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Birju Maharaj
Pandit Birju Maharaj.jpg
Maharaj performing in Pune, April 2012
Background information
Birth name Brijmohan Nath Mishra
Born (1937-02-04)4 February 1937
Handia, United Provinces, British Raj
(present-day Handia, Allahabad District, Uttar Pradesh, India)
Died 16 January 2022(2022-01-16) (aged 84)
Delhi, India
Genres Indian classical
Years active 1951–2016
Nationality Indian
  • Acchan Maharaj (father)
  • Shambhu Maharaj (uncle)
  • Lachhu Maharaj (uncle)

Pandit Birju Maharaj (born Brijmohan Nath Mishra; 4 February 1937 – 16 January 2022) was an Indian dancer, composer, singer and exponent of the Lucknow "Kalka-Bindadin" Gharana of Kathak dance in India. He was a descendant of the Maharaj family of Kathak dancers, which includes his two uncles, Shambhu Maharaj and Lachhu Maharaj, and his father and guru, Acchan Maharaj. He also practised Hindustani classical music and was a vocalist. After working along with his uncle, Shambhu Maharaj at Bhartiya Kala Kendra, later the Kathak Kendra, New Delhi, he remained head of the latter, for several years, till his retirement in 1998 when he opened his own dance school, Kalashram, also in Delhi.

Birju Maharaj was a recipient of the Padma Vibhushan, India's second highest civilian honor, in 1986.

Early life

Maharaj was born Brijmohan Nath Mishra, on 4 February 1937 into a Hindu Brahmin family at Handia of Allahabad district. His father was the Kathak exponent, Jagannath Maharaj, popularly known as Acchan Maharaj of Lucknow gharana and the Kalka-Bindadin family in Lucknow. His father served as the court dancer in Raigarh princely state. Maharaj started dancing early at the age of four, and was trained by his uncles, Lachhu Maharaj and Shambhu Maharaj and his father. He started his performances first at his father's concerts before performing solo at the age of seven in West Bengal. His father died when Maharaj was nine.


Maharaj started teaching the dance form at the age of thirteen, at the Sangeet Bharti in New Delhi. He then taught at the Bharatiya Kala Kendra in Delhi, and at the Kathak Kendra (a unit of the Sangeet Natak Akademi) where he was Head of Faculty, and director, retiring in 1998 after which he opened his own dance school, Kalashram, also in Delhi.

In addition to performing the Kathak dance form, he also brought along knowledge of Hindustani classical music and percussion instruments. He was noted to have been able to sing the thumri while dancing to it, and also playing instruments like the tabla and the dholak. His Kathak performances in addition to mythological stories had contemporary elements including stories from daily life and social issues being communicated by way of the dance. His ginti ki tihaais (transl. a charged and percussive phrase, repeated thrice to end with explosive effect) were noted to have been studied by Kathak students. He collaborated with other artists including the tabla player Zakir Hussain, and singers Rajan and Sajan Mishra. Some of his students included Saswati Sen, Aditi Mangaldas, and Nisha Mahajan.

Maharaj also choreographed and composed music for many Indian movies. Some of the performances that he choreographed included for Saswati Sen in Satyajit Ray's Shatranj ke Khiladi (1977), Madhuri Dixit in Dil To Pagal Hai (1997) and Devdas (2002), Kamal Haasan in Vishwaroopam (2012), Deepika Padukone in Bajirao Mastani (2015) and Alia Bhatt in Kalank (2019). His choreography for Kamal Hassan in Vishwaroopam won him the National Film Award for Best Choreography in 2012, while his choreography for Deepika Padukone in Bajirao Mastani won him a Filmfare Award for Best Choreography in 2016.

Maharaj was one of the youngest artists to receive the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award, when he received the award at the age of 28. He also received the Padma Vibhushan, India's second highest civilian award, in 1986.

Personal life

Maharaj was married and had five children. In later life, Maharaj had kidney disease and diabetes, and received dialysis. He died from a heart attack at his residence in Delhi, on 16 January 2022, less than a month before his 85th birthday.

Awards and honours

  • 1964 - Sangeet Natak Akademi Award
  • 1986 - Padma Vibhushan
  • 1986 - Nritya Choodamani Award by Sri Krishna Gana Sabha
  • 1987 - Kalidas Samman
  • 2002 - Lata Mangeshkar Puraskar
  • Honorary doctorate from Indira Kala Sangeet Vishwavidyalaya
  • Honorary doctorate from Banaras Hindu University
  • Sangam Kala Award
  • Bharat Muni Sammaan
  • Andhra Ratna
  • Nritya Vilas Award
  • Adharshila Shikhar Samman
  • Soviet Land Nehru Award
  • National Nritya Shiromani Award
  • Rajiv Gandhi National Sadbhavana Award


  • 2012 - National Film Award for Best Choreography for Unnai Kaanaathu (Vishwaroopam)
  • 2016 - Filmfare Award for Best Choreography for Mohe Rang Do Laal (Bajirao Mastani)
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