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Legendary Kathak maestro Pandit Birju Maharaj dies at 83 of heart attack

The Padma Vibhushan awardee was rushed to the hospital after experiencing breathlessness after midnight.

Courtesy: @NCPAMumbai/Facebook

Our Correspondent

Legendary Kathak maestro Birju Maharaj died early on Monday after suffering a heart attack in New Delhi. He was 83 years old.

The Padma Vibhushan awardee's granddaughter Ragini Maharaj told the Press Trust of India (PTI) news agency that her grandfather took ill suddenly after midnight and was rushed to the hospital. 

Born Brij Mohan Nath Mishra on 4 February 1938, Birju Maharaj hailed from a legendary family of Kathak exponents of the Kalka-Bindadin gharana of Lucknow. Alongside his father and guru, Acchan Maharaj, his uncles, Shambhu Maharaj and Lacchu Maharaj, were also famed for their skills. Under his father, he learned classical Hindustani and Carnatic vocals along with the Kathak form. 

Pandit Birju Maharaj taught for a long time at the Bharatiya Kala Kendra and was also head of the Kathak Kendra of the Sangeet Natak Akademi in New Delhi. He was honoured with the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award in 1964, followed by the Padma Vibhushan in 1986 and the Kalidas Samman in 1987. 

While remaining the foremost exponent of the classical dance form, he choreographed dance sequences for a few iconic films. His first contact with Hindi cinema was with Satyajit Ray's Shatranj Ke Khilari (1977) where he laid out two sequences. Panditji, as he was known, also arranged the moves for Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Devdas (2002) and Abhishek Chaubey's Dedh Ishqiya (2014). He won the National award for his choreography of 'Unnai Kaanatha' from Vishwaroopam (2013) and the Filmfare award for Best Choreography for directing the song 'Mohe Rang Do Laal' from Bajirao Mastani (2015)

The maestro's passing was mourned across the country, with the prime minister and president of India offering their condolences online. 

Sarod doyen Amjad Ali Khan mourned the loss of the legend, saying that his passing marked the end of an era.

Veteran actress and politician Hema Malini and artiste and producer Rituparna Sengupta also eulogized the artiste online. 

Actor-director Kamal Haasan shared an image of himself being directed by Pandit Birju Maharaj for the song 'Unnai Kaanadhu Naan' on the sets of Vishwaroopam. Describing the experience from the sets, the actor called himself fortunate to be able to 'learn for a while' from Panditji's presence.