A well set stage, the program is nearing its finale. A small man in his late seventies slowly walks towards the mic. He was wearing a golden yellow kurti, his legs adorning one of the things I love the most, ghungroos. The moment he took the mic the entire audience fell silent, what came next from the revered old man was nothing less than pearls of wisdom. His love for nature, finding God even in the smallest of things transcended us to a different world. Then, he started dancing. His expressions and feet carrying us to a different world. A world where time ceased to exist. He was none other than the living legend Pt. Birju Maharaj.
A year before when I started my Kathak journey, I had not even dreamt of meeting the maestro. It was too far-fetched, how a beginner could meet the legend was my thought. But, this month completing a year of formal training, I had the golden opportunity to meet Maharaj ji and his foremost disciple, Saswati Sen ji whom we fondly call didi. The two day workshop organized by Samam ran by Maharaj ji’s disciple and my Guru, Murari Sharan Gupta, saw attendance from Kathak enthusiasts across India. To hear Maharaj ji and Saswati ji talk was bliss in itself. His thoughts of finding God even in the smallest of beings and how each moment we live is to the universal rhythm were so thought provoking.
Saswati ji is his disciple for more than four decades now and she swears on the fact that each day with him brings a new learning. She, in her work is as devoted as Maharaj ji and at the beginning of each composition gives due credit to her guru and seeks his advice. Seeing Maharaj ji and Saswati ji dance and teach reminds us there is no end to learning. Together they enacted the smallest of our everyday actions, the way Maharaj ji expressed garland making was the finest of abhinaya I had ever seen. He takes the whole audience to another world with his expressions and only when he finishes is when we realise it was just abhinaya. The legend is legend for a reason, he has seen and experienced the advent and evolution of Kathak from story telling at temples to darbars and now as a well-researched art form. His contributions to Kathak is immeasurable, be it his style of teaching in the most meaningful way or his thumri pieces stitched in contemporary cinema bringing Kathak to the masses.
He laughs like a child, has a twinkle in his eyes and each sentence he speaks is so artistically woven that it lingers around for a while and keeps us thinking. He has aged but his grace has not. His devotion towards dance and Krishna is reflected in every move he makes. He taught us to see Krishna in every direction we look so that our expressions are more subtle, graceful and moreover loving. He is a legend who can dance despite music, he is a guru who can teach without words. Maharaj ji is a living example for the popular phrase Katha kahe so kathak kehlaye and his art of story telling incomparable.
The two days I spent with the maestros were the greatest so far in my Kathak journey. The very minutest yet important details they shared are something no book could provide you with. I am not sure how much I have improved, but am certain that I will try to adopt those fine details in my routine. How far I improve is a test of time; but the thoughts that these two days brought is sure to leave a permanent impact.