quoted it herself.
“Two of his disciples and his two granddaughters, my younger sister Yasyashashwini and me, were with him when this happened. He was laughing and smiling in his last moments,” she said.
The Kathak exponent had been suffering from a kidney ailment and was under dialysis treatment.
Birju Maharaj was a descendant of the Maharaj family of Kathak dancers, which includes his two uncles, Shambhu Maharaj and Lachhu Maharaj, and his father and guru, Acchan Maharaj.
The Kathak legend was also a superb drummer, playing nearly all drums with ease and precision; he was especially fond of playing the Tabla and Naal, according to his official website.
Birju Maharaj was also a singer par excellence, having command over Thumri, Dadra, Bhajan, and Ghazal.
A master storyteller, he interlaced his performances with incidents from his life, narrated to captivate the audience. Also being keenly observant, he always had something to say about day-to-day incidents, keeping people around him entertained with realistic imitations and vivid descriptions.
Condolences poured in as news of the death of the Kathak maestro, who would have been 84 on February 4, came in.
The death of Pandit Birju Maharaj marks the end of an era, President Ram Nath Kovind said, as he offered condolences to his family and admirers.
“The demise of legendary Pandit Birju Maharaj marks the end of an era. It leaves a deep void in the Indian music and cultural space. He became an icon, making unparalleled contributions to popularise Kathak globally. Condolences to his family and admirers,” President Kovind tweeted.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi said his death is an “irreparable loss” to the entire art world.