There are some dancers who are in the news all the time. Something for what they themselves do and sometimes what people do for them. Today, I am talking about one such legendary dancer the Kathak maestro Padma Vibhushan Pandit Birju Maharaj.
Recently Maharaj Ji organised the countries first Kathak Competition titled ‘Kalashram Kathak Competition’. Kathak professionals from all over the nation had applied for this prestigious championship and finally, 16 contestants were brought together from all over India to showcase their skills at NCPA Mumbai and were judged by the best of the best from the art world. Kumudini Lakhia, Pt. Rajan Mishra, Pt. Sajan Mishra, Shekhar Sen, Padma Sharma, Maharaj himself and yours truly were the judges for the evening.
The super talented foremost disciple of Maharaj, Saswati Sen along with her able team of Renu Sharma, Vijayshree Choudhary, and many more tirelessly managed regional and the national event of his competition which saw Elisha Deep Garg from New Delhi win the Pt Birju Maharaj crown followed by Isha Phadke from Pune as the runners up. In the budding star category, the Tiara went was shining on the head of Siza Roy from Lucknow and Runners Up was bagged by Harendra Bhushan from New Delhi.
I asked Maharaj, as to how he felt organising a Kathak competition for the very first time, he said, “I feel humbled with the response we have received for KKC it was an idea that I conceived and Saswati Sen executed it to perfection and my colleagues from the art world and dance lovers like you gave furthermore support and made KKC and event to remember. This was the first step, but I promise you, each year we will make it better and bigger.’
On one hand, if KKC was an event organised by Maharaj, then ‘Vanaotsava’ is surely an event organised by all his admirers and fans. Maharaj Ji is one lucky man I must say. The legendary Kathak maestro turned 80 this year and like always, the dance enthusiasts from all over the world, came together to celebrate their favourite dance guru’s birthday with aplomb. If you think there was a cake cutting and a dance party, then you are totally mistaken. It was not any small time celebrations, rather it was done through a dance and music festival ‘Vanaotsava’, Curated by Kalashram.
Vanaotsava was held in the capital at the prestigious Kamani auditorium, this one of its kind festivals is a dance and music festival in its 20th year which celebrates the birthday of Kathak maestro Padma Vibhushan Pandit Birju Maharaj. This festival is especially celebrated in the month of February and to commemorate the achievement and the legacy of Birju Maharaj and this year the festival took a step further and honoured the world-renowned Embodiment of Dance itself Padma Vibhushan Dr. Sonal Mansingh.
After receiving the honour, Sonal Maa said, “Birju Maharaj and I go a long way; he is a wonderful artist, I wish him all the best on his birthday and would like to also thank him and Kalasharm for honouring me for my work. Best wishes to all.”
Vanaotsava, a three days celebration of dance and music, was well attended by who is who from the world of art. Day one of the festival comprised of arresting performances by different artists creating a whole mélange of stunning presentations. The first step of the evening comprised of a felicitation honouring Dr. Sonal Mansingh followed by winner of KKC Elisha and Siza doing solos, Maitreyee Pahari – a group dance, Vanashree Rao — Group dance, Ranchi Saini and Jyotsna Shula — Duet, Setika Singh and Surabhi Capoor — Geetopadesh, Krishna Mohan Misra — Group dance, Kavita Thakur and Barun Banerjee Duet, Sandeep Mahavir Kathak — group dance, Jai Kishan Maharaj — Group dance. Each performance that took place at this festival was simply perfect. All the dance lovers finally came together to wish their beloved Guru a year filled with happiness.
There is something new always happening in the high profile life of Pandit Ji either in the form of KKC, Vanaotsava, being invited as Chief guest, receiving awards and honours or simply taking workshops all over the world. Doing all of this at the age of 80 is remarkable; all I can say is Maharaj Ji is that you indeed have the blessings of Lord Natraj and prayers of all your admirers. You are one lucky man for sure, God bless you always may you have a life filled with good health and loads of nonstop Dancing.
(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of AFTERNOON VOICE and AFTERNOON VOICE does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.)