Vishwa Mohan Bhatt, Soma Ghosh remember the ‘Emperor of Kathak’

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In a video tribute to Pandit Birju Maharaj shared on Monday, the ‘Mohan Veena’ exponent, Grammy Award winner and Padma Bhushan awardee, Pandit Vishwa Mohan Bhatt, remembered how he bonded with the Kathak maestro during an event at the Nehru Centre, Mumbai.

“I had an excellent relationship with him,” Pandit Bhatt recalled. “I was fortunate enough to take part in a singing, instrumental music and dance programme at the Nehru Centre in Mumbai. It was entitled ‘Triveni’. Pandit Jasraj was the vocalist, Pandit Birju Maharaj the dancer, and I the musician playing a Mohan Veena.” The ‘Mohan Veena’, incidentally, is a slide guitar that Pandit Bhatt customised to play Hindustani classical music.

He added: “I was ecstatic to see Maharaj ji dancing to my music. It would probably remain the most extraordinary moment of my life. I pay my homage to him. This is an irreparable loss.”

Describing Pandit Birju Maharaj as the “Emperor of Kathak”, Pandit Bhatt praised his contributions to spreading the knowledge about this classical dance form among young people in India and around the world.

“Despite being an artiste, he placed great importance on teaching and I am sure that his hundreds of students will take forward his art in the country and abroad,” Pandit Bhatt said in his assessment of Maharaj ji’s everlasting legacy.”

Maharaj ji attracted the general public towards Kathak by presenting it in a simpler and contemporary way, Pandit Bhatt said: “He aroused the interest of the public in Kathak by incorporating it in a popular peacock dance. Even the uninitiated would observe him spellbound.”

For Hindustani classical vocalist and Padma Shri awardee, Dr Soma Ghosh, the demise of Pandit Birju Maharaj has created a void that would be hard to fill. The adopted daughter of shehnai maestro Ustad Bismillah Khan said the “sudden departure” of Pandit Birju Maharaj was like the “fall of a pillar of the music world”.

Ghosh added: “No one can take his place. He was an unmatched dancer. We can never forget his eye movements. He was a great singer too.”

Recalling her first performance in Mumbai with Maharaj ji, Ghosh said: “I was fortunate to have my first performance with him in Mumbai. He sang ‘thumri’ in the style of the Lucknow gharana and I performed in the Benaras way. I can never forget that day.”

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