Eminent Artists

Eminent Artists

Pt. Bindadin Maharaj

Acharya Vrindavan Prasad ji, also known as Bindadin Maharaj ji was one of the most famous Gurus of Kathak in Lucknow Gharana. He was the eldest out of the three sons of Maharaj Durga Prasad ji, whose brother Maharaj Thakur ji was a dancer in the court of Nawab Wajid Ali Shah. He was born in 1838 and died in 1918.

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He started his training at the age of 9 years, and only received training in “Tigda Dig Dig Thei’ (foot-work) for 4 years, which would go on for 12 hours. On the strength of his practice, at a very young age, he confronted the famous pakhawaj player, Pt. Kudau Singh. Bindadin Maharaj ji made new parans with great speed and simplicity, and his expressions were also very beautiful. He was also skilled in performing many types of aspects of dance, such as spreading gulaal and creating a picture while dancing, or dancing on a sword.

Bindadin Maharaj ji was also a singer of high reputation - it is said that he has composed over 1500 thumris with expressions and movements, which was his contribution to the field of Kathak. Some of his thumris are still relevant and famous in this field and are performed widely.

Maharaj Bindadin was a big devotee of Lord Krishna.

In the field of Kathak, Kalka-Bindadin as a duo was held in comparison to Ram-Lakshman. Eminent figures such as the King of Nepal, Nawab of Bhopal, and others have honoured him with cash and other precious gifts. Bindadin Maharaj ji generously taught his students which made them great performers.

 

Pt. Acchan Maharaj

Shri Achan Maharaj was the eldest son of Kalka Prasad ji. His real name was Jagannath Prasad Mishra. He was born in 1893 in the village Lamoha of Sultanpur. He received his training in dance from his father, and his paternal uncle Sh. Bindadin Maharaj ji.

Due to his good habits and nature, the people of Lucknow used to call him “achhe miaan”. His name Achhan Maharaj became famous due to his good and high qualities.

Shri Achan Maharaj lived in many courts. He traveled a lot - in addition to Rampur, he carried on his disciple tradition along with performances in Calcutta, Bombay, Baroda, and Raigarh courts. Among your disciples, Shambhu Maharaj, Vishnu Maharaj, Choubey Maharaj, Vikram Singh Singar, Mohan Rao Kalyanpurkar, Damayanti Joshi, Nalini Ganguly, Alaknanda Devi, Tara Devi, and Sitara Devi etc. gained fame.

Achchan Maharaj was an expert of Bhav and Taal. Apart from Teen Taal, he was equally in command of other aspects. He could dance with ease and if indicated from any beat, he would create an impromptu tihai and tukda which was timed to perfection. This was one of his special abilities as a dancer-performer.

He was a court dancer for Nawab Hamid Ali Khan of Rampur for 18 years and then left for Lucknow. In those days, there was a great discussion of Raigarh courts which attracted Aachan Maharaj. He performed amidst many kings of Raigarh that left all the courts awestruck. Raja Chakkradhar Singh requested Acchan Maharaj ji to stay back, as well as honoured him with respect. Acchan Maharaj grew fond of the place and stayed back.

Acchan Maharaj ji, during his time in the courts of Raigarh also imparted education to Kartik Ram, Kalyan Das, Firatu Das, Burman Lal etc. after which he left for Mumbai. After staying for some months, he went to Lucknow.

Delhi’s school of Hindustani Music and Dance which is now known as Sangeet Bharati required a dance teacher. On receiving an invitation from Mrs Nirmala Joshi, he went to Delhi and started teaching. Some of his disciples include Kapila Vatsyayan, Nirmala Jain, Reba Vidyarthi, Sohan Kumar, etc.

In 1946, he took a leave for some days to visit Lucknow, where he died an untimely death due to an illness.

 

Pt. Gopi Krishna

Gopi Krishna was born on 22 August 1933 in Calcutta on the day of Gokul Ashtami. His grandfather Pt Sukhdev Mishra was regarded as an established musician. Pt. Sukhdev Maharaj was also fond of dance, and wanted that Kathak dance should be promoted more.

Dancing of girls was forbidden in Banaras, but despite all odds, Shri Sukhdev Maharaj himself taught dance and music to his three daughters - Alaknanda Devi, Tara Devi, and Sitara Devi, as well as from other eminent Gurus.

Shri Gopi Krishna wore Ghungroos at the age of 3. When he was 6 years old, Baba Sukhdev Ji made Gopi Krishna a disciple of the famous Acharya Shri Achchan Maharaj of Lucknow Gharana. Baba worked extremely hard on his grandson day and night. At the age of 13, when Gopi Krishna ji danced at the All Bengal Conference under the guidance of Lal Babu, then he was honoured with the title of Nataraja. Shri Shambhu Maharaj Ji was also present in this ceremony. Shri Sukhdev Maharaj made Gopikrishna a disciple of Shri Shambhu Maharaj.

Gopi Krishna took education from Achchan Maharaj and Shambhu Maharaj ji, but Gopi ji is responsible for spreading the specialities of his maternal grandfather, Sukhdev Maharaj’s knowledge of Kathak (Banaras Gharana). At the age of 14, Shri Gopi became the youngest dance director in the cinema world by training Shri Dilip Kumar and Madhubala. Shri Gopi Krishna ji, like the hero of those times, was beautiful and also unmatched in the dance performance.

After the performance of Jhanak Jhanak Payal Baje in 1955, there was an uproar in the film world. There was an influx of people to learn Kathak all over the country. Gopi ji himself danced along with direction in films like Mughal-e-Azam, Annadata, Sampoorna Ramayana, Parineeta etc. He worked as a dance director in nearly 800 films.

 

Pt. Shambhu Maharaj

The third son of Maharaj Kalka Prasad was Lt. Sh. Shambhu Maharaj. His training in dance started under his paternal uncle Pt. Bindadin Maharaj ji only. However, after his demise, he continued his training under Lt. Shri Achchan Maharaj.

In addition to dance, he also received a formal education in singing thumri from famous singer Ustad Rahimuddin Khan of Banaras. Shri Shambhu Maharaj ji became famous as a dancer in his early years.

In 1955, he was appointed as a Guru at the Bharatiya Kala Kendra, New Delhi, where he worked till his last breath.

Shri Shambhu Maharaj was not a righteous experimenter, rather a pure tradition artist. The elegance of Lucknow Gharana was clearly seen in his movements. He had an extraordinary command on Abhinaya, his personal speciality was to perform ”Baithaki Bhav” and singing Thumri.

Pt. Shambhu Maharaj ji’s style of opening his eyes was amazing. His Ghunghat ki Gat was also very popular. Pt. Shambhu Maharaj ji received many titles for his extraordinary dancing skills, including - Nritya Samrat, Abhinay Chakravarti, Padmashri and President-Award.

 

Pt. Birju Maharaj

Pt. Brijmohan Nath Mishra, popularly known as Pt. Birju Maharaj is the most famous legend of Kathak in Lucknow. He was born on 4th February 1938 in Lucknow. He was the only son of Lt. Shri Achchan Maharaj ji of Lucknow Gharana.

Before receiving any formal training, Pt. Birju Maharaj ji caught on to certain elements of Kathak dance which increased his level of desire and eagerness to learn. Like other disciples, he also requested his father Acchan Maharaj to learn under Guru Shishya parampara. His father was very impressed and started teaching him. At the tender age of 7 years, he enthralled the audience with his first stage performance in Dehradun. Maharaj ji was just 10 years old when his father and Guru left for heavenly abode, therefore he continued his training under his paternal uncles Pt. Shambhu Maharj ji and Pt. Lacchu Maharaj ji.

Maharaj ji has equal command over Nritta and Abhinaya. At the age of just 14, on his own strength, Maharaj ji started the work of a dance teacher at Sangeet Bharti School in Delhi. After the establishment of the Bhartiya Kala Kendra in Delhi in 1954, he became associated with it - which led to further development and advancement of his career.

He composed many beautiful dance dramas which were performed all over the country. This led to immense fame. As a solo artist, he has graced many prestigious music conferences, in India as well as abroad. Today, Kathak is now synonymous with Pt. Birju Maharaj ji’s identity.

He has an extraordinary command over rhythm and holds special affection for tihais. Maharaj ji also shows expertise in Tabla, Pakhawaj, Naal,etc. He is also proficient in singing thumris.

Apart from being a successful dancer, his testament as a Guru has resulted in many of his disciples earning fame at an international level. Some of the famous disciples of Maharj ji are as follows - Krishna Mohan Mishra, Uma Sharma, Munna Shukla, Pratap Priya Pawar, Saswati Sen, Durga Arya, Shovana Narayana, Chetna Jalaan etc.

Pt. Birju Maharaj ji has been felicitated with many honorary titles and awards in his artistic journey, such as -

*Sangeet Natak Akademi Award in 1966 for his contribution to the development of Kathak dance.

*Akademi Award in 1974.

*Jawaharlal Nehru Award in 1983.

*Padma Bhushan by the Government of India in 1986.

*Kalidas Samman Award by the Government of Madhya Pradesh.

*Received Padma Vibhushan by the Government of India in 1987.

*Became a member of the Akademi in 1988.

*Yash Bharti Award by Uttar Pradesh Sanskrit Department in 1994.

Other titles include - Nritya Churamani, Andhra Ratna, Nritya Vilas, Aadharshila Shikhar Samman, Soviyat Sangh Nehru Puraskar, Shiromani Samman Rajiv Gandhi Shanti award, etc.

In 1998, after receiving numerous achievements, he retired from the post of Guru of Kathak Kendra New Delhi.

At present, Maharaj ji is providing Kathak dance education through the establishment of Kala-Ashram in New Delhi.

 

Smt. Sitara Devi

Sitara Devi is such a personality whose name hardly has such an artistic acquaintance. Sitara Devi needs no introduction. Her entire life represents an era of art. Guru Sitara Devi, who is recognized as a unique example in the Kathak field, was born in Varanasi on the auspicious occasion of Dhanteras in 1922.

Her father has also made a very significant contribution in the field of art. The credit of establishing the Banaras Gharana in Kathak goes to her father, Acharya Pandit Sukhdev Maharaj Ji.

Sitara Devi received her initial training from her father. Later, for three long years, she trained in various parts of the dance form and mastered it with hard work, under the guidance of the three famous Kathak gurus - Shri Achchan Maharaj, Shri Shambhu Maharaj, and Shri Lacchu Maharaj.

At the age of just 16, she shone amongst famous art lovers. Once Guru Rabindra Thakur also saw her dance and was so impressed that he honored her with the title of Queen of Kathak Dance. Seeing the talent of Sitara ji, the movie makers of that time were also attracted and she remained attached to the film industry for a long time where she successfully played the role of heroine in many films.

In the year 1948, she made her mark in the field of dance again, and after a lot of hard work, came back on stage again and earned more fame than before. Sitara Devi set a record by giving one-of-a-kind stage performances of her dances in prestigious festivals and conferences abroad in India.

Her dance has been acknowledged and awarded from time to time by several awards, including the Padma Shri in 1973, Sangeet Natak Akademi award in 1974, Sur Shringar Sansad award in 1979, Kalidas award in 1995, membership in the board of U.P Sangeet Natak Akademi in 2000, etc.

In the field of Kathak, her personality is unmatched and is a matter of pride. She has created innovations in footwork, movements, spins, as well as created some kavitts and parans which she presented in an influential manner. This led to her contribution in establishing Banaras gharana, as well.

Sitara Devi ji has done certain experiments in the field of Kathak, such as the performance of the story telling narrative in Bharatanatyam. As a result of these efforts, Kathak was able to establish its identity in the film industry. She was awarded as Best Actress at the age of 18 for starring in Vatan, and in 1943 in Najma.

In view of her dance practice, Sitara Devi ji was awarded the Guru Madanlal Kausar and Shobha Kausar Award in 2005 by the world-renowned music institution Pracheen Kala Kendra, Chandigarh. Her name will always be established as a high ranking for her contribution in the field of dance.

 

Pt. Durga Lal

Pt. Durga Lal ji, a skilled Kathak legend was born in Mahendragarh, Rajasthan to a family filled with musicians. Being born to such a family only intensified his intrinsic fondness towards the field of art. His father, Pt. Omkar Lal was a famous king in the court of Ajmer. However, his brother Pt. Devi Lal ji was already an established Kathak performer.

Pt. Durga Lal ji, therefore, received his training in Kathak under the guidance of his elder brother. His dance was a complete amalgamation of all qualities such as crisp, clean movements and footwork of Jaipur Gharana. His command over layakari was unmatched. Pt. Durga Lal ji also had absolute expertise in the Abhinaya aspect, as well as Nritta aspect of Kathak dance.

He did an in-depth study and analysis of the intricacies of Jaipur Gharana of this dance form, as well as acquiring knowledge of Lucknow Gharana’s specialities. Pt. Durga Lal ji was fortunate to have received training from one of the greatest legends of Kathak, Pt. Sundar Prasad ji, under whom he developed his style.

Pt. Durga Lal ji eventually created such an identity for himself, it was bound to leave a mark in this field. He emerged as one of the foremost dancers with his grit, hard work, and determination; and was bestowed with expertise in singing and playing the Tabla and Pakhawaj with the grace of God.

 

Pt. Kundan Lal Gangani

Lt. Pt. Kundan Lal Gangani ji, a renowned dancer of the Jaipur Gharana of Kathak dance, was born on 16th July 1928 in Gopalpur village of Churu district of Rajasthan. His mother was the daughter of Pandit Hanuman Prasad ji of Jaipur Gharana and sister of Pandit Narayan Prasad ji. His father's name was Sh. Ganeshi Lal ji.

Pt. Kundan Lal Gangani ji’s training started in Jaipur. He used to learn dance from his uncle, Pt. Narayan Prasad ji, along with Tabla from Guru Chiranji Lal ji as well as singing from Guru Mohanlal ji.

When he was just 9 years old, Pandit Narayan Prasad ji took him to Raigarh. In Raigarh, Pt. Kundan Lal Gangani ji surprised everyone with his talent. In 1944, when Kundan Lal ji turned 16 years, he shifted from Jaipur to Mumbai, where started teaching dance. He came to Baroda in 1955 and worked as a dance instructor at Maharaja Shivajirao University.

After some time, Pt. Kundan Lal Gangani ji moved to Jodhpur where he served as the chairman of the dance department at the Rashtriya Sangeet Kala Kendra. After the establishment of Kathak Kendra in 1972, he came to Delhi as a Guru in Kathak Kendra of Jaipur Gharana.

Shri Kundan Lal Ji remained in the same position till the last period of his life and left for heavenly abode on 16 July 1984 in Delhi.

 

Roshan Kumari

A renowned and famous Kathak legend, Roshan Kumari ji was born on December 24th at Ambala, Haryana. She is the daughter of well known Tabla artist Ustad Fakir Mohammed ji, and celebrated singer Zohrabai Ambalewali ji, due to which she was already exposed to the field of music; although she was inclined towards dance from a young age.

Roshan Kumari ji’s initial training started under Guru Sh. K.S. More, and Pt. Gyan Shankar ji. However, you gained fame and prestige in this world under the studentship of Guru Sh. Sunder Prasad ji.

In 1951; she performed at a musical conference held at Eros Hall, Mumbai. In this performance, on seeing her rigorous training and readiness, she was further invited to grace more grandiose occasions. This led to her being known across all places and eventually appearing for stage recitals.

She has also showcased her talent abroad. Despite choreographing for films, her heart lies in stage performances.

She currently resides in Mumbai where she runs an institute. Apart from Kathak, she has learnt Bharatanatyam under Sh. T.S. Mahalingam Pillai, although her knowledge pertains to understanding basic technicalities of this dance form.

Roshan Kumari ji represents Jaipur gharana of Kathak, having imbibed all specialities and qualities of the same. One can see her perform “Lamchhad” bandishes, intricate footwork, clear body movements in her dance. She has been bestowed with the Padma Shri award, along with other awards such as Sangeet Natak Akademi, Nritya Shiromani, Nritya Vilas, Kathak kendra Man Patra, Hanumant Award, to name a few.

 

Smt. Kumudini Lakhia

A pioneer in contemporary Kathak dance, Padmabhushan Kumudini Lakhia ji was born on May 17th, 1930. She is known for introducing group choreographies in the field of Kathak in the 1960s. Kumudini Lakhia ji’s innovations resulted in a shift from traditional stories, thus adding contemporary storylines into Kathak repertoire.

She began her career dancing with Pt. Ram Gopal ji as he toured the West, bringing Indian dance to the eyes of people abroad for the first time, and then became a dancer and choreographer on her merit. She learned first from various gurus of Jaipur gharana, and then from Shambhu Maharaj.

She married Rajnikant Lakhia, who was studying Law at the Lincolns Inn and was a violinist with the Ram Gopal company and moved to Ahmedabad in 1960.

Kumudini Lakhia ji’s famous choreographic works include Dhabkar (Pulse), Yugal (The Duet), and Atah Kim (Where Now?), which she performed at the annual Kathak Mahotsav in Delhi in 1980. She was also a choreographer in the Hindi film, Umrao Jaan (1981), along with Gopi Krishna.

Some of Kumudini Lakhia ji’s disciples include Aditi Mangaldas ji, Vaishali Trivedi ji, Sandhya Desai ji, Daksha Sheth ji, Maulik Shah ji, Ishira Parikh ji, Prashant Shah ji, Urja Thakore ji, Parul Shah ji, etc.

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FAQs

Q. What is Pt. Birju Maharaj Ji’s contribution in the field of Kathak?
Ans. Maharaj Ji’s family history is so artistically rich that one would not be surprised if they were told that Maharaj ji’s first learnings of Kathak took place in the womb itself. Son of one of the greatest Kathak legends - Lt. Pt. Acchan Maharaj, Pt. Birju Maharaj was under the guidance of his father as well as his uncles - Lt. Pt. Shambhu Maharaj and Lt. Pt. Lacchu Maharaj. When he was just 3 years old, Maharaj ji would recite Tihais and Tukdas along with his father, without realising the intricacies and complexities of the syllables. Maharaj ji gained proficiency in Kathak dance, singing, as well as playing the Tabla at the tender age of 8 years. This was the time when Lt. Pt. Acchan Maharaj ji had started teaching at Sangeet Bharati, New Delhi. Due to his father’s untimely demise, Pt. Birju Maharaj ji, at the age of 9 years, suddenly found himself responsible for helping his family make ends meet. By the time Maharaj ji turned 13 years old, he began to teach at Sangeet Bharati, where he established himself not just as a promising dancer but an equally promising teacher. After teaching at Sangeet Bharati, Maharaj ji taught at Sriram Bhartiya Kala Kendra. The director of Sriram Bhartiya Kala Kendra, Smt. Shobha Deepak Singh, is one of Maharaj ji’s disciples. Maharaj ji was also a Guru at Kathak Kendra, New Delhi - a constituent unit of Sangeet Natak Akademi, Ministry of Culture, Government of India. After retiring in 1998, Maharaj ji opened Kalashram - which is also based in New Delhi. In the field of Hindi cinema, Maharaj ji choreographed ‘Kaahe Chhed Chhed’ from Devdaas, and ‘Mohe Rang Do Lal’ from Bajirao Mastani. During the course of his career, Maharaj ji has been felicitated with some prestigious awards such as - Sangeet Natak Akademi Award (1964), Padma Shri, Padma Bhushan (1986), Padma Vibhushan (1987), Kalidas Samman Award (1987), Honorary Doctorates from Indira Kala Sangeet Vishwavidyalaya and Banaras Hindu University, Nritya Vilas Award, National Nritya Shiromoni Award - to name a few. Maharaj ji is considered as the God of Kathak because of his selfless contribution to this field. His love for this art form can be seen in every gesture and action. Even at the age of 83 years, Maharaj ji carries the spirit and energy of youngsters that remain unmatched till date. Any student who learns, or has learned from Maharaj ji can only consider themselves immensely blessed and fortunate to have been under his tutelage and guidance for any amount of time.
Q. Which Guru is considered the God of Kathak?
Ans. Pt. Birju Maharaj ji is considered the God of Kathak for his selfless contribution to this timeless art form. Maharaj ji’s efforts have taken this art form to unimaginable heights of popularity and global recognition.
Q. What are the names of some famous Kathak exponents?
Ans. These legendary Gurus have trained many students out of which most of them are well-known Kathak exponents in today’s times. Some of these Kathak exponents are - Mahua Shankar Swati Sinha Gauri Diwakar Vishal Krishna Rudra Shankar Mishra Tribhuvan Maharaj Ragini Maharaj Vidyagauri Adkar Manjari Chaturvedi Vidha Lal Abhimanyu Lal
Q. Which Kathak artists have received the Padma award?
Ans. Padma Awards are one of the greatest and highest honors any Indian citizen can receive. In the Kathak fraternity, there are many legends who have been felicitated with various Padma awards. Some of these names include - Padmavibhushan Birju Maharaj ji Padmabhushan Kumudini Lakhia ji Padmabhushan Uma Sharma ji Padmashri Puru Dadheech ji Padmashri Roshan Kumari ji Padmashri Rohini Bhate ji Padmashri Sitara Devi ji
Q. What are the names of some famous Kathak Gurus?
Ans. The Kathak fraternity is blessed with some Gurus and legends that have shaped the way the youth and the world look at this dance form. Some of these famous Gurus include - Lt. Pt. Bindadin Maharaj ji Lt. Pt. Shambhu Maharaj ji Lt. Guru Sitara Devi ji Lt. Pt. Durga Lal ji Lt. Pt. Devi Lal ji Lt. Pt. Kundanlal Gangani ji Pt. Birju Maharaj ji Guru Kumudini Lakhia ji Guru Puru Dadheech ji Smt. Shama Bhate ji Pt. Jaikishan Maharaj ji Pt. Rajendra Gangani ji Guru Prerana Shrimali ji Guru Geetanjali Lal ji etc.
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